By Mark W. Danielson
Recently, my wife and I were having breakfast in a nation-wide café when I commented to our waitress how nice it was that every customer was cheerfully greeted when they came in. Our waitress, who had been very attentive and friendly, commented that they would lose their job if they didn’t. She said they could get away with less than perfect service, but there was never an excuse for not greeting a customer. This reminded me of Disney’s philosophy that every employee is on stage when they are working, and that their personal life had better not affect their performance while in the public’s eye. I only know of one other restaurant that greets its customers with such enthusiasm, and it’s in Osaka, Japan. That doesn’t say much for the rest of the restaurants.
Now, while this greeting is noteworthy, it’s not the basis of this article. Not by a long shot. What makes the Second Chance Café interesting is that everyone working there has had problems in the past. Problems, as in having criminal records. Oh, my gosh—you mean I was served by an ex-con? Not only was I served by one, but she was one of the best waitresses I’ve had in a long time. She was also the one who revealed the story behind the Second Chance Café.
You see, the founder of this restaurant chain emigrated from Cuba, arriving in the US with only nine bucks in his pocket. Today, he is a successful businessman who is willing to give those who had a brush with the law a chance at a new beginning. Make no mistake, he reinforces that if his employees revert, he will be the first to send them back to jail. But from what I have seen, I doubt he has had many problems because these employees work together like a band of brothers and sisters. You don’t see this at many eating establishments.
I have heard several similar stories about emigrants arriving with virtually nothing and becoming successful business managers. My wife’s grandfather was one of those, arriving from Slovenia, and establishing a successful restaurant in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. I recently ate at another establishment founded by a Slovenian who immigrated to Canada. Such people as the employees at the Second Chance Café and these entrepreneurs not only reflect well upon themselves, but they inspire characters who might otherwise be missed. I’m thankful to learn about these untold stories, and will most likely use such characters in future novels.