The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Despite being tired, Dan stepped off the plane in Las Vegas, Nevada, excited about visiting the restaurant trade show being held there. This was one of the larger shows that showcased equipment for the restaurant industry. After thinking about the opportunity for weeks, Dan had decided that it would be good to check out all of the equipment that he could.
While the internet was nice, it wasn’t the same as seeing the actual product. A lot of websites didn’t give prices, but gave phone numbers to call to ask about prices. He wanted to get a feel for how much all of the equipment that he was interested in getting would actually cost him. He had come prepared with his laptop computer having spent a week setting up spread sheets with the products in which he was interested.
He took a taxi to the low end hotel that was a couple of blocks from the luxury hotel where the trade show was being held. He was so focused on the trade show, that he didn’t even bother to look around at Las Vegas. He figured that he could walk to and from the trade show while saving a hundred dollars in hotel costs and taxi fares. Money was tight and he didn’t want to waste a single dollar. That was the same reason he had taken the red-eye flight to Las Vegas.
After checking into his room, he took a short nap to recover from his flight. He figured a single afternoon would be sufficient to go through the vendors areas. When he woke, he was ready to face the trade show. He didn’t really know what to expect, but the material he had reviewed suggested that hundreds of manufacturers would be displaying their equipment. He dressed in what he considered to be business casual clothes — a basic white shirt and dark blue pants. He headed off towards the hotel with his laptop slung over his shoulder.
After a forty-five minute walk, Dan reached the hotel, glad that it was the end of winter rather than the middle of summer. He didn’t think he would have survived the walk in the middle of summer. He hadn’t realized that he’d have to walk a mile out of his way because a highway ran between where he was staying and the hotel where the trade show was being held.
Dan went to the trade show area and froze upon entering the door. There was no way that he could have imagined the scale of the trade show. The place was huge, and vendors were packed together like sardines. He wandered around looking at equipment that could produce single items standing next to equipment that could produce a million items a day.
Vendors for just about every food service industry were represented. Dan spent time at a couple of vendors that had food preparation tables. There were a few examples that were appropriate for preparing pizzas. He went on to look at the ovens. The diversity of ovens shocked him. He ended up talking to one of the salesman for twenty minutes about the oven that he had priced on the internet. Looking at the actual oven, he had been rather disappointed. The next larger model looked like it would fit his needs better, but the price was almost a thousand dollars more.
From there he went to look at the dough making equipment. Mixers capable of making sufficient dough for fifty pizzas looked huge. He wondered if he’d have room for one in his kitchen. He learned the importance of the term ‘footprint,’ with respect to how much room a piece of equipment occupied.
After two hours of wandering around, he found a break area and sat down with a cup of coffee. As he sipped his coffee, he marshaled his thoughts about what he had seen. Sighing at the impossibility of keeping so much information straight in his mind, he tried to update his notes in the laptop. A woman in her early thirties sat down at the break table with him. As she rubbed her aching feet, she sighed and said, “This is insane.”
“You can say that again,” Dan said without looking up from his laptop. He wanted to get one more piece of information about the ovens entered in his computer. He was going to have to double-check some of the prices.
She looked at his laptop and asked, “Trying to make some notes on what you’ve seen?”
“Yes. I think I was a little optimistic. I’m a little overwhelmed by it all,” Dan said finally looking up at her.
“Do you represent one of the chains?”
“No. I’m trying to open a little pizzeria,” Dan answered with a smile.
“Ah. Most of the people attending are affiliated with large chains. I work for Derkins,” she said.
“That’s where I’m working right now,” Dan said sitting up a little more in his chair. He put his laptop on the table.
Frowning at the idea that he was using business travel to start his own company, the woman asked, “Which division?”
“I’m a busboy,” Dan answered with a grin.
“Oh. Sorry. I though you were in the corporate area,” she said taking a good look at him. She realized that he was too young to be working in corporate area.
“Nope. I’m just a busboy,” Dan said with a shrug of his shoulders.
Intrigued, she asked, “So how is it that a busboy has decided to open a restaurant?”
Smiling at the question, Dan answered, “You have the question backwards. How is it that someone who wants to open a restaurant, has taken a job as a busboy?”
“I’d like to hear the answer to that question,” she said. She had sat down to rest her feet, but was finding the discussion even more interesting than the displays.
“Well, after I decided that I wanted to open a pizzeria I realized that I needed some real experience in the food service industry. I took a job as a busboy so that I could learn the business,” Dan said.
She didn’t want to tell him that there wasn’t much to learn as a busboy. Smiling at him, she asked, “And how much of the business have you learned as a busboy?”
“Believe it or not, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned all there is to know about busing tables. I sometimes fill in at the dishwasher. I do a little cooking when it gets busy and relieve the cook on breaks when it’s slow. I’ve learned about managing the inventory and ordering. I’ve helped set up the work schedules on a couple of occasions,” Dan answered. The job had met all of his expectations for learning about the business.
“You learned all that as a busboy?” she asked. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It almost sounded like he was in a manager trainee program. She studied him a little more carefully and liked what she saw. Maybe he was ten years younger than her, but he seemed level-headed.
“Yes, Ma’am. My manager is a very nice man. He’s always willing to answer a question and show me a little more about the business,” Dan answered. He asked, “What do you do?”
“I’m here looking at the new models of equipment that we already use in our kitchens,” she answered.
Nodding his head, Dan said, “That makes sense. I imagine that you’re always opening new places; and I’m sure that with so many restaurants across the country, that you’re always having to update the kitchens and replace existing equipment.”
“That’s right,” she answered. She described the kinds of equipment that she was examining on this trip. Dan was familiar with all of the pieces since he had used them in the restaurant. She talked about how some of the equipment had grown in size over the past few years and how that had required them to move to different products. Dan mentioned his observations about equipment footprints. The discussion turned to kitchen layout. They spent a good ten minutes discussing that topic.
“How long does the equipment usually last?” Dan asked.
“It depends on the kind of equipment. Some break, but can be repaired in place. We very seldom have to replace something,” she answered.
Dan frowned as he thought about her answer. He said, “I am going to be opening a small pizzeria. I won’t have an entire chain with experts like you supporting me. I also can’t afford to have spare equipment sitting around. What should I do to protect my business from equipment failures?”
“First of all, you need to make sure that you buy good dependable equipment. Pay the extra money,” she answered with a smile. She added, “Second, you should plan to grow to the point where you are a chain with experts to support your business.”
Dan laughed at the idea of becoming a chain and said, “Maybe I should ask you for your business card so that I can give you a call when I’m a national chain.”
She laughed and asked, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Dan Parker, future owner of Parker’s Perfect Pizza,” Dan answered holding out his hand to shake hers.
“I’m Ellen, equipment manager of Derkins,” she said shaking his hand. Her telephone rang. She looked at the number and said, “That was a reminder that I’m scheduled to meet with someone. How about we meet for dinner?”
“That would be nice,” Dan said thinking that he would have to ask at the trade show information booth about a place that he could afford. He had planned to eat hamburgers for dinner at one of the national fast food chains, but didn’t think that a lady like her would be interested in that kind of meal.
“Where are you staying?” she asked while double-checking that she had everything she needed for her meeting. She hated meetings like the one to which she was headed.
Dan looked a little embarrassed and said, “I’m staying about an hour’s walk away from here.”
Realizing that he was paying for this trip out of his own pocket, Ellen said, “I tell you what. I’m on an expense account. How about I take you to dinner at the Top Floor? It’s here in the hotel.”
“That would be very nice of you,” Dan said. He was enjoying the conversation and was sorry that it had to end.
“Great,” she said rising from her chair.
“Where will we meet?” Dan asked rising out of his chair.
Smiling at his manners, Ellen said, “I’ll see you in front of the Top Floor at seven.”
When Ellen had disappeared into the display area, she reached into her purse and pulled out a cell phone. She hit the speed dial and waited for the person on the other end to answer. When he did, she said, “Hello, Daddy. Guess what?”
Her father answered, “What?”
“I’ve got a dinner date tonight,” she answered.
“Who’s the lucky man?” he asked. There was the sound of him snapping his fingers in the background.
She knew that he was getting one of his aides over to begin an investigation on the background of the guy. She answered, “A busboy who works at Derkins.”
“You’re kidding?” he asked. His tone of voice suggested that he wasn’t very happy about it.
“Nope. I called to invite you along,” she answered in a cheerful voice.
Sighing, her father asked, “What’s his name?”
“Dan Parker,” she answered.
“Where is this date going to be?” he asked.
“At the Top Floor at seven o’clock,” she answered.
“Alright, I’ll see you there,” he said just before disconnecting.
Ellen laughed at her father’s reaction. He didn’t sound happy. He was probably going to be making calls all afternoon to find out everything he could about Dan Parker. She headed off to her meeting with a smile on her face. She was going to have fun that evening.
Harold stood outside the restaurant watching the young man pace back and forth nervously. The young man had the case for a laptop computer hanging from his shoulder. He kept fidgeting with his necktie as if he wasn’t used to wearing one. Harold wondered if the guy had actually tied it himself. He decided to have a little fun and walked over to him. Smiling he said, “You look a little nervous.”
Dan looked over at the man and said, “I am.”
“This nice lady invited me to dinner here and I’m not really dressed for it. I had to buy the sport coat and tie,” Dan answered tugging on the lapel of his coat. It was a basic dark blue sport coat that went with his dark blue trousers.
“Oh, you want to impress her?”
“I’m not really worried about that. I’d be satisfied with not embarrassing her as a result of drawing unwanted attention in her direction,” Dan answered giving a nervous smile over at the older man.
Harold didn’t know if he was impressed with the young man’s answer or not. He said, “Tell me a little about this young lady you are meeting.”
“I don’t really know that much about her. We were chatting about the restaurant business. She’s got a corporate position in one of the chain restaurants. We were talking about how to layout kitchens in a restaurant and various kinds of kitchen equipment. You know, we were having a nice time. She had to go off to a meeting and invited me for dinner so that we could continue the conversation,” Dan said.
Harold did not consider having a discussion about kitchen layout as having a nice time. He asked, “Is she pretty?”
“Yes, she’s pretty, but there’s more to a woman than looks. She’s smart. She really understands her business,” Dan said recalling the section of one of the articles that had described establishing social relationships. There was the phrase that honest relationships were based on appreciating the whole person.
Harold was pleased that the kid hadn’t told him that the girl was a real hot number. He asked, “So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a busboy,” Dan answered without any sign of embarrassment at what many would consider to be a menial job.
“That’s a hard job. I was a busboy at one time, but that was a long time ago,” Harold said.