Short Greeks

I found a photocopy of this article in a box of old frames at my mom’s house this afternoon. It’s a republished article written by Mike Royko in The Chicago Daily News. This article really resonated with my dad towards the end of his career and shortly before he died a little over two years ago.

Shortage of short Greeks ruining us
By Mike Royko
The Chicago Daily News published this column on Dec. 5, year unknown

The moment we sat down for lunch, I knew it was a mistake. It was one of those cute new yuppie-poo restaurants with ferns and a menu that listed calories.

I knew it was an even bigger mistake when five minutes passed before the busboy dropped the silverware and napkins in front of us.

About 10 minutes later, I snared a waitress as she was hurrying by and asked: “Is there any chance we can see a menu?”

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “We’re short-handed. One of the girls didn’t show up today.”

When she finally brought the food it wasn’t what I had ordered.

“There are some problems in the kitchen,” she said. “We have a new cook.”

“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll eat it, whatever it is. But what about the beer?

“Oh, I forgot, you wanted a beer,” she said. The beer arrived just in time to wash down the last bite of the sandwich.

When she brought the check, which was wrong because she charged me for what I ordered instead of what I got, I asked: “Who runs this place?”

“The manager?” she said. “He’s in the end booth having lunch.”

On the way out, I stopped at the manager’s booth. He was a yuppie in a business suit. He and a clone were leisurely sipping their coffee and looking at a computer print-out.

“Nice place you have here,” I lied. “Do you own it?”

The young man shook his head. It was owned by one of those big corporations that operates restaurants in far-flung office buildings and health clubs.

He also proudly told me that he had recently left college with a degree in restaurant and hotel management.

That explained it all. His waitresses were short-handed, his cook was goofing up the orders, the customers were fuming, and what was he doing?

He was having lunch. Or, as he’d probably say, he was doing lunch.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but when this nation collapses, he and those like him will be the cause.

First, we had the MBA – especially the Harvard MBA – who came along after World War II and took over American industry. With his bottom-line approach, the MBA did such a brilliant job that the Japanese might soon buy the whole country and evict us.

But we’re told not to worry. Now that we don’t manufacture as much as we used to, we’ll be saved by the growing service industry.

The problem is that the service industry is being taken over by people like the restaurant manager and his corporation. They go to college and study service. Then they install computers programmed for service. And they have meetings and look at service charts and graphs and talk about service.

But what they don’t do is provide service. That’s because they are not short Greeks.

You probably wonder what that means. I’ll explain.

If that corporation expects the restaurant to succeed, it should fire the young restaurant-hotel degree holder. Or demote him to cleaning washrooms.

It should then go to my friend Sam Sianis, who owns Billy Goat’s Tavern, and say: “Do you know a short Greek that wants to manage a restaurant?”

Sam will say: “Shoo. I send you one my cousins. Jus’ got here from the old country.”

Then he’d go to Greek Town and tell his cousin, who works as a waiter, that his big chance had come.

When the next lunch hour rolled around, and a waitress failed to show up for work, Sam’s cousin would not sit down to do lunch. He would put on an apron and wait tables himself.

If the cook goofed up orders, Sam’s cousin would go into the kitchen, pick up a cleaver, and say, “You want I keel you?”

He wouldn’t know how to read a computer printout, but he’d get drinks in the glasses, food on the table, and money in the cash register.

That simple approach is why restaurants run by short Greeks stay in business and make money. And why restaurants that are run by corporations and managed by young men who are educated beyond their intelligence come and go. And mostly go.

So if you are ever approached by a stockbroker who wants to sell you shares in any of the giant service corporations, tell him not to bother showing you the annual report. Just ask him one question.

“Is it run by short Greeks?”

If he says no, leave your money under the mattress.

My dad framed this article. I really wish he was still here with us. I have so many questions that I still want to ask him.

Short Greeks

4 Replies to “Short Greeks”

  1. Josh. You have your dad still with you in spirit. He’s a force inside of you that most of the time you can’t experience. Like Luke Skywalker, you need to listen, feel and trust that the force will be with you.

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