The Working Waterfront

Conflict and chiffon at an island restaurant

Customer service wasn’t always the priority

By Phil Crossman
Posted 2023-09-19
Last Modified 2023-09-19

I opened a restaurant a while back right across the street from my Tidewater Motel. It was quite an experience; I had the most fun I’d ever had during the three summer months we were open and lost more money than I’d ever managed as well. Crow being my nickname, we named it the Crow’s Nest.

I interviewed applicants in Portland for the chef position and hired Matthew; he was young and enthusiastic and seemed to know what he was doing. When we opened around Memorial Day, Matt took the helm in the kitchen.

I had a lot of live music and as a result the place was quite a draw some nights. I tapped my fellow islanders as staff and these folks, capable enough in familiar surroundings, were hard pressed to conduct themselves in ways that fit the notion of service to which some of our visitors were accustomed, wine selection and procedure, for instance.

One day, when the place was absolutely packed, one of our home-grown young women found herself waitressing the dinner shift…

One day, when the place was absolutely packed, one of our home-grown young women found herself waitressing the dinner shift on open mic night. At table 11 was seated a cosmopolitan young couple who’d come over from the motel.

Shirley invited them to make a drink selection. They did and she relayed it to Scooter back at the bar. He opened the New York cabernet sauvignon and gave it to Shirley to take to the table. When she arrived with it, the young gentleman gave her a withering look of disdain and said, “This wine is supposed to be opened at the table. Having been opened at the bar, it has breathed excessively and has now lost much of the subtle nuance we might have expected.”

“No kiddin,” said Shirley as she grabbed the bottle, put it to her lips, inverted it completely and took a big healthy swig. Wiping a little dribble from the corner of her mouth and modestly dispensing with a tiny pocket of gas, she pronounced, “Hell, this is finest kind, hasn’t lost any of its nuisance at all. Now you folks drink up and enjoy your lobster ‘cause the ferry don’t leave till mornin’.”

A few weeks later just as the customary seasonal influx was arriving and things were getting very busy, I walked into the kitchen about an hour before our customary 11 a.m. opening and found Matthew in the kitchen, complaining about something to a staff member who was whipping a big bowl of chiffon. A cigarette was hanging out of his mouth. I told him to get rid of it or smoke outside. He ignored me and kept on complaining about something that was going on outside.

I spoke to him again, “Matthew, get rid of the smoke or take it outside.” He kept on smoking and complaining. I grabbed the bowl of chiffon and hit him in the face with it. When the bowl dropped away, a memorable apparition revealed itself, its face covered in froth and a long extension of chiffon seeming to take flight from the cigarette.

He stormed out, wiping his face with a dishrag. I never saw him again. It was 10 a.m. I called Lynette, an island friend, who had worked these gigs in the past. She came right down, got lunch ready and stayed with me till we closed in the fall. Why I didn’t call her in the first place is beyond me.

Later in the busy season, Scooter was having way too much fun and a group of young, somewhat ribald young ladies took a six-seater right in front of the bar. Scooter, eager to engage, took their drink order. They ordered several bottles of wine.

Scooter brought them to the table and then reached into his (tight) jeans pocket to retrieve the needlessly big and cumbersome corkscrew he’d bought earlier at the next door grocery. In his hurried process the corkscrew engaged with something down there below his belt. He winced noticeably but finally got it out and went ahead with the opening but the whole things was fodder for the girls all night.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven. He may be contacted at