I don’t get much feedback that isn’t spam on this blog site, but I continue to carry on despite it. I did, however, just receive a wonderful communication with some good information that I’ve been asked to pass along. I’ll share the text and the link that accompanied it for you to check out. I have and there are some interesting businesses represented at the site. Most of them appear to be closely allied with activists and social justice causes. The page, located at a site called “Website Planet,” is “Support Black-Owned Businesses: 181 Places to Start Online.”
Here’s the text of the feedback, as I received it:
Hi there , I saw your page rickladd.com/, and I wanted to thank you for supporting the Black community. The events of last summer (BLM protests and COVID-19) saw many people rally to support Black-owned businesses. Sadly, since summer ended, people forgot to keep sharing and supporting these businesses. I just found a new article with links to more than 150 Black-owned businesses. I was so happy to see that people still care about helping these companies thrive! The link is here: https://www.websiteplanet.com/blog/support-black-owned-businesses/ I think sharing this link on your page would be a great way to help your readers keep supporting Black-owned sites and stores. I think it will be a great addition to your site and that your audience will love this new resource! Thank you in advance for your support, Fabiola
I believe now, more than ever, we need to show our support for our black brothers and sisters. This seems a good way to do it. Thanks to Fabiolo, who I’ll be emailing shortly to thank for providing the info.
One caveat … while some of these businesses offer merchandise online, many if not most of them are located in Brooklyn, NY and aren’t easily accessible by folks like me, who are out here on the west coast.
I am a lover of coleslaw, especially the creamy deli coleslaw I grew up eating in small Jewish delis in the San Fernando Valley, as well as the Fairfax area (I’m looking at you, Canter’s) and, later, Langer’s. However, I discovered an somewhat different way to prepare coleslaw when I first had the opportunity (at least 15 years ago, maybe more) to eat at Wood Ranch BBQ, near my current home in Simi Valley, CA. Instead of creamy and sweet, it’s oily and vinegary and savory … and it’s delicious.
Since I’ve been cooking a lot more lately, and have spent some time searching out and gathering recipes, I had found a recipe for Wood Ranch BBQ’s peanut cole slaw and wanted to try it out. I had no choice but to make a few adjustments, as I didn’t have any red cabbage and only had a 14 oz bag of shredded cabbage and carrots. I had no intention of going shopping. I made some adjustments in ingredient amounts to compensate, and left out the salt, since the only peanuts I had were salted. I had two small bowls and am looking forward to dinner, when I will eat it again. My wife is thrilled as well. It tastes very much like I remember, and my memory tells me it was—and IS—deliciously wunderbar! I’m sharing the recipe, just in case.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve done quite a few newsletters over the years. I think I started doing them in part because it was what my father had done aboard ship during World War II, when he served as a Radioman in the U.S. Navy. I used to have a collection of his newsletters, which would be about five years older than me now. They might still be in a box somewhere in our garage. Maybe I’ll find out one of these days.
At any rate, here is a newsletter I found recently. I’m just posting it here because I scanned it and want to preserve it. Now I can throw away (recycle) the paper copy which, as you can see, is discolored from age. A quarter century is a fairly long time for it to have lasted. I probably shouldn’t have kept it, but I’m a paper pack rat.
I arrived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the tail end of the “Summer of Love.” It was either late August or very early September. Things were already starting to fall apart before I got up there, but it took weeks before I was able to recognize what was happening.
I had traveled from Los Angeles by thumb, where I had just given up a lucrative business my father had purchased for me at the very end of 1966. Fearing my life was going nowhere (which it kinda was) he took the opportunity to buy a small snack shop from a friend who was going into another business. The place was called DEBS, which was an acronym of the previous owners family’s names. We kept it . . . the name that is.
Situated directly across the street from the May Company, between 8th and 9th Streets on S. Hill Street, I was making big bucks for a snot-nosed teenager. I didn’t realize just how lucky I was at the time which, I suppose, is the very definition of privilege. I just did a time/value calculation and discovered I was making the equivalent of close to a quarter of a million dollars a year back then. Yikes! That doesn’t seem possible or even reasonable, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.
Unfortunately, I was only 19 years old at the time, fresh out of High School the previous year and recently honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy after a total of one month and twenty-three days of service. I’m surely one of a few people in the country who has served, received the National Defense Service Medal, and also a medical discharge while I was still in boot camp. Since I was in for such a short time, I am not eligible for veteran’s benefits, nor have I ever sought to receive them . . . but that’s another story I’ll get to later.
DEBS Snack Shop was open six days a week, twelve hours a day on weekdays, and ten hours on Saturday. I had to be there for every one of those hours and, since I lived in the North end of the San Fernando Valley, the commute took at least an hour and a half, round-trip, every weekday. Saturdays were a little quicker. So I was putting in about 70 hours per week, not including time getting ready to head out the door.
Not only were the hours long, I had to deal with my father coming by every day and pointing out everything I had done “wrong,” i.e. not how he would do it. Not that I didn’t screw up; 19-year-old boys aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, no matter how high their IQ. But my old man was not the kind to hand out compliments or praise. Nope. He was a genius at pointing out shortcoming, though.
I remember one weekend I finally had a date with a young woman I had met somewhere. Much of the detail is lost in the mists of time, including who she was and where we met, and the relationship didn’t last long at all. We went out to dinner and were going to go to a movie afterward. Unfortunately, if memory serves, I actually fell asleep at dinner, I was so tired. I don’t think we made it to the movie, and I’m not sure I ever saw her again.
That particular debacle was one of many compelling reasons I asked my father to sell the place after only seven months. I was young and restless, and I had no social life. I had also started smoking pot the previous year and was beginning to experiment with acid (LSD.) I needed to spread my wings and I didn’t see that ever happening as long as I was tied to a demanding business and an overbearing father. But I digress.
What I was thinking of when I decided to write this post was the agricultural workers here in my native County of Ventura. Some of the laborers post videos to a local Facebook group and seeing them brings me back to my two encounters with working in the fields, one of which took place while I was living up in the Haight.
When I was working in the snack shop, I frequently had to go and purchase produce, generally a few blocks away at the Grand Central Market. One of the items I had to buy was tomatoes. I would get them by the “lug,” each of which weighed approximately 30 pounds.
On many a day in the Haight, people would just sit around in front of the stores on Haight Street, sometimes standing to perform for the tourist buses that would pass by. They expected no less from a bunch of “Hippies,” and we were often content to give it to them. One day, a man came by and asked if anyone was interested in picking tomatoes. He said it paid a certain amount (I have no idea what it was) per “lug.” I accepted.
The following day, early in the morning, I boarded a bus with a group of fellow “hippies” and we were taken to a field right next to a mental hospital. We were set loose in the fields to pick tomatoes and it was then I discovered their definition of a “lug” was considerably larger than what I had grown used to purchasing for the snack shop’s use. At least twice as big! I had just turned 20 in June, a couple months prior to selling the business. I was in good shape, yet picking tomatoes, which requires bending over continuously, was physically demanding and, based on how many tomatoes had to be gathered to complete a “lug,” I soon came to the conclusion this was NOT how I wished to make money in the future.
I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours in the field, but I’ve never forgotten how difficult and back-breaking the work was. It has given me a sense of deep respect for the people who spend their lives working in the fields. It is extraordinarily difficult (and sometimes dangerous) work, for which I’m sure they are not paid enough.
I did mention, above, there were two times I had worked in the field. The second one was in 1973, when I spent two months in Cuba as a member of the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. During that time I worked primarily in construction, making concrete slabs and pillars used to construct small, single-family dwellings. However, on one occasion we spent a day in the fields cutting sugar cane. In addition to the work being back-breaking, the fields were torched prior to our work in order to burn off some of the vegetation on the canes. It meant we were covered in burnt sugar cane juice by the end of the day.
I had purchased a pair of brown Red Wing boots for the trip. After one day in the fields, they were mostly black from that burnt juice. It never came off.
Those two, admittedly short stints in the field gave me an appreciation for anyone who works in agriculture – especially those who bend over and pick and pack our food for distribution. I’ve done a lot of other things in my life that were difficult, some equally so, but none more difficult than picking tomatoes or cutting sugar cane. I have nothing but respect for someone who makes their living doing such work. It’s why I have long supported the United Farm Workers and all who struggle to be treated with dignity and respect.
I was a Wiener Clerk at the Wiener Factory back in the early 70s. “We may be contumacious, but we’re never revocatory.” “Tell us how long you want us to hold the onions.” The owner wrote every bit of graffiti in there . . . and the moderately risque stuff in the toilets out back. I think my favorite dog was the coleslaw and cheese, though a good old fashioned kraut dog still hits the spot when I’ma cravin’.
I worked there throughout my first year of law school, 1973 to 1974. It was a decent job at the time. The owner, whose first name—Gene—is all I remember, was a former English teacher and stockbroker. He was a bright, somewhat tortured guy, but he treated his employees with respect, which is frequently not the case.
We used Gulden’s mustard, which we thinned just a bit with pickle juice, adding a significant bit of extra flavor. I often wonder if anyone actually noticed. I think the hot dogs were Vienna’s natural casing wieners, and we got the knackwurst and one other type of sausage from a small sausage maker in Burbank. Alpine sounds about right. We used fresh egg buns, which we steamed before serving so they were nice and soft. We also sold a shitload of German potato salad. I don’t think we had fries, but I just don’t remember.
made a damned good hot dog as well, and I was sorely disappointed a
couple of months ago when I was returning to Simi after an appointment
at the W.H. Kaiser Med Center. I was planning on having a Flooky’s hot
dog (or two) only to find out they had gutted the place. I don’t know if
there’s a Flooky’s left in the SFV.
I still crave a good hot dog probably a lot more frequently than is healthy for me, but I was raised on the damn things. I love a good, kosher, natural casing wiener with gulden’s mustard and a hearty sauerkraut on top of that. I also love mustard, relish, and onions, as well as mustard, chili, cheese, and onions. Hell! I’ve been known to slice one lengthwise and eat it between two pieces of rye bread with some mustard. It’s just a mini bologna, after all.
Many years ago, when I was in the wholesale food business with my father and brother, we got a new customer who sold to many high-end restaurants. Many would recognize the names of these famous Hollywood eateries, all of which were very successful and (bonus) somewhat recession-proof. This was a very good thing for us, as it provided a substantial boost to our gross income. I became the schlepper; the one who had to drive around every morning and pick up the items our new customer needed to service his clientele. I did not mind. I was young and full of energy and truly enjoyed arising very early in the morning to greet the day.
My job meant driving around every morning, picking up the items that had been ordered and getting them to our customer’s location, where they would be either stored temporarily prior to delivery, or further prepared for later delivery to their customers. Generally, three days of the week required me to enter as blast freezer that was forty degrees below zero; so cold that it had no solid doors, merely thick plastic curtains as a safety measure, ensuring no one could be accidentally locked in. The freezer was huge and the doors big enough to accommodate a large forklift laden with several palettes of product.
I never had to pick up more than I could carry out by hand, so I wasn’t in there for very long. As a result, I made the decision not to spend the money to purchase the kind of clothing that I would have needed had I been required to spend more than a few minutes in that freezer. I would put on a sweatshirt above my regular shirt, a jacket, and a white butcher’s coat on top of that. Still, I can’t recall a time I was in there more than a minute before I found myself wondering what it would be like to freeze to death. It was painful almost from the instant I pushed aside those curtains and stepped inside!
This meant I would generally stand outside of the freezer for a few minutes and mentally chart the shortest course to pick up what I needed, which would facilitate a quick retrieval and egress. With the exception of stationery stores, which I view as museums of contemporary business practices (and which have those sacred items, paper and writing materials, enshrined within), this is how I have since shopped for everything. I suspect most men do the same, despite never having had to enter a forty below blast freezer. It’s how we roll.
My very first job was at the McDonald’s on Osborne St. in Pacoima, CA. It was 1963 and I’m pretty sure the minimum wage at the time was $1.05. My first two days were spent making shakes; the next day I made fries.
Then they discovered I had experience with a cash register and could make change!! I moved to the window and the rest is history.
A few distinct memories, in no particular order:
There were people who ate both lunch and dinner – every day – at McDonald’s (I don’t believe we served breakfast at the time).
We had a basement and a machine, similar to the one lapidarists use to polish stones, that we used to peel potatoes. The fries were made fresh back then.
The Manager spent the vast majority of his energy tweaking the syrup/water mix for the soft drinks so “he” could save more money.
I used to have nightmares where I faced an endless line of people who ate nothing but that crap (and I knew it was crap back then, but I was already inured to its ubiquity) for every meal.
There were invariably bugs in the boxes of hamburger buns.
I was raised to be intimately familiar with lunch meat. All kinds of lunch meat. And sausage. My father worked in the Grand Central Market from my birth until my Bar Mitzvah. Faber’s Ham Shop. They didn’t sell fresh meat, except chicken. Everybody sold fresh chicken because it was small and easily cut into its constituent parts, a feat not possible with a cow or a pig. He mostly sold lunch meat, or what is sometimes referred to as smoked meats. Not all of it was, but that’s of little importance to this story.
I can still recall the scene after my Bar Mitzvah – I mean immediately after; probably in a private room during the reception (it was at a place in North Hollywood, CA, USA that has gone the way of the Dodo bird) – where I endorsed every check I had received as a gift from my family and our friends. I immediately handed the checks over to my father, who was leaving Faber’s Ham Shop and striking out on his own. He was buying a truck and becoming a peddler. A meat peddler. It was an amicable resignation, as Louie Faber became one of my old man’s best customers and the Grand Central Market was always pretty central to my father’s success.
I bring this up merely to demonstrate my familiarity with — perhaps a modicum of expertise in the field of — lunch meat in all it’s numerous incarnations (Oops!) and variety. I have eaten just about every one of those varieties. I didn’t necessarily care for them once I tasted them, however. Head Cheese and Olive & Pimento Loaf come to mind, but I tried them. Some of the varieties I was quite fond of, especially since they were already cooked and I could grab one whenever I was hungry. This was especially true of hot dogs and FARMER JOHN® Hot Louisiana Brand Smoked Sausage, the former of which we sold in very large quantities loosely packed in boxes of about 50lbs.; the latter of which came in cases of 10 5lb. boxes. It was easy to open a case, pick up a box, open it, and remove (and eat) one of the hot links.
Do NOT Attempt This in Your Kitchen
This brings me to the graphic that appeared on my Facebook News Feed yesterday; a graphic which tickled me to no end. As I have said, what we today view primarily as culinary crap; unhealthy, sometimes disgusting pseudo-food, was a long-time staple of mine. Frankly, I still eat hot dogs, though I now only purchase all-beef (usually from Trader Joe’s) and I deeply appreciate the occasional Nathan’s natural casing wiener <snap!>. This graphic makes it quite clear the author subscribes to the assertion the McRib is constructed of mystery meat. I’m not sure I agree with the assessment (Wikipedia reports the faux ribs are actually formed from pork shoulder meat), but I now avoid this sandwich like the plague . . . as I do everything by most all fast food outlets (franchise or not).
Nevertheless, I can empathize with the sentiment expressed in the last box of this flow chart. I wouldn’t hesitate for a New York minute to scarf one of these babies, i.e. if the only objection was that they’re not really made out of rib meat. I can get by that without batting a eyelash. Unfortunately, there are other reasons involving my health I now refuse to eat this stuff. Doesn’t mean I don’t miss the hell out of it.
As an opening aside, I find it an interesting statement about the immediacy of the Internet that I would hesitate to share an article or blog post I encountered because it’s more than a week since it was published. Nevertheless, I did hesitate when I came across this particular article in Fast Company. I ended up sharing it on my Facebook Fan page and I’m going to share it here, with a little bit of personal annotation.
Many years ago, when I was in my family’s wholesale food business, I realized what I found to be a very sobering fact. As long as we weren’t manufacturing or producing anything, the only way to stand out from the crowd was to provide service over and above everyone else. Anyone can buy and sell items that are readily available and this was surely true of food. We could break the ice with price, but that was ultimately a losing proposition as the customers we sold to would inevitably leave us for someone offering a lower price.
However, not everyone could provide exceptional service. As a result, we were constantly thinking of ways in which we could provide value that others didn’t even think of. One way to do this is to just be available. When a restaurant runs out of product for whatever reason – whether it be unexpectedly busy days or flat-out stupidity in anticipating certain inevitably busy days – always being there and coming through was one way to stand out.
But that wasn’t enough. I think the real discriminator was the mind-set that our relationship with our customers was more than just seller-buyer; it was that of partners. Such a mindset had us thinking as though we were in their shoes and, frequently, it made enough of a difference in how we anticipated their needs and even helped them understand their needs in ways they weren’t always capable of. I think it worked pretty well while I was there.
So when I read this article today I was both intrigued and somewhat satisfied. I never thought of what we were doing as anything other than providing good service. I didn’t realize it was providing a special customer experience. Back then, as the article points out, customer experience wasn’t what it is today, but in our little corner of the world – in the kind of business we were engaged in at the time – it was what we were providing.
Now, it seems, it’s what everybody needs to do . . . and I agree. Here’s a quote from the article I’m referencing:
You don’t have to take my word for this. Over the last five years we’ve been running a study in which we ask consumers to rate the customer experience at companies they do business with. What we can now prove is that customer experience correlates to loyalty. Specifically, it correlates highly to willingness to consider for another purchase, willingness to recommend, and reluctance to switch to a different provider. In other words, if you want that next sale, if you want good word of mouth, and if you want to keep your customers, it’s unlikely that anything else you do matters more than delivering a superior experience.
Here’s the link. You can read the whole thing at Fast Company. It’s well worth it, even if it is almost two weeks old.
Recently, our local (here in Simi Valley, CA) Marie Callender’s restaurant – a staple of the community for at least a couple of decades – was shut down as part of the recently merged (with Memphis based Perkins) company’s bankruptcy. I belong to a business network that has met there for most of the time they’ve been in business, though I’ve only been a member for less than a year. Still, having to eat breakfast there once a week was a bit of a trying experience, as the food was a couple taste buds short of mediocre.
The business network has a system of points one can earn for providing “tips”, which can run the gamut from a couple thousand dollar repair to your vehicle or home or eating a meal at a member’s (which Marie Callenders was) establishment. It’s a system that just invites gaming (in the worst sense of the word), inasmuch as each tip carries the same weight or value. Needless to say, many of the members found themselves eating there a couple of times a week. I never could bring myself to do so.
As part of my membership, I offered to provide a couple of free hours of social media marketing coaching and to see to it that each member had access to those services that promised to help their business out. Very few of them took me up on it; probably because most of these guys are almost as old as I am :). Marie Callenders was one of those businesses I struggled valiantly to see the efficacy of at least paying attention to what was being said about them online, especially the reviews that were being written on Yelp. They wouldn’t pay attention. My research had shown they were getting some pretty uniformly horrible reviews and, clearly, no one was paying much attention to them. I’m not surprised they’re no longer in business.
Though I can no longer check the reviews of our local Applebee’s – you see, they’ve closed down as well, actually before MCs did. Yelp doesn’t retain reviews after a business closes its doors. I now wish they would, if only so I could make sure my understanding of what happened is close to the truth.
I’m bringing this up in large part because a friend of mine posted an interesting piece entitled “Applebee’s Review Explains Why Companies Should Care About Online Reviews” (link). I think Mark hits the head right on the nail (sic) and find myself wondering if the experiences we’re seeing with Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t indicative of just how useful these growing online review services are to those of us who like to eat out.
For quite some time in the enterprise world, the questions those of us advocating for greater use of social media had to answer consistently was, “What’s the ROI (Return on Investment) of using these tools? Why should we spend the money unless you can show us there’s added value in it?” Frankly, for a long time I struggled with the answer. It seemed clear to me they provided the basis for greater collaboration, easier communication, faster innovation, etc., but these things were hard to quantify in a classical sense. The answer that has stuck in my mind, though, (and I can’t recall where I heard it) is “The ROI of using social media is you’ll still be in business in five years.” I know that was somewhat glib, but I’m wondering now if Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t providing us object lessons on just how prescient that statement was.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.