Thursday, March 6, 2014

Book Excerpts!

Business Dining Etiquette;
Symmetry and
the Subconscious
Ralph Pfremmer--all rights reserved

About the Author

Ralph Pfremmer is the son of an entrepreneur who became a local celebrity known as “friendly Ralph” from television commercials in Columbia, Missouri. “I was greatly influenced by my father. He was a gregarious front man; a pitch man who could sell anything. He was a colorful character, but people trusted him.”

Growing up in the restaurant that his family owned, Ralph learned hands-on the business of food, and at the young age of 12, started his training in what would become his life’s work. His professional experiences took him through virtually every aspect of the industry – from studying culinary arts under renowned chefs to opening major national restaurant chains; from developing proprietary food brands to the management of dining services of multi-unit facilities.

Over time Ralph created his own restaurant concepts that would later be used in the company he founded in 2000 - Pfoodman (now called Pedestal Foods). His first account, Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri remains a Pedestal Foods client to this day. And his first restaurant, The Wolf Public House, is still a favorite among active living enthusiasts in St. Louis, Missouri.

Over the course of a decade, Ralph grew his company; providing dining services to private colleges and K-12 schools, and Senior Living in the Midwest and Southeast. He authored the book, Business Dining Etiquette; Symmetry and the Subconscious and speaks on topics of Business Etiquette, Personal Brand Development and Cause Marketing.

Ralph is active in his local community; that trusted front man championing the causes he believes in, Art and Culture, Active Living, Animal Welfare and Community Sustainability. “You have to build credibility through helping and giving back to your community. I think it is very important that we have causes and that I help fund them along side my success in business. I feel I have a responsibility to utilize my gift in business as a platform for what I believe and for what I feel is important in my community.”


I have been doing Business Dining Etiquette seminars since 1991, back when my wife and I provided a five course meal to the offspring of members at the prestigious Media Club in Downtown St. Louis. I made a big deal out of my clients bringing their kids to what was otherwise a fairly uncomfortable and overly sophisticated dining experience for the younger set. Since the members were primarily business people from the community, they were also interested in their children becoming familiar with how the dining process works from start to finish in a professional service kind of way. We covered things on how to order; which fork, knife or spoon to be used with what, how to dress; how to act appropriately in a dining experience. It was a culinary daycare for the night. It became very popular.

Sadly, the Media Club is no longer there, and many of the finer city clubs have followed through with the same demise, yielding to less of a demand for the formal club business dining experience. But what was once a Mecca of traditional standard still holds meaning in the minds of those who experienced the tradition. Everyone should understand the importance of etiquette, even in today’s modern culture.

This book is about business dining; the specifics that go along with determining which fork to use for what course, how and when to place a napkin on your lap and all the things that will make you look like you fit into a formal dining event like a glove. This book is also a collection of stories illustrating how I have utilized my experiences in life to get the most out of my career. So stay with me.

This book is a glimpse inside the life of an entrepreneur; and at times, not a particular good one. What my father demonstrated to me is that entrepreneurs persevere.  As a result I have worked very hard to make sense out of why I have had any measurable success and have captured a thing or two in this book. Bottom line, it is the endeavoring that gets you the results more than the commitment to developing the perfect strategy. Without endeavoring to achieve something, you never really get or arrive anywhere. It is the commitment to being on the journey, running with the things that make you authentic. It’s the pursuit and the discipline to seek credibility that eventually yields the benefit of opportunity. Most importantly, it is how you leverage your presence to to others that gets you what you want. It is indeed a balance of many things.  It is etiquette.


The Maitre D’ Hotel...

“No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.” ― T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood

At the Media Club my job title was officially, Maitre D' Hotel, which basically means Food and Beverage Manager. At my seminar, I had around 25 chicken finger craving pre-adolescent kids. I doled out the fine points of dining (as well as to their parents in another room) year after year as part of a . This would become a tradition for me and for most of my clients through the years.

As the Maitre D’, I was pretty darned good at my job. I looked at my role as if being an actor in a reality TV show with a storyline unfolding with the people I encountered each day, members. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end to the service. The performance was captivating if done right, satisfying and enriching. Prior to each shift, whether it during the day or the night, was a performance to prepare for and then execute flawlessly. When the curtain went up, and the members and their guests were seated, I was on. The expectation was profound. I had an incredible staff of experienced dining service professionals who taught me just about everything I know about dining etiquette. It is doubtful that anything I share with you in this book or at the seminar was invented by me, rather a gift handed down from generations, and then communicated.

Yes, tables had to be arranged just right; the lighting dimmed appropriately, the music at proper levels, the temperature of the room perfect. This was merely the beginning of the level of detail that my guests would experience. My staff moved about in a way that one was unsure if they actually moved at all. I worked the podium and greeted guests and by their name. I always knew their name. Next I would lead them to their favorite table, their regular table, and oversee their entire experience from start to finish.

It was unacceptable for a member to ask for beverage service, rather their favorite drink delivered just behind my shoulder upon my exiting the table by the Captain; a direct report. He/she would serve from the right with the right hand, just above the water goblet. I would then offer a rose to the lady on a velvet pillow, and I would direct her to place it in a bud vase with water precisely three inches from the bottom.  It was already on the table. After dinner, upon their exit, I would provide her with an aqua tube, to keep the rose fresh for the car ride home.  Detail.

During the day I would wear a navy blue blazer, dark grey pants, a black belt and black loafers “spit” shined like my members. Belts and shoes always matched. My shirt was a heavy starch blue or white oxford single point long sleeve accompanied by a red or yellow tie. On my day off, my assistant, Diane, would be there wearing the equivalent of what I wore, with a skirt below the knee in replacement of the slacks and a gently opened collar without tie. Her purse matched her shoes.  At night I would wear a Tuxedo, as would the rest of my staff.  Line up was strictly at 4:30 PM, everyone had to produce the tools.  A uniform wasn't complete without a wine opener, a crumber, a lighter and stash of perfectly folded wine towels.

This was the culture and it was one of excellence. It was expected by the members who opted in and paid, in addition to the menu pricing, a membership fee to be treated this way. Each day my job was to choreograph the daily outflow of energies necessary to serve lunch and dinner, impeccably. Our clients were business men and women, dignitaries, community officials and celebrities. We often cooked table side, and handled the coordination of private parties of the same standard, from 6 to 250 people. 


The Cattle Call... 

Interesting enough, one of my event clients was an accounting firm, Deloitte and Touche. They were quite prestigious at the time and centered on their own business development, which meant hiring a lot of talent and keeping it. They wanted the right people and were willing to pay for it. They took great care in establishing a platform for recruitment, interviewing and on boarding; focusing on personality characteristics matching up with the type of positions open, and with the departments heads particular personality profile.

As a human resource function, they would first recruit graduating students from local universities and then bring them to their offices for interviews and all sorts of functions relating to on-boarding. Ideally the candidates would hit the mark, get hired and find perfect placement within the company. Deloitte and Touche was a very desirable firm to work for in the 1990’s.

It was not uncommon for the Media Club to provide services for these events. I remember that on Fridays, always the last day of a multi-day recruitment event, the HR department brought the candidates to the Media Club for a reception with department heads. I always thought this to be quite interesting, and I formed my own opinions on the recruits like department heads would.

It became very clear to me that these young professionals were often made offers based on how they interacted with the influencers and decision makers at the closing reception. I referred to this the as Fridays “Cattle Call”. It became obvious that social aptitude was clearly a decider as to who would get hired and who would not; some made the cut and others did not. Over time, my client and I made a game out of who we thought would make it. It was always the first impression, something just right about a candidate. We would watch them work the room and sought those who stood out, either positively or negatively. There were those who were balanced in their ability and who were not. This stuck with me throughout my career. There was something different about those who would be hired.

It’s important to note that I did not put the standards of the dining service in place. The concept migrated to the Media Club through years of member commitment to maintain the tradition.  These folks were a lot older than me, and a whole lot older than you. The correct behaviors displayed by the winning recruits have been leveraged for a very long time over many years, cultivated by many a high powered business traditionalist. What is important to remember is that the discipline necessary to navigate properly is highly regarded in business dining encounters everywhere. While there are certainly fewer private clubs of this type, the standards of etiquette still have meaning. To err on the side of tradition is a win. To disregard is a loss.

I do miss the old days of doing what I did best; working the room, pressing the flesh, as my father did; a restaurant owner and private club operator himself, among other things. Because I learned from him I was good at my job.  His tradition and attention to tradition gave me my start.   At the Media Club I was supported by an amazing staff, and more importantly, a very loyal membership who appreciated me very much. The craft polished while working there has been a framework for my success in the Hospitality Industry. I have been very fortunate to have built a significant dining service management company while owning and operating restaurants throughout my career.

I have developed some long standing relationships with private educational institutions. Clients include the Lindenwood University Campus System, St. Louis College of Pharmacy, Missouri Valley College, Chaminade College Preparatory, Whitfield School and many other private High Schools. I am very thankful for their support in what it is that I have tried to accomplish.

So as a thank you and send-off to any graduating seniors within my client base, I developed a seminar on the topic of Business Dining Etiquette from my experience at the Media Club. The tradition lives on. My passion is helping people become the best that they can be by embracing the importance of business tradition. It is also with my experience as an entrepreneur that you will receive a little bit of advice on how to think as one; how to create distinction using your best asset, you.


Topping out at #2...

It seems all of us question whether we are doing what we are supposed to be doing at some point in our lives, particularly in relationship to how we earn money to pay our bills. For me it started as an inner voice repeating: “I think I can do it better than this other guy”. It was an internal dialog, taunting, haunting and daring me to, well, let it rip. No, it wasn’t personal between me and my boss, but I was quickly becoming maverick.

It was the truth—I had more passion than those whom I worked. I became bored at tasks once I mastered them and, as a result, my inner voice kept reminding me to improve things. Call me crazy. For me there was a craving for creativity and expression that needed to be satisfied; emerging later as an understanding of how I am programmed; what I need to be doing in order to stay engaged with anything.

Ignoring your inner voice is dangerous because it often is telling you that if you continue to conform to that which is not in your best interest, failure is eminent. If your inner voice tells you that you crave regimen, you are likely better off where you were. For me, prior to acting on what would become my destiny, a lifelong commitment to entrepreneurism, I was considered maverick by my employers and headed for the chopping block. It was a battle of creativity over conformity. Creativity is the more challenging of the two. Read ahead.

Interestingly enough, and along the same lines as your inner voice cueing up some very obvious adjustments to be had, there is always something that alerts us to when it is just the right time. There is always an event or a message that puts things into perspective for when to find the right time to launch off on your own. I wrote about this once on my blog, after a (not-so-dandy) couple of months of struggle; living the life of the entrepreneur. I call the piece, Painting Circles. Please indulge yourself in the next section.

I decided that, after years of working for and managing other peoples businesses, I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I had become too independent in my thoughts and risked damaging my credibility by moving from one job to the other. I was topped out as a #2 guy. It was not in my future to continue to take somebody else’s lead. All the warning signs were there. I stepped into the circle.


The Ralph Account: Painting Circles... 

We grow a little every time we do not take advantage of somebody's weakness. --Bernard Williams

I have learned something significant about the biggest cliché in the entrepreneurial culture: “think outside of the box”---It Costs Money!

Let’s face it. There are a ton of people out there who take a lot of interest in collaborating with ‘out-of-the-box-thinkers’ for their own advancement. Why not? –seems like everyone needs a creative person to come in and shatter the mold of status quo from time to time. Lord knows things get stale. I have been asked to participate on hundreds of start-up conversations, some coming to fruition, some hitting big, some not so big. Most never getting off the ground.  I am always one to listen and provide my thoughts, however, great fun in my opinion, because I feel I should tell it like it is. It is their money to lose and I want nothing to do with telling people what they want to hear.

It has been my experience that there are a lot of folks who end up on the shirtsleeve of the doer; that creative (out-of-the-box) thinker who has already risked some or all in chase of the vision. Participating in white boarding is not bothersome to the entrepreneur. What a better way to sharpen the mind than giving the gift of perspective? It should be noted that there are always those who are not capable of risking fortunes necessary to "start up" or "start out".

I don't mean this to be disrespectful. In fact, I am thankful to any and all people who have ever asked me to workshop or white board a project into fruition. Mainly because I get access to the investment opportunities prior anyone else.  Not to mention it keeps the mind sharp and in tune with like minded people.  I do think that you better be serious, not just indulgent upon the creative set to talk you out of going “in”. Emulating the mindset of an entrepreneur is important, particularly when wanting to get noticed by others.  Convincing others that you CAN think that way and are capable of executing an idea, well, that is where it's at.

There is a line drawn between seeking creative endeavor and the circle of folks who have done it. You have to ask yourself where you belong. Inside of the circle are most of the things necessary to get things off to a good start. It’s the skin in the game: start-up capital, resources for infrastructure, discipline, adaptability, the basic pass and fail tools necessary to walk a tightrope without a safety net. It is a mapping, intuition and the ability to use it, the planning and execution without fail.

To me, there are those who fail only because they keep one foot in and one foot out of the circle. In the circle one risks the most. Outside one misses the opportunities. The personal experience of having gone in to the circle far outweighs any first-hand story of triumph, loss or perseverance from those who have not.

Clinging to a first-hand account does nothing for building intuition; the best file recall necessary to fend off “like” situations along the journey. Many a journey remains on the bevnap of beer blather. Don't expect something for nothing if you are half in hanging from somebody else’s story. It is simply not good enough, not authentic enough.

Like I told a friend of mine the other day, paint your canvass the way you want it. Be the artist; the one behind the brushstrokes of a masterpiece. Express yourself, you will always be painting. A circle is a masterpiece.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

PTSD and the Extrovert

I am envious of people who can rally and buckle down for a long term plan of attack; a perfect execution of a very well thought out plan with precision.  While this is often the case in start-up businesses, what I call the “big bucket money” option for starting a business, I have little to offer doing it that way.  I have trouble following a template; this includes following the rules, staying within the lines, conforming to someone else’s work.  Oh, I can reside in the culture if I am understood, but I am usually the one to turn to when there is no explanation; no confidence in what might be the best “next”.  With a few adjustments, and a clear understanding of others like me, we bring a lot to the table.

 It’s not for me, the formulation of the lengthy business plan, scripted from the templates in the libraries of Angel Investors trash cans.  If I am to provide value, it is because I am easily adaptable and can see things coming that others don’t.  For me to provide value, I prefer that we already be on the journey—the machine turned on; the ball shot out of the cannon set to land, somewhere.  It is I who can determine the best course from there, wherever it lands.  Not everyone is comfortable with this.  Most people don’t understand how people set a course in the midst of the unknown.
Its intuition; a memory recall of “like patterns” reminiscent of things having turned out positive or…not so positive.  Having an acute sense of vision is often earned through years of being exposed to trial and error; endeavor, whether it is exposure to someone else’s or our own. 

“I thought about how I might have been affected by the years I have spent in business.  In the context of vision, I equate it to a low level Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I have “feelings” of discomfort like no other”—Ralph Pfremmer

I think some of us share a heightened sense of awareness in regard to this type of “bootstrapping” option for starting a business and this is where I resided in my 14 years of business independence;  this skill nothing more than the result of an overcompensation.   It’s rooted from the lack of something way back.  Perhaps the result of how I learned to process information early on had something to do with it?  Perhaps my lack of ability to grasp conventional learning technique pushed upward my ability to remember patterns of success or failure?  I am pretty sure that is the case, as many entrepreneurs share my feelings on the matter.

 I am ADD and had a hell of a time in lecture, reading and any process driven type classes.  Instead I focused on patterns, relationships, expression.  Today, the necessary patience and refinement required for intricately developing a conventional business plan seems so confining.  I have never had much patience with minutia; much more value in the creation of the message and interpretation of the meaning of the project.

So, to consider balancing your organization with an Intuitive Manager you need to consider a few things.  To be quite honest, while people take a lot of interest in this sort of manager, things happen in organizations lacking a proportionate balance of personality profile to the extrovert.  Innovative Mangers are extroverts, often artists who possess traits consistent with what might find in theatre or music:  dramatic, creative, hyper-sensitive people-people.  We have an instinctive Fight or Flight mechanism that has to be managed—template organizations (introvert heavy) need to consider this.  The Intuitive Manager best fits the objective of conveying the perspective to others, as an expression.  Set this person up for success and you hit it out of the park.

The intuitive manager’s expression can become the voice of the organization over time; the ongoing storytelling necessary for the clients, employees and customers to relate.  Once the Intuitive manager becomes fluent in the expression of the objectives, he also becomes acutely connected to the vision, and if given the delivery of the message to the stakeholders, the prospect of leading with value with vision emerges and you will likely see your next leader.    

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cruising Alvin Jett

"Guys like you and me; they strike oil under our gardens and all we get is dead tomatoes".
                                                                         Eddie Wilson- Eddie and the Cruisers

Not necessarily the case with Alvin Jett; artistic endeavor at the root, like in the movie Eddie and the Cruisers.  Let's sub out the greed theme that was portrayed in the the 1983 movie for, social demand perhaps?  Spin it just right and it fits.

I was able to talk to one of my favorite "missing" musicians, Alvin Jett, recently.  Nobody has heard from him in a couple years and, to this day, I still get people asking almost weekly about what might have happened to him, and what became of him?  "Like Eddie and the Cruisers, he just up and disappeared", is what I tell folks.  I think it's sexy put like that, good story telling like that.  Perhaps we should shuttle him in for a night, then whisk him a way, like that. 

Now, I know that he didn't drive his car off a bridge under duress over his artistic integrity not measuring up to record label needs.  I am not even sure his car would have started.  It was no secret that Alvin needed to get out of town and get it together.  Nobody was surprised by his exit.  And it was also no secret that there were and still are a lot of people who genuinely care about him, and want him to get stable once and for all, and return to his roots. 

This local rise to fame story; he who was awarded the top blues act in St. Louis by the Riverfront Times in 2010, the man and myth once relied upon by this promoter, on many occasions, to fill the room as well as other larger stages at local festivals, had to leave or risk, well, whatever he was running from. I will leave it at that. 

Alvin and his band, Phat noiZ, made up of Alvin Jett on vocals and guitar, Marlin Harris on drums and Nephew Davis on bass, were part of the Soulard musicianhood--those local blues players good enough to have earned the stage at joints like Hammerstones, BB's, 1860 and other clubs requiring a "standard" of excellence measured by how well you fill the house.  "The boys", as I called them handled my blues jam every Wednesday for a couple years, at the Wolf Public House.  They took over after my band, Jimmyleg and the Browndogs had run its course.  Since I owned the joint, I learned a lot by jumping in with these guys, and the other blues musicians trekking out to West County, each Wednesday, until Alvin bailed. 

Yes, it was good to hear from ole Alvin Jett.  He was energised and working hard to invent and/or re-invent himself in a major market somewhere far away. That big smile of his will inventively get him in the door, as he always has, and he will deliver.  I asked him what I could do to help get him back to the Lou and he said it was complicated, but doable.  I might have been the one who said it was doable.  I am working on it, ifyouknowhatimtalkinbout.

On a street in New Jersey a crowd gathers to look into a store window.  It's the end of the movie, and "A Season in Hell", produced from a rescued master is finally released and premiered for the first time, and as the lights from the television dim, the crowd walks away, leaving only one person standing at the window. The reflection appears in the store window, revealing it to be a much-older and long-lost (insert Alvin) Eddie Wilson. He smiles serenely, proud to know that his work, misunderstood all those years ago, is finally being heard, and he disappears into the night.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Unplug your Function and Focus

A couple important things to reflect upon just after my most recent business group meeting.  I belong to a group called Vistage, which is a pretty high level entrepreneurial group of folks who act as board members for each others businesses.  It's really a good format and I enjoy it.  We work through lots of things and, as business owners, most of us have the same problems.  This group genuinely likes each other, so we have a wonderful time drilling down, helping each other where needed; usually the "been there, done that" reminders of similar situations that we can all relate.  I find this group most helpful, and am thankful and feel fortunate that I can participate.

Lately I have been centering myself on "unplugging".  Not in the sense that you would think, based on any of my previous musings; in the past I would tout the necessary reasons for getting the hell out of the business to recover outdoors; gain control of that which brought you to the point of near collapse.  I have been there so many times I can't even count.  But I didn't really benifit because of what was missing.  What I have learned in this past year in this group and with the help of my new partnership, I need to unplug in a different mannor.

Wapiti Adventure Entrepreneurs in Tucson, AZ
I spent a bunch of years advocating the "getting out" of the business to renew, re-charge, re-invent, re-animate.  We even started a business called Wapiti Adventures (just before the recession mind you).  This businesses catered to the needs of business owners, burnt toast folks, needing some "oxygen inspired thinking" (this was actually our tag line).  We had a great time with this and I hear that it is moving forward soon.  From a marketing perspective Wapiti was great.  And at the time, the company had cash to do all sorts of crazy entrepreneurial stuff. I am in the process of selling that business for virtually zero; the second in a year that I have shaken off of my shirt-tail.  I won't be putting another dime in to anything like that in the future.  Staying focused is a whole other topic.

Nope, the un-plugging that I am referring to is a much broader, more meaningful thing to me now that I have been exposed to some practical concepts with my new partnership and with my new group of fellow business owners.   Should I choose to adhere, I will join an elite group of folks who are just that much more successful in their businesses than the standard.  If I am successful, I will have performed for the two most important things in my work life; my clients and my employees. 

I will not work "in" the business.  I will work (and this is so cliche) "on" the business.  If  plugged-in to a function, whether it be Field Operations, Sales and Marketing, Human Resources, Finance or whatever, if I take a functional role in any of these areas, I will lose perspective.  Not to mention the fact that I am not really proficient in any of them to the extent that I can make a difference after years of doing whatever it is that I do. 

What I am proficient and/or need to be proficient in, is managing the continued improvement of these functional areas, and the relationship by which they interact with each other.   My "functional" role is to establish the appropriate partitions and perpetuate a transparent culture of priority  and continuous improvement.  It helps if you have a basic framework of performance management delivered by your HR department.  I am not smart enough to do that, so I surround myself with the best in this and all the functional areas.

This isn't new stuff, and certainly not considered ground breaking material.  But there is a real moment of clarity after a couple months forcing yourself to stay on the periphery--staying out there long enough to gain the perspective--that little dashboard in your head that visualizes a harmonious interaction of productivity--information flowing upward versus downward from you.  You must start a communication process necessary for everyone to understand their role and why the roles would likely change, evolve and or in some instances go away.  These concepts are found in the Rockefeller Habits and the Great Game of Business.  Google!

For me, I wasn't doing a very good job of communicating any thing other than the need to keep motivated, stay positive and good things would happen.  This worked for quite a while but we never broke out and got to the next level. For 13 years our company rose out of basically nothing into a business with credibility and poise.  But we all know that if we are not growing, not continuously improving, we are moving backwards, and that erodes capability and sustainability. 

If you are interested in more of this stuff, I'd be happy to share, simply drop me a line. 




Friday, November 9, 2012

Ozark Trail Association Steps Out

I get inspired by interesting stories of interesting people and things.  Interesting being the key word here.  Interesting meaning those stories and the people in them centered on things a little off the beaten path, a little less conventional and, perhaps, a little misunderstood.  I am that way in part.  I prefer to apply myself in areas outside of the normal sequence of popular culture.  Because it's better.  But rather than get in to a discussion on that, I wanted to share something really cool that will more than likely take front stage for me in the upcoming years.

I was introduced to the Ozark Trail Association a couple of years ago when my buddy Jim Davis aka Team Trail Monster (TTM), and his wife, endurance Mountain Bike Champion, Wendy Davis, started blasting social media stuff about their involvement.  Jim and Wendy?--nope, not your typical folks.  They subscribe to a lifestyle centered on the outdoors, active living and in my opinion, the real pleasures of the outdoor experience.  They both have been members of Team Seagal and Jim an active member of GORC (Gateway Off-road Cyclists), that amazing trail building/access advocacy  responsible for the amazing multi-use trails all over St. Louis.  Missouri has some wonderful trails and GORC has been responsible for their renaissance.

From left to right
Steve Coats, Greg Echele, Ralph Pfrermmer, Matt Atnip and Jim Davis
Wendy is a writer, and I have hired her to do a couple things here and there.  So when she told her readers on her blog  about doing a story for the Ozark Trail Connector, an annual magazine of the association, I took interest.  After reading it I became a little more interested in what has now become an obsession, The OTA!

I had heard of the trail and the association, but never embarked on what the history the mission of the organization was.  Like others I know, I took for granted that it was a state agency or something, a trail funded by the State or Department of Natural Resources and that it was simply part of the Mark Twain National Forest trail system. It hadn't occurred to me the importance of this self supported non-profit organization and Natural Resource, until now.

Last night I met with some members of the board of the OTA including Steve Coates, President, Matt Atnip, Vice President, and board member, Greg Echelle.  Jim Davis felt it necessary to set things up because, on a recent day trip to the trail, my fifth in less than two weeks, I kept asking questions about the organization.  Questions about the history and how it started, what was most significant about it, what the mission was, where it was going, what the plan was to connect other parts of Missouri.  With every answer came another question.  I had more questions than he had the patience for, so Jim set up a meeting at The Wolf Public House in Ballwin.  The Wolf, known for its allegiance to outdoor activity and advocacy for active living, is where I hang out for good food, beverage and people of the like.

So I wanted to share this with you; what seems to be a new journey in the making, with a whole new topic to pontificate about.  I am so inspired by these people and the good work that they do, I have decided to get involved and help promote that which I think is Missouri's most incredible natural resource.  I'm jumping in with both feet with these folks, the board, the volunteers, the culture of outdoors people whose lives are enriched by the mission and story of a guy named John Roth.
John Roth (1959 - 2009)
Founder Ozark Trail Association
Take the time to read the story at the link provided.  And watch this video too.  You will hear much more from me on this.  Please feel free to get involved.  The TTM and I will be hosting a handful of hikes and rides, #getchasum.

**As I come to the end of my term as Chairman of the Board of the Endangered Wolf Center, it appears obvious the need to use my skills learned there to help another eco-focused non-profit organizations meet their goals.  The Endangered Wolf Center now sits on firm ground after some very tough years. In 2010 there was the possibility that the center would close.  I was helpful in providing a style of leadership necessary to stabilize and eventually attain sustainability.  Managing the crisis and persevering through this crisis has been a lesson in life that I won't forget.  And I am thankful for my colleagues in choosing me to help provide perspective. 


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lewis Greenberg Makes History

I ran into Lewis Greenberg the other day.  That's always a treat.  I was killing some time at the new Schnucks, the controversial Schnucks, in Ballwin.  It's a nice store, with lots of nice people, lots of Stepford wife looking women, that's what I was thinking anyway.  They shopped with their carts, while there husbands busily plotted to turn the west county scenery in to robots.  I grabbed a V8 and went upstairs where a meeting room and some tables are handy for doing what I was doing.  I brought a book with me, Breakfast with Bhuda

Now, that's one hell of a paragraph if you ask me.  Lewis, Schnucks for some chill time, Stepford wives and a book on Buddhism?  Needless to say I didn't open the book.  Lewis appeared from the stairwell and shouted my name from across the room.  No filter, never a filter with Lewis, remember.  I was happy to see him, noticed that he looked good, was in good spirits, cantankerous, but in good spirits. I smiled and motioned him over.  Lewis has always been respectful of my time. We got at it. 

I recommend that you follow the link above to get the Lewis Greenberg story. There are lots of stories that I have chronicled along the way. 

I prepared myself for what I knew was our protocol for having a conversation.  And that's all it took, a memory of what works best with Lewis, a process that anyone must go through in order to have a meaningful conversation.  A process that anyone must go through, if you want to extract the goodness out of a person so filled with the desire to do some major ass kickin stuff. 

I love that about him, to be quite honest.  He is in ass kicking mode 24/7 and once he decides to go for the jugular, he turns on the super turbo ass kicking laser bomb.  There is no filter, you better have your act together.  And if you don't, he will tell you, in the way that everyone understands, that you are an idiot.  He is 100% authentic, all of the time.

I miss knowing Lewis like I once did.  Back when I had the restaurant over on Clayton.  It wasn't really all that long ago.  What I remember taking most from our friendship was the influence on the way I appreciate art and culture.  He gave me that gift.  Lewis taught me everything I know about it.  So much so that I incorporate art and culture in to everything I do now.  Everything has storytelling, everything has a connection to something else.  I learned this from him.  He convinced me that people in my (our) town suffered from what he calls, cultural depravity, and that his calling was to express himself with the Holocaust Revisited display and with his 1st amendment rights.  I think everyone is hip to Lewis's calling. 

As a student, or a friend, or an apprentice, if you will, I went about carving out a space for him in the restaurant--a random spillage of art and images, photos, streamers and artifacts.  My stuff was on the theme of active living, but it was purposed a little bit like Lewis's house.  It was a journey equipping the Wolf with cool stuff.  I put pictures of Lewis up too, paintings that he has from his collection.  Because I was once asked by my neighbor:  "Why do you even let him in the place?"  I said: "You know, I not only let him in the place, but he is memorialized and, he is the only one who may bring his bicycle inside".  I hung a sticker covered Kestrel in the window for 4 years in his honor of being a cyclist.   

I didn't expect people to understand, nor did I care.  Lewis brought joy to the way I went about expressing myself to the customers. And the customers liked the place.  It's less interesting to have less interesting things around you.  I have a bit of a  track record of doing interesting things, and meeting and hosting interesting people. It got a little sticky from time to time.  Once Lewis interrupted a group of business men in prayer.  Lewis says he is an atheist Jew.  So something set him off and I had to shuttle him out.  This happened from time to time, but I didn't mind. 

The Wolf has changed, Bob Biribin and family are making it theirs now and I am really happy about that.  I am still there just about every day.  Because I love the people there.  Bob has amazing food and I eat healthier because he and his wife have a great eye for "real food" and better beer.  Less about me, the Wolf now is, and all of the Lewis artifacts are gone.  But the spirit and history of expression will always be there in my opinion.  And even though we changed the name of the place to The Wolf Public House from Lone Wolf.  People still call the place Lone Wolf.  Tell that to the Isle of Capri.

So why did I highlight Lewis Greenberg, the one so controversial, the one often jailed, the one often casted out from businesses and events throughout the city, for just being him?  Why did I choose to dedicate space in the restaurant to his art?-- which, if you haven't seen it, you should?

It's pretty simple, the dude has been running from the torch bearers for quite a while now and I wanted to give him some room to breathe.  I also wanted to let him know that he is appreciated as a human being, not some sort of side show hunchback.  I wanted to show the community, those with the slightest sliver of open mind to get to meet him.  I wanted to show them exactly what they were missing or sure what they did not want.  Because there was a percentage of people who "get Lewis", and I wanted to make sure that those friendships were kindled. 

No, mot everyone adores Lewis.  I would bet that  the local police draw straws when getting the calls from folks who think he is out of hand, dangerous, troubled.  One thing for sure, the more they come, the more the art evolves.  The closer the torches get, the brighter the glow upon his rooftop.  This has been what is most interesting to me.  You see, the community, by way of their own involvement, by way of their dislike and mis-understanding of things, by way of their own cultural depravity, have contributed to his art.  And Lewis, who's canvas appears each morning when he opens his eyes, begins another day by being him in a community that, like it or not, is enriched by his presence. At least some folks think so.

Lewis mentioned that his son was set to come and visit soon with his grandchildren.  This was quite the sparkle. 

He has a new piece on his garage door, in case anyone disputes the fact that his theme is Holocaust related.  Its a massive Auschwitz image.  You cannot miss it and there is no chance of not figuring it out.  The photo is also on his business card.  I recommend you go over there after patronizing the Schuncks store in Ballwin, the one that filled the auditorium at city hall in opposition with the same folks who want him jailed for his art.