Tuesday, August 12, 2008


This chain has a special place in my heart. While it may seem odd that 22 years ago I packed my bags in the middle of the night to quietly get the hell out of Houston, a long way away from Houston, I still relish my time spent there. Yes, I stuffed all that I could into my car, a vintage 1980 turbo Pontiac Trans Am that, incidentally, would be stolen a month later by an employee from the parking lot at St. Louis Union Station. I was headed to Kansas City to bet on football for a couple of months while plotting out my next move, which eventually turned in to a stint with Houlihans Old Place.

I remember working at Dominguez Hills Golf Course as a starter and seeking out corporate restaurant ads in the LA Times. It was 1982, what I consider the blast off years for the corporate restaurant chains. Bennigan's was expanding pretty quickly, probably had 300 restaurants at that time. The reality, they would hire you if you hadn't been in jail and could clean up a bit. I was one of those. I was chilling on the beach for a few months after closing a restaurant that my father and I owned in Salina Kansas. I left their in the middle of the night as well.

My interview was in Costa Mesa and I was told to visit a couple locations as part of the "getting to know you" process. The recruiter handed me some comp vouchers and sent me up the street to hang out and get an idea of what the concept was about. I must have said the right words in our 30 minute conversation (will relocate) because when I got home that afternoon I had an offer of 19,000 per year salaried position and would be moving to Houston Texas by the end of the week. Giddyup!

I want to take this opportunity to thank two people. Robert Ferngren, my district manager. Bob, you may or may not remember sending the police to my house to make sure I was OK when I didn't show up for work the day after getting promoted to a new "store". It was very kind. Fact was, at 21,000 a year, working 80 hours a week and having meetings on my day off for a couple years, I was a little burned out. Did you know that T-tops were a really hot commodity back then? I had my T-tops stolen twice while there, and my clothes stolen from the dryer in my apartment complex, and the plates stolen from my car, I was robbed at gunpoint too, though that might have been my fault. But thanks for that, and thanks for understanding that it was time for me to move on, go back to home base for a while. Houston had a little bit of a problem: the savings and loan collapse, the oil industry decline, name it, Houston was in the middle of it.

I can honestly say that without that experience, as with other experiences that caused me considerable pain, I would not have found my way to St. Louis, met my wife, gotten my act together and started a business. I ended up seeing things your way Bob, so Cheers to you. Let's chat sometime, umkay?

The other is Don Slater, the President of Bennigan's who spoke at the 2 week training class in Dallas. Bennigan's had an extremely well written training program that pretty well debunks the need for a degree in restaurant management. Don's superb perspective still resonates in the fabric of what I do now. Not sure where Don is now, hopefully he and Bob are not putting paper up on the windows of the more than 300 restaurants recently closed by S&A Restaurant Corp, mostly Bennigan's. RIP Bennigan's...


Yeti Ken said...

The first place my friend Rich and I got served alcohol regularly was at Bennigans in Bloomington, MN. We were 18 and the legal age had just changed from 19 to 21 so many servers were still not asking for ID. Yes, Bennigans has a special place in my heart, too.

Anonymous said...

Hey I am alive...I kinda remember...my email is bferngren@yahoo.com you can also find me on facebook

Bob Ferngren

Anonymous said...

Don and Val passed away this year.

Karri said...

A little more regarding Don Slater. Don & his wife Val Slater died in Jan. 2009 near Charlottesville, VA. Don went a long way with the S&A company.