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In The Weeds: What a Meltdown

January 12, 2010

“What a meltdown” was a classic catch phrase at my restaurant during most of 2008 and 2009.  It was uttered dozens of times per shift and could be used to describe anything from the kitchen getting behind on tickets to a server being so weeded that he had lost all cool and had digressed into classic “busy face.”  You’ve seen it, right?  Look for a server who is head down, brow furrowed, lips pursed and beads of sweat popping up just below his hair line.  He is walking very aggressively and performing movements in a jerky fashion but not really accomplishing anything.  What a meltdown.  It always produced a laugh from the surrounding staff before one of us would jump in to help out.  (Full disclosure: It was me who was often being bailed out of a meltdown.)

When I read the leaked massive meltdown email from Paradou owner Vadim Ponorovsky, I immediately thought, “Dang.  I bet he regrets that.”  But no.  No, he doesn’t.  To catch you up a bit… I posted the full email last week but the long and extremely F-bomb laden short of it is that Ponorovsky was super pissed that his servers had failed to collect email addresses from guests, presumably so that he could send them some SPAM newsletters.  Highlights include:

“Effective immediately, any server or host who fails to collect at least 20 emails per week, will be fined $100. Anyone failing to collect at least 20 emails for two weeks in a month will be fired immediately. No matter what. No matter who you are.”… “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU ASSHOLES?!?!?! How many times do we have to tell you how important it is that you collect emails. Everytime we have a slow night and you make no money and you sit there bitching about how you make no money, remember its because youre fucking lazy motherfuckers. YOU SHOULD ALL BE FIRED IMMEDIATELY!!!!!” … “So if you dont respect us enough to do the little that we ask you to do, then GET THE FUCK OUT YOU FUCKING LAZY DISRESPECTFUL ASSHOLES!!!!!”

When asked to explain his email, he told New York Magazine’s Grub Street,

“Out of the whole e-mail, the only term I regret is the ‘lazy mothertfuckers’ term.  The other profanity is a part of how I speak— I view curse words as basically emphasis adjectives.” Ponorovsky says that his background in marketing and advertising inspires him to run Paradou “without any layers. There’s very much a peer-to-peer relationship with the staff.” He says, “If you talked to anyone who ever worked for me, I could say without any sense of self-aggrandizement that they’d say I was the best boss they’ve worked for.”

The best?  Really?  Why have all those grateful employees not jumped to your defense on the message boards? Maybe they are too busy writing you thank you notes.  In his email to the alleged tipster,

“If the people who work for me are not happy they can find employment elsewhere. I do not hide. I speak my mind. They get praise when they deserve it and they got this because they desrved it too. I have no time for your childish sniping. And if anyone on my staff feels that they need you to defend them, they’ve chosen very poor champions.

Now please kindly go fuck yourselves or each other.”

I must say, his gift for profanity reminds me of the description Ralphie from Christmas Story gave about his father.  “He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.”

And Ponorovsky just keeps talking. And  I can’t look away.  I can’t!  After he and his wife, who answers the phones, started receiving death threats….

“This has now hit a point beyond civil discourse,” and adds, “You can quote me on this: Any time, any place (and you can put my personal e-mail,, these fucks, if they want to send me an e-mail, I will crack every one of their fucking heads and make the streets run with blood. I will not have my family threatened by anyone. I will fucking slaughter all these people and dance on their heads.”

Okay, I’ll give him that one.  Death threats aren’t cool.  Reverse death threats that include dancing and cracking heads are kinda cool.  At any rate, the public seemed pretty shocked and outraged at the way Ponorovsky treated his staff.  I don’t think we industry types were too surprised.  Surprised that he emailed it, yes.  But surprised that a restaurant owner went bat shit crazy and used…gasp…cuss words?  Knock me down with a demitasse spoon.  The inroads that corporate America’s HR departments have made for the last 25 years in sensitivity training, political correctness and sexual harassment are pretty much lost on restaurants.  Even the big corporate chains have all the right manuals and training classes, but once that’s over, it’s right back to the boss sleeping with his direct reports, the chef throwing tongs and expletives, and the staff thinking of new and exciting ways to break the rules.

It may seem that I’m contradicting myself because I always defend restaurant workers and the hard work and effort they put forth.  But I’m not, and they do.  I firmly believe that most servers and management have the guest’s best interests first and foremost every night.  What I am trying to point out is that restaurants always have been and always will be a sort of subculture.  It may be that they operate at night and on weekends.  They employ all types of people from wannabee actors to finance MBAs to moms to drifters.  You don’t typically find that cast of characters at an accounting office.  When discussing this subculture over drinks last night (Monday night…when industry people go out for drinks), my server friend hypothesized that working after dark and being in the alcohol trade may be what separates a restaurant culture from say the culture at H&R Block.  Maybe really sensitive and PC people eventually find their way back to daylight work and coffee, leaving the seedy underbelly to those of us who kind of like the seedy stuff.

To leave you with a full picture of the dichotomy in which restaurant workers often find themselves, I am including an industry video produced by the National Restaurant Association.  This was shown at one of our annual training meetings a few years ago at The Capital Grille, and I actually got a little misty eyed with pride.  Then we all put on our uniforms for service and chef may have said something rude but effective like, “What the fuck is your problem? I told you we were out of salmon!”  What a meltdown.


10 Responses to “ In The Weeds: What a Meltdown ”

  1. Mr. Smarty Pants on January 12, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Awesome post CJ!

  2. bigcrockofgold on January 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    This video is the love child of an Army National Guard video producer and a Hitler Youth Program director.

    I’ve worked with Russians on a writing project and although I was never subjected to this level of abuse, I was left with the strong opinion that Russians are crazy.

    They don’t have the filter of Democracy that we have learned. Communism is about sharing EVERYTHING, and for them that includes all their thoughts, internal or not!!

    (And there you go: Two stereotypes of both Fascism and Communism in one reply)

  3. Me, The JerBear on January 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Ceej I’m with you every step of the way!

    Unfortunately for many restaurant industry employees it is not unusual for restaurant owners and managers to treat them in this way. Time and time again over the years I’ve seen my brothers and sisters in this business abused, maligned and defrauded. I feel a great deal of empathy for those poor souls who have to work for That Terrible Ivan.

  4. Me, The JerBear on January 13, 2010 at 12:26 am

    Ceej I’m with you every step of the way!

    Unfortunately for many restaurant industry employees it is not that unusual for restaurant owners and managers to treat them in this way. Time and time again over the years I’ve seen my brothers and sisters in this business abused, maligned and defrauded. I feel a great deal of empathy for those poor souls who have to work for that particular Terrible Ivan.

    It’s bad enough that the American public is on a huge entitlement kick, spurred on in part by negative portrayals in the media of restie stereotypes and in part by the way restaurant managers tend to handle customer complaints. We accept the variances of the general public’s behavior and culture as an occupational hazard, but if this guy’s email is any indication he really, REALLY needs a hug and he would probably score a zero on the Fun To Work With meter.

    There but for the grace of the Table Gods wait I.

    Dignity and Respect (it’s now a facebook group:)

    Me, The JerBear

  5. Mr. Smarty Pants on January 14, 2010 at 4:43 pm
  6. Swanee on January 14, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    “Knock me down with a demitasse spoon.”

    This, my friend, is why I am so happy you said “yes” to writing for me, too.

  7. nativenapkin on January 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I have become a huge fan of your blog. When I sit here and laugh out loud so that my wife says “What’s so funny?” so I read it to her, then she laughs out loud, you know you’ve got something..

    I have never been a big fan of couching my instructions and discourse with my staff in touchy-feeley HR Speak, (do stupid shit once, I will politely correct you and give input on how to avoid said stupid shit the next time; do the SAME stupid shit again, you’re an idiot who doesn’t listen and remember), but this guy has taken it to a whole new level.

    There are multiple levels of management mistakes with this letter/email/his response in the Press! First let’s alienate all staff and potential staff, then go live in the public press and alienate all guests and potential guests, all the while violating/threatening to violate so many labor statutes that I just don’t know where to begin. How this guy manages to stay in business is a mystery, as you can be certain he is no sweetheart to anyone that might voice a complaint in his dining room.

    But you’re right. Just like the plumber’s butt crack you just have to look…

  8. CJ on January 19, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Mr. Intelligent Slacks,
    Loved the links. Good reading..thanks.

    Sweet of you.

    You write the truth. Maligned indeed.

    So glad we’ve found each other :)

  9. Biggie Struggs on January 23, 2010 at 9:48 am

    What an awesome site. Glad I found it. I was once told that once I hit 6 or 7 tables, I’m apt to “melt down like a 5 yr. old at a vegan birthday party.” It actually made the quote board in the office that is generally reserved for stupid shit customers say. I take great pride in this. At my restaurant, I’m simply known as “The Struggle” aka Biggie Struggs. The struggle is the new melt down. One thing’s fo sho, I would struggle not to beat Mr. Paradou’s ass on the way out his door! Put a slip in the check presenter that says “If you would like to be added to our email list, please give us your address here.”