By Lynn (Paitakes) Lotkowitcz
If you’re lucky enough to experience great success in your career, you wonder what the conditions and influences are that impacted your path.
It wasn’t until many years into my career that I realized my dad, from age 7 through my early 20s, was responsible for all that I would accomplish in the world of business and much of life.
My father was born in Crete and came to the United States when he was 7. His goal was to be his own boss and, like many immigrants of that generation, to “have a better
life and take advantage of all America had to offer” – and he succeeded.
He hopped off the boat at Ellis Island, went to school, and worked in restaurants from his teenage years. He eventually owned and operated the Spinning Wheel Diner and Cocktail Lounge in New Brunswick, NJ.
In the 1950s, roles were clearly defined, and my dad worked 70+ hours a week, while mother cooked, cleaned, and managed the home and four children, ranging from 1-16 years of age.
When my dad was home, he was eating, sleeping or snoozing in a recliner watching sports. He seemed always to function in a state of exhaustion but tried not to show
- He managed a staff of 40 in a business that operated 24 hours. (In those days, in
the industrial Northeast shift work meant people ate all hours of the day or night, so
if you ran a restaurant it behooved you to stay open 24/7).
The few hours he was awake at home, he would talk endlessly to my mom about what
was going on at the business, constantly interrupted by waiters, cooks, vendors
calling our house (no texting/ emailing or cell phones, then) with a variety of issues only
he could resolve.
The pelati (customer) wants to see a clean, professional serving and operation, if he’s having meal or if he is taking his family to Sunday dinner, a lesson in itself indicating that your appearance makes a statement about you and your character.
Most days my dad would come home to eat no matter how late. My mother was an excellent cook and made elaborate meals
every day – roasts, grilled dishes, baked treats – all with Greek flair and all amazing.
Pop would sit down and review the day at the Spinning Wheel Diner, no matter
A lesson I learned (service rules for the customer): Sunday were my favorite day. My mom and I would go to a quick church service, Then to Sunday lunch at the Spinning Wheel Diner, where Pop, crisply dressed and sparkling with pride, would seat us at the family table. After a pat on my head, he’d run back to seat his usual Sunday families.
Anyone with a small child was handed a jumbo Mars candy bar (“a little something for
little Bobbie”).Little Bobbie grinned from ear to ear, thus confirming he’d be well
behaved through the meal, anticipating the Mars bar. Bobbie’s parents were happy,
would be back next Sunday, and Pop had a happy repeat customer at the cost
of a 25-cent candy bar. Lesson: Every staff member’s position is important and contributes significantly.
If it were slow day midweek, Pop never sat down. If the dishwasher was full and
clean, he’d empty it. If the expensive terrazzo floors had crumbs or dirt, he’d start
sweeping, wipe the counters, fill the sugar bowls, shine the napkin holders – nothing
was too menial for him. When I asked him, as president of this enterprise, dressed in
white shirt and gray blazer embroidered with his name on it, why was he doing
these menial tasks that were the responsibility of others, Pop would retort angrily,
1) You never sit idle at work, 2) The better the place looks, the better impression you
make 3) I’m making a point that every job is important and we are all in the success
of the business together. Respect your employees’ efforts and don’t ask them to
do anything you wouldn’t do.
After a family finished their meal, he’d always go up to them and ask is everything
was good. If they didn’t order dessert, he might send over a piece of complimentary
freshly-baked apple pie. “Jimmy [the house baker],” he’d say, “just took this out
of the oven. I thought you might enjoy a taste.”
Around 9 years of age, I realized many of my pals were getting a weekly allowance
for various trinkets, candy, Cokes, to have their own money for whatever. I was
used to just asking for things on an “as-needed” basis with not much resistance.
But, peer pressure rules, so I approached my mom with the idea. She didn’t think it
necessary but gave me the ok to ask Pop.
So, I practiced in front of the mirror a few times, worked up the nerve to ask for
50 cents per week (remember it was 1960).
My best bud, Frank, was getting 25 cents.
With nothing to lose, I approached him one evening while he was emptying his
pockets in the bedroom, a nightly ritual with loads of coins, a wad of dollars and
various other trinkets. ”What are you going to do with the money?” he asked in his
intimidating tone. ”I’d like a mirror for my bike. Or, buy a Coke without having to ask
for money…you know what I mean, Daddy?”
I said, trembling inside but trying to convey great confidence.
Smiling, he handed me $3 and said: “What the heck can you buy with 50
cents! Here, $3 will be your allowance every Wednesday.” Wow, I think, that went
really well (sales training has begun unbeknownst
to me at the time.)
On the few days he had off, my dad enjoyed a day at the horse races. One day, prior to leaving the house, he asked me to give him two numbers. My favorite number was three, so I told him three and three. I forgot about it and went about my 9-year-old life playing with my best friend the Atlantic to better his life at age 7, worked his way up through the ranks of diners and restaurants to own and run a very successful business that grew under his astute management to 40 employees, father of four who took care of a big family that included children, in-laws and his own parents.
His vote of approval and confirmation of me being “lucky” was a basis for self-confidence that was further enhanced later that night when he mentioned very
casually that many good things had happened in his life after I was born. The
restaurant had taken off, he was able to take my mom on some great vacations
and was a well-respected entrepreneur of the community. Of course many of these
events were simply coincidence and timing. But no matter, he said I was lucky….it
must be true. Since my dad wasn’t a big talker. The things he said to us kids had
great impact and stuck with you. My self-confidence soared.
Seven or eight years later, he sold the business. I was finishing up the local community
college and got offered an entry-level position in NY media. My mother was very nervous to let a naive 19-year-old take the train into Manhattan every
day and encouraged me to seek something closer to home in very boring NJ. Pop was thrilled for me and the experiences I could have in NY and said: “Go for it.” Thanks to
his support, I took the job, and it was, as promised, an amazing experience in the
entertainment industry dining in 5-star restaurants, meeting celebrities and having
the time of my life.
I married, moved to Florida with my husband, had a son, and reset my career
towards media sales. To be successful in sales requires tenacity, perseverance and
tremendous self-confidence. I learned all those things listening to Pop. It’s worked
out beautifully for me.
I credit Pop for all the success I’ve had these last 25+ years. Listening to his business
stories were the seeds of management lessons, dealing with people and
setting an example of how to work both hard and smart. His generosity and ability
to share his success were a joy to be around and though he’s been gone for
many years, I think about him every day.
Some lessons in business and life really are never out of date. How you treat your
colleagues, customers and employees will always dictate how successful you are.
Even more important, what your children hear from you and how you treat them
will dictate who they become.
My son and his beautiful wife and son live in Manhattan. I visit often and walk
my little grandson along the Hudson. They have successful careers and are able to
enjoy all that life has to offer. How proud Pop would be to know all his dreams have
come true, as he must have envisioned them on the boat to Ellis Island.
I am nearing retirement and have investigated some nonprofits with which I’d like to become involved. One I’m particularly interested in is Global Volunteers, working in Crete with children who want to learn English.
I participated in their program in 2013 and will try another trip in 2015. It seems like a great way to give back and make a positive impression in a child’s life.
Maybe give them a little extra self-confidence, the way my Dad did.
(Lynn Lotkowictz is Director of Advertising at Florida Trend magazine. She shared this article with us for publication, which first appeared in the July issue of Estiator)