I funded my way through college by undertaking many part-time gigs. However, two of the most long-lasting and notable ones were those in a local print shop as a designer/project manager (among many other roles) and at a popular downtown restaurant as a bartender on the weekends. The two jobs comprised two very different worlds. Both part-time gigs were incredibly rewarding, but for strikingly different reasons.
The restaurant business is a fast-paced environment and necessitates its employees put in long, back-breaking hours. It is a work-hard-play-hard environment. You have to remember that the smaller “mom-and-pop” places sprinkled throughout the U.S. are ultimately all about the celebration of food and the people. In fact, I’ve traveled to many countries in Europe and southeast Asia and have experienced the same openness and warmth from those establishments as I have from the ones here. I warmly (and cheekily) referred to my co-workers at the time as “Restaurant Carnies.” This was a term of endearment, as the group generally was a bunch of life-loving misfits from all over who enjoyed food and fun.
Hand-to-heart, I can confidently say that hospitality folks are some of the most genuine, shirt-off-their-backs kind of people with whom you will ever have the pleasure of interacting. Many of the relationships I formed as a part-time server and bartender are still going strong to this day, many years later. I have always said that everyone should have a stint working in the hospitality industry in their young adult life. You have to trust me on that one. . .
The print shop, on the other hand, operated at a relatively slower pace. It was a much more creative and dynamic professional environment, but it allowed me to don as many hats as I wanted. I would be taking sales orders and doing client visits one day, and then head down to the computer for hours the next. Speaking of hours, the business operated during standard 9-5 work hours. Obviously, this was very different from the nightlife atmosphere of a bustling restaurant and bar.
Small businesses are a fantastic testing ground to see how you will weather the start-up world on your own. The SEO Services company was a fairly well-known brand at the time and, interestingly enough, it was sold three times during my short tenure. Aside from the personal family mergers during my childhood, this was my first professional, up-close and personal stint in experiencing how a company changes its owners.
The original owners—a couple in their mid-thirties with backgrounds in the mortgage and construction industry—had saved up and wanted to own a franchise. Despite not having any background in the design or printing industry, they jumped in feet first. They hacked along for about 11 months until the wife and co-owner became pregnant with their second child. They re-assessed their situation overall and opted to sell the business and return to their less-demanding and balanced corporate jobs. They sold the business to a serial entrepreneur, who was also the owner of a family steakhouse chain in Iowa. Let’s call him Mr. Steakhouse. He was a quiet and genuine guy, but he managed everything to the penny. Most memorably, he gave me a raise of 39 cents per hour. He was proud of his financial acumen even, but a bit surprised that I wasn’t equally as impressed. This business was not high margin, and also was going through a slow time, so he thought he was doing as much as he could with the data he had. Mr. Steakhouse was a great guy and certainly taught me a thing or two about managing a business on a shoestring budget. Unfortunately, he was ultimately spread too thin, with his other endeavors stealing his focus.
He put the company out on the block and it was shortly acquired by a couple from upstate New York who wanted something to manage and keep them busy before retirement. This New York power couple had owned a high-end marketing agency for years. So this line of work wasn’t a stretch for them like it was for the previous owners. However, the jobs were much smaller in scope and, as with people with a creative streak, they tended to manage operations more on emotion and handshakes than spreadsheets. This was a welcome change that allowed us to undertake more creative work, although it also put us in a pickle or two when we went up against much larger printing/design firms. In the end, they secured some large contracts, and everything seemed to work out for them.