Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Italian and a Jew walk into a saloon in Texas

From the “I knew it was too good to last” department

After a bit of travel between the East and the West coast, I am finally sleeping in my own bed. I have a favorite pillow which is really ragged. But the best dreams come when it is under my head.

Joey the Weasel, aka Joe Strange Eye and Tony the Bone wanted a “meeting.” It seems they boys back home have been missing their Italian wine guy. They think I have been getting a little too uppity. They wanted to put me back in my place. So I agreed to a time and a place.

They were just coming out of team meetings, so I waited for them, making my rounds. The place where I work has many buildings and a slew of different type folks. It’s always fun to just take a stroll around the buildings, see who is there, talk to them. And what they tell me, the things people will say. The wind up is, one can get a real sense of where a company, an industry, a trend is going, by getting a sampling of the thoughts of the folk who live there. Message received.

When I found them, Joey and Tony were huddled over a computer screen like it was a fire pit at SXSW. On further examination, neither had brought their reading glasses. They were both blind as bats.

Tony has this pizza place in the burbs he is working on and he wanted to let me know our Italian section was about to be invaded by the Southern Hemisphere. Tony likes easy money. I pretty well let him know that those pictures I took of him in 1981 were still in the safe deposit box, but that didn’t have to be a forever kind of thing. “Leave the Malbecs, take the Chianti,” were my parting words. Message received.

Strange Eye, that was a different story. He’s just spread thin, lots of business, things are booming. “Ace, the Italian wine business is out of control. It’s like the 1980’s. I just wish I was 20 years younger and 40 pounds lighter.” We kibitzed, got a few things on paper. It’s always good to talk to the guys on the street. You know, the schlubs who make things happen on the ground level? No corner office prognosticating with them, just the facts, Ma’am. Back to work boys.

As I was heading out the building, a young manager approaches me. “We’ve got to talk. That fancy new pizza place in the burbs (what is it with pizza places and the burbs?) is driving me nuts. I go in there, spend money, drop my card and the owner chumps me off. I need your help. What can we do to turn him around?” The young manager is intense, he stands upright, a good sign for someone who will be in the game for at least ten more years. We can use these kinds of folks at the battles edge. “What are you doing? Let’s go there right now and talk to him,” I suggest. “Scheduling conflict. No can do.” Hell, I’ll go there myself.

I get back to my office, drop my gear and grab “Louie”. Louie is old school. He wears a trench coat. On cold days he has a crumpled fedora that he pulls out, like some kind of show-and-tell at wise guy school. He looks like a punch-drunk hit man. Fancies himself a ladies man. But he knows the game. “Louie, come with me, I need to go talk to a guy who’s got that old time saloon above his wood burning pizzeria.

20 minutes later we walk into the place. The owner comes up to us.” Is everything OK? You guys look serious.” The owner is a sweet guy, but far from a pushover. But he’s always shot straight with me. The server escorted Louie to our table and I chatted with the owner. “Ah Vito, I’ve just missed eating your wood burning pizza. A week in New York, a week in Napa, you know, I long to drink my wines with your food.”

As I join my partner, I notice they put him at the table facing the door. Two things you never want to do in the restaurant business, put a Sicilian with his back to the door and put a Jew with his back to an oven. After musical chairs we got down to business.

755 words in, I know too damn long again. If you’re still reading, you want the end. The rest have gone on to Twitterland. So here goes. The pitch.

Thirty minutes into the meal, after we’ve slammed down a couple of ice cold Patron Silvers and were heading past the better part of a bottle of red, Vito comes up to me. Vito and I are neighbors, we hear the same sirens at night, we’ve pitched our tents in the same vale. “How’s the food, Ace, you like my menu?” I could feel Louie itching to answer, his finger on the trigger. But I took the shot. “Vito, everything is lovely, but I‘d love to see more of my babies on that menu. I’m not the type to ask you what it’s going to take. I’m just telling you I don’t want to walk out of her today and not solve this problem. So, what’s it going to take?”

Louie couldn’t resist. We were being convivial, so I guess he figured a little Catskill humor would play in this saloon, which was once a speakeasy. “Vito, I think what Ace is saying is take my wines, please.” Yeah, Lou, I am. But in a subtler more Sicilian style.

Vito excuses himself to tend to a problem in the oven. Lou eyes him warily. Minutes later, a duo of espressos and a platter of honey laced focaccia appear. And then Vito returns. “I was going to give you my list, but then I remember who you are and I didn’t want you to take it the wrong way. You’re not an errand boy sent by a grocery clerk to collect a bill. I just need two things.” And he came close to me and whispered them in my ear.
Message received.

On the way back to the office, I made a call and by the time I got back to my desk, the problem was solved. It was neat. It was clean. It was legal. I could tell you what it was, but I imagine the occasional competitor reading this post and I’m not about to give them my 30 years of experience wrapped up in the coda. Let’s just say respect is the key ingredient in that pie, laced with just the right amount of follow-up.

And that’s what the real world is all about, not the lavish wine dinners in San Francisco or the vertical tastings in the Upper East Side. The nitty gritty saloon brawl battles that help keep my world safe for Italian wine. Bona Notte y’all.


Thomas said...

Huh! Y'mean when that "human resources" guy at the distributor company where I applied for a job asked me what made me think I could sell wine, all I had to do was say daword from dastreets and I woulda been in?

Wish I had known about you then--coulda saved me years of woikin' for dawrong people.

Alfonso Cevola said...


ala the old saying, "your network is your net worth."

Brooklynguy said...

Unfair! i want to know what he whispered! Was it "rosebud?"

Do you all have to spend your own $$$ every time you go to these places to eat? that makes it an expensive proposition to try to sell to a new client.

Anonymous said...

I'd tell you but then I'd have to send Luca Brasi to visit you :)


Brooklynguy said...

he's asleep with the fishes, remember?

Marco said...

Hey, wasn't all this in a movie? Where's the "like" button?

Tricia Conover said...

Do I know those guys sampling wine in the picture? That's the CIA but who are the Italians?

Unknown said...

Achtung! Those socks look like they could be German!

Alfonso Cevola said...

Tricia -
The Italians? you dont know? I'll introduce you tomorrow

BK- Ha! They might be Italian. Or French ;)

Samantha Dugan said...

I have that same pillow. His name is Sunggle Buddy and my husband is very jealous of him, threatens all sorts of evil deaths upon my beloved sleep assistant. I keep telling him, "If you weren't loaded with all those pesky bones I would be able to bend and fold you as I wish, but alas..." Snuggle Buddy it is.

Sleep well

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