|photo courtesy of Carl Corey|
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Bert Gardner was not an easy man to know and, some would argue, a harder man to like. For much of his life, Bert was a fixture in Twin Cities advertising. Possessed of an imposing frame and what drill sergeants refer to as a “command voice”, Bert strode about like a bear on its hind legs, investigating everything, raising up that or those he deemed worthy and swatting down the pretentious and the tedious. While Bert did not generally suffer fools, he was a great friend of Smugglers’ Inn. Perhaps our strange business model (to date, there are no other restaurant/ad agencies) appealed to his sense of the absurd. Maybe he just liked our clam chowder. Whatever the reason for it, we could always count on Bert for an encouraging word or a voiceover when we needed Orson Welles, but couldn’t afford the bill to re-animate his frozen corpse.
Bert was a not-untalented writer. Every year at this time, Bert would send out a CD of himself reading a Christmas story that he had penned. The stories always involved a dog and usually one or more small children. They were sappy stories with happy endings that would always leave you with a tear in your eye. Everyone loved them. We loved them.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
"Yoo-hoo, Smugglers! Might we discuss this parcel with you?"
London’s Raindance Film Festival received a bit of a shock when they received a package from Smuggler’s Inn containing hundreds of .45 caliber bullets. (Thanks, Fed-Ex, now we know who will ship all the these surplus hand grenades we’ve been selling on e-Bay.)
To be fair, the brass cartridges we sent to Raindance were loaded not with lead and powder, but messages which began, “You’re fingerprints have turned up on a piece of evidence in a criminal investigation.” Further reading asked you to report to the Raindance film festival for questioning, where you may also buy tickets “for a good crime drama or shoot-em-up.” The bullets were just one of several no-budget/high PR gags we did to promote the various offerings at the 20th incarnation of London’s bravest independent film festival. Other ideas included tricking passers-by into touching a poster that had supposedly been sprayed with poison and posting festival flyers sideways at ground-level on pub walls and in gutters so London’s notoriously hard-drinking young people could more easily read them.
Yes, if you’re a paying customer, Smug’s can promise you an effective campaign that you’ll be comfortable with, but if you’re a film festival, free clinic or similar, you may have to trust us that whatever we give you is going to work.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Pongo, our Sumatran ball of energy, has been back on the job for a few months now and the Smugglers’ Inn dishwashing/prep area is beginning to resemble an American automobile from the 1950’s with every surface that isn’t painted or tiled gleaming like triple-dipped chrome. Whatever happened to Pongo during his time away, it did not make him lazy. We’ve had to ask our employee-of-the-month-for-life to take easy on the obsessive cleaning after going through two $18 mop heads in as many months.
We recently lost our bar boy and Pongo had begun filling in on Friday and Saturday nights, making sure our bartenders could concentrate on pouring booze without having to cut limes, clean glasses or run to the freezer for ice cream to make the dreaded Grasshoppers. This represented a much-deserved raise for Pongo, since bar boys make tips in addition to minimum wage.
While his English might have kept him from becoming a full-fledged bartender, Pongo was showing real flair as a bar boy, flipping fresh bottles into the well from a great distance and running to the cooler to and returning with two cases of Amstel Light on balanced on his head. Our customers ate it up.
All save one. A broad-shouldered lass in a blond wig and dark glasses had been nursing a 7-7 for an hour and a half when she stood up, pointed at Pongo and did a fair imitation of Donald Sutherland in the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. This happened a couple of Saturdays back and we’ve since learned that this person had been an employee of the Blaine Police Department and had, coincidentally, visited out restaurant on the same night when she’d experienced a psychotic episode brought about by PTSD.
While we officially 86’s former officer Corrine Chessman from our establishment, we still thought it prudent to pull Pongo from the bar and dining room. Pongo didn’t say anything (Pongo never does), but by the way he attacked his duties, it was clear that he was working harder than ever. Like most recent immigrants, Pongo thinks that this is how you get ahead, a quaint notion to anyone who has logged any serious time in the Home of the Brave. As compensation for his loss of tip income, we gave Pongo the additional title of food prep technician.
The Ecuadorians and Mexicans who work in Smug’s kitchen stopped talking to Pongo after their hours were cut. The fact that Pongo was handling virtually all of the food prep in addition to his dishwashing duties meant that we could run a leaner kitchen. This actually made the cooks’ jobs more stable, but try explaining that to a 21-year-old with two kids. In a show of solidarity, Smug’s Hispanic workers, meaning everyone who didn’t interact with our customers face-to-face, started referring to Pongo as “puto” or “El Naranja” (the orange one).
While I, personally, find spiders scarier, believe me when I tell you there is nothing more unsettling to the average restaurant manager or manageress than the specter of brown people acting in concert. I could take Pongo’s food prep duties away from him, but this would send all the wrong messages. Like I didn’t care about money.
Poor Pongo. He’d done nothing to deserve it, yet half of his coworkers (OK, 75%) were going out of their way to be nasty to him. I knew that by shifting just a few more hours of prep work back to the cooks, I could remedy the situation. So, I went looking for another job that I could assign Pongo. Our advertising sideline always needed digital enablers.
I was going to see if Pongo had any interest in learning WordPress when he showed up for work one day, sporting a tiny American flag on his white chef’s jacket and a smile that indicated Sumatra is not a nation awash in orthodontists.
“Pongo!” I said, “What’s up? Find another Kennedy half dollar in the street?”
Pongo said nothing (did I mention he does this?) but he handed me a red folder, which he had managed to fold in half twice in order to fit it in his pants pocked. I couldn’t believe what was inside. There was some stuff about the silver standard that made no sense to me, but there was no confusion that it was, essentially, a contract.
“You’re bringing in an account? I dunno, Pongo...it says here they won't be paying us anything until mid-2013.”
Pongo gave me a look like a little kid asking for permission to keep a dog that had followed him home.
“OK, Pongo. We'll keep it. But you’re going to have to take care of it.”
And that’s how Smuggler’s Inn got our very first national account and how an immigrant dishwasher from a fourth-world country became the account supervisor on the Ron Paul for President in 2016 account. Only in America.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
#1 ranked ATV and RV Corral offers its employees limited health care benefits. La-dee-dah.
Ever the innovator, Peter Lundquist and his Anoka County Shopper have published another top ten list. “The 10 Best Places to Work in Blaine/Coon Rapids” found in this month’s Shopper announces to the world what we’ve always known; mainly, that when it comes to providing meaningful work in a stimulating atmosphere, Smugglers’ Inn has no equal. Sure, there are places that pay better. Bob’s Produce Market. 15-Minute Lube. Red Robin Auto Body. Wendo Industries. ATV and RV Corral. Donner Realty, of course.
Yes, there were additional categories where we fell down in relation to the other nine businesses on this list, but why dwell on the negative? Chances are, you didn’t come here because you hate Smugglers‘ Inn. Those people hangout at VeganWorldAmerica.org, AdBusters, FancyPirate.com or one of the other sites that have called us out for being flesh-peddling ghouls, sinister manipulators of human behavior, or homophobes. We are not homophobes, for the record. We just don’t agree that because we have a pirate-y name, we have to be speaking out for the gay pirate community. As a matter of policy, we do not inquire as to the sexual orientation of anyone applying for a job at Smugglers’ Inn, although if the first thing a new waiter or bartender does upon being told his uniform will consist of an open collared shirt with puffed, 3/4 sleeves and a maroon vest with a sash is say that they have the perfect shoes to finish the ensemble, we generally skip the speech about how it’s not cool to harass the cocktail waitresses.
It was our commitment to equal opportunity hiring, in fact, that most impressed Mr. Lundquist, who knows full well that in Blaine, diversity means ordering off the KFC and Taco Bell menu at the same time. Smug’s also received bonus points for being in a glamor industry (advertising, not food service) and for providing a benefit no other business could claim, FREE SODA.
Given all of these positives, you would think that Smugglers‘ Inn would be THE place to work in the Blaine/Coon Rapids area. You would think so, but according to the Anoka County Shopper, you would think wrong. ATV and RV Corral scored highest overall among employers in this survey.
“How is this possible?” we asked, given that The Corral’s mechanics labor in a windowless back room under florescent light, exposed to carcinogenic petroleum byproducts that could ignite at any moment?
One word: health care.
The Corral was alone among businesses surveyed in that its eighteen full-time employees have access to subsidized emergency medical insurance. The health care factor, according to Mr. Lundquist, tipped the scales in favor of the sports vehicle dealership and away from America’s favorite ad agency/restaurant. We’re sure this was the case, just as we’re sure that the Corral’s decision to run a full-page, color ad in the same issue of The Shopper had no influence on editor Lundquist. Ol’ Pete, we should point out, offered Smugglers’ Inn a 40% discount on a full-page ad in the same Best Places to Work issue. An offer we respectfully declined.
No matter. We have our sights on a higher prize. Turns out that AdAge Magazine, whose circulation dwarfs that of the Anoka County Shopper, publishes their own version of a Best Places to Work issue. Owing to the unlikelihood that anyone from AdAge will be coming to Blaine, Minnesota, on a fact-checking mission, Smugglers’ Inn may just get our number one. After all, how many advertising agencies can boast an on-premise masseuse, 24-hour car service, a daycare facility, weekly pilates instruction, an olympic lap pool or a heli-port? Not to mention free soda.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Many people have asked us for the recipe for our World Famous© clam chowder. When we get done laughing, we look into their doleful eyes and tell them that while we have a traditional recipe for New England style clam chowder we will happily share with them, it won’t be the same. Our clam chowder’s unique flavor is achieved not only through its careful combination of ingredients, but also from the fact that we produce it in 5-gallon batches in a seasoned copper pot that looks like a witch’s cauldron. Just as one cannot grow champagne grapes in Hawaii, you cannot make authentic Smugglers’ Inn World Famous© clam chowder in that crock pot you bought at Costco. If you want the real deal, you need to come to Blaine, Minnesota.
We don’t do take-out, either. Like a deep-sea creature that perishes when hauled to shallow depths, our chowder curdles when you reheat it. Our employees all know this.
So, when one of our waiters said that his customer was demanding to speak to the manager (me) about a clam chowder order, I assumed that here was just another D-bag who didn’t know the meaning of “no”. Not to say there are idiots in Blaine, Minnesota, but some of our citizens couldn’t spell the word if you spotted them the “N” or the “O”.
“Gentleman!” I said, strolling over to a table where two enormous men with ZZ Top beards were drinking Bud Lights. “You wanted to see me?”
“I’m getting married next week,” the man with the cleanest beard said, foregoing any pleasantries.
“I’m the best man!” declared the other with a good deal more enthusiasm.
“Congratulations to both of you.”
“Your clam chowder is killer,” continued the first man, whom I’d only then noticed was missing teeth. “I’m wondering if you’d like to make up a batch for my reception in Cloquet. There’s gonna be, like, 200 people.”
“I’m very sorry. I’m afraid we’re not set up...”
“I’ll give you a grand, cash.”
“Can do!” I said and motioned for their waiter, who was hovering at the edge of earshot, to fetch another round for these fine gentlemen. If my experience in advertising has taught me anything, it is that you never turn down $1,000. Where exactly was Cloquet, anyway?
A week proved not too long to get ready for our first catering gig. Mr. Interweb informed us that Cloquet was 2 ½ hours away. We would need to transport our precious cargo 135 miles without letting it cool down. Getting that much chowder ready at once was another challenge. We have some crazy huge stockpots, but 200 bowls?
It was a puzzler until one of our beer suppliers hooked us up with a home brewer who had copper vat that was about the right size. It even came with a gas burner. All we had to do was arrive 2 hours early and we could the chowder right there.
On the morning of the wedding, we loaded the vat onto a truck driven by one of our cooks, Jorge #3, who seemed up for the adventure, despite his having closed the night before. I was driving a van with the ingredients, cutlery, a folding table, soup bowls and our trainee, Caitlyn. Caitlyn had graduated from a cooking school that had taught her how to make a soufflé’, but had neglected to teach her the most fundamental kitchen skill of them all. So, it would be my task to interpret Jorge’s Spanglish for her, omitting offensive language and sexual advances directed at Smugglers’ Inn’s first female kitchen worker.
Our little caravan was on the road at 7:30 AM, and to everyone’s surprise, we arrived in Cloquet half an hour ahead of schedule. As it turns out, we needed the extra time to find the location. Our directions sent us a little ways West of Cloquet, into the boonies. We saw one little dirt road that seemed to be the turnoff to the location, but it was chained off and looked unused. We kept driving and soon came to a massive sign marking the border of the Cloquet National Forest, a landmark our directions told us indicated we had traveled too far.
There was no cell service, of course. I drove on, hoping to find a park ranger who might be able to tell me where I’d gone wrong. No luck. Seems Cloquet National Forest isn’t a big enough attraction of have a visitor center.
“Are we lost?”
Caitlyn, who had been asleep the entire trip, woke up just as I was turning the van around.
“Looks that way,” I said. “I was going to head back to town until I had enough bars to find out where this invisible turnoff is.”
“Where are those bikes going?” Caitlyn said, pointing down the road from whence we’d come. ”Could that be it?” I could see nothing but a dotted line and birch trees converging in a point. Oh, to have young eyes again.
We soon reached the dirt road that we’d passed from the other direction. The chain was now down and there were fresh sets of narrow tire tracks, like what a pair of motorcycles might make. We followed these down an overgrown road, tree branches scraping the side of our van the entire way. About 200 yards in, the road ended in a big clearing by a stream. Two Harley Davidsons were on their kickstands, parked on a patch of stones. Their owners were busy trying to start a small outboard motor that was on the ground. Maybe the boat was coming.
“Hey, clam chowder!” one yelled, waving his arm. I saw it was the Best Man.
We parked our vehicles and I went over to talk to the bikers, relieved that we were in the right place. I was visibly less relieved when I saw that what I’d taken for an outboard motor turned out to be a McColluch chainsaw. I looked over my shoulder to see if Jorge was getting out of the truck. Nope.
“Don’t worry, buddy, we ain’t gonna cut your head off just because you’re early.” The two bikers laughed at this. I laughed, too; it seemed the safe thing to do.
“I just wanted to make sure Billy here was set up before I go back and put on my monkey suit. He’s in charge of the roast.”
“Roast?” I asked.
“What did you think?” asked the biker called Billy, ”We was just gonna serve soup at this shindig? I’m in charge of the roast, another brother’s doing beans and the gals are all in charge of desert. You need me to cut some firewood for you, too, Chowder Guy?”
I told him that we had brought our own. I set up the table and Caitlyn prepared the ingredients for the clam chowder while Jorge’ struggled to get the gas lit under the brewer’s vat. Turns out my translating skills weren’t required, since it was clear the two weren’t speaking to each other. Fine. I watched the guy with the chainsaw cut up a few downed trees before starting in on a live birch. When he had enough wood to build log cabin, he began stacking it into a pentagram, with larger logs on the bottom and progressively smaller ones on top. It was really beautiful. I was reminded that we needed to find an art director for our growing advertising sideline. Maybe this guy could be trained to tend bar as well?
A noise the was louder and, to my ears, more annoying than the chainsaw announced the arrival an ancient, un-muffled Ford pickup truck that bounced out of the woods and drove right up to the log pentagram. Two men got out and they, along with the woodcutter, pulled out some rusty iron bars from the back of the truck, which they pounded into the stony ground with much cursing and swearing. The bars had “V”’s welded on the ends to accommodate a spit.
The whole thing looked grossly all out of scale, but I suppose one cannot serve 200 people with a capon. I was half expecting a couple of Harleys would ride up with a very large pig or perhaps an entire side of beef slung between them, but the meat was in the bed of the pickup, hiding under a tarp.
Cars and motorcycles with wedding guests started arriving exactly two hours after we’d put the chowder on, so things worked out perfectly. The head count was probably only 120, but our chowder pot and a keg of beer were the only games in town, the roast looking hours away from cooked and the guy with the beans AWOL. I would have liked to have stuck around and seen the motorcycle jousting, but things were already getting a little crazy and I was worried about Caitlyn. She had not said a word to either Jorge or me since she’d walked over to offer a 20 lb bag of potatoes and some other leftover vegetables to the bikers turning the spit. It was clear that she intended to remain in the van with the doors locked for the duration. I sent Jorge out to retrieve all the bowls that didn’t get didn’t get tossed in the fire and I went to search out the best man. He paid up, in cash. We were back in Blaine in time for Jorge’ to open for dinner.
Our first excursion into the world of catering had been a near-total success. Let’s be honest; Caitlyn was never going to work out, anyway.
On the heels of this welcome expansion of our core business, our advertising sideline has been cracking the freelance market. We’ve Smug-ifyed a couple of new business pitches for big agencies (well, bigger than us), garnering rave reviews. All in all, it was a good month for everyone.
Except for that poor pony, A.K.A. “the roast”.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Sure, you could find the same campaign for travel company, Tours Abroad, without leaving this page, but it looks much more impressive on the Communication Arts site. We don't know how it got there since we forgot to enter CA this year, but like the patrons in our Rusty Scabbard Lounge, we ain't turnin' down love.
After one harmless crack about his "harem", Mr. Funny Hat declared that the Vienna Boys Choir will NEVER sing "The Ballad of Smugglers' Inn". Line forms to the left, Papi.
The Ballad of Smugglers' Inn
(To the tune of "Ho da fare un drama buffo" from Rossini's Il Turco en Italia)
SINGER: Our restaurant was, like, awesome, great. Each night we served 200 plates, of lobster, shrimp and blackened steak. Our bartenders scored like Penn State. But that was 1978. Oh, cry for SMUGGLERS’ INN!
CHORUS: Smugglers’ Inn! Smugglers, Inn! Oh, glory days, where have you been? You’d think that puffed sleeves weren’t in. Oh, cry for Smugglers’ Inn!
SINGER: The take is off more every year. Theme restaurants have grown passe’. We keep the lights on, god knows how, but the chowder’s sometimes nas-tay.
CHORUS: Smugglers Inn! Smugglers Inn! You might have died like Gunga Dinn. But you didn’t know when to pack it. 'Da World don't need one more has-been. You’re evicted, Smugglers’ Inn!
SINGER: The end had come, we couldn’t doodle. We had to sell kits and kaboodles. We broke out a case of Boodles. Martini-fueled, we wrote some ads. To hawk our broiler, bar and dishes. Plus some pretty fake stuffed fishes.
Suck the corpse of Smugglerss’ Inn! “Disco’s dead but we’ve kept its balls.” “Two hundred for a wine cooler? We must be drunk.”
Our ads stood out in “Trading Times”, In “Business Trader”, a sensation. Then Conan reads some on Late Night, in front of the whole nation.
“Who would have predicted? To creativity we were now addicted.”
CHORUS: Smuggler’s Inn! Smugglers’ Inn! From Surf ‘n Turf to new business wins. The unlikliest agency that’s ever been! And if we don’t run out gin, we’re bound to win a lion or at least a pin. Hurray for Smugglers’ Inn! God Bless America!
VOICES (OUT): “Let’s do lunch.” “I’m Ramone, I’ll be your creative director…can I start you with a web page?” “Ha-ha-ha! You should be writing this…”
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Another year has come and gone in Blaine, Minnesota, leaving behind expectations not met, tires not rotated, pounds not lost, outstanding balances not paid, summonses not served and the bond measure for the Olympic velodrome still bogged down in committee. Welcome, 2012; hope you have better luck than the last guy.
Smugglers’ Inn had a great New Year’s Eve, thank you for asking. Our bar rocked from 9 o’clock on and there were no fights with weapons. The kitchen stayed busy, but with a prix fixe menu and two seatings that are always full, it’s the flow of booze that determines if you’re up or down and we are winning like Charlie Sheen. Given that our little advertising sideline brought in less in November/December than a bell ringer outside of Ron Paul’s campaign headquarters, it felt nice to have too much business again—even if it was only for a night.
We will have to wait until our mid-month inventory to run the numbers, but there is a way that we in the trade use to predict the relative sobriety of a New Year's Eve crowd: from the things that crowd leaves behind.
A policing of our bar, dining area, parking lot and adjacent shrubbery recovered the following items:
Man’s chain wallet, black, empty.
Buck knife, tip broken.
4-oz. can of mace in leather pouch, full.
14-oz can of bear repellent, 1/2 full.
Hat, women’s, vintage with feather.
Women’s red size 8 pump, left.
Women’s “Bedazzled” handbag containing used Kleenexes, assorted pens and pencils, prescription glasses and 1/2 bag of candy orange slices (Fritzie Fresh).
Plush toy pig with motorcycle jacket.
Prescription glasses (bifocals), mens steel frame.
Reading glasses, red, women's.
Sunglasses, “Blue Blockers” brand.
Birth Control “daisy wheel”, Loestrin brand, unused.
Man’s wedding band, platinum, “Love Never Dies” inscription.
3-tooth retainer with gold fittings, (woman’s or child’s).
Four Smugglers’ Inn pewter plates. (People are always stealing these decorative plates. Judging from the dents and scrapes, these four had been used as Frisbees.)
Men’s Rolex watch (fake).
Gun holster, black, concealed carry.
Car keys, Kia.
Car Keys, Pontiac, Green Bay Packers fob.
Bong, red, white and blue acrylic, missing bowl
Women’s Hermes scarf, silk, soiled.
Women’s panties, black cotton/polyester, size 9 (still in the plastic from Victoria’s Secret).
Hearing aid, MircoTek Vector brand.
Plastic bag from CVS containing Gynolotrimin, Dentyne Ice chewing gum, Pepto Bismol (mint), 3-pack, Trojan Max condoms, Bausch and Lomb “No Rub” contact lens solution, Chapstick.
“Live Strong” yellow silicone wrist band.
Droid Razr cell phone.
IPod Nano, pink.
Two-year AA sobriety medallion (oops).
Wizard’s cap, handmade, purple satin with stars.
It goes without saying that this does not include the baseball caps, underwear, ear muffs, stocking caps, pens, lighters, children’s art, and other assorted detritus that goes straight into the trash.
If anything from this list belong to you, you may pick it up during our regular business hours or contact us through this website. Unclaimed items will be tossed into the "Pirate's Booty" box, picked through by our employees and accidentally discarded the next time is occurs to any of us that we could use a little more space.
Peace on Earth and best wishes for a safe and prosperous New Year. Live strong,