Smugglers' Inn started as a theme restaurant in Blaine, Minnesota and has become, if not a legitimate advertising agency, then a viable agency alternative with two dedicated ad employees, Carol Henderson, art director and Jarl Olsen, copywriter. Read the whole saga in these posts or click the pirate to follow the entertaining tweets of our dishwasher, Pongo. Who may or may not be an orangutan.!/PongoTryHard

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

But it looks good on you.

Even though we would love the tax advantages, Smugglers’ Inn is not a religion.  That is not to say that our employees are without faith; there are no atheists in kitchens, especially not when your broiler has chosen ten o’clock on New Year’s Eve to solve forever the debate of whether there is or is not a gas leak by sprouting a 2-foot tongue of blue flame from the flex-tubing connecting said broiler to the gas coupler.  Mormon, Jew, Catholic, Buddhist, Church of Elvis—all of our employees prayed just to get through the night that ushered in 2013—and they prayed there would never be another like it.  

Which begs the question, “Is anyone listening?” January is always a dog, but we’d been sued, broken into and visited by ICE.  Our advertising sideline is, well, sidelined until we can bail out the leaky pirate ship that is Smugglers’ Inn, the restaurant.  Sure, we have a killer pro bono campaign in the pipe, but “pro” and “bono” are two words that mean free.  We’re still looking to reap one callback from 84 gallons of World Famous© clam chowder we sent out at Christmastime to officers of Apple, Exxon, GM, TBWA Chiat Day and Choo-choo Bob’s Train Store (we just like trains).  I probably shouldn’t have, but when one of our employees asked for permission to read a Prayer for Smugglers’ Inn at our annual Employee Appreciation brunch, I didn’t think to consult with the other managers. 

“Go for it!” I’d said.   I mean, Smug’s already had its own theme song.  Why shouldn’t there be a Smugglers’ Inn prayer, too, written by our eldest employee?  Bartender Tito was in his fifties and had to be spiritual after all of those times in and out of AA.  We aren’t a school or public institution.  Who could object to a little public prayer?

When Tito tapped on the karaoke microphone and announced that he wanted to lead the assembled in grace, most of the employees, wives, husbands and kids were still making their way down the buffet that we’d set up on our bar.  All reverently stopped loading their plates with baked potatoes and prime rib to bow their heads and listen to Tito read “A Seafarer’s Pray-yur”, which he began to recite in a clear, Hispanic/British pirate voice.

“ARRR father , who aRRRRt in heaven…aRRRRR!”

I did a Danny Thomas spit-take and ran out of the lounge, hand pressed over my mouth and the club soda I’d been sipping dribbling out my nostrils.  I was back in the office with the door closed before I dared laugh, which I proceeded to do until tears joined the club soda slicking my chin.  If that had been a joke, it would have been horrible, but Tito had looked deadly serious.  As had every person in that room.

I knew that if I went back immediately, I’d lose it all over again.  I was looking for a kitchen towel to wipe my nose on when my cell phone vibrated. 

I’m hardly the type who feels compelled to check whenever he gets an email alert, but I was killing time.  At first, I thought the message had to be a prank, but everything seemed legit, the tone, the logo, the address.  If it was a hoax, it was an elaborate one. 

I called what the author of the email listed as her office number.  Since this was a Saturday, I wasn’t expecting a human being.  I didn’t get one.  What I did get was a recording stating that I’d reached Fox Programming after hours and asking me if I knew the extension of the person whom I wished to reach.  It was for real.

“Holy crap!” I thought.  “They want us!  They want Smugglers’ Inn for Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
Our little restaurant/ad agency is being invited to receive an extreme makeover from TV’s reigning tyrant chef, Gordon Ramsay.  When Ramsay sees how screwed-up this place is, he is going to pull our pants down and bugger us like choirboys in front of millions of viewers.  We’re going to be FAMOUS.

I ran out to share this incredible good news.  Tito, it seemed, had added a bunch of extra lines to the prayer we are all familiar with and was just asking the divine for a full folksail and a safe “haRRRRbur” from nor’easters.

“Arrr-men!” I shouted.

“Arrr-men!” the room shouted back.  And we proceeded to have the best damn Employee Appreciation brunch since we started hosting these events in 2009; we didn’t even run out of rolls.  Smugglers’ Inn was headed for reality TV, just when all had seemed black.  And to think, I once doubted the power of prayer.