There are so many things I love about travel. For instance, I love that I’m seeing the leaves change for the first time in my life. I love that I get to experience this incredible journey with Alyssa. But something I didn’t quite expect was to be so inspired by non traditional businesses that are changing people’s lives.
Yesterday, I worked at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine. It’s a local hut that people literally travel thousands of miles just to come and eat some delicious seafood. After having worked in 26 businesses across the country, I can walk into a restaurant or retail store and immediately have a sense of how the place is being run. It sounds strange, but it’s an intangible feeling that feels evident after having been to so many places. Yesterday morning at 10:00am when I stepped into the hut, I felt a place that was alive.
There were 10-15 people on staff already, hustling around and doing prep work in the back. I stood back and watched as they laughed and worked together. At 10:15 Jordan, the kitchen manager, gathered everyone around and said a few words to get everyone ready for the day. She then introduced myself and Alyssa and I said a few words about our journey across America. Then we got to work, but not before the whole team yelled out, “Go Bob’s!”
Awesome, I thought. Today’s going to be a great day.
My first surprise of the day happened as we stood in a circle and everyone introduced themselves. My name is Stephen and I’ve been here nine years- then someone said they had been here 12 years, and on and on. This was a restaurant in the quick service industry, where turnover sometimes hovers around 100%, and most of the staff had been here for several years. Even Zach, a younger employee at age 21, has worked at Bob’s for five years–ever since he earned his driver’s license. It says a lot about a restaurant when people are willing to stick around for awhile.
In the morning time, I worked alongside Stephen, who told me about his travels hitchhiking across America and doing sound work for the band Fish. Then I met Wang, who moved to the U.S from the Philippines more than ten years ago when she didn’t know how to speak English (she’s been at Bob’s for three years now).
But my favorite part of the day was when Justin (pictured above)pulled me to the front and I was able to talk with customers. This was really a unique treat because I don’t always get to interact with customers like a real employee.
Justin said, “When you’re up here, it’s like a stage. You can be whoever you want to be. You can be a funny guy, or just a happy person. But people will respond to you based on how you interact with them. The computer screen is easy, and once you figure it out then it’s all about talking to people and learning where they’ve come from and who they are. It’s so interesting because you meet people from all over. This is my favorite place to work.”
I was blown away by his teaching and the way he approached his job. Here he was, a normal guy, and yet he was so passionate about the work he did every day at Bob’s. It was infectious, and I immediately knew I didn’t want to screw up because now I was fortunate enough to be part of this family. I felt pride as a normal employee running the register for Bob’s Clam Hut.
“Hi y’all. Welcome to Bob’s. How’re ya doin?” (That’s my Texas accident via writing, oh, it’s real)
At one point during my stint at the register Justin spent five minutes attempting to convince a customer that Bob’s has the best clams in all of Maine. The customer had already said that Bob’s was in her top five, but Justin wanted to know why they weren’t number one. I thought it was awesome. He spoke respectively, but with such enthusiasm the customer asked if he was part of Bob’s family.
“No, I just believe in what we sell.”
I don’t know if he changed her mind, but I knew I was sold. Never before had I seen such passion from a regular employee who wasn’t the owner. The cool thing about Bob’s is this is the norm. One employee was so renowned that there is a giant picture of her hanging up about the service window- “Lillian’s Window”. She worked at Bob’s for years and people would wait a half hour just to stand in line at Lillian’s window. She worked at Bob’s until she was 87 years old and people still ask about her, I heard a woman asking about Lillian yesterday.
Towards the end of my shift I met the owner, Michael. I’m always interested in how people get started with their own businesses (side note: this trip has me inspired to start my own small restaurant business one day). Michael told me that during college he would never eat in the cafeteria, that he loved “hut” restaurants and would constantly go out, sampling new food. He also kept a board in his apartment with all of them ranked from best to worst. He was basically Yelp before the Internet existed.
As he talked, I heard his love for clams and huts come out in the way he described the restaurant. He bought it in 1986 from Bob and his wife after Bob ran the place for thirty years. Michael told me he “inherited something special.” He knew as the owner that it was his job not to screw it up. What inspired me is hearing Michael talk about the way he feels about the restaurant, it’s such an authentic type of appreciation and love. It’s infectious, there was no talk about the bottom line of dollars or anything like that, it was about a hut, a vibe, and a real connection with customers (people).
These aren’t the kinds of businesses you typically hear about in the world, especially not ones that are quick service. But it inspires the heck out of me because now I know they exist. It took me back to a time where people really cared about the work they do, even if it’s something as simple as cooking food. I felt a sense of pride wearing my Bob’s shirt and welcoming people. My hope is we can find our way back to businesses where every employee has pride in the business itself, and there is an integrity that won’t be compromised. I’m not sure how we will get there, but it’s worth striving for.
The world needs more businesses like Bob’s.