Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Plug for Jacks Firehouse in Philly

We visited last Wednesday the historic Eastern States Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Eastern States, opened in 1829, was the prototype for over 300 penitentiaries which followed. It finally closed in 1971.

Originally built 1½ miles from the city, Philadelphia grew around it, surrounding it on all four sides. It is now a part of the Art Museum Neighborhood, 5 blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Forget Alcatraz! Al Capone was “luxuriously” imprisoned in Eastern States before Alcatraz. Willie Sutton, the infamous bank robber, was a prisoner until his escape.

The question was: Where do we eat after the visit?

A quick perusal of the neighborhood showed nothing exceptional. The information at the museum led us to Jack’s Firehouse, conveniently located across the street. The interior architecture of the old fire station reflects that of a century ago. The narrow restaurant had a beautiful mahogany bar in the middle. That was clearly not original to the fire station.

Little did we know that entered a famous restaurant, perhaps even more famous nationally than Eastern States. The award winning founder, Jack McDavid, regularly appeared on the Food Network’s “Grillin’ and Chillin’ with Bobby Flay.”

The food is traditional American, with a generous helping of local favorites (think Philly Cheesesteak) and seafood.

None of this really matters.

As we entered Jack’s Firehouse, a woman, who I shall refer to as the Hostess, was serving drinks behind (or within) the bar. She sat us at a table. We small talked with her before leaving, and then asked directions to the 76 from the parking lot up the block.

She provided great directions - the tunnel was the key, and that was it. Or so we thought.

The Hostess came running up as we were paying the parking lot attendant. She was holding my camera which I had left behind. Unbelievable! Let me add that the other wait staff were also very impressive.

Who says good help is hard to find? Certainly not in Philly.

That is service, service above and beyond the norm – service from a hostess at a bar or restaurant that will probably never see us again. Service that validates one’s faith in the American people.

Her generous act says much about her. It also speaks well of Jacks. The restaurants business has a high failure rate. Jacks has prospered since 1989.

Poor service is a major cause of restaurant fatalities. Poor service in turn is often a reflection of poor, often arrogant, management. Treat your employees well, and they will respond. They will go the extra step.

Treat your employees poorly, and they will be surly and lethargic.

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