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One evening, one restaurant, very different experiences

Let me start by saying that you will probably never read a review from me on a national restaurant chain. I really like locally owned establishments and try to patronize them any time I can.

After all, the statistics are staggering. Something like eight of 10 entrepreneurs who start a small business fail within the first 18 months. So if your doors are still open beyond that, way to go! I’m going to support you. 

What constitutes a chain, anyway?

I recently had dinner at Evil Czech in Mishawaka. I have heard people say that Evil Czech is a sort of chain. They, I assume, are referring to the fact that the owner is also the owner of Corndance Cafe in Culver and Corndance Tavern in Mishawaka. I disagree.

Talk to me about a chain when it has more than 20 locations. I think Applebee’s has something like 2,000. That’s a chain.

I just read that Evil Czech opened its doors less than a year ago, in March 2014. It feels like it’s been around a lot longer. It has done a nice job of integrating into the community. I know it has become a staple in my restaurant repertoire.

Good things come to those who wait…

I planned to meet some friends there for dinner the other night but I got held up at work. Unfortunately, one of my friends, with his 2-year-old son, was early.

The hostess, Kierra, would not seat them until our whole party was present. This left him to sit alone in the front lobby with a hungry toddler for about 25 minutes.

Any parent can tell you this is not an ideal situation. Kierra, however, did a wonderful job of making it not just tolerable but actually fun for the little guy. She immediately got him a little cup of milk with a straw and then fired up the popcorn popper.

I heard his eyes lit up when the kernels started to pop. Between the milk and the popcorn, time passed pretty quickly for them. Kudos, Kierra!

It’s all downhill from here.

Once we were seated, however, things did not continue on the same trajectory. Our server, let’s call him “M,” rushed up to our table like the White Rabbit in “Alice and Wonderland.” Yikes. I am not sure if he was just one of those people who always seem to be in a hurry or if he had been given too many tables, but he could not get away from ours fast enough.

When our food arrived, he delivered it with the same amount of haste. The result was one of the little cast-iron pots of rice being practically thrown onto the table. When he brought my beer, another server bumped into him and with a great sigh he said, “Thanks a lot, so-and-so!”

The table behind us had a different server, a young man with a beard. I listened forlornly as he chatted amicably with his guests, asked them about the flavors of their beer and discussed the menu. This is what I have come to expect at Evil Czech. I definitely had server envy.

M suddenly returned, jolting me out of my eavesdropping, but only to answer his own questions. “How is everything? OK? Good.” And he’s gone again. The checks arrived, and oh my — I was charged $20 for a $13.95 burger. Be warned! If you choose to upgrade your fries to the parmesan truffle fries, it’s a $6.95 upcharge!

Of course M did not give me a heads-up on this — I assume because that would have taken too much time — so the $20 burger was a shock. I voiced my surprise and M couldn’t have cared less. He has mastered apathy.

But apparently he knew I was annoyed because he sent the manager over without being asked. The manager, Steve, did a great job listening, affirming and apologizing. He was very friendly and clearly understands the fundamentals of customer service. I am glad I had the chance to speak with him. It helped end the evening on a high note.

So did M ruin Evil Czech for me? Absolutely not. I have had many wonderful experiences there and know that the next time I return, there is a good chance I will have the server at the table behind us or one just as good.

If you have not had the opportunity to visit Evil Czech, you’re missing out on a local gem. There really is no other place like it in the area. Between the delightfully unique menu, the ever-changing list of brewed beer and the industrial but modern atmosphere, you’re always in for a good time … as long as your server is not running around like the White Rabbit.

In the immortal words of Vaclav Havel, the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia in 41 years:

“I suppose that drinking beer in pubs has got a good influence on the behaviour of Czech society, because beer contains less alcohol than for example wine, vodka or whisky and therefore people’s political chat in pubs is less crazy.” – Havel, October 1995

To that, I say “Na zdraví!”

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