Let me set the stage for you non-New Yorkers. My husband and I, while in our thirties, lost our minds. We lived in Boston, had corporate jobs, two little kids, and a 195lb English Mastiff. We drank a lot of wine.
It was one lazy afternoon, between the Montrachet and the Margaux, when we became raving lunatics. We knew we needed to spice up our lives, but hadn’t put a lot of thought into it. We had a fantasy scenario, but no idea how to make it happen. Without dwelling on that minor detail, we quit our lucrative jobs, stuffed our kids (and the horse/dog) into the minivan, and moved to Florida to open a small wine & cheese boutique and wine bar.
Neither one of us had ever lived in Florida. Neither one of us had ever owned a small business. We knew nothing about the food industry. We thought we did, but ours was the kind of ignorance that allows people to change their lives without succumbing to analysis paralysis. Our extensive wine knowledge consisted of consuming large amounts of it at local wine tastings, and taking an online “Wine Management” course from Wine Spectator. We knew we would take the Florida wine community by storm. And we did. We just didn’t know exactly how attractive we’d be to our new neighbors and patrons.
We kicked off our naïve experiment by throwing a New Year’s Eve shindig at The Cellar. Being the sophisticated New Englanders by way of the Midwest (Ohio. Go buckeyes! Michigan. Go Spartis!) we are, we charged $0 for a cover and let every bum, creep and weirdo off the street into our charming, spanking new wine bar. Champagne flowed like Niagara Falls, and our compact boutique felt more like The Boom Boom Room than our quaint little establishment.
After midnight struck and a few car keys had to be confiscated, we announced that the merrymaking must come to an end. We said sorry good-byes to our (let’ be honest) wasted and overfed guests. The place was emptied, but one couple left remained. Carol, a tall striking red head with porcelain skin, owned a local ice cream shop with her husband, Dennis, who had definitely outkicked his coverage marrying her. They were already on their way to becoming loyal patrons even before our New Year’s blast, and my husband and I chit-chatted pleasantly with them as we herded them toward the door.
Seconds before making it out the door, Dennis leans in to offer a final New Year’s kiss on the cheek to Carol. She abruptly turned around and plants a full-on open mouth kiss on my husband, which lasted about a week. My unsuspecting husband who develops the deer in headlight’s look at the drop of a hat, pulled back in horror. I can’t say I was too pleased either. Awkward! Once Carol came up for air, Dennis says to us, “So, would you two like to come back to our place and party with us? We have a great party room.” (Is a party room a polite term for a dungeon?) As I said, “Awkward!”
Say what? As a life-long nice Catholic girl who canters at church each week, I had never been in this position before. I just wasn’t the demographic. I frantically tried to remember what one is supposed to do when one’s clients/friends pounce on you with an offer to swing. Unfortunately, Peter Post’s “Essential Manners for Couples”, a book I had thumbed through more than once, had never addressed this particular situation. While my hubby was still staring, glassy-eyed with shock, I took charge and politely declined this lovely invitation with “Sorry, we need to go home to the kids” (That backup excuse, ready for use at all times, is reason enough to have kids.). I chose that route because we needed all the customers we could muster up. Blaring “Are you fucking kidding me?” at Carol and Dennis wouldn’t have fallen under the description of “good customer service.” On the other hand, being propositioned by a pair of aging Sunshine State swingers didn’t quite fall under the description of “good customer behavior.” As we ushered them out with rigid smiles and they begrudgingly left, it occurred to me that this little episode that we thought was so shocking might very well be exactly what good customers do in Florida! What did I know? Hubby and I were new on the scene. What if we had done the equivalent of refusing to look at baby pictures, or worse? For the next few days, I vacillated between righteous indignation and complete mortification.
It was only then that my husband and I realized that we were strangers in a strange land, and had to acknowledge that our corner of Florida was as foreign to us as if we had moved to Dubai.
After a week or two had passed, I considered the name of our establishment, “The Cellar.” A wave of mortification washed over me again when I considered that I might have been guilty of false advertising.