I seem to happen onto some of the most interesting people on airplanes. Friday night embarking on a flight to Charlotte, NC, for a Saturday morning rehearsal in High Point for a Sunday Celebrating Grace Hymnal dedication, a friendly gentleman a little younger than I took the aisle seat on my row where I was seated next to the window. (I sleep better next to the window on the right side.) Waiting for the rest of the cabin to load, we made a bit of small talk and somehow it came up that he was originally from Louisiana though he now lives in Colorado. The colorful logo on his polo-type shirt read, "The Lost Cajun."
"What's The Lost Cajun?"
"It's a chain of restaurants a buddy and I started six years ago after my wife died. I've been here today checking on our Hendersonville store. My wife and I operated a fishing camp near New Orleans where I was raised until Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav, and then the oil spill. We had enough of that so we moved to Colorado, where she later died."
"My wife also died a year and a half ago. No fun, is it!"
"No, I was paralyzed for months. Are you dating yet?"
"Naw, not even on my radar. You?"
"I'm almost there. But, when you've had the best for 32 years..."
"I know what you mean; Honey and I were married almost 45 years."
For the next hour, we -- mostly he -- talked about our common experience of losing our spouses to cancer, faith, do's and don't's of operating a restaurant, hymnody which we both prefer, etc.
"Griff" is 61 years old and admits to only an 8th grade education. He has eleven stores in four states and is looking to have 100 within the next decade.
"When we go to scout out a possible location, we don't force anything. If something doesn't feel right about a deal, we always walk away; perhaps it will work out later. If a prospective franchisee doesn't share our culture of high values, we don't do business. There are no shortcuts to the way we do business, treat customers, or fix food."
From there, he went into specifics of selecting a spot, demographics, traffic patterns, etc., etc. -- all very interesting even to me the musician.
"How do you know all that stuff, where did you learn it?"
Leaning across the empty seat between us as if to tell me a secret, he said, "I'll tell you what, most of it is plain ol' common sense. People do some of the craziest things that get them into trouble simply because they don't use good common sense. Employees, for example -- they'll make or break you. I hire good, more qualified people who share my values to do most of the upper level work, and I mainly train local employees -- they call me the Culture Consultant. I spend a week training all of the locals to do their job our way, but in a wholesome environment where, 'please, thank you, and you're welcome' are expressed at every level all day long. We've been able to make a difference in young people's lives by insisting on high standards like that. Parents have come to me and thanked me for teaching their kids how to work, be responsible, courteous, and have high standards. I've made a fair amount of money, but I've always given half of it away."
Although I don't know much about him, I'm still impressed with Griff. In many ways, he reminds me of Boompa -- Honey's adoptive father -- who was about Griff's current age when I started showing up around the West house. (Boompa died three months shy of 104.) Boompa's education ended at the 7th grade, but he, too, was a hard worker, had and lived out high standards, without fanfare loved Jesus, made a fair amount of money in the grocery business, quietly gave a lot of it away -- money and groceries -- making people better in his daily life and routine.
Griff and Boompa seem to be good agents of "peace on earth, good will to men" about which we sing and hopefully think this time of every year. Those guys -- both giants -- remind me most of Joseph in the Christmas story who I plan to talk about here next week.
In the meantime, here are a couple of stanzas of rather new Advent hymn in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal that I doubt Griff or Boompa ever heard but certainly live(d) by.
Christians, all, your Lord is coming, calling you to serve in deed.
See the ones who hurt and suffer, hear their cry and act with speed.
Set all selfish ways behind you, purge your heart of sinful greed.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ in you will meet their need.
Christians, all, your Lord is coming, hope for peace is now at hand.
Let there be no hesitation, walk in faith where life demands.
Bear the word that God has given; share the birth that stirs your soul.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ will come and make you whole.
Words – Jim Miller, 1993 © 1995 Chalice Press
Although Griff had run out of business cards to give me, I plan to try to track him down in the days ahead. But first, a bowl of real Cajun gumbo up in Hendersonville seems to be calling my name.