Take a small town in southern Alabama, and a young lady, just slightly out of step. Add gnarly family trees, entrenched traditions, and everyone living with skeletons in their closets - welcome to Gallagher. There one will find an extraordinary cast of insane characters. And, it could only happen in the South.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Closed Until Further Notice
Needless to say all the ladies in town were thrilled at the idea of a Tea Room. Many of them had just heard tell over the years of Caroline's grand affairs and Hattie's sumptuous cuisine. Although many women had seen the results of Blanche's talent with decor, few had actually met her. But, one thing everyone knew - if these 3 ladies were opening a Tea Room, it would be done well, done right, and something no one should miss.
Blanche and Caroline tried to make sure everyone got invited to the soft opening. They wanted it understood from the get go that the Tea Room was not just for the ladies from the older families in town, the more well heeled families in the area, or even those who ran around with the either of the later. Their Tea Room was open to anyone who was dressed appropriately, civilized, and had a few dollars. They made sure that there was something for everyone. When Caroline and Hattie first sat down to work on a menu, it was most important that a reasonable price point was included.
Blanche laughed when they talked about it. "You know there are women in this town who will not darken these doors when they learn this is not an exclusive club."
"Well so be it," said Caroline,"that will just keep us from having to deal with their bluster." As for men, they were not sure how men would feel about it. Even though the establishment was designed with ladies in mind, the gentlemen were more than welcome.
Sure enough, Tula, along with some other ladies in town, did not even wait for the opening before declaring the Tea Room to be nothing special, just a place for 'common' people - nothing to see here, move along. Blanche happened to run into Tula the Thursday before the opening, she made sure Tula understood that, it was true, their Tea Room was not an exclusive club. If Tula did not feel comfortable in those surroundings, Caroline and Blanche's feelings would not be hurt. They would not want her to be forced to socialize with those she felt were beneath her. (Or worst yet, everyone else have to deal with her.)
That Friday morning at 10 O'clock the ladies were shocked. When they opened the doors to the Tea Room there was such a large crowd of folks waiting, Caroline and Blanche were not sure they could seat them all. Everyone was dressed very nicely. Some of the ladies wore their best Sunday hats. Others had even worn their gloves.
All those who came were seated and served. Luckily, Caroline and Blanche were prepared, just in case they had a crowd, and had some extra help trained and on hand to assist. Hattie had prepared extra scones and sandwiches. Looking at the crowd sitting at the tables, Caroline was thrilled. From where she stood everyone was enjoying themselves.
Blanche and Caroline made their way around the room trying to speak to as many of their guests as they could. Most were complimentary and looking forward to returning. Many had questions about the teas and coffees. By 2 o'clock the last of the patrons had left and Caroline locked the door and put up the 'Closed' sign.
"Wow," said Blanche,"we did it. I think this is going to be a success."
"That is if it doesn't kill us first," laughed Hattie.
The 3 of them finally sat at a table enjoying a cup of coffee and reflecting on the soft opening. There was very little they would change. Perhaps they would need to take reservations during the more popular times on the busier days, but they would have to figure that out.
They knew they needed more help and to train the new staff well. And they needed them this weekend so they would be ready Monday for the grand opening. Naturally they would ask those who had helped that day first. They had been very careful in selecting them initially. The 3 of them made a list of others they thought would make a good fit. Hattie weighed in that she could use help in the kitchen. Caroline laughed,"Honey, you get whatever and whomever you need." Blanche looked at Hattie and smiled,"We cannot do this without you. We want a happy Hattie." They all laughed, Caroline added,"Hell, I'll help if you need me, just let me know." Hattie laughed again,"I don't think that will be necessary."
That afternoon they received calls from 2 mothers of brides who wanted to book the extra room at the Tea Room for bridal luncheons, 1 mother wanted to book it for her daughter's 16th birthday, and another lady wanted to know if they did outside catering. (They politely declined the catering request. They had enough on their plates as it was.)
Monday morning, well before they opened at 10:30, there was a knock at the door. Caroline went to the door, prepared to politely explain that they were not ready for business that morning and hoped the kind customers would return at 10:30. To her surprise she found the two men standing there. They introduced themselves as the Chief Alabama State Health Inspector and his associate. Caroline introduced herself and invited them in.
Naturally, the first thing she did was offer them tea or coffee. Both declined. "Mrs. Hollingsworth," said the Chief Inspector. "You are the proprietor of this business, right?"
Caroline replied,"Yes, along with 2 other ladies."
"And, we understand you opened your business last Friday."
"Well," Caroline smiled, "we had our soft opening. Our actual first day of business is today."
"Mrs. Hollingsworth, I'm afraid we are going to have to close your business for the time being."
Caroline politely protested,"Sir, I do not understand. We passed the inspection with your department just last week and received the highest rating."
"Yes, mam. I see that you did." The Chief said as he looked at his notes. "Unfortunately, that was before Friday."
By this time Blanche had joined the group and asked,"What about Friday?"
Caroline introduced Blanche as one of the other owners and repeated Blanche's question,"What about Friday?"
"Well, we have had 3 very disturbing complaints from customers who were here on Friday?"
Blanche calmly looked at him,"Such as?"
"Well, one lady saw a mouse in the ladies room. That is a major violation." He looked at his notes again. "Another said that there were roach droppings in her coffee cup."
Caroline looked at the Chief, "That is odd that we did not receive any complaints from the patrons. After we closed, we had a meeting with the servers and other staff. We specifically asked about any issues they observed or heard about. There were no issues like this voiced."
Blanche asked,"And the 3rd?"
"Oh, your State Health Rating sticker was on the right side of your door, not the left, where we specifically require it be displayed."
Carolina started to say 'seriously?' but held her tongue. She did ask,"OK, even if none these accusations are true, but the complaints were made, what do we need to rectify this situation?"
"Well, like I said, you will be closed for now. A sign will be placed on the front making it clear that the business has been closed by the Alabama State Health Department due to infractions until further notice. Then we will need to do a complete inspection of the premises and interviews with the staff. After all this has been done, we will make our decision."
"And how long will this take?"
"You've got to be kidding," Caroline finally lost her patience. "Sir that will put us out of business."
Blanche asked,"Can you tell us who made this report?"
"No mam, their identity is protected."
Caroline looked at Blanche, "You and Hattie call the staff who were here Friday and get them down here as soon as possible." She looked at the Chief, "If we are going to suffer through this, then we are going to do everything you want us to do, as quickly as we can - with a smile." She gave the Chief an honest smile. "This is a bunch of bull shit and I'll find out who did it."
The Chief hesitated,"Normally, it would take us a day or 2 before we could even start the process, however, I can see you are a force to be reckoned with. So I think," he looked at his Associate,"we can start on this now."
The Associate headed toward the door. The Chief asked, "Where are you going?"
"To get the sign out of the car to post on the door, saying the Health Department has closed them down."
"I don't think that will be necessary."
The Chief asked Caroline and Blanche to walk him around the building starting with the kitchen. They introduced him to Hattie. Her eyes went wide when she learned who he was. "Chief, I can assure you I run a clean kitchen. That is one thing my mama beat into my head,'we may be poe, but we are clean'."
The Chief laughed,"That is very obvious. This is an impressive kitchen." He turned to the ladies and indicated with his arm that he was ready to move on. Then he turned to Hattie,"It was very nice to meet you. I can assure you next time, I'm in town I'm going to stop by. No doubt you are one heck of a cook."
"Thank you sir," Hattie said much relieved.
They showed him the main dining room. the butler's pantry where the serving pieces, silver ware, and china were kept and the cabinets, where all the linens were stored - all nicely pressed. They took him into the extra room. He asked what it was used for, and they explained it to him.
He said he did not need to go upstairs since that was not part of the business. They moved back into the dining room. He made some notes on his pad. "I have to say I am very impressed. You ladies have put together a good operation here."
Caroline smiled, "Don't you need to see the Powder Room?"
The Chief laughed,"I guess so. My report needs to be complete."
They showed the room to him and returned to the front of the dining room. "Off the record, I agree it does look like someone turned you in under false pretenses." He paused, "We take that very seriously. It is a waste of our time and can be disastrous to your business. As far as I'm concerned, if anyone asked me, or you for that matter, if I was here or why I was here, I just came to try your coffee."
"Well, our offer of fresh coffee stills stands."
"I'm sure it does and I regret that I turned it down when it was first offered. We have another stop, one that no doubt, is going to take us several days." He walked to the door and offered his hand to both of them. "Ladies, this has been a pleasure. I'll be back, but, I can assure you, not on business." He walked out.
It was 10:15. Blanche looked at Caroline,"I need a drink."
Caroline laughed,"No kidding. And, after that I want to kill someone."
But they had time for neither because when they opened the door, once again, they found a small crowd eager for tea, coffee, Hattie's fare.