The Man Without Lunch


Why We Hate Us, by Dick Meyer

Why We Hate Us, by Dick Meyer

Earlier this summer, Steve Inskeep host of NPR’s Morning Edition had an interesting interview with Dick Meyer, NPR’s editorial director of new media. Meyer discussed his new book, “Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.”

One anecdote Meyer shared in the interview caught my attention.

Many years ago he had a very bad lunch experience with a chain restaurant — he didn’t say which one.  Here’s how the story went:

Meyer: …I was waiting for lunch at a chain lunch place and I was standing there, and the guys behind the counter had nobody else there they were serving. They just looked at me kind of smiling. They couldn’t care less whether I was standing there and getting mad. They couldn’t have cared if I left.

And I finally got — you know, I coughed — [ahem sound] — I finally got my sandwich, got back to my office and they had put tomato on it. I didn’t want tomato and I said, “That’s it, I’m never buying lunch from a stranger again!”

So for the rest of my time at my previous employer I only bought lunch from three guys who were my friends.

It improved every single day that I was at work.

Inskeep: You went out of your way to find people to buy lunch from that you know; and since then you’ve changed jobs — you’re in a different part of town. Are you going back across town to find the same guys again?

Meyer: I have, but I’m in a lunch crisis. There was one lunch place here that I’ve been going to for over 20 years. It was opened…

Hodges Sandwich Shop, a Washington, D.C. institution for over 100 years recently closed.

Hodges Sandwich Shop, a Washington, D.C. institution for over 100 years, recently closed. Photo credit: DCist.com

Inskeep: Go ahead and name it.

Meyer: …in Washington in 1897. It was called Hodges. It’s one block from this building and after I had my first interview here, I walked over to Hodges. They were famous for roast beef sandwiches that they carved from this huge steamship round — it’s in a little shack — and butter beans and collard greens.

I promised my first week here that my treat to myself on Friday was that I was going to get out of the building and go to Hodges. This was going to be my regular lunch place.

I walked over there and it’s boarded up. It closed the week I started at NPR. [Meyer sighs] I’m a man without lunch.

On Friday, I had a similar “chain lunch awakening experience” at the Cosi in Reston Town Center in Reston, Va. I patiently waited in line and ordered a Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella sandwich. I have a thick southern accent and the man who took my order apparently couldn’t understand me, so he waved me to the line for soup. I didn’t realize I was dispatched to the soup line until I got there, so I went back to the sandwich line.

The man taking sandwich orders refused to acknowledge me. No eye contact. Nothing. In fact he started helping other customers in line who also bypassed me and pretended I didn’t exist. Then his colleague approached. She too, refused to acknowledge me.

I thought to myself, “Why am I going to sit here and pay almost $10 for a lunch plated piled high with rudeness?”

So I left. Guess what? No one stopped me.

Samara and Candi make Yum Yum! Cafe special.

Samara and Candi make Yum Yum! Cafe special.

I eventually found myself at the local sandwich place at the Reston Town Center called the Yum Yum! Cafe. What a difference!

I was greeted warmly by Candi, who sincerely asked how my day was going and Samara made my sandwich. They couldn’t have been nicer. I could tell they enjoy their jobs and they wanted me to have a great sandwich.

One thing that impressed me about Samara was how she handled a customer who ordered a sandwich that wasn’t what he expected.

“What kind of sandwich would you like instead?” Samara said.

“Oh, that’s ok, I will take the chicken,” the man replied.

“No, I will make you want you want.”

“Tuna would be great.”

The man was delighted and Samara delivered a tuna sandwich that looked delicious, plus she gave away a wonderful smile for no extra charge.

Candi’s smile and demeanor were also friendly. Plus my chicken florentine panini was simply delicious.

Come visit the Yum Yum! Cafe in Reston, Va.

Come visit the Yum Yum! Cafe in Reston, Va.

I introduced myself afterwards and told them they had a new customer. If you get the chance and you find yourself in Reston, stop by and say hello.

You’ll be glad you did and unlike Meyer, you won’t be the man without lunch.

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2 responses to “The Man Without Lunch

  1. What a great story. I’m all over buying local, and as I age, it only gets worse. I love that line about buying food only from people I know. And your story about Yum Yum Cafe…great. Isn’t it something when people care? There’s nothing worse than being invisible at a chain place; and nothing better than personal service at a place like Yum Yum. Nice work!

  2. Great post! I’m of the same perspective as Frank, too. I prefer to patronize the small, privately-owned businesses as much as possible- especially restaurants and coffee places. Not only does this help the local economy, there’s nothing like the smiling barrista asking “Will it be the usual? And how are you doing today?” Plus, you can get some pretty juicy gossip from the locals.

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