Saturday, March 14, 2009

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish!

This is the location of the new Hard Rock Cafe. Just one short block away from the Pike Place Market, right in the hub of all the action!

As many of you know, I have been the General Manager at an awesome, beautiful and fun restaurant in Lynnwood, WA called McGrath's Fish House for some time now. I started working at McGrath's more than 20 years ago at the age of 16 in Salem, OR where they hired me as a punk kid with a very long, purple mohawk to wash dishes. I knew I was at a good company as even though I was a rookie Dishwasher, the owner of the company John McGrath would walk through the kitchen, recognize me and always offer a friendly "Hello Mat!" To this day, it means a lot to me that John took the time to remember me back then. He's no different now even though there are 20 restaurants in the company. I stayed in Salem a year and moved back to my hometown of Eugene, OR where I worked my way up through the ranks for Dishwasher to busser, to server, to Associate Manager and finally salaried manager. I'll never forget the way I was promoted. I had been approached by the GM (still there by the way) Steve Turner to become a manager and I was able to resist his offers. One day on Mother's Day, by far the busiest day of the year the Vice President of the company Jim Marshall and Steve forced me onto the patio outside and cornered me. "You will be a manager for this company!" I was told by Jim. It was clear he was not going to consider "no" to be an acceptable response so I simply and tentatively told him I didn't want to.

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because I know it will hurt." I responded.

"What will hurt?" He asked looking a bit confused.

"Everyone knows that in order to become a restaurant manager you have to have a hole drilled in your head and have at least half your brains removed." Was my answer.

Little did I know how much my life would change from then on. I did accept the position (if I wouldn't I seriously think they would have beat the crap out of me!) I was wrong about my brains being removed though I am sure many of my employees would disagree :) as I have learned so much since then I can't even begin to comprehend it. After my smart-ass response I think I got on Jim's good side as we have become great friends ever since and I do not expect that to change ever.

While I was a server and Associate Manager at McGrath's, John McGrath's daughter Krista was going to the University of Oregon. Every Saturday during football season John and his amazing wife Debbie would drive down for the game with a group of their friends and family and somehow I wound up as their server every single week. To this day, John talks about what a good server I was to the point where I get embarrassed. One of the scariest moments in my entire career at McGrath's happened when they came in with a larger than usual group. Around 15 or so (today we would require 2 servers for a group that size but this was a different time). John told me right off the bat to skip all the formalities and get down to business as they were running late for the game. No server scripting, just get the orders and get the food out. I got all the drinks out, took the orders, ran back to the kitchen and made all the salads, cut the bread and served it all in record time! I was feeling pretty good about myself as it was going so well. They were just about finished with their salads and I went into the kitchen to hear the Kitchen Manager shout "Hey Mat! When are we gonna get the order for John's 15 top?"

"Holy Shit! I forgot to ring it in!" I shouted in a mad panic! I started screaming the orders to the kitchen and they fired the food as I was shouting unintelligibly. It was an absolute miracle as they produced the food in no time flat. I trayed it up and ran it out. The group was having so much fun they didn't even notice the delay. At the end of the meal John slapped me on the back, handed me a fat tip and told me how great I did at not screwing around and getting their food out to them. I didn't tell him or Debbie that story until years later.

Anyway, I've gotten a bit distracted here. The slap on the back reminded me of the time we were all down in Cabo San Lucas for an amazing trip that John flew all the GM's down for. I had a couple (dozen) cocktails in me and was feeling like a massage. There was a girl working next to the pool so I climbed/staggered onto her table and got a great rub down. Keep in mind, I am a red headed, freckle face pale skin man whose dermatologist reminds me every time I see her that I am the poster child for skin cancer so I was bathing in sun screen religiously in the intense Mexican sun. Well, I got this massage and lost track of myself. I didn't stop to think that I should have re-applied the sunscreen afterward. It turned out the baby oil she was using worked like cooking oil on my back and within hours I had literally hundreds of fluid filled blisters covering my entire back.

I was showing off and grossing out all the girls with my nasty back including Debbie McGrath when John walked up and took a look at it. "Oh man! That is sick! It makes me want to slap it!" He shouted. Keep in mind, they were not measuring the tequila that went into our drinks and so I shouted loud "Go on! I dare you!" WHACK! He really socked it to me. I didn't feel it for a few days and we were laughing our asses off. I think Debbie was a bit mortified by the whole process as I recall but damn that was a fun time!

OK, so back on track...after 10 years or so in Eugene we opened a new restaurant in Vancouver, WA. Lea and I were not married at the time but we made the decision together to move north and open the store. It was an intense experience that capped out at around 120 hours a week and I think was really when I turned into a man. While working in Vancouver I was promoted to General Manager, I married the love of my life (who by the way I met while working at the McGrath's in Eugene), we had two amazing children born while working there and I loved (nearly:) every minute of the experience.

Fast forward another 5 years and another great opportunity presented itself. The biggest, baddest McGrath's of all time was being opened in Lynnwood (about 15 miles north of the Space Needle) with an outside Fish Bar, a boat load of dining rooms, huge kitchens, the works. It was a dream opportunity as my good friend Geoff Beckham outdid himself with the design and we were all very proud of the accomplishment. I've been there for the past 4 and a half years and it has been a tremendous experience and again, I have continued to learn so much and I am so grateful for all the tremendous opportunities and experiences that have been provided for me by McGrath's.

So here we are in 2009. We are running out of room on I-5 so I don't think I will be able to continue to move further north with McGrath's. After a great deal of thought Lea and I decided after an awesome run at the Fish House it is time to see what else is out there for the Hayward family. A great opportunity presented itself to me and after a long, intense interview process I am incredibly proud to announce that I am going to be a Manager at the brand new Hard Rock Cafe in Downtown Seattle!

This summer, at 1st and Pike, literally a stone's throw away from the Pike Place Market the new Hard Rock Cafe is going to open up and I am so excited that I am going to be a part of it. The building is two floors with more than 14,000-square feet of space, including spacious seating, a unique open-air rooftop deck and Rock Shop featuring Hard Rock’s limited-edition merchandise. In addition to a state-of-the-art facility, the cafe will also feature rock 'n' roll memorabilia from Hard Rock's iconic collection and will boast a live music space with standing room for 300 raving fans!

Everyone at Hard Rock I have met, spoken with or read about shows me that while the company is huge, they are down to Earth, real people with a great philosophy lead by the mantra "Love All, Serve All." I love that! My impression is that this is a company that cares tremendously for the people that work for them and the people they serve as well as for the planet (did you know that the Hard Rock Cafe coined the phrase "Save the Planet" before anyone else ever thought to?). The Hard Rock Cafe Seattle will be developed to achieve a Silver LEED certification, as defined by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental design Green Building Rating system. It is a cool, eco-friendly environment with jammin music, kick-ass decor everywhere you look, cool people and great food! I can't wait to start this new adventure in my life!

I will be in San Francisco for a couple of months learning the ropes before the opening so you can bet I will be updating the blog with San Francisco pics every chance I get!

One last thing before I wrap up this very long blog post. My good friend Daren Nies will be replacing me at McGrath's. I would like to wish him the very best of luck with his new career path! Make it happen Daren! You are going to do great!

Peace out,



Randy said...'s really happening. After so many years with this family called McGraths, that's got to be hard. Like growing up and heading off to college or something.

Best wishes Mat. You've worked hard and I can't think of anyone better suited to run the new Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

See you in Frisco dude. I assume you have a HR expense account we can hit hard eh? I'll make reservations at Gary Danko for us. Money is no object get out the company credit card heh heh.
PS: i'll still go to McGraths even if you aren't there. Love that shrimp assortment platter.
Unca J.

Anonymous said...

I'm very happy for you. Its just that you are moving to another phase of life. Life is defined by your experiences. Just like - I always thought it interesting that Tapas in Hollywood was a first for you and John. And you've never forgotten that simple dinner.

And I need passes to what ever band opens the new HRC Seattle.