Ryan Briggs grew up along the Emerald Coast of Florida, Port St. Joe, to be exact. Since the age of five, he helped his father run their diner, The Arrowhead. Ryan learned to man the cash register, wait tables, and wash dishes, but his favorite job was cooking.
He couldn’t get enough of the way a hamburger smelled when it earned that perfect pink center. He didn’t mind all of his clothes smelling like oil after hours of frying fresh-cut potatoes. Him and his father were happy, and so were the customers, for the portions were not only delicious, but the largest you’ve ever seen. A single burger might have ten, fifteen, twenty patties. A single order of fries was always a triple.
“You gotta give the people what they want, and plenty of it. Burgers and Fries!” Ryan’s dad always said. Unfortunately this sounded better in theory, for Mr. Briggs was a very obese man, and Ryan was well on his way to becoming the same.
At twenty-three, Ryan lost his father to diabetes, and Port St. Joe became a much sadder place. Ryan was at a cross-roads. How could he serve people large quantities of food when too much food had killed his father. As the days went by, Ryan made the diners portions smaller and smaller. A customer was lucky if they got half a patty on a bun.
Ned Campbell, the wealthiest man in town, saw this as an opportunity, and decided to open his own diner. Within weeks, the Big n’ Sloppy Diner was opened to much applause, and The Arrowhead was all but forgotten.
Then one night, as Ryan sat at the counter looking over his diner’s books for the last time, there came a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“I’ve come about the employment sign,” said a female voice. Ryan didn’t know he posted a sign, but he didn’t want to be rude. So, he answered the door. Before him stood a beautiful young woman as skinny as a toothpick, and wearing a green dress that reminded him of broccoli. In her arms she carried a slim cloth bag made of hemp.
“Unfortunately, I’m not hiring at the moment.” Ryan said solemnly.
“Have you hired someone else?” she asked politely.
“No,” Ryan said.
“Has the diner been closed?” she asked. Ryan again responded in the negative.
“Then it seems there is work to be done. Do not worry. I work for food, and I come highly recommended. Is that the kitchen in there?” Without waiting for a response, she headed right into the kitchen and set her bag on the table.
“What are you doing?” Ryan asked.
“You have set a precedent. You cannot make your portions smaller. So, you must make your portions better. You must add more vegetables.”
“But people don’t like vegetables,” Ryan said, “people like meat.”
“This is only because you have not been preparing the vegetables properly. They must be grilled, baked, or steamed in sauces that tempt the senses. Salads must be dressed. Do not worry. I will teach you.” As she spoke, she pulled eggplants, squash, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, peppers, and garlic, in an unending stream from her bag. When the table was full, she commenced dicing, slicing, and chopping. As she worked, she sang, “When your diet is unstable, it can make you feel ill able.”
Ryan watched as his pots and pans sizzled with the colors of the rainbow. Never had he smelled the sweetness of oregano, or the lemony scent of basil.
In one evening, this twig-like young woman had turned Ryan’s life around. She and the vegetables had taken a place in his heart, and it wasn’t long before the smells that filled his kitchen wafted across town to the Big n’ Sloppy. Once that smell lodged in the minds of St. Joe’s residents, the Big n’ Sloppy didn’t stand a chance.
This work was written by Alex Schattner (11:45am – 12:45pm, 7/9/12)