A rich, successful woman gets a chance to give a waiter a new life after he gave her and her father a free dinner when they were starving years before.
Jean Earl discovered her vocation when she visited the city’s best gourmet restaurant with her father. It was an extraordinary occasion for many reasons.
For one, it was her thirteenth birthday, and it was also the occasion when she witnessed an extraordinary kindness, a gesture that she would remember her whole life. Jean never imagined there would come a moment when she’d be in a position to pay back that kindness, but twenty years later, she did.
Jean’s dream was to be a chef, a great chef, so when she was 20, she traveled to France to learn to cook in the country that has the most famous cuisine in the world. After twelve years, she was among the best, and that was when she returned to the States.
Jean took a job in a top New York restaurant where her reputation quickly grew as one of the foodie city’s most inventive and skilled chefs, but her dream was to go back home to Washington DC.
Her father was getting old, and she wanted to be near him, so after nibbling on the Big Apple for eight years, Jean accepted an offer from one of Washington’s top restauranteurs.
He offered Jean a fabulous salary, 30% ownership of the restaurant, and complete creative freedom, and on top of it all, attached to the contract was a project that would give Jean her own TV show and national celebrity…
It was everything she’d ever dreamed about. Jean flew to DC and told her father all about it. “And I’ll be here for you, dad!” Jean exclaimed. “Just like you were here for me!”
Bob Earl kissed his daughter’s hands with tears in his eyes. “I’m so proud of you, baby girl,” he said. “After all we went through, who’d have believed you’d be the best chef in the world?”
Jean laughed. “I don’t want to be the best chef in the world, dad,” she said. “Only in Washington DC!”
The next day, Jean set out for the meeting at which she’d be signing the contract that would fulfill her every dream. The Uber dropped her off at the venue for the new restaurant, but as she got out of the car, she caught a glimpse of a green awning.
“I know that!” she gasped. “That place at the corner…”
The driver sighed. “That used to be the best restaurant in town,” he said. “Senators and Presidents ate there, but a few years ago, the owner died and it had been downhill since then.”
Jean thanked the driver, but instead of going to her meeting, she crossed the street towards the old restaurant with the shabby green awning printed with the word, Fargonetti’s. She pushed open the door and the memories came flooding back.
Jean’s mom had died when she was just 11, and her father had struggled to keep the family afloat. Bob had fallen into a depression. He lost his job as a copy editor and was forced to freelance.
Money was very short, and sometimes dinner was tinned ravioli or alphabet soup. It was then that Jean started to experiment with her mom’s spices to add flavor to their meager meals.
When Jean turned thirteen, Bob had made a reservation at Fargonetti’s, the capital’s best and most fashionable restaurant. Jean was delighted! She was well aware that her father had been saving for months for this treat.
Father and daughter sat down at their table, and Jean read the menu excitedly. “I don’t know what to pick!” she cried. “What are you having, daddy?”
Bob shook his head. “I’m not hungry, baby girl, I had a huge breakfast,” he said. “This is all for you!”
When the waiter arrived to take their order, Jean said, “I want the Tournedos Dianne and the lobster bisque!”
“Very good choice, ma’am,” said the waiter solemnly, then he turned to Bob. “And for you, sir?”
“Oh,” Jean cried. “Daddy was so silly! He’s been saving to come here for lunch for MONTHS and now he spoiled his appetite with breakfast!”
The waiter threw Bob a quick look and saw the man blush. He immediately realized what was going on. Bob had enough for Jean’s lunch, but not his own. The waiter, his name was Carl Bader, went to Mr. Fargonetti.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said. “There’s this little girl and her father. He’s been saving to bring her here for her birthday for months but he can’t afford to order anything for himself…Would it be OK with you if I paid for their lunch out of next week’s salary?”
Mr. Fargonetti shook his head. “No, that is out of the question, Carl, lunch will be on the house! Go to the chef and tell him I want them to have what he served the president last week, and to bake a birthday cake!”
Jean and Bob had sat and waited nervously for over an hour and were stunned when not just one, but FIVE waiters paraded in with a series of gourmet dishes and set them before the father and daughter.
“Lunch is on the house with Mr. Fargonetti’s compliments,” Carl said, winking at Jean. “Enjoy!”
For Bob and Jean, it was a magical meal, and it ended on a high note when the chef himself brought in a wonderful cake ablaze with candles. Father and daughter were on cloud nine when they walked out.
“Jean,” said Bob happily. “I have a feeling our luck has changed!”
And it did! The next day, one of Bob’s old friends called and offered him a job at a new magazine he was starting up, and Jean believed Fargonetti’s had made it all happen. That was when she decided to become a chef!
Twenty years later, the old restaurant was looking shabby and sad, but Jean recognized the waiter immediately. “Carl?” she asked delightedly. “Carl Bader?”
The man looked surprised. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “How may I help you?”
“Twenty years ago I came here for my thirteenth birthday,” Jean explained. “You spoke to Mr. Fargonetti and he gave us a wonderful lunch on the house. I’m so glad to have an opportunity to thank you!”
Carl smiled. “Yes, I remember you!” he said. “Sadly, we’re no longer as popular as we were. You see, Mr. Fargonetti passed away five years ago, and he left me the restaurant.
“He made me promise I’d keep it going, and I’ve tried, but…it hasn’t been easy! Our chef left, he went back to France, and the replacement I hired was a disaster. Right now, I’m the manager, waiter, and cleaner…I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep the doors open much longer.”
Jean was staring at Carl and a brilliant idea was taking shape in her mind. “I’m a chef,” she blurted out. “I’ll turn Fargonetti’s around! Let’s do it for Mr. Fargonetti!”
Carl’s mouth hung open. “You’re a chef? Really?”
“Yes,” Jean said. “I’m Jean Earl.”
“But you’re famous!” gasped Carl. “I can’t afford you!”
“I don’t need your money,” Jean said. “I have a lot of money of my own and I’m going to help you!”
Jean turned down the lucrative contract she’d been offered, and went to work at Fargonetti’s. Within a year, the old restaurant was booked solid, with waiting lists of celebrity customers.
One day, Carl came to Jean with an envelope in his hands. “Jean,” he said. “I promised Mr. Fargonetti I’d never sell, but I never promised him I wouldn’t give the restaurant away.”
Carl handed Jean a document that gave her 50% ownership of Fargonetti’s, the restaurant that had changed her life and was now her future.