Saunders: Canned Charlotte cook insulted a customer and should be fired

bsaunders@newsobserver.comFebruary 19, 2014 

Now, that’s what you call “job creation.”

Walk past Reid’s Fine Foods on Selwyn Avenue in Charlotte and you may see in the window a “Help Wanted” sign that wasn’t there before Gov. Pat McCrory and members of his staff swooped in this week.

Drew Swope, a cook at Reid’s, was canned after confronting the governor on Sunday and letting him know what he thought of the job he was doing.

“Thanks for nothing,” spoke Swope upon divining the identity of the titled customer he’d approached.

Swope’s boss, Tom Coker, upon learning of the incident, fired him from the Myers Park store that bills itself as “a regional mecca for sophisticated palates.”

Have mercy. My palate is far from sophisticated. Give me some soda crackers, a couple of cans of potted meat and something with which to scoop it, and you’ll have no trouble from me for a while.

Rude is rude

Rude behavior is inappropriate regardless of where it occurs, though, and even if the incident had taken place at a Piggly Wiggly, he should’ve been axed.

In a Charlotte Observer story, Coker explained why he fired the outspoken cook. “It’s not acceptable in any workplace, especially in the service industry,” he said, “to treat your customers that way.”

Right on.

McCrory is being fried undeservedly by people who think he was too sensitive, that he went to Coker and regally demanded, in essence, “Off with his apron!”

Coker and the governor’s spokesman, Joshua Ellis, insisted that’s not how it went down, that the security team complained, not the governor.

They should have. Any store owner would no doubt prefer to have the governor or his contingent complain to him rather than nurse hurt feelings, tell all their friends, badmouth his business on Facebook and simply stop shopping there.

Coker: “Hmm. I wonder what happened to that nice fella who used to show up surrounded by those men with bulges under their coats and wires running from their ears?”

On his own time

The manager of my neighborhood auto parts store actually thanked me genuinely for complaining to him last month when one of his employees refused to exchange what was obviously a defective battery I’d tried to return.

The problem, the employee said, was obviously with my truck, not her battery.

Anticipating my next move, she then called other stores and told them not to exchange it. Egads!

(The battery, it turned out, was defective.)

If Swope wanted to go to a political rally and ask tough questions or express his displeasure during a public forum, fine. Just take off the apron and name tag and do it on his own time. He could also write a letter to the editor of his local paper.

Swope may be a charming guy – a questionable contention considering his pointed Facebook posts. That’s his business, though: Everybody doesn’t have to be a “hail fellow well met” type of dude.

He may even deserve, from some people, credit for speaking his version of truth to power.

The point is, though, there is not only a way, but a time to express one’s self, and it’s not while a customer is trying to decide between the grass-fed beef or bison or the gift baskets for which Reid’s is noted.

After visiting its website, I think I’m partial to that “Tempting Tower” collection, which features chocolate pecans, cheddar cheese straws, something called Five O’Clock Crunch and chocolate chip cookies.

That “Beef and Bottle” basket looks divine, too.

Regardless of which one prefers, you needn’t be a fan of the governor to think he is entitled to the same level of respect as any other customer.

Ask yourself this: If an employee treats the governor contemptuously, how do you think he or she would treat some anonymous old lady who forgot her shopping list and doddered while trying to recall whether the recipe for her much-complimented string bean casserole called for cumin or cinnamon?

What if Otto the garbageman wandered in for some sandwich condiment at lunchtime and couldn’t immediately decide between the Raspberry Wasabi Honey Mustard or mayonnaise.

Do you think someone who’d disrespect the state’s highest elected official would turn around and be the picture of graciousness with someone of lesser official standing?

Don’t bet your chocolate pecans on it.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or

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