How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

By Andrew Playle All Rights Reserved ©

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Chapter 29

MAY 2021

Bistro Lucia had opened on the New North Road in February and was doing quite well. Brian and Lucy had decided on the name after sifting through a number of options while the café was being refurbished. He wanted to name it after Lucy after she helped him out when he arrived back in the country and Lucia sounded like a Mediterranean version of Lucy. The name reflected their menu of simple Spanish and Italian cuisine like tapas, antipasti and pasta all freshly prepared and cooked.

Once the place had been kitted out to their specifications, they set about finding a decent chef and luckily, Lucy knew someone locally who was not only available, but was Spanish and had worked in a number of small restaurants on the Costa Brava. The only downside was that he had a bit of a temper and this had cost him his last job as a chef in a West End hotel.

Diego was volatile, as chefs are known for being, but he thought a lot of Lucy and he promised to behave himself as thanks for giving him a second chance. Everybody deserves a second chance, even Brian, and this was his. He consulted with Lucy and Brian over the menu which was small in number of dishes, but varied and interesting all the same. Diego also worked hard and long hours as he maintained this was the mark of a good chef. They also employed a junior, straight out of catering college who was just as grateful to be given a chance. Delroy came from the same block of flats in Pitfield Street where Brian and Lucy were living. His father had disappeared years ago and he helped his mum bring up his three younger siblings doing whatever he could.

Most of his friends had drifted into a life of crime and drugs, something which he was determined to avoid as he couldn’t face letting his mum down. That was why he studied hard at school and qualified for a place at a nearby catering college. Having just graduated, he was having no luck getting his foot on the career ladder after applying for a number of suitable positions in the City and West End before getting into a conversation with Lucy one morning as they left their flats.

Lucy liked his story, mentioned it to Brian and got him in for a meeting. Brian liked him immediately; he had passion and enthusiasm and obviously knew his food. When he asked Delroy what sort of salary he wanted, he was taken aback to hear that he would be happy just working for meals as it would look good on his CV. When Brian offered him £15,000 per annum as a starting salary, Delroy almost kissed him he was so happy.

So, they were all together as a team and whilst Diego and Delroy weren’t actually paid employees until the opening day, they were always at the bistro helping them get it set up and ready for the big day.

Lucy had taken care of the advertising and marketing which mainly involved posting leaflets through doors and pining flyers on bus stop shelters, while Brian got the finances in order and set up suppliers with Diego’s help and contacts. On opening day in early February, it snowed heavily and they feared nobody would want to venture out in such inclement weather, but although it was quiet during the lunchtime session, the evening saw them so busy there was a queue building up outside the door in the chilly winds.

The clientele were a mixture of young professionals and local working class people who liked to try food other than meat and two veg. Thirty covers wasn’t going to be enough at this rate, Brian thought as he surveyed the packed bistro with a smile on his face. Everybody complimented them on the food and the excellent service considering this was their first night. Delroy raced around prepping food, waiting tables and washing up, truly earning his money, while Diego cooked away merrily and never once losing his renowned temper.

By the time the last customers left just before midnight, they had served almost a hundred eaters and had around £4,000 to bank the next morning.

Brian thought they all deserved a drink to celebrate and pulled a bottle of Champagne out of the chiller cabinet. Delroy had finished cleaning up and Diego had tidied up the kitchen in preparation for the following day.

‘Well guys, I think we can safely say that this evening was a great success, thanks to you two in particular.’ He pointed to Delroy and Diego. Come and have a glass to celebrate and toast the Bistro Lucia!’

They clinked glasses and downed the fizzy in one gulp before Brian topped them up again.

‘Miss Lucy, Mr Brian, I can’t thank you enough for giving me this chance. I’ve loved every second of this evening.’ Delroy smiled.

‘Me too.’ Added Diego. ‘I’d forgotten how much nicer it is to work in a smaller establishment. When you are in big kitchens it can get very fraught, especially when things go wrong, and they quite often did at the big hotels up west.’

‘It’s our pleasure. We were both impressed with how you two held it all together and made it easier for us. Lucy and I are the ones without proper experience, so we needed you to come through, which you did with gold stars!’ Brian beamed.

They carried on celebrating and toasting until the small hours, devouring three bottles of Champagne along the way. It was during this session that they finally got to know each other better. What their backgrounds were and what they wanted to achieve. When it slipped out that Brian was Bradley Gardner’s dad, Diego and Delroy looked like they had been hit by a bus.

It turned out Diego was a huge Barcelona fan and Delroy was a big Arsenal supporter so they were only lacking a Hearts fan to complete the set of Bradley’s clubs. They couldn’t believe they were working for the father of probably the greatest player of his generation, and they equally couldn’t believe that Bradley’s dad was still working for a living with all the money that his son had earned. Brian explained about the problems he had caused Bradley and when he told them about Christmas at his villa and his problematic flight back to the US, they understood why he wanted to keep it quiet. Still, the day just got better and better for them and they finished up, locked the bistro up for the night and headed off towards their respective homes.

Delroy walked with Lucy and Brian back to Pitfield Street and told them stories of some of the problems that his estate had suffered over the years. Loads of petty crime, stolen cars and burglaries, not that there was much to burgle unless you stumbled across a local drug dealer’s flat. He told them how his father had left home when he was three years old, leaving his mum to bring him up along with his siblings who all had different fathers. He didn’t know why his mum kept getting pregnant, but he could guess. She was a good looking woman in her day. Now, she just hustled a living on the streets making money wherever she could just to put food on the table. Now Delroy was earning he could help out more and give most of his wages to his mum so she wouldn’t have to struggle. It meant a lot to him after all the sacrifices she had made for him over the years.

As they approached their block, Brian spotted a couple of dodgy looking men hanging around by the main door. Delroy knew them and told Brian and Lucy it wouldn’t be a problem. When they saw the three of them approaching they nodded their heads towards Delroy. When he explained to Lucy and Brian who they were, they visibly paled. Apparently, Duke and Buster were the local gangstas and it paid not to upset them. They had both done plenty of prison time for drug dealing, theft and violence and now, in their early thirties, they were seasoned criminals who survived outside the law. As Delroy’s mum used to look after them when they were small, Delroy was protected, as were any of his friends, which was re-assuring. As long as Lucy and Brian were Delroy’s friends then they were left alone by the two gangstas.

What a lovely place they all lived in. If business continued to go well, Brian thought they should perhaps move on as quickly as possible. Still, having a couple of local heavies on your side could have its plus points at times.

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