Mr. Tillet

Headlights in the dark and a tingling feeling up your spine.

Mr Tillet

Mr. Tillet


The restaurant was designed to look like an old mine, old and dusty like big steaks and cheddar soup. We had an insanely busy, all-cash Sunday brunch, so sometimes servers just dropped the exact same check (“Buffet for 2”) over and over and pocketed the cash. My favorite person to work brunch with was Julie, because she and I could take ten table stations and we had a blast doing it, hauling trays into the dining room on one shoulder and snapping them onto a tray jack table side. Mr. Tillet, our general manager,  would clap when we ran past him in the narrow hallway. “Good job girls.” Applause. “Go go go!” And he’d sort of back into the wall, but not all the way, so our bodies might touch his when we hustled by.   


On weekends, the basement bar was packed with a dance crowd that stayed too late and too drunk. One Saturday, a fight came all the way up the fake mine shaft, and a bloody nose sprayed the stone walls so dramatically that when Mr. Tillet had Julie and Gus and I clean it up afterwards, he asked that we leave the blood spatters because it looked like part of the decor. He was right, and the blood still marked the wall a decade later when the place shut down. 


Mr. Tillet was pocket sized, with spikey blonde hair and angry energy. He wore polyester suits and Shoes for Crews. 


“That’s not how you cook a steak!” Three claps from the other side of the line. 


“Is. This. Supposed. To be. Broccoli?” Mr. Tillet punctuated all of his angry energy with applause. “Why is this sauce broken?” Five claps.


That year, I had a second job working for a brewery as a brand ambassador, and Mr. Tillet liked their dirndl uniform very, very much. He so appreciated the dirndl that it became part of my bar uniform for the weekend crowd –and I wore it partially because I made double money working the same shift as both a beer ambassador and a cocktail waitress, but mostly I wore it because Mr. Tillet was my boss and he said to “Wear. That. Dirndl!” 


He liked to work the floor between 3-5, or at the end of the night during closing sidework. While Mr. Tillet triple counted our cash, he’d say “You and Julie are the best girls I have, but you sure can’t do math” (I mean, we were brunch thieves). 


“These napkins aren’t pressed! If you and Julie weren’t my best girls, I’d fire you over this sloppiness.” On one of my sloppy side work write ups, next to my signature I wrote “I’m sorry Mr. Tillet. I’ll be better,” and he replied in the official  margin “You’re the best.”   


One Sunday night, Mr. Tillet cut us down to a single bartender and a server because a snow storm was coming. While he was in the office, Julie and I and two cooks served 63 unexpected diners, mostly in the upstairs bar, which overlooked the parking lot, but also had this amazing view of the city skyline. The neighbors always shuffled in on snowy nights, teased us into free drinks, and settled into a big meal along the windows. It was a gorgeous and fun tradition. That Sunday, while my last table was settling up, Julie asked me to please stick around, because the guy at the bar was giving her the creeps. I ran to the office to let Mr. Tillet know, and he said 


“Sure, you can stay as long as you clock out.” 


I folded napkins while Julie washed glasses and the guy at the bar talked into his empty beer mug. His conversation was muffled, but every now and then, a word would escape, louder than the rest. “Fucking Cunt!” he yelled into the glass of his mug just against his lips. We tried not to make eye contact, busying ourselves while he talked at the chandelier, but when he asked for another beer, Julie said “I think you need to close out your tab now.” I moved my body behind the bar to stand at her side. “Bitches!” he yelled. 


“You need to leave, sir” I told him. “Leave now.” 

I didn’t even know if the cooks were still there, and it was a three story old building, empty but for little Mr. Tillet in the office. I put on a cheer face –”Look, I smiled, it’s getting bad outside. Consider your beers on us! Shall I walk you out?” 


For a minute there was complete silence, and Julie was was squeezing my arm pretty hard when he broke the calm with “Fuck You Bitches,” but this time really low and quiet, and he set his glass all the way down in the same way –really slowly and quietly. I walked around the bar, and followed him just a few feet behind, all the way down the fake mine shaft to the parking lot, to make sure he was leaving. I locked the restaurant door as he unlocked his car, and on my way back up to Julie, I stopped in the office to tell Mr. Tillet what happened. 


“You’re going to have to pay for his beer, Jacqueline. That’s coming out of your tips.” He didn’t even look up from his paperwork, but I thought Mr. Tillet only said that because he was nervous too. 


Julie and I tried to ease our tension with some brandy, which seems so fancy when you’re 20, and we sat at that upstairs bar overlooking the parking lot, still in our aprons, still folding napkins, drinking brandy, waiting for the guy’s car to pull away. A half hour goes by. An hour. Two brandies, and now the guys in the kitchen are gone for sure, the snow is building up outside, and there’s the puff of his exhaust and his parking lights. 


I’m calling the police. 


I go to the office, where the telephone is, and Mr. Tillet tells me “You’re not going to call the police on one of our guests. You and Julie over-served the guy and he’s just waiting it out in the parking lot.” 


“But, Mr. Tillet,” I say, “I feel like he’s waiting for one of us.” 


Julie comes in the office now –she’s not staying in that bar alone for another minute, and we are beside ourselves. We’re holding hands, and I ask Mr. Tillet to please do something.  


“Please do something!”


“You girls,” Mr. Tillet says, “You get worked up over nothing.” 


I don’t believe him that this is nothing, and I reach across the desk and call 911, and I’m practically crying, but mostly angry when I ask Mr. Tillet. “What kind of man are you?” At the time it felt like such a powerful thing to say to a grown up some twenty years my elder. My boss. Mr. Tillet follows us back up to the bar. Now it’s three of us watching the parking lot drinking brandy. 


 A police car pulls up, quietlike with no lights or fanfare, and we see an officer get out and tap his baton on the driver side window. There’s cash all over our bar now; Julie and I doing our check out, and Mr. Tillet removes the money I owe him for the guy’s beer and puts it in his pocket. A second police car pulls into the lot, this one with sirens and lights and the works. And a third, and a fourth police car sideways, and now Julie and I are this weird combination of slightly drunk, somewhat vindicated, and utterly horrified. 


At nearly two in the morning, the guy in handcuffs is sitting in the snow under a light pole, surrounded by police taking notes and photographs, and even Mr. Tillet wonders what’s going on. Finally, one of the officers returns to the restaurant, this time to take our statements, and he gives us a brief update. The guy has a warrant out for his arrest and it’s a serious warrant, for three murders in another state. His trunk was full of firearms. Julie and I watch the tow truck pulling away and the police emptying the car of clothing and full paper bags, and the officer in the bar says


“Thank you, Mr. Tillet, for looking out for these girls” to which Mr. Tillet replies, 

“It’s the least I could do. They’re the best girls I have.”