Dining on the Marie Celeste

The restaurant industry can be a precarious endeavour for all concerned.

Restaurant owners, investors, employees, diners, and landlords can all feel the brunt of a business that can be fleeting and is often only slightly above “spas” (I mean the kind that are open all night and have neon signs in their darkened windows) when it comes to reliability.

I knew a woman years ago who worked at one of the late night Chinese restaurants. She was not the best employee and when she quit she didn’t just not show up, or even phone in a resignation, no, she went above and beyond.

She faked cancer.

She could have just quit but she felt she needed to justify her decision by going nuclear.

I worked at a tavern that was effectively taken over by criminals. This demands a longer piece and maybe I will tell this one in full later, but for now the long-story-short is that drug dealers were hired to work at the bar as bouncers. The owner didn’t know they were dealers and by the time he found out and decided to get rid of them it was too late. He told the boss dealer that he was fired and this guy says, “You can fire me, stop paying me, but I will be here every night working the door whether you like it or not.” And he was.

What do you say to that?

But there is nothing like the restaurant that disappears in the middle of the night. There have been plenty but until you’ve worked at on of these Twilight Zone places you can only imagine what it’s like. It’s like the rapture and you are left behind.

I worked at a resort on the north shore in the mid 90s. The hotel had contracted with a chef to run the restaurant. All went well for most of that summer. A few glitches over the season but nothing that hinted at problems.

In late September we had moved to a system where rather than a weekly schedule, we would call in to see of we were working that day as bookings were getting thin.

So one day I call in and the front desk says, “You better come in.”

“Great. For lunch, dinner, or a split?”

“No. I mean, just come in.”

So I drove over to the resort and walked in the main lobby. I asked the front desk what the deal was.

“Just go to the kitchen.”

I walked through the doors of the darkened restaurant and into the kitchen. This was a fully modern, brand new, restaurant kitchen, with a full cold station, three gas stoves, deep fryers, salamanders, all the modern appliances, and a walk-in freezer.

And the place was empty. Absolutely bare. All that was left were the pipes for water and gas sticking up out of the floor, and the walk in freezer. And the hotel manager.

“What happened?”

“Chef came in the middle of the night with a truck and emptied the place near as we can tell,” she said. “He even took all the back office furniture.”

“So I guess I’m out of a job?”

“Yeah, and I’m afraid Chef also took all the money so you won’t be getting a paycheque.”

That was an exciting month. I was paid for my last week’s work the best way the hotel could. In ice cream. The chef couldn’t take the freezer with him and I guess he decided to leave with most of the stock except for the ice cream.

Didn’t cover the rent.

Have an interesting restaurant story either as staff or as a guest? We are hoping you can be a part of this series by submitting firsthand experiences of imperious bosses, difficult guests, odd service, and your own and others’ gaffes. Please send stories to or private message on social media.

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also likes writing about food. Go figure.

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