Chickening Out

Somewhere to the South and East of the Tarrant County Courthouse was a small industrial park where I got a job with “Mrs. Kinser’s Home Style Foods”, which produced packaged deli-style chicken salad and potato salad.  At the time, I thought it was what we’d today call a start-up run by a single owner with a staff of eight including me and seven middle-aged Mexican women for whom English was just barely a second language.

I was hired because I was clearly bright enough to follow instructions and would have no trouble manipulating incoming deliveries of ingredients and supplies weighing as much as 100 lbs., something I was proud about.  I mean, in those days I could pick up a case of canned beer by the end with one hand and pass it to you.

But I digress.

The shop was actually a small industrial cookery with a polished concrete floor and equipped with prep and packaging stations, cookware, and a device that looked like a small concrete mixer you’d find on a construction site, all made of stainless steel.  Five of the seven women peeled, cut up, and boiled the potatoes, and skinned, manually boned, and cooked the chicken.

Mine was sort of a two-part job.  On the one hand I was responsible for mixing each batch of dry and cooked ingredients with five lbs. of mayonnaise which came in plastic bags, dumping the mixture in stainless steel bins, and handing them off to the other two of the seven women for packaging and labeling.  On the other hand, I was responsible for food safety measures, which meant making sure the entire cookery was thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day’s production.

I’d only been working there for about a week when I saw something that completely freaked me out.

Over against a wall opposite the mixer was a stack of three empty wooden boxes with the words “FIFTEEN YEAR OLD ROOSTERS” stenciled in black along the side.  I found it disgusting and I wasn’t about to be a party to feeding any such thing to anyone and I went into the office and told my boss I was quitting, but didn’t say why.

He said he was disappointed because he was about to take me out of the kitchen and make me the manager at $4.50/hr. so that he could focus on boosting sales by shopping his products to local outlets.  And despite his insisting that I was walking out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I would not be dissuaded – Some things just aren’t right.

You might think that getting out of there would be the end of the matter.  But it wasn’t.  The experience troubled me for decades and out of the blue one day I realized that what wasn’t right was ME and that it was all about reading skills!

I had read the labelling straight up as, “fifteen year old roosters” of unstated quantity when in fact it was stating how many of what was in the crate, which was fifteen YEAR-OLD roosters.

Talk about feeling foolish.  But that still wasn’t the end of the matter.

I like to tell my stories in an entertaining way and I’m very careful about not making things up – Facts matter and real-world illustrations help.  So, I googled Mrs. Kinser’s Home Style Foods for both and learned  I wasn’t working at an entrepreneurial start-up, but at the inaugural Ft. Worth franchise of Mrs. Kinser’s Home Style Foods, Inc. Of Atlanta, Georgia.  And the owner was spot-on about the opportunity I was letting go by.

Check out the product line at  Reser’s Fine Foods in Beaverton, Orgeon