The Hospitality Sweet Spot

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Ed and Gayle Novak

Last week, our family dined for the last time at The Broker, a Denver restaurant founded 46 years ago by my father-in-law, Ed Novak. Dozens of family members joined us from across the country to honor Ed and the legacy of his restaurant.

Several toasts and tributes were offered to Ed during dinner, none as moving as this one:

Several years ago, The Broker participated in a local radio promotion. As a part of this promotion, the radio station mailed out $25 unrestricted coupons to area residents who completed a survey about their radio listening preferences. Because there were no restrictions, these coupons were essentially treated like cash in the restaurant.

Over the course of the eight-week promotion, tens of thousands of $25 coupons were mailed out to survey respondents and the promotion proved to be very successful at increasing the exposure of The Broker and attracting many new customers.

Toward the end of the promotion, unbeknownst to the restaurant’s owners, the radio station began handing the remaining $25 coupons out to passersby on the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall as a part of a separate promotion. As often happens when people are handed unsolicited promotional material on the street, they tend to quickly scan it before tossing it into the nearest trash receptacle. As a result, hundreds of coupons ended up in the trashcans lining the 16th Street Mall—some of which were later retrieved by members of Denver’s homeless population.

The Broker is located in the old Denver National Bank building and is situated in an old bank vault. The European antiques are dark cherry wood and the vault itself, including the huge round door, remains to make The Broker one of Denver’s most unique and elegant restaurants. According to its website, “Not a day goes by when an observer will not spot some of Denver’s most prominent citizens enjoying lunch or dinner.”

It was in this setting that a homeless man in his thirties and his young son entered during lunch service and seated themselves in the lounge area of the restaurant, prominently located at the base of the grand staircase directly in front of the immense vault door.

A server approached their table and the father inquired about using the coupon he’d found to pay for their lunch. The server was uncertain about how to respond to the man so she accepted the coupon and excused herself to phone the owner.

After explaining the situation to Ed, the server was instructed by him to honor the coupon and serve the father and son as she would any other customers, as honored guests rather than out-of-place vagrants.

As I reflected on this story and my relationship with Ed Novak over the past 23 years, I had an epiphany: Ed’s success as a restaurateur has not simply been the result of providing exceptional product and service quality. He has succeeded by honoring the hospitality “sweet spot,” where exceptional customer service and uncompromising character intersect.

Thank you, Ed, for your lessons in hospitality over the past two decades and, more so, for your personal example.

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