Tio Mateo: This is NOT a Restaurant Review


Here’s co-owner (with husband Matt) of Tio Mateo, Dana Wronski. She knows how to run a business (the food’s terrific, too).

Many years ago I was a single Mom, raising two daughters alone. In addition, I held a full-time job, which meant: Mornings during the week were a Hellish grind when I kept everyone on a tight schedule of getting up and preparing for the day. Breakfast was a utilitarian affair of hot cereal, fruit, and toast….just enough to crank up our systems. My mantra each morning was “Eat…eat.”

Because we had little time to enjoy that early morning time, I tried to make that happen on weekends when I’d take my girls to the local breakfast spot alongside the bridge, overlooking the Pawtuxet River, in Cranston,  Rhode Island.

Each Saturday we‘d walk in; I’d say “Hello” to the counter girls; the owner nodded a semi-greeting; and we’d take our seats. We’d then consider the menu: Waffles, blueberry pancakes, omelets…”What would it be?”

A year later, that was still the level of interaction. No one ever bothered to learn our names or to ask anything about us. It was then that I had a revelation: “Why don’t these folks (the owner always stood behind the counter, surveying everything that happened) demonstrate any interest in us, their every Saturday customers?” For instance, “Hi, Colleen” would have been nice (but that would have meant they’d spoken to me enough to learn my name)…“How was your week?” would have been even nicer… Or to the kids: “Hey Kerry…Amanda, good to see you.”

Instead, there was the perfunctory nod in our direction. They just weren’t interested enough to go that extra step to know us….even minimally. We were simply cogs in their business. Oh, they had their little group of special people whom they knew and welcomed, personally; it’s just that we weren’t in that group.

When that realization hit (yeah, I know…it was long in coming), I stopped being their customer; I was tired of their indifference. And frankly, they probably never knew we stopped coming in.

Sadly, that owner wasn’t the exception: Over the years I’ve seen that pattern repeat, causing me to reason: It’s a damned poor way to run a business.

If I were owner of a small establishment dependent upon local traffic, I‘d follow the cardinal rule of: “Get to know your customers and engage them personally–especially if they come in regularly.” If possible, know their preferences and tastes, too. A nod just doesn’t do. In this way, you let them know their loyalty is appreciated.

One who truly raises the bar in this aspect is Dana Wronski of Tio Mateo next to the CVS, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. She takes orders, retrieves customers’ lunches (from the food preparers) and bothers to get to know her customers.

For instance, last spring she asked my husband: “How are you doing’?“ (he survived a terrible accident in North Carolina last year, when he broke his neck, endured a 9-hour surgery, then suffered a Code Blue, in the hospital.) She remembered him in a neck brace  the summer before.

She knows too, that we live in North Carolina 5 months of the year.

Occasionally, while we’re eating lunch, she’ll call out to us, while delivering to another table: “John, here, is going to North Carolina in two weeks, to live” (she’d already told John we live there part-time). John nods in our direction, confirming what she’s said, inviting our reply. She’s done that on other occasions, too.

It’s times such as these when Dana becomes like a ship’s social director facilitating her customers in interaction.  I’ve seen her sit down with some (at their invitation) during a lull in Tio’s frenzied business and chat warmly with customers she knows well.

To other business owners: “Get to know the people who come through your business portals each day. Address them personally (using their names, if possible). Unless these folks are in the Witness Protection Program, they’ll appreciate.

Finally,Tio Mateo’s food is really good, too (but I promised this isn’t a restaurant review). 

The truth is: The atmosphere is every bit as important as the food. Why don’t more business owners know that? Could be why Tio Mateo has a long line of customers every day, and Dana seems to know every one.

And that little restaurant along the Pawtuxet River in Edgewood? It closed after only two years. The owner probably always mistakenly thought it was “the economy” that spelled his doom when, in fact, it was probably customers like me who were just plain tired of being taken for granted. They took their business elsewhere.

A business run well is like a beacon…all the more in tough economic times. That’s when people really need comfort food and the atmosphere to enjoy it in. Just some food for thought.

***Now, check out Biddy Wednesday for some ghoulish friends to get you in the mood and then Friday is my hilarious account of what just happened when I guest-spoke at the Beauty Lounge at Magnolia Salon (raising money for breast cancer research.)  Warning–It’s a risque. You won’t want to miss the FUN!

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A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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