What Does Integrity Mean To You?
In the mid 90’s, the 23 year-old me decided to take a chance. I moved a couple hundred miles from my tiny home town to follow my girlfriend as she went to college at the University of Northern Iowa. I was in the restaurant industry and had discovered that I was pretty good at it. So good, I figured landing a job would be no big deal. That was one of those “young and dumb” lessons in life that you learn from. It should be a tattoo or something: Never quit a job until you get a job.
I had not saved much money and was without a job for 5 or 6 weeks. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing or how to do it! I applied a bunch of different places and interviewed and just didn’t find anything!
I found an ad in the paper (yes, back in the days when you scoured the paper for a job!) I found a lead. A guy in Waterloo was looking for a manager for his pizza shop. I had never been to Waterloo, no idea where I was going, and just a farm kid headed to the city and I was a little intimidated. So my girlfriend offered to drive me once she got out of class. Now in those days, Waterloo had a bit of a reputation. A highly industrial city with a large downtown (by Iowa terms) and had come through some pretty tough times in the late 80’s as number of meat processing plants and the John Deere factory had struggled, and been forced to change with the times.
It wasn’t that far really, the two cities are hardly even separated. But we got off Highway 218 and headed toward downtown and I got nervous. We found a place to park and sort of scouted it out. It was an old 2-story corner building with a glass front, surrounded by others just like it. It was brick on the inside and smaller than I thought it would be. My girlfriend came in and was going to sit and have a soda and wait. Neither of us wanted her hanging out outside in downtown Waterloo just waiting on the corner. (No telling what might happen.)
As soon as I walked through the door a big burly Italian looking guy charged right up to me and stuck out his hand with an uncommonly big and welcoming smile. His personality filled the whole place as he introduced himself to me, then he stepped to the side and stood right in front of my girlfriend and did the same to her. All I could think at that moment was “great, he actually thinks I brought my girlfriend with me to the interview!” What I loser I must look like. At this point I introduced myself and my girlfriend and stated that I had no idea where this place was or how to get here, or anything about Waterloo, so my girlfriend came along to check it out! Somehow we all figured out that I was there for a job interview, this guy asked me to sit down and actually invited her to sit with us. God, what kind of interview was this?
We talked a long time about my work history, he told us how he got to where he was, and we talked a good deal about life and family and how proud he was of this little place. As it turns out, he grew up in his father’s restaurant, the Waterloo Brown Bottle, eventually buying it from his dad. He had owned and run it successfully for years, with the family at one time had multiple locations all over Iowa, but now there were only 3-4 successful locations left. He got the idea to do this little pizza joint. Small and efficient. The kitchen was built right in the middle of the restaurant with a glass wall so the kids could press their faces against the glass and watch their pizza be made. It had become time for him to hire a second manager.
As the interview began to wind down, he looked me right in the eye and said “What does integrity mean to you?” I froze. I thought I knew the definition, but I honestly wasn’t sure. I consider myself to have an above average vocabulary and use it pretty well. But that one, I couldn’t think of the actual definition. So I started on this bumbling ramble then actually told him that I couldn’t remember the definition. He said that’s OK, what does it mean to you? I narrowed my thoughts and told him that it is the idea that people can trust you. It worked. Later, I looked it up and found that integrity can be defined as doing the right thing, even when no one else is around.
I got the job as a manager for Chuck and his amazing wife Joanna Landau at Starvin Marvin’s Peetza Joynt. The best pizza, calzones and sandwiches I’ve ever had to this day. The restaurant burned to the ground in 1998. It was a great job working for a great guy and a great family. I still keep in touch with them somewhat with the advent of Facebook. The restaurant lives on today as Doughey Joey’s Peetza Joynt in Cedar Falls. I met a lot of great people in Cedar Falls and Waterloo. I grew up a lot in my time there too. And I took a lot with me.
Chuck also used to say that everything happens for a reason. I believe this with all my heart. That one question about integrity sticks with me today. It is a building block that I try to live and teach. I can honestly say that one interview had an impact on my life. I’ve also learned that making an impact (good or bad) on someone’s life isn’t all that hard to do. So I might as well make it a memorable one or a positive one, or both, but never let anyone remember you for being a jerk. So take the opportunity to make the impact when the time comes.