When I originally penned this post back in 2015, people who serve prepared food as a profession were much in the news around here. The arguments why they should or shouldn’t be paid a minimum of $15 per hour were appearing all over my Facebook page. It was amazing to me how some who were against the raise stereotyped and insulted an entire profession. You kept reading descriptors like lazy, uneducated, no ambition, unskilled etc. and if you’re like me, you wondered if these hard-hearted critics had ever met just one waiter or waitress they respected and admired or really got to know. I myself have met many but then again, my Mom was a waitress for many years so not only did I meet them, they and their families became big parts of my childhood. I remember how many times they served a booth full or counter full of rude impolite people and kept smiles on their faces and how many times the tip they were left amounted to one percent of the check. I remember their horrible hours, the times they came home with cuts, burns, sore backs and blistered feet and how incredibly hard they worked, yet had to “hope” the folks they waited on recognized and respected their efforts to earn a “living wage.”
Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was one of the most liked and respected waiters in Amsterdam history and he happened to also be one of the most intelligent guys I’ve ever met in my life as well. His name was Gerard Isabel but everyone knew him better as “Pup.” He was the son of the legendary Alex Isabel, who was one of Amsterdam’s all-time great athletes and coaches. Born on August 25, 1925, Pup graduated from SMI in 1943 and from Siena with a degree in political science. He was also a proud veteran of the US Navy serving his country during both WWII and the Korean War. In 1955, he married his beloved Angela and together they raised three boys, Benji, Alex and Gerry, who they adored and to whom they devoted their lives.
Pup held a number of daytime jobs as a young man. He worked at GE, he sold insurance and he sold advertising for WCSS but what he also did was wait on tables at Isabel’s, his Uncle Guy’s wildly popular restaurant on Amsterdam’s West Main Street. For 38 years he wore his famous gray jacket, white shirt, black tie and black slacks and waited on one side of that eatery’s famous “booth room” while a similarly attired Louie Frollo waited the other.
A lifelong friend of my Dad, I can still hear him address me with that distinct voice of his as “Jerry’s boy” or “little Cinquanti,” which he continued to do even after my father had passed away and even though I had grown up to be taller than him. He worked at Isabel’s long enough to bring me an extra package of crackers for my soup when I was a little kid and do the same for my oldest daughter.
He was the consummate server. He could answer any possible question you had about the restaurant’s menu or bar. If asked for a recommendation he would never make a bad one and if you wanted to converse about any topic known to man, Pup Isabel was your guy. One of the best read, most learned individuals you’d ever want to meet, Pup had an insatiable hunger and thirst for knowledge his entire life. He was an absolute wizard when it came to the New York Times crossword puzzle and probably because his Dad had scouted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pup was also a diehard Mets fan too. His son Benji told me that a bunch of Isabel regulars would make it a habit to watch nighttime Jeopardy before going out to dinner and then rush down to the restaurant to try to trip Pup up on the Final Jeopardy question. They seldom if ever did.
But what Pup did best was treat every single person who ever sat in one of his booths with the same high level of respect and courteousness, regardless of their age, background or station in life.
Pup lived to be 86 years old, passing away in 2012. His Angela followed him less than two years later. I have no idea how Pup would have felt about this $15.00 minimum wage for food server’s issue but I do know that Pup’s contribution to the amazing long-term success of Isabel’s Restaurant was priceless.