Jackson O’Conner bustled about the tiny industrial kitchen of Bubbles and Brunch, wiping the chocolate off his hands as he read the order for table two. House Signature Strawberry Truffles for ten.
He then flipped on the boombox and let Celtic rock filter in through the tinny speakers, causing cheers to go up from the two cooks on duty. Then, in slow meticulous moves, he poured the chocolate sauce onto the strawberries, in alternating strains of white, brown and red, creating the signature B&B logo for the restaurant.
On the other side of the room, the assistant cook, Sawyer, explained the finer points of proper tomato slicing to the new trainee Peyton. They simultaneously sliced in rhythm to the music, and Sawyer whispered to Peyton, “The boss is from Dublin, and his whole family’s got a Celtic band. They’re kind of a big deal out there.”
Peyton raised an eyebrow and pointed toward the radio. “Is this them?”
Jackson cut in with a bit of a smile, “No.”
He fanned out a chocolate glazed banana garnish at an exacting angle while he spoke. “We wish we were that good. This is Murphy Stone—Moonlit Pathways. This song….”
Jackson whistled. “It changed the genre forever. This song, it’s a classic.”
He winked for emphasis, and teased his new hire. “Knowing Irish Celtic music is a job requirement here at Bubbles and Brunch.”
Peyton smiled and pulled out his phone. “Yes, sir. Added to Spotify.”
Jackson chuckled. “That’s what I like to hear.”
Satisfied with the new guy’s response, he turned back to the truffles for table two. It was between the breakfast and lunch rushes and there wasn’t much to do right now. The two cooks swept and talked of Murphy stone, and Aiden was pleased to hear Sawyer explain to his protege the finer points of Celtic rock. He focused on finished the truffles.
Table two was the Art and Faith Bible study group out of the same church he and his wife Fiona attended. Jackson always took personal pride in making sure their food was perfect. Actually, he took pride in making sure everyone’s food was perfect, but this one had to be especially perfect. He swirled the final chocolate chunk into a flawless curl, with the kind of precision made him the top of his class back in culinary school in Dublin.
“Hey, you,” Fiona’s voice broke his concentration and he looked up.
His heart skipped at her smile. Fiona looked beautiful today. In fact, she always looked beautiful. He thought about that book, The Shack, in which the God character remarks about each person that comes up in conversation, “I’m especially fond of them.”
She was especially beautiful today—every day.
Fiona was twenty-six, the same age he was, and today she had her wavy bleached blond hair pulled back with a white scarf. She wore a flowing, floral maxi-dress that dressed up her baby bump. Now she carried a load of dishes and Peyton and Sawyer attacked the load with enthusiasm.
Jackson decided he like new Peyton guy. He seemed to be a hard worker and brought out the best in Sawyer. Sawyer had been there about a year, and was due for a promotion—only in this tiny restaurant, there wasn’t really anywhere for him to go, and the last thing Jackson wanted was to lose him.
“Hey you, back,” Jackson greeted Fiona.
In a quick move, he grabbed her arm and twirled her around until she giggled.
“Fiona, sorry, table three’s up, with the clubs,” Sawyer interrupted.
“Right, right,” Fiona laughed and she held Jackson’s gaze for just a minute longer.
She then grabbed the plates and sauntered out into the dining room, humming Moonlit Pathways the whole way.
Must was what brought them together in the first place. She was from San Diego, but had been a wanderlust that had attended college in Dublin. She had been a worship major at the Dublin satellite school at an American Christian university.
One night, she wandered into the pub where he played backup for his dad’s band. She had come with some friends, but all he could see was the beautiful young woman with the infectious smile and laugh enjoying the music, enjoying the night, and enjoying life and youth.
He’d been in cooking school then, channeling his creativity into a more palatable career than music. But he fell head over heels that night…and every night after that, even long after they’d said “I do.”
Aiden had always believed in God, but Fannie, was way out of his league on that. He’d never met someone that had a faith like that, and that knew the Bible like she did. Quite frankly, she intimidated him.
Now here they were, in her hometown pouring every dime they’d ever earned into this restaurant.
Well, along with their best friend Grant Hill.
Grant was another story. He had been a smooth talking business major from North Carolina, who also attended the school in Dublin. The three were inseparable for years.
That’s how Bubbles and Brunch was born—deep in the bowels of an Irish dorm hall, as the hypothetical business plan for Grant’s senior thesis. Still, even thought Fiona seemed happy, he wondered how happy she could be, having come so far from where she wanted. Bubbles and Brunch was his dream, not hers, and they were so busy with the restaurant, she didn’t even have time to be on the worship team. Man, she was good, too.
The truffles were done now, and Jackson loaded them on the tray, and also grabbed everything else that was up—a steak and salad for table five. They were slow, so Fiona was the only server they had on duty this morning. This meant he’d have to help run food. He balanced two trays on his fingertips, and on his way out, Fiona waltzed back in.
“Got it,” she stated as she ducked and shouldered a tray from under his palm.
He winked at her, and followed her out into the dining room, carrying the other tray.
It was a small cafe, with an industrial vibe, brick walls and exposed piping, all browns and red, and chrome. This was San Diego, so they had to pay a fortune to look that dilapidated.
Grant liked to scare the waitstaff with statistics on how many entrées it took just to keep the restaurant doors open. He even had a printout laminated on the kitchen wall. Jackson appreciated Grant motivating the staff to increase sales, but always thought those numbers were a little inflated.
Jackson and Fiona arrived at table two, where a lively debate on the nature of creativity was already in progress. Being both a chef and a musician, he had quite a lot to say on the subject, but he didn’t have time for all of that now. He set down the truffle plates, and then he noticed Grant on the other side of the room.
Grant worked in the office, doing all the business work, so he looked the part. At six feet, he had spiky dark hair, and strikingly blue eyes, and was sharply dressed in pressed black slacks, fitted maroon dress shirt.
He currently glad-handed an older couple. The man looked in his early sixties, wearing a wide brim cowboy hat, and a light gray suit, and his wife seemed to be maybe in his early thirties. She had platinum blond hair, and wore a tight red dress.
But, that’s not what caught Jackson’s attention.
Grant’s seemed focused on the cowboy, but, his attention wavered elsewhere. Jackson followed Grant’s gaze across the room to…
Bridget leaned over the Bible study table, setting down plates, and now engaged in small talk and jokes. Grant’s focus lingered just half a beat too long on her leaning v-neck. Then he went back to the cowboy.
Jackson froze. Surely he had just imagined that. He watched Grant talk for a couple of seconds more, and then his friend motioned him over with urgency.
It was table five, and he had the order anyway. Jackson approached the table, and set the food down. “Good morning, welcome to Bubbles and Brunch. I’m Jackson.”
“Pleased to meet you,” the cowboy said. “I’m Willie, and this is my wife Bonnie. Nice establishment you got goin’ on here.”
“Thank you,” he smiled as he set the plates down. “Salad for the lady, and for you, sir.”
With a flourish, Jackson set the plate down in front Willie, a savory presentation of tender ribs, marinated in barbecue sauce, and garnished with herbs.
Willie frowned at the plate. “What on earth is this? I ordered ribs.”
Grant and Jackson exchanged glances.
“Don’t worry,” Grant’s charismatic smile was all pearly whites. “Jackson’s a straight up culinary genius. The man…he knows his stuff. This is prime rib, the best of the best.”
Willie looked at the plate again and then at Bonnie, and then back at the two owners.
“This…this looks like something she’d have have hanging off her drink, while she watches one of those New York City girly girl shows.”
Bonnie smirked and sipped a cosmopolitan, but Jackson thought she looked more like a Bravo Housewife than a New York socialite.
Willie continued, “I ordered ribs. Man food.”
Grant made a “perfect” gesture with his finger. “Try it. I’m telling you, this guy…”
He punched Jackson’s arm, “This guy here…he was trained in an Irish pub, by a cage-fighting champion named Flanagan that can outdrink anyone in Dublin.”
Willie raised an eyebrow at Jackson. “That right, huh?”
No, it wasn’t.
Well, except for the Dublin part, and there was a pub. But he never even worked in it, much less had any sort of street cred training in it.
He and Grant had once, in a fit of college delinquency, spent a night in jail. There they encountered a one-eyed cage fighter named Flanagan, and just the sight of him had scared Grant to a practically catatonic state. But, over the years, the Flanagan story, sort of…changed. It now included a rousing poker match, some Irish jig dancing in a cell…and something about a whiskey smuggling guard?
“Aye,” Jackson again exaggerated his accent, adding a bit of growl to it. “Flanagan’s pub is known all over Ireland. The best meat in the country.”
Jackson lifted up his sleeve to show off the elaborate “F” he’d had tattooed on his bicep when he and Bridget had gotten engaged. Bonnie and Willie oohed and ahhed and Jackson nodded.
Jackson winked and gestured toward the food. “This is one of Flanagan’s signature recipes.”
Willie considered Jackson and Grant, and then took a bite. “Well, if you care enough to make up that load of crap, I’ll at least give it a try.”
They all laughed and the cowboy took a bite.
“Aye, but it’s true,” Jackson kept it going.
Why not? He was having fun, and maybe it would get some kind of urban myth going around town.
Willie chewed slowly. “It’s not awful.”
Then he scarfed it down like a wolf.
Bonnie winked and shot Grant a relieved look.
Grant laughed. “See? What’d I tell you? That’s man food.”
He punctuated the comment with a growl and then, slapped Willie on the back. “Enjoy your meal.”
Crisis averted, Grant and Jackson walked away. Jackson was about to ask Grant what that was about, when table three flagged him down. Eh, another time.
“Let’s move it,” Jackson yelled as he sliced a tomato almost in mid-stride. “Table eight needs salmon, and we need a medium rare tenderloin for table nine. Where’s the tenderloin?”
Sawyer slid a plate across to him. “Got it here, boss.”
Jackson frowned at the plate. “Sawyer, too light on the pesto again.”
Sawyer slunk away, already working on another dish. Jackson grabbed the pesto, and artfully added another touch, before handing it to Alexis, the waiting server.
“You’re going to thank me for the rest of your life on this one,” Grant rubbed his hands together still grinning.
Jackson rolled his eyes and chopped steak into cubes for table three. “If you can’t tell, I’m kind of in the middle of something here.”
“Yeah, but you’re going to want to hear this.”
“As much as half of San Diego wants their dinner?”
“Even more,” Grant stated.
Then he pointed toward the walk-in freezer. Jackson raised an eyebrow. The freezer? This must be serious.
He slid the chopping board to Sawyer. “Finish this for table three.”
Sawyer saluted him. “You got it.”
Jackson followed Grant back to the freezer and they shut the door.
“Alright. You got me back here. What’s going on?”
Grant’s eyes glinted with delight. If Jackson wasn’t so preoccupied with the dinner rush, he’d have been more interested. But right now, Grant’s characteristic narcissism had lost its usual charm, and was just plain irritating. Jackson crossed his arms and leaned against the metal shelving.
“You got me out here,” he sighed. “What is it?”
Grant rubbed his hands together. “The customers from this morning?”
“Willie and Bonnie?”
“Ah, yes. The old Flanagan trick. What about them?”
Grant laughed, and his breath blew fog in the chill.
Fiona slipped into the freezer. “Details. Now.”
“I’m just catching Jackson up,” Grant told her.
“Catching me up on what? What’s been going on?”
Grant and Fiona shared an awkward glance, and then Grant sighed and turned to Jackson, “They weren’t just customers. They’re loaded, dude. Straight up, like, they-bankrolled-the-Bush-campaign loaded. Like, he-owns-half-a-town loaded.”
“Wow,” Jackson was impressed.
“And they want to invest.”
Fiona and Grant both held their breaths and stared at Jackson.
“Invest?” He repeated.
They hadn’t even been looking for investors as far as he knew. They both nodded, and Jackson felt a stab of jealousy.
“You went behind my back and talk to an investor? Both of you?”
“He told me it was a possibility, but he swore me to secrecy so that we didn’t get your hopes up,” Fiona admitted. “Not telling you has been killing me. But now it’s all out, and this is all really happening.”
She laughed and squealed. Jackson stared at Grant, and the betrayal slowly faded into excitement. “Well, what do they want to do?”
“They’re talking chain, man,” Grant gestured in the air, drawing large billboards. “The works. National franchise, branding, marketing. Eventually global.”
“National franchise?” Jackson repeated. “Wow.”
Fiona squealed and jumped up and down. “Can you believe it?”
“Well, when do they want to start?”
“Right away. They’re saying they can have us a check by month’s end.”
“Month’s end?” Jackson glanced down at his watch. It was the twentieth already.
“The only big change they want…” Grant rubbed his hands together. “Is they want to rebrand, and start with a signature location.”
“Rebrand?” Jackson didn’t like the sound of that. “Our brand is just fine. And signature location? What does that mean?”
Grant clarified the business speak, “It means, they want us to move.”
“Okay,” Jackson nodded. “Like where?”
Grant locked eyes with Fiona, in a look that clearly pleaded for her help.
“Sweetie, look, you came to San Diego from Dublin. This is not any different.”
“Wait, you’re talking about leaving town? What about the staff and…”
Grant chimed in. “We’ll have to restaff, definitely. But no one said the path to success was easy.”
“Texas,” Grant stated. “Fredericksburg, Texas.”
Jackson’s mouth dropped. “Texas?”
The metal door slid open, and Sawyer popped into the freezer. “Sorry, we’re out of eggs out there.”
The three owners stood in silence while Sawyer grabbed a carton of eggs.
“Sorry,” he mumbled again, and shuffled his way back out.
Once he was gone, Grant sighed. “Look, I know it’s a lot to take in. But once you get over the shock, it’s a no-brainer, man. It’s a win-win, amazing, once-in-lifetime opportunity. I mean, really, how many millionaire investors do you think are going to come through this door?”
Jackson shrugged. “Our customers love us here.”
“And they will love us again…in Fredericksburg. There’s a whole hipster scene out there, man. It’s your deal, man. It’s like your whole swanky avante grade, whole artsy-fartsy European thing, dude Honestly, I thought you’d be totally into this.”
“Aside from the fact that after three years living in Dublin, you still don’t know that it’s not really Europe—“
“Eh, potato, pah-tah-to. You know what I mean.”
“Grant, we built this place, from the ground up with our own money. I sold everything I had when I left Dublin.”
“Yeah, and we can build it again, bigger, better, and with someone else’s money.”
“And the staff? You just want to throw them out on their tails within…what? Weeks?”
His stomach twisted thinking about what he’d have to say to Sawyer and Peyton.
rant ran his hands through his hair. “Dude, you’re so busy playing Gordon Ramsey, you don’t see the balance sheets, man. We’re barely scraping by, dude. And I know you’re all about the staff, Mr. Nice Boss, Mr. Improve Your Life Boss…But, I’m Mr. Sign the Paycheck Boss, and I’m telling you…we need this, or we’ll go under within a year’s time.”
Jackson sighed and considered the comment. Grant had a penchant for exaggerating, but even he knew there was some truth to what he was saying.
Grant continued, this time with a rare heartfelt tone, “Look, I care about all those people out there, just like you. I write the paychecks. I know they need them. But, believe me, they’ll all get other jobs. But, for all of us, this isn’t some paycheck we can just walk away from and the next day, get a new job. This is personal. This is what we built together. And I don’t know about you guys, but I want to make it count. Make it count in a big way.”
Grant’s words hung in the air for a while.
Finally, Fiona rubbed his Jackson’s chest. “San Diego has been great. It’s been fun, honey. But, he’s right. We can’t keep scraping by. I mean, we’ve got to think about our future.”
She rubbed her baby bump.
Grant leaned against the shelf and softly delivered his last bombshell. “They had to fly out this afternoon. And they wanted an answer right away.”
Jackson’s eyes widened. “And you said what?”
Grant grinned again. “I told him yes, baby. We’re going to Texas!”
He threw his arms up and whooped. Jackson’s mouth dropped, and Fion giggled. “Honey, trust me. This is going to be an adventure.”
Jackson sighed and pushed her away. He stepped back into the kitchen, and Peyton, the kitchen trainee, stopped him.
“So, how do you do that curl thing on the truffles? It’s super cool.”