I live in this podunk college town called Ann Arbor. It’s a really interesting place in a lot of ways; one of the reasons I stay here is because it possesses one of the most diverse international communities in the country, packed right into a small downtown area that’s just a few blocks square. But it’s also kind of a cultural backwater in other ways. Occasionally I’m reminded of one of the reasons why. You know the whole idea about how perfectionism can prevent you from just DOING things once in awhile? Well this town has a bad case of that. A lot of things don’t happen here because really smart highbrow people sit around debating how to do exceptional things, and then don’t do them because they won’t be exceptional enough. Meanwhile, in nearby Ypsilanti – which locals look over their reading glasses at in disdain – there’s a dynamic art and music scene. A little scrappy, but things are HAPPENING.
So what the heck does this have to do with substitutions? Well, the other day I was having a business breakfast with Nick, and we went to this local diner that has been around since we were kids. As we ordered breakfast, Nick made a pretty sane request about getting something instead of the toast, and before the words were fully out of his mouth, the waitress uttered the all too familiar “we don’t do substitutions”. We both sort of raised an eyebrow, probably thinking the same thing, i.e.: “when did this place hire the chef from the Culinary Institute of America with the pompous my menu is PERFECT don’t eff with it attitude”? We didn’t contest. This place has been in the same location, with about the same level of business for over thirty years. But you know what? About two blocks away, there’s a multimillion dollar business that was originally just a deli, and was started by two hard-working guys, who probably at some point grabbed breakfast at this diner in their early days. I couldn’t help thinking about one of the main reasons the nearby deli had exploded into the stratosphere of success, while this diner puttered along for decades. The deli guys – to this day – have probably BUILT THEIR BUSINESS around doing substitutions. In fact, I think some of their more popular sandwiches years ago were named after the customer that “invented” them.
I think the next time someone asks me to do something a little differently, I might try it. Who knows what might happen!