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Pranking makes perfect

Nick Mendelson tends to tasks at Sonoma's Red Grape
Nick Mendelson tends to tasks at Sonoma's Red Grape

I grew up on Candid Camera. Allen Funt, the host of the show, was my hero. I watched the show every Sunday as a child and assume it’s the reason I became a prankster.
I have always enjoyed the art of a good prank and have spent my fair share of time pulling them on people, mostly restaurateurs, throughout my prankster career.
When in Minnesota I would regularly prank Michael Morse during the days of Café un duex trois. Morse, a gruffly stylish New Yorker was an easy mark. The best prank on Morse were the letters from the eight national food critics, faxed from a local hotel, to Michael just before his morning staff meeting. The letters explained the exceptional meal Andrew Zimmern had prepared for each at the restaurant the night before. Perfection in “ambiance, service, and flavor” were the highlighting comments putting the restaurateur over the top. When Morse read the faxed copies, written on duplicated publication stationary, Morse assumed they were legit. Reading each one aloud, boastfully claiming “this is why I am such a Bastard when it comes to this place” he thought he had entered Restaurant Review Mecca. He came down a few days later when each pseudo critic faxed another letter claiming illness from the meal. I confessed.
When I moved to Carmel, Ca. Joe Rombi of La Mia Cucina was the brunt of many a good call. A reservation for eight the night of the 2005 AT&T from Myron Schmekelman made Rombi a little more aggravated than usual, but he eventually accommodated the caller. Even though Schmekelman would call back and cancel moments later claiming a “better table across the street” Rombi maintained his cordiality. Yes, Rombi is still on my radar.
Then there was Bradley Jones. An entire hour on the phone, discussing appetizers for a “Party in Pebble” proved unbook able when the caller, J. Plummer Mundt realized it was not “The Bradley”, as in Ogden.
“Who the hell is Bradley Jones,” was Mundt’s response when the on-the-phone-Bradley claimed Jones as a last name rather than Ogden. Moments later, when sitting across the bar from Jones – his restaurant was around the corner from mine – I claimed to have just booked a catering event for a guy in Pebble Beach for $23,000.00. The look on Jones’ face went blank when I mentioned the client’s strange name.
However, my latest prank was pulled on a new manager in a favorite restaurant.
When I learned Sam Morphy, owner of The Red Grape in Sonoma, had taken a few desserts off the menu, manager Nick Mendelson became the target. During a company lunch, I decided I would be Hilda Johnson and prank the new manager. From a table across the dining room from the bar, I made a call.
“Hello, Red Grape, This is Nick, how can I help you?
“Yes, Hello sonny. This is Hilda Johnson and I have a reservation for nine people tomorrow night.”
Checking, Mendelson claimed to not see the reservation.
“Sonny, don’t tell me that. It’s a birthday party and we have reservations, I made it a week ago.
“No problem. I can get that down for you.”
“No problem. There better not be a problem. Do you know who I am? I’m local. I also want to confirm my order for 9 pieces of Carrot Cake.”
“Oh, we don’t have that on the menu.”
“Listen, sonny, it was on the menu two days ago. Do not tell me it is not on the menu. When I made the reservation they promised you would have it.”
“Well, we took it off last night and it probably will not be back.”
This is where Hilda gets a little belligerent.
“Sonny, I don’t care if you have to cook that cake yourself, I ordered it and I want it.”
The new manager didn’t miss a step.
Cordial, respectful and even a little apologetic, He explained that carrot cake was no longer on the menu.
When I insisted he go out, buy carrots, grate them and make the cake, he kept his cool, respectful, cordial demeanor. I know for sure I would have told that arrogant lady on the phone to take her carrot cake and …
But Mendelson handled it like a true professional. I can’t get over how terrific he was on the phone. If you want to know how good your manager is under pressure, call me, I’ll prank him.

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