One for You, One for Me

JAMS OF LONDON IN LONDON, ENGLAND, AND THE COURIER CAFE IN URBANA, ILLINOIS.






Publication: The Stranger
Author: Savage, Dan
Date published: August 17, 2011

I owe Jonathan Waxman an apology.

No, wait: I owe the people who bought Jams of London from Jonathan Waxman an apology. Or two or three thousand dollars-and, hey, does anyone know what the statute of limitations is for grand theft? In the UK?

Jonathan Waxman, says Wikipedia, "is an American chef who was one of the pioneers of California cuisine." He opened a restaurant in New York City called Jams in the early 1980s. It was his second restaurant, and it was a huge success-Jams got name-checked in the 1987 Diane Keaton yuppie/ovary anxiety fl ick Baby Boom-and a couple years later Waxman opened Jams of London. I moved to London in 1988 and, through a friend-of-a-friend-of-afriend, got a job waiting tables there.

Jams of London was an American-owned, American-style restaurant, but a pricey one, and it featured "American-style service." It was a style of service-four-star but with an air of casual informality-that Brits just couldn't do. Local waiters had two gears: lickspittle servility or barely concealed hostility. Consequently, the waiting jobs at Jams mostly went to American expats.

The clientele was moneyed-fi lm and television stars, business execs, the odd (sometimes very odd) lord or lady-and the money was outstanding: A 15 percent gratuity was added to every check (American food, American service, American tips), and the waiters split the take at the end of the night. Jams of London was a great gig, and everyone who worked there realized how lucky they were and busted their asses for Jams, for Jonathan, for each other.

But like all really good restaurant gigs it couldn't last. Waxman sold Jams of London to a bounder who owned a rib joint off Trafalgar Square, and the new owner immediately revised the tipping policy: A 15 percent gratuity was still added to every check, but the money was no longer distributed to the waiters. All tips went straight into the pocket of the new owner, a man who had a large estate in the country to look after.

The new owner should've fi red the entire staff and started over, but the place would've collapsed. So we were all kept on. Only now, instead of a group of highly motivated American expats who were grateful to the owners and wanted Jams to succeed, Jams of London was staffed by a group of seething, unmotivated angerbombs who hated the new owner and couldn't wait for Jams to fail.

Here's the thing about screwing over your employees: They fi nd ways to screw you right back.

Which brings me to the fl atware at Jams of London. The place had amazing silver- Christofl e? Have you heard of it?-and before every shift, we waiters would sit and polish each spoon, soup spoon, fork, salad fork, knife, and bread knife. One day, while I sat with another waiter in the dining room before the dinner shift, I polished one fork for Jams, one for myself, one knife for Jams, one for myself, dropping each piece of silverware I polished for myself into a backpack at my feet. I left Jams that day with 12 settings-72 pieces of silver-which I still have and haul out (and polish!) at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Just the spoons-in the pattern Jams had and I have-cost $118 a piece. I discovered that a few years ago when I decided to replace one of the spoons, which I'd lost in a move, and Googled "Christofl e."

$118. For a spoon.

Jams wasn't long for London, and neither was I. Three months after making off with thousands of dollars' worth of silverware- I was looting in London before looting in London was cool-I was back in the United States, and on to my next restaurant gig: making milk shakes for sorority girls at the Courier Cafe in Urbana, Illinois.

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