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Chapter 10

 

Mass Exodus

Just after reopening the business with a new kitchen and an amazingly talented new head chef, entering the building became a hazardous journey through the maze of tenement apartment buildings, to reach the tower’s door, if new customers could find it at all. This was nightmarish for travelers, many who had read reviews in English language tourist guides such as the following:

some of the most delicious food in the city, courtesy of a three-fold multicultural menu which doesn’t cheat on quality and originality. – Wrocław-life

Not only was I facing impossible obstacles upon reopening, but I lost my wealthy new business partner from Krakow, when he learned that Tokarczuk had fired her architect.

Prior to this, one evening he came to the tower, had dinner and said that my new chef was better than his own in Warsaw. He invited me there to see his new restaurant under construction and to a wine fair in Krakow, where he presented to me his ambitious business plans for Baszta. All for naught. Tokarczuk had succeeded in scaring away by far the biggest fish of them all.

None of this even begins to describe the soap operas I faced daily, with an ever-revolving door of managers, assistants and other workers. Desperately searching for someone with proper experience, who could also speak English fluently, I spent months getting to know one from long distance, who had become well-trained in London and planned to return home. For once, I thought, I would hire someone, who knew the standards of western-style customer service. After she arrived, I heard nothing from her and she didn’t answer my efforts to reach her by phone. Three days later, she sent me an email from London stating that she was home long enough to know that she could never again live in Poland.

Tokarczuk criticized me several times for not being able to hold onto my staff. Just after I hired the last manger of several, who had worked for me over a period of six years, he picked up the landline phone at the tower, and an anonymous voice warned him that he too would soon be history. Someone had been tampering with my hired workers and undermining my authority, for how long I will never know.

How bitterly ironic this was, given the fact that, like Tokarczuk, Poles were leaving their country in droves, and who could blame them? No one anticipated this phenomenon, when Poland entered the EU, but the UK opened its doors to them, which has everything to do with why Brexit came about over a decade later. No matter how hard I or a manager of mine worked to train workers, each summer, when school was out, I lost nearly my entire staff to the UK, where they instantly earned at least four times what they could in Poland.

One day, when visiting Warsaw, I was introduced to the English owner of a well-known restaurant, who said to me that before Poland became an EU member, he received around 600 applications each time he posted an announcement, in search of help. Afterward, he was lucky to receive six.

What also became clear was that what worked well in Poland was inexpensive fast food. The first Pizza Hut in the country was bravely opened by an American in the central market square of Wrocław, known as Rynek, way back in 1990. By the time I started up La Luz in 2006, he had opened over 250 Pizza Huts and KFCs in Poland and Czech Republic. By the time my business came to a crashing halt in 2011, he was establishing Starbucks franchises at a head spinning pace.

On his LinkedIn page, he stated that his purpose was “market dominance.” What else would one stereotypically expect of an American businessman? All I cared to do was make enough money to afford staying in Poland for the sake of a woman, who was long gone and to share my multicultural experience, knowledge and passions that Tokarczuk expressed having so badly missed out on, while growing up, as I continuing to pursue my personal artistic ambitions, which, as things turned out, I no longer had time for.

Not once did I exhibit my own work, other than some photos I had taken while touring some Spain’s wine country, simply as wall decorations, without any mention that I was the photographer. I kept my own artistic ego out of my business.

At the outset of opening La Luz, I also hired a woman to organize a monthly itinerary of exhibitions, cultural activities and events. This included a weekly cinema night, each month’s films devoted to a particular theme or movie director. If the films were Polish, when possible I invited the directors to come and give a talk. I showed art of mostly Polish artists, both young and old.

Things were so dire by then that I had placed signs on my former La Luz website and on the nearby streets, hoping to attract customers, with arrows pointing to obscure passages far from the tower’s door. Each time I did, neighbors would destroy them.

When Tokarczuk refused to lift a finger, even after the fence blocked the only reasonable access through the neighbor’s parking lot, I hired a lawyer, who demanded a return of my investment and made clear that all further rent payments would be terminated, until she restored the roof, which by then was riddled with holes and reopened the passage through the medieval wall.

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