It was late. Evan looked at the clock on the wall. 11:32. Normally, the restaurant closed at eleven, but traffic had been busy. Customers kept strolling in after a college basketball game.
“Mr. Humphrey!” Evan hollered out. “Can we lock up?”
Mr. Humphrey, the manager, looked at the clock and hollered back, “Let’s wait until midnight.”
Evan exhaled deeply. He had been standing over a hot grill for over eight hours. He had reluctantly taken the job at the restaurant when his best friend, Joseph, talked him into it. He had been working twenty hours a week for the past four months. Joseph quit three weeks after being hired. However, Evan needed money. Graduation would be in several months, and he didn’t want to depend on his mother to pay for the expenses. There were pictures to buy, and he wanted a class ring to wear. After all, everyone else would be wearing one. He also had to rent a cap and gown. Counselors hadn’t gone over other expenses, but he knew there would be additional costs.
At nineteen, Evan was the oldest of four children. He had twin sisters who were fifteen, and a younger brother who was nine. His mother was a single working mom. His father had left when he was seven. His little brother didn’t even know him. Evan only had vague remembrances. Those were mainly a man who came in drunk late at night and yelled at his mother.
His mother worked long hours in a manufacturing plant to provide for him and his siblings. She left early in the mornings, and she would return late in the afternoons in time to prepare dinner. Since he had started working after school at Osborne’s, he rarely saw her anymore. She was usually in bed when he got home. The job, however, did provide him a decent meal at night. When at home, he would often go without dinner so his brother and sisters could eat.
Christmas was two weeks away. He had saved enough money to buy his brother a video game he wanted, and his sisters were needing new clothes for school. He knew his mother couldn’t afford them, so he had spoken to her one morning and told her that he would buy them gifts. She, however, could wrap them and place them under the tree. They were too old to believe in Santa anymore, but they would still think the gifts came from their mother and not him.
Mr. Humphrey came from his office and smiled at the young man before him. He was fond of Evan. Even though the boy was small, he did the work of two people. He never had to explain anything to him twice. He could prepare a sandwich in half the time it would take other workers. On the nights he worked the counter, his register never came up short. Evan was trustworthy. Young people like him were hard to find.
Humphrey patted Evan on the back. “Why don’t you go lock the door and then clean the grill.” He smiled and added, “It’s been a long night. I wasn’t expecting a large crowd to come in so late. If you need me, I’ll be in the back going over today’s receipts.”
Evan nodded and headed for the door. Just as he prepared to lock it, a man appeared and pushed on the door to open it. “I’m sorry,” apologized Evan, “but the restaurant is closed.”
“Please,” begged the stranger, “I’m hungry.” The man’s appearance was very unkempt. His clothes were worn and dirty. He had on a jacket that was tattered and frayed at the cuffs. Several buttons were missing. His hair was long and stringy. It appeared that he had not washed it in several days. However, his blue eyes were bright and shiny. Evan thought that the man must have been very handsome once. Even though he appeared to be about forty, his face was smooth except for what looked like three day’s growth.
“It’s really late,” explained Evan. “My boss wants to close up."
“It won’t take long to fix me a sandwich,” pleaded the man. “It’s cold out, and I haven’t eaten in two days. Please let me in.”
Evan looked behind him to see if Mr. Humphrey was nearby. He hoped he could let the gentleman in and quickly provide him something to eat. He knew what it was like to go hungry, and he couldn’t turn him away. The desperate look on his face would haunt him for weeks.
“Okay,” said Evan as he opened the door and let the man enter. He made sure to lock the door behind them. He didn’t want to feed anymore late diners. The man shuffled over to a table and sat down. Evan walked over and stood before him.
“What can I get you, Sir?” he asked politely. Normally, customers came to the counter to place their order. But since the man appeared tired, Evan didn’t see the need to follow customary procedures. He was afraid, however, that the man may not have any money, and he would have to pay for his meal. It would cost him at least an hour’s wage.
“Just fix me what you can make fast,” the man suggested. “Anything you make will be fine.”
“Yes, Sir,” Evan responded. “I’ll be right back.” He turned and headed toward the grill. Fortunately, it was still hot. Sharon, another worker, had turned it off a few minutes earlier, but it seemed hot enough to grill a plain burger.
“Why’d you let him in?” angrily asked Stanley, another worker. “I thought Mr. Humphrey told you to lock up.”
“He’s hungry,” replied Evan as he placed fries in a basket. They were slightly cold, but he figured the man wouldn’t complain since he was hungry.
“He should get here before we close,” huffed Stanley as he grabbed a mop and started wiping grease off the floor.
Evan wasn’t sure how the man liked his burger, so he prepared the classic that most customers ordered. It contained lettuce, onion, pickle and mayo. Evan placed a few extra pickles off to the side. He placed the burger on the bun and took the meal to the stranger.
“Thank you, Young Man,” responded the man appreciatively as Evan placed it in front of him. “Please tell me your name.”
“Evan Snyder, Sir,” politely replied Evan. He couldn’t understand why the man wanted to know his name.
The man smiled and asked Evan to join him as he ate. “I can’t, Sir,” he insisted. I have to help the others clean up.” He looked up at the clock. Fifteen minutes had flown by since the last time he looked. Mr. Humphrey would be angry if he came out of his office and there was still work to be done.
“Please sit down, Evan,” the man asked again. “I don’t want to eat alone.” Evan was becoming increasingly worried by the man’s insistence. He had to get back to work or he could lose his job. Since Christmas was only days away, he needed the money to buy gifts.
“Please?” the man asked as he pointed to the seat across from him. Evan reluctantly sat down. However, he kept a watchful eye on the office door in case Mr. Humphrey came out.
“Well, Mr. Evan Snyder,” the man spoke as he took a bite of the burger, “how long have you worked at Osborne’s?”
“Four months,” he replied nervously. He was becoming uncomfortable because of the penetrating stare of the man’s blue eyes.
“Are you still in school?” he asked.
“Yes, Sir,” replied Evan. “I’m a senior.”
“Excellent,” responded the man. “Are you preparing for college?"
Evan hung his head. It had always been his dream to attend college, but he knew his mother wouldn't be able to afford it; and his grades weren’t good enough for a scholarship. He didn’t play sports, so he couldn’t use that path to a better education. His goal was to work after graduation and try to save enough money to attend a local community college. He hadn’t decided on what he would study, but he hoped it would be enough to provide for a wife and family someday.
“Well?” asked the man when he saw the distraught look on Evan’s face.
“No, “Sir,” replied Evan as he felt tears well up in his eyes. “I guess I’ll remain at Osborne’s for a few more years.” He smiled slightly, “That is if I don’t lose my job tonight.”
“Why would you lose your job?”
“I really should be doing my closing chores,” he replied. “My manager will be mad if he comes out and sees me sitting here talking to you.”
“Just explain you’re keeping a lonely man company,” smiled the stranger across from him.
Evan explained, “We have a policy that we can’t be friendly with the customers.”
“Why is that?”
Evan shrugged his shoulders. “Management rules are very strict.”
“We are expected to work every minute,” replied Evan. He knew he was saying too much, but he was tired, and the stranger appeared interested. Besides, in a few minutes he would never see him again. “And we only get a ten-minute break. On most nights I don’t even get that.”
“That’s horrible,” responded the man. “Don’t you complain?”
Evan sighed and said, “What good would it do? Workers who complain get fired, and I need this job.”
“It’s just my mother,” explained Evan. “She takes care of me, my brother and twin sisters. There’s not a lot of money, so I work to help her out.”
“I see,” he replied. “Have you considered asking for a raise?”
“No, Sir,” Evan sadly answered. “It wouldn’t do any good. I would probably get fired if I did.”
“I doubt that,” insisted the gentleman. “It can’t be that bad.”
“But it is,” replied Evan. “Osborne’s management is very strict. I like Mr. Humphrey, our manager a lot. However, he has to follow company rules.”
“Sounds like a terrible place to work,” responded the man.
“It will do,” said Evan. “I guess there are worse places to work.”
“And I’m sure,” said the stranger, “there are better.”
“Perhaps,” replied Evan. He stood and looked down at the man. “How would you like to pay for this,” he asked as he picked up the empty plate. Cash or credit?”
The man smiled and asked, “What if I told you I had no money?”
Evan instinctively knew the answer before he asked. He knew when the man pushed the door open that he probably didn’t have the means to pay for his meal.
“I guess I’ll have to pay for it,” sadly replied Evan.
“But that’s an hour’s wage,” insisted the man. “Can’t you just give me a free meal?”
“Oh, no, Sir,” responded Evan quickly. “Osborne’s has a strict policy about not giving handouts to homeless people.” Evan’s face reddened when he realized he had suggested that the man may have been homeless. However, he appeared to be. “They even insist that we throw out good food at the end of the night instead of donating it to some place who can use it.”
“Yes, Sir,” responded Evan. “There’s a homeless shelter on the next block that could use it to help feed people. I asked Mr. Humphrey why we can’t donate leftover food to them, and he said he would be fired if he did.”
“So, you would rather pay for my meal rather than just letting me have it? You’re just a poor boy, and Osborne’s is a very profitable business.”
“To some people,” explained Evan, “money is everything. From what I’ve seen, some of them don’t have a charitable bone in their body.”
“But that can’t be the case,” replied the man.
“It is, Sir,” insisted Evan. “You’re hungry and need a meal. However, if I just give it to you, I’ll be fired.”
“Who would know?”
“I would,” replied Evan. “And I would probably tell Mr. Humphrey what I did.”
“Then, Mr. Evan Snyder,” said the man as he rose and shook Evan’s hand. “If you will generously pay for my meal tonight, then I will return soon to repay you.”
“It’s okay,” replied Evan. “I’m just happy to help out someone in need. I just wish I could do more."
“You’ve done enough,” said the man as he patted Evan on the back. “More than realize.” Evan followed him to the door. He opened it, waved goodbye, locked it and then went behind the counter to finish cleaning the grill.
The following week Evan was behind the counter. He had just arrived after school and was putting on his Osborne’s apron. Since it was almost three-thirty, only a few diners were eating. In about an hour, the evening crowd would begin to slowly drift in.
Mr. Humphrey approached Evan and asked him to go to the back for some supplies. “Yes, Sir!” responded Evan as he stood erect, clicked his heels and saluted his manager. Mr. Humphrey smiled and walk off.
When he returned, Evan noticed a customer standing patiently at the counter. He walked over and asked the man for his order. Evan stared at the middle-aged man with deep blue eyes. He was nicely dressed in a dark suit, and his hair was fashionably styled. He looked familiar, but Even couldn’t remember where he had seen him. He wasn’t a regular at the restaurant.
The gentleman smiled and said, “Good afternoon, Evan Snyder.” Evan quickly looked down at his name tag. Only his first name appeared. But how did the man know his last name?
“Hello, Sir,” Evan responded nervously. “May I take your order?”
Evan became more confused when the man asked, “May I speak to your manager, Mr. Humphrey?”
“Is something wrong, Sir?” asked Evan.
“No, Evan,” he replied. “I would just like to see Mr. Humphrey.” Evan turned and headed towards Mr. Humphrey’s office. When they both returned, his manager stopped suddenly.
“Mr. Osborne! What are you doing here?” Evan watched as Mr. Humphrey nervously shook the man’s hand. Evan was even more surprised when the man came around the counter and shook his hand. It was a policy that no one but staff should ever be behind the counter.
“Evan,” said Mr. Humphey, “This is Mr. Osborne. He is the owner of the Osborne Corporation.” He turned to Mr. Osborne and asked, “What are you doing here, Sir. It is indeed an honor, but I’m concerned why you are here unannounced.”
Mr. Osborne grasped Evan’s arm and led him around the counter. “Let’s go sit down over here.” He pointed to a booth toward the back of the restaurant. Evan slid into a seat, and Mr. Osborne sat beside him. Mr. Humphrey sat across from them.
Mr. Osborne began to explain. “I was here last week, late one night.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed Evan. “You’re the guy who came in when I was locking the door.” Suddenly, his face began to pale. “Am I going to be fired?”
Mr. Osborne smiled and assured Evan he was not going to be fired. “Just the contrary,” he responded. “You’re going to be rewarded.”
“What? I am?” replied Evan. Mr. Humphrey watched the exchange with a puzzled look. He had no idea why Mr. Osborne was sitting across from him and talking to Evan like he was an old friend.
He had never personally met him, but he had read numerous letters that were sent to him and other managers throughout the system. From what he had read, Mr. Osborne was a very wealthy man. He had opened his first restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska twenty years earlier. Today, he had over 1000 restaurants throughout the United States and Canada in addition to other businesses. He was known to be a very demanding owner. Over the years, he had seen numerous people leave the organization because of his overbearing reputation. Like Evan, Mr. Humphrey was worried that he had shown up to dismiss him as manager. However, he couldn’t think of anything he had done to warrant such a dismissal.
Mr. Osborne smiled and said, “When I came here last week, I was on a, how can I say this? I guess I was on an undercover mission.”
Evan responded, “I don’t understand, Mr. Osborne.”
“I’ve been away from the daily operations of the company for quite a few years. I’ve let my vice presidents handle things. Over the years, they have outlined the policies and procedures that management and staff should follow.” He smiled at Mr. Humphrey and added, “Most have done an exemplary job, like you, Mr. Humphrey.”
Mr. Humphrey smiled and replied, “Thank you, Sir.”
“Yes. Back to what I was saying,” continued Mr. Osborne. “I have spent most of my time in London the past ten years, and I haven’t paid any attention to what is going on. My accountants keep me apprised of how successful the business is, so I assumed all is well.” He frowned and added, “That is until last week.”
“I don’t understand,” said Mr. Humphrey with a confused look.
Mr. Osborne reached out and patted Evan on the arm. “Last week I decided to visit one of my restaurants incognito, as you would say. I wanted to see what was really going on. I dressed as a beggar and entered the store at closing.” He laughed as he watched Evan’s face redden. “Fortunately, I picked this place and ran into Evan Snyder.”
Evan didn’t know why, but he responded by saying, “I’m sorry, Sir.”
Osborne leaned back and laughed. “For what?” he asked. “I’ve traveled the world, and I have never met anyone with as kind a heart as you. You bought a meal with your own hard-earned money for a stranger you thought you would never see again.” He again patted Evan on the arm. “You also opened my eyes to what was happening in my absence. I now realize that I should have been more involved.”
“I don’t understand,” replied Evan.
Osborne raised a finger and said, “Wait one moment.” He pulled out his phone and informed the person on the other end that it was time. Within minutes, the restaurant was flooded with people from the media and other men in expensive business suits. Cameramen rushed over and began taking pictures.
A distinguished gentleman in a gray three-piece suit hollered out and asked everyone to move back. He explained that Mr. Osborne wanted to make a statement to the media. Osborne rose and faced the cameras before him.
“As you know, I am Charles Osborne, owner and president of the Osborne Corporation. I am here today to make an announcement that will affect the management and staff of Osborne’s Restaurants across North America.
A reporter yelled out, “Are you going bankrupt?”
Osborne started laughing. “No, we’re not. In fact, last year was the best year we’ve ever experienced.” He continued. “As a result of our success, I’m announcing that starting immediately, I am raising the minimum wage of all low-level workers to $15 an hour.” Evan’s eyes widened. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Right now, he was only making $8.60 an hour. His salary would almost double. He would be able to better help his mother and siblings.
“I will also give adequate raises to upper management.” Evan looked at Mr. Humphrey as a wide smile appeared on his face.
Osborne held out his hand, and the man in the three-piece suit handed him a booklet. He waved it at the media. “Also starting immediately, are new guidelines that will apply to all my restaurants. It will outline new policies that workers will follow. It also sets a new policy for the distribution of leftover food and other charity efforts. Importantly, there will be a mandatory thirty-minute break for any worker who works over a four-hour shift.” Evan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. There had been so many nights he had worked eight hours without any break. Sometimes he barely had time to take a bathroom break.
Osborne nodded at the man in the suit and he left the restaurant. A minute later, he returned with a sign and handed it to Osborne. “This will be placed in the window of every restaurant on Christmas Day.”
It read: RECEIVE A FREE OSBORNE'S SPECIAL CHRISTMAS DINNER
“I am ordering all Osborne’s Restaurants to be open Christmas Day with this displayed in the window. Anyone in need or who is hungry is welcome to a free meal. All they have to do is ask. And furthermore, any staff member who volunteers to work Christmas Day will receive double the pay for the hours they work.”
Evan thought, ‘That is $30 an hour! I’m volunteering!’
Osborne looked down at Evan, smiled and asked him to stand. “And lastly, I would like to introduce you to Evan Snyder. Evan is the reason I am here today.” He put his arm around Evan as cameras took their picture together.
“I am announcing today the Osborne’s College Scholarship Award.” Evan looked over and gave Osborne a puzzled look. “Each year I will award a $75,000 four-year college scholarship to an Osborne’s high school student employee who exhibits a hard work ethic, an outstanding moral character and a charitable nature.” He opened a folder and handed Evan an ornate certificate. “This year’s recipient of the first Osborne’s College Scholarship Award is Evan Snyder.”
Evan was overcome with emotion. Tears streamed down his face as he attempted to smile for the cameras. He turned and buried his face into Osborne’s chest. “I don’t know what to say,” he cried. “Thank you."
“No, Evan,” responded Osborne emotionally. “It is I who should be thanking you. Thank you for giving me the gift of human kindness.” He pulled Evan away, smiled into his face and said cheerfully, “Merry Christmas, Evan."
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