Last Updated: 12/27/10.]
An article published by the Time Picayune on 7/7/02
A waiter is fired from a restaurant, a non-event most anywhere in America. But this is New Orleans and the restaurant is Galatoire's. A popular waiter's departure from the temple of French-Creole cooking has the well-heeled regulars up in arms and ...
By Brett Anderson Restaurant writer
In 1949, Kenneth Holditch traveled with his father from Mississippi to New Orleans for what would turn out to be a life-changing meal of trout amandine at Galatoire's. He remembers the meal vividly, particularly what he calls "the elegance and skill of the waiters."
Fifteen years after that first visit, Holditch left his job in Memphis and joined the faculty at the University of New Orleans so he could "live in this unique city and dine at Galatoire's whenever I wished," as he explained it in a recent letter to the restaurant's nine-member board of directors.
And dine he has, often at a twice-weekly pace and, for the past 20 years or so, usually as the customer of his favorite waiter, Gilberto Eyzaguirre.
Eyzaguirre, "Gilbert" to his legion of customers, was fired from Galatoire's on April 27 after a female employee filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. It was the second such complaint filed against the waiter by a different employee in less than two months.
If this were a story about anywhere else but New Orleans, or perhaps anyplace else but Galatoire's, that would be the end of it. Instead, it was only the beginning.
Galatoire's General Manager Melvin Rodrigue declined to comment on the particulars of Eyzaguirre's dismissal.
"Even if Gilberto's not with us anymore, we have an obligation to him and the rest of our employees to keep that information confidential," he said.
Galatoire's files may be confidential, but Eyzaguirre's dismissal is hardly a secret. And his popularity among customers is enduring.
The firing is what occasioned Holditch's letter, which was not a fan's note but an impassioned protest. The treatise was written on May 20, 2002. A few days later, it was delivered in a bound volume along with 123 others to the Galatoire's board.
The letters, many of which were written by prominent New Orleans doctors, lawyers, judges and business people, have been posted on www.welovegilberto.com, a Web site devoted to the cause of persuading Galatoire's management to rehire Eyzaguirre. The list of letter writers is impressive; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford and noted Louisiana State University historian David Culbert are among them.
"The purpose of this letter is to request that the members of the Board of Management of Galatoire's find a means to bring Gilbert back into the fold," former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg wrote.
Many of the writers express displeasure with what the volume's opening page calls the "peremptory firing." But to read the letters as a whole is to realize that Eyzaguirre's supporters are concerned about much more than their favorite waiter's job status.
In his letter, Holditch echoes the concerns of many when he bemoans the changes that have occurred at Galatoire's since Rodrigue, 29, became the first non-Galatoire family member to be named general manager and chief operating officer of the restaurant five years ago. The most seismic of those changes was the controversial renovation that was completed in 1999. With the renovation came new dining rooms upstairs and the opportunity to reserve tables, a first in Galatoire's nearly century-old history.
"I felt almost the same way when they opened upstairs," Robert Barnwell, a letter writer who first dined at Galatoire's 50 years ago, said of Eyzaguirre's firing. "It was like when Brooks Brothers opened 40 stores all over the United States. I liked it when there was only just one."
When viewed through the prism of Galatoire's overall makeover, Holditch writes, Eyzaguirre's firing "has made many of us ‘old-timers' aware of the fact that something drastic is afoot, a renovation not only of the physical features of the classic old Creole eatery, but a renovation of its very soul."
. . . . . . .
There's no such thing as a subtle change at Galatoire's, at least not in the eyes of its most ardent customers.
The restaurant's food is a testament to the virtues of trend resistance, and the kitchen's renderings of classic French-Creole dishes are hard to surpass. It's tempting to imagine the best of them -- trout amandine, soufflé potatoes, stuffed eggplant, shrimp rémoulade, oysters Rockefeller -- tasting exactly as they did in 1905, the year Frenchman Jean Galatoire bought Victor's Restaurant on Bourbon Street and gave it his family's name.
Galatoire's is remarkably well preserved, though it actually has the feel of being older than it is. Its majestic atmosphere is derived not just from the tiled floors, 19th-century chandeliers, polished brass and tuxedoed servers, but from the sense that those things extend from traditions rooted deep in New Orleans' exotic past.
It's a restaurant one can envision existing nowhere else so easily as Paris, the world's capital of sophistication, and many of the people who are upset about Eyzaguirre's firing are equally upset that Galatoire's management would allow this elegant luster to be tarnished by, among other things, relaxing the dress code.
"The last time I was in there -- I've only been there once since Gilberto left, which is unusual for me -- there were people sitting at the table next to us who looked as though they should have been dining at the counter at Woolworth's," said Holditch. "I don't mean to sound elitist. But on the other hand, when you go to a nice restaurant, I think you ought to treat it as the kind of temple of food that it is."
The restaurant has been subject to some culinary tinkering over the years. The restaurant only recently unveiled its first printed wine list. Portobello mushrooms are now a vegetable offering. They are the type of changes that would not warrant mention at another restaurant. But nothing goes unnoticed at Galatoire's, which is not so much a restaurant as an institution, complete with a board of directors -- eight Galatoire family members and one non-family member -- charged with overseeing the restaurant's operations.
Constancy is part of the allure, and the regulars, many of whom were introduced to Galatoire's by their parents and grandparents, and who are now taking their own children and grandchildren, find comfort in the familiar details.
In his letter to the Galatoire's board, Thomas Uskali recalled a meal he ate at the restaurant in 1994 with chef Louis Arbot and Dr. Brobson Lutz.
"Gilberto served Chef Arbot ‘the best Sazerac in memory,' and saw to it that our table ate exceedingly well, with inspired choices both on and off the menu," Uskali recalled.
Rosenberg, another Eyzaguirre customer, first started eating at Galatoire's in the early 1950s with his parents.
"I still walk in and have that sort of visceral gastronomic sensation," he said.
It's a restaurant where management has agonized over whether or not to buy a toaster for fear that it would change the quality of the bread served with the oysters en brochette. In 1992, the decision to start accepting credit cards caused an uproar. Holditch recently noticed that the stuffed eggplant started to arrive without the eggplant skin. "It's still just as good, but I miss that eggplant skin," he said.
Nashville businessman Gary Smith was one of many people who protested the restaurant's decision in the mid-1990s to switch from hand-chopped ice to the machine-made variety.
"I used to love watching the waiters chop that ice," he said.
Smith has been traveling to New Orleans with his wife,Cathy, every six weeks since 1968. "I call them eating trips," he said. These trips always include two or three meals at Galatoire's. For the past 18 years, the Smiths were served exclusively by Eyzaguirre.
In fact, for the Smiths, each of whom wrote a letter supporting Eyzaguirre, finding out that their waiter isn't going to be in town for one of their visits is enough to make them change their plans.
"He's that important," Smith said, and by way of explanation asked: "You know how you feel when you're halfway through your second martini? That's how I'd feel when I'd enter Galatoire's and I'd see Gilbert."
. . . . . . .
Many of the people who wrote in support of Eyzaguirre liken eating at Galatoire's to being part of a "club." Prerequisites for membership would include longtime regular patronage; a steadfast devotion to Galatoire's rituals (i.e., eating lunch every Friday, or early evening dinner on Sundays); and, the ultimate status signifier, having a special relationship with a waiter.
For years, ordinary citizens have complained that privileged insiders have been allowed to circumvent the line in front of Galatoire's to gain easy access to its downstairs dining room. That may well be, but legend has it that Galatoire's old first-come, first-served policy was so unbending that Charles De Gaulle's request to have a table reserved was denied.
Club membership, if you want to call it that, is supposed to be accompanied by certain privileges, which is part of what is driving the discord sparked by Eyzaguirre's firing. Many regulars simply can't believe that action was taken without their consent.
"We're all terribly upset, all of his customers," Marda Burton said of Eyzaguirre shortly after the firing. A longtime regular, Burton is collaborating with Holditch on a book about Galatoire's history.
"The loss of your waiter after 22 years, it's just kind of a shock," Burton said. "And I think the customers should have some kind of say in this."
Galatoire's service staff has a relatively large concentration of career waiters who bring to the table requisite amounts of expertise, arrogance and savoir faire.
They've traditionally been granted a wide berth in Galatoire's dining room. Over the years, waiters have been known to actually cook off-the-menu specials for valued customers. And before the restaurant switched to full-time bartenders in 1999, they mixed drinks -- usually with a heavy hand.
"I walked out of there once so soused I got into an argument with a hitching post," recalled riverboat pilot Capt. Clarke "Doc" Hawley, who ate his first dinner at Galatoire's in 1959 with "Dinner at Antoine's" author Frances Parkinson Keyes.
Today, the waiters are still valuable assets, as they take pride in dispensing wisdom on the best selections from a voluminous menu when quality is often dependent on the freshness of seafood.
By all accounts, Eyzaguirre, 56, was a deft waiter who knew how to win the favor of customers.
"I think he saw waitering as a profession," Uskali said. "I had been with Gilbert for 14 years, and that included almost four years in Florida, coming back every few months or so, and he still remembered odd little bits.
"I brought my mother a couple of times, and he remembered her name. He was a throwback to how we assume things used to be."
"Gilbert always remembered your name and your family's name and your children," Holditch said. "When I've needed somebody to drive me to the hospital or something, he's done it."
"I can think of no other server who could surpass him," Barnwell wrote of Eyzaguirre in his letter, "unless it is the Canadian VIA Rail's Chaleur dining car steward, Cyril Landry."
But this year, Eyzaguirre ran into difficulties. On March 3, he received a written notice from Galatoire's management for "purposely patting a waitress on her back which also had the effect of her dropping several beers on the floor." The notice went on to say that "sexual harassment is not permitted by law" and that any further sexual harassment complaints filed against Eyzaguirre would result in his termination. Soon after came the second complaint, and his dismissal.
While many avoided the issue, a sizable handful of Eyzaguirre's letter-writing supporters chose to address the reason for his firing. While none could claim to have better than second-hand knowledge of the particulars surrounding the dismissal, the waiter's dazzling performance on the dining room floor was often enough for them to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the sexual harassment allegations.
For much of the 20th century, the Galatoire's dining room has been a place run by men, filled with men and catering largely to men. It is only in the last decade that women were hired to work on the wait staff, and it is one of the many examples cited by the restaurant's old guard as a change for the worse.
It was in this environment that Eyzaguirre honed his craft and rose to the level of a near-legend among the regulars. Some of those regulars even praised the qualities that may not have served Eyzaguirre well in the new Galatoire's.
"Gilbert's Latino, he's gorgeous," said Burton, who has a hard time believing her waiter would be capable of doing anything untoward. "He's flirtatious with his customers, and we all love it."
Burton's letter was fairly typical of many written by the regulars, whose views on sexual harassment, far from reflecting a 21st century ethic, often seem to emanate from the same Old World sentiments that inform their love of the restaurant and its anachronistic ways.
"Having been in the academic world, I know what a really slippery slope this business of sexual harassment is," said Holditch, who likened Galatoire's male-dominated, banter-filled waiter culture to that of a sports locker room.
"If you go into a situation like that, I think you need to sort of be prepared for what's going to happen," he continued. "Even if they are hiring waitresses, this is basically a man's world, that waiter situation. And I must say that generally I prefer waiters."
Holditch said the letter writers are "asking for a hearing and they're suggesting, and I think this is true, that there was a rush to judgment."
And Richard J. Tyler wrote: "Obviously, we are not privy to the events that led to his termination. I can tell you, however, that the word on the street is that his discharge was for insubstantial conduct that has been blown out of proportion."
For his part, Eyzaguirre has helped advance conspiracy speculation. He denies any wrongdoing and characterizes the circumstances surrounding his dismissal as a set-up devised to get rid of him. He claims that Rodrigue resents his popularity among Galatoire's customers.
"The waiters make the restaurant, not the managers," he said. "Some people feel that the waiters have too much power."
Eyzaguirre said the complaint that got him fired stemmed from nothing more than his touching the hand of a female bartender in order to get past her in the restaurant's kitchen.
"My bottom line is I didn't become a sexual harasser in two months," he said. "What about the other 23 years?"
Rodrigue would not respond directly to Eyzaguirre's characterizations.
"What he chooses to tell his loyal following is up to him," Rodrigue said. "We're in an unfortunate position because we can't disclose what we have."
But a lawyer for one of the victims of Eyzaguirre's alleged advances begs to differ with the waiter's account.
While none of the sexual harassment complainants has sought the spotlight, the person who filed the second written complaint, the one that lead to Eyzaguirre's dismissal, responded to requests for comment through Anthony Glorioso, her family's lawyer.
"Would Galatoire's fire him if it wasn't significant?" he said. "It's not like Gilberto did something and she ran off crying and filed (a sexual harassment complaint) right away. He wouldn't stop. She even asked him to. He wouldn't stop, so she gave in. She said, ‘I've got to tell somebody. I want to work here.' "
Glorioso, who said his client is a college student, added, "I think that Galatoire's is very fortunate in this situation. It could have been a lot worse for them."
Chris Ansel agrees with the dismissal. His grandfather was a Galatoire, and he worked at the restaurant for seven years. Today, he sits on the Galatoire's board.
Ansel has listened to customers worry over the restaurant's mystique for years, particularly when change was afoot. He appreciates the interest of the regulars, but he said there was nothing vague about Eyzaguirre's situation.
"There are rules and regulations on the books, and we have to follow them," he said. "I remember years ago when segregation came in. A lot of customers asked my grandfather, ‘What are you going to do?' He said, ‘We're going to obey the law.' "
When Rodrigue took over management of Galatoire's, he was effectively appointed head of the club without being offered membership into it. A brief history printed on the menu lists Galatoire family members David Gooch, Justin Frey and Michele Galatoire as the restaurant's managers, with no mention of Rodrigue.
He was hired with a mandate to increase revenues for a growing number of family shareholders, and even some of his detractors will admit that he has been successful in this mission. But the changes that have transpired under his watch have not always endeared him to the old-line regulars.
"I knew when I interviewed that (Galatoire's) needed a whole lot of help. The wiring in the walls looked like spaghetti," Rodrigue said. "People always say, ‘Don't fix what's not broke.' Well, how do they you know what's broke?"
In many ways, Rodrigue's mandate was bound to bump up against Galatoire's waiter-driven culture. If all of your oldest customers like everything the same -- including their waiters -- the agent of change isn't going to be the most popular person in the room.
Thus in many of the letters, it doesn't take long for the subject of Eyzaguirre's firing to give way to conspiracy theories about a power struggle between Rodrigue and the waiters.
There is no question that the waiters at Galatoire's have power. Even after being fired, the years of accumulated good will left Eyzaguirre in what his supporters seemed to believe was a position of influence. One prominent local lawyer even asked to go off the record before admitting that he occasionally used waiters other than Eyzaguirre when he visited Galatoire's. More than one lawyer refused to comment on the matter due to the fact that they had been giving Eyzaguirre legal advice.
Lutz, a letter-writer and fierce Eyzaguirre advocate, paints the waiter's firing as merely the endgame of a Rodrigue power play.
"This was an opportunity for (Galatoire's) to get rid of somebody who was perhaps more popular than the restaurant itself," Lutz said. "I think Gilberto is a masterful artist, and I don't think Melvin had the management ability to handle him. Gilberto probably made more money than Melvin."
In a rageful, exclamation point-laden three-page letter, Galatoire's fixture Mickey Easterling takes exception with, among many other things, what she calls the management's "overt effort to get rid of all (one by one) the long-term dedicated wait staff by assigning them" to work in the upstairs dining room, a move Easterling claims serves the dual purpose of chasing off the "old-timers" who insist on eating in the original dining room downstairs.
It's a common complaint among Eyzaguirre supporters. Some feel that Rodrigue would rather fill tables with quick-eating tourists than with long-standing regulars who have the habit of lingering for hours on end. Eyzaguirre's firing is simply an extreme manifestation of a larger strategic plan at Galatoire's, their thinking goes.
But for these conspiracy theorists to be correct, Galatoire's had to decide that firing its most experienced waiters is the key to its financial future -- certainly an unorthodox business strategy.
Rodrigue himself dismisses the theory as a claim too absurd to dignify.
"It's what this restaurant has been built around, the relationship forged between the waiter and the customer," he said. "We want that to go away like we want a hole in our head. It's what we are."
. . . . . . .
Capt. Hawley was among many regulars to send his letter directly to Galatoire's management immediately after Eyzaguirre's dismissal. In response, Hawley received a note signed by Rodrigue and John B. Gooch, the chairman of Galatoire's board.
"Based on your letter and others received from interested customers, the Board and management have conducted a complete review of the situation with Gilberto Eyzaguirre," the response letter read. "We do not believe that any further action is warranted."
But even as Galatoire's management stood firmly by its decision to fire Eyzaguirre, the protest letters continued to pour in to the restaurant and to Holditch, who had taken responsibility for compiling the letters in a bound volume.
From the outset, the organizers proved adept at marshaling support for their cause. Holditch said artist George Dureau even offered to design signs for a protest that was discussed, but never took place.
Everyone involved waited anxiously for Galatoire's board to meet in early June to discuss, among other things, the letter writers' concerns.
Rodrigue, who is not a board member but attends its meetings, said the board voted unanimously to support his decision.
"We made a good decision," said Rodrigue.
Lawyer Glorioso agrees.
"If they hire him back, they're really opening themselves up to liability," he said. "I don't care if they get a letter from God, they're not going to do it."
When asked how he felt about the news, Lutz responded, "I don't know. I'm still in healing mode. You go through stages with any sort of tragedy in your life."
Lutz, like many of Eyzaguirre's supporters, wouldn't commit to boycotting the restaurant.
"I fully intend to go back -- if they'll let me," he said "But I don't know what it's going to be in a month or a year. You hope that things change for the better. When they change for the worse, they don't usually last."
Holditch mentions the song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" to illustrate what he feels is happening to Galatoire's. He's still committed to finishing the book he's writing with Burton, but he can't bring himself to return to the restaurant he loves as much as New Orleans itself.
"And I miss it," he said.
. . . . . . .
Restaurant writer Brett Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (504) 826-3353.
Story Filed: Friday, July 12, 2002 12:20 PM EDT
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Galatoire's restaurant, a French Quarter institution of fine dining, is in the middle of an all-out food fight.
It has received more than 120 letters of protest from its most loyal patrons, some of whom once dined there weekly. The angriest are boycotting the place. They say Galatoire's managers are ruining the 97-year-old restaurant.
The 19th-century Bourbon Street building was renovated. A new dining room opened. Hand-chipped ice gave way to machine-made cubes. A waiter was fired.
Minor changes? Not to these diners.
``Something drastic is afoot, a renovation not only of the physical features of the classic old Creole eatery, but a renovation of its very soul,'' W. Kenneth Holditch, a retired University of New Orleans literature professor, said in a letter of protest.
Patrons say the changes are galling because the restaurant has remained true to its roots for so long. It debuted in 1905, founded by Jean Galatoire, a French immigrant. It stands today as a civilized reminder that Bourbon Street was named after French kings, not American whiskey.
Galatoire's fans appreciate the dress code (jackets required for dinner), the lamb chops bearnaise ($28), and the sauteed poisson with crabmeat Yvonne ($26). They like the tiled floors, gleaming brass fixtures and the tuxedoed waiters.
``The mise en scene is as good as it gets in New Orleans,'' said John Stinson, an antiques dealer who takes clients to Galatoire's several times a year. ``The drinks are stiff, you're never hurried. The best dinners I've ever had in my life I had at Galatoire's.''
Galatoire's developed customers loyal enough to pay someone else to stand in line -- sometimes all day -- to guarantee a table and get around the restaurant's refusal to take reservations in its first-floor dining room.
A key to the restaurant's success has long been a staff of expert career waiters, some of whose fathers also worked there. Some regulars never look at the menu, relying on their waiter to pick appetizers, entrees and wines. Until recently, in fact, there was no wine list, only a waiter's suggestions. Waiters also mixed the cocktails.
``The waiter always knew what you wanted and how to make it,'' Holditch said.
The protest letters started coming after the April 27 firing of Gilberto Eyzaguirre, a waiter for 23 years who was popular with customers but had twice been accused of sexual harassment.
Holditch and other letter writers, including a former judge, doctors, lawyers and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford, praised Eyzaguirre's wit, taste and skill. Some have said they won't go back unless he is rehired.
``I urge you ... to reinstate Gilbert post haste and stop the radical, devastating tide of change,'' Holditch wrote.
Eyzaguirre was traveling and unavailable for comment. Melvin Rodrigue, Galatoire's general manager, would not discuss Eyzaguirre's case.
Rodrigue has become the main target for critics of changes at Galatoire's. He was hired five years ago, the first time in history that the family-dominated board of directors had selected a non-Galatoire to run the restaurant.
When some longtime patrons noticed changes after his hiring, they blamed Rodrigue. He declined to address their complaints directly.
``I'm very appreciative of how passionate people are about our restaurant,'' he said. ``They hold our traditions dearly, and we appreciate that.''
The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune ran a three-page article about the dispute. In some circles, Galatoire's and Eyzaguirre's firing have become topic No. 1. Others say the issue has been overblown.
``It's a tempest in a martini glass,'' said Marcelle Saussy, who eats at Galatoire's on special occasions. ``I think it's crazy for them to say they'll never go back to Galatoire's.''
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FIRST-PERSON Change: its agonies & inevitability
by Joe McKeever
KENNER, La. (BP)--We have a firestorm raging here in New Orleans. It started the other day when Galatoire's restaurant fired a veteran waiter named Gilberto for sexual harassment. First, a word about this world-famous eatery which some refer to as a temple of food.
Thirty years ago when I was traveling to New Orleans every week to work on a doctorate at the Baptist seminary, a friend handed me some bills and said, "Go to Galatoire's and eat their trout amandine. It's the best in the world." So, along with my buddy and fellow student J. Roy McComb, I made the trek to Bourbon Street and joined the crowd standing in line on the sidewalk -- no advance reservations taken -- and enjoyed a great meal. I've been back once, but there endeth my knowledge of this legendary restaurant.
When the news of Gilberto's termination got out, the restaurant began to be swamped with letters from patrons. One diner contacted others who all wrote letters to be bound in book form and delivered to the restaurant. It turns out that losing their favorite waiter was not the only gripe these folks had.
The Sunday edition of The Times-Picayune ran a long cover article on the restaurant blowup and the barrage of criticism the management is receiving. Reporters interviewed patrons -- mostly from the elite of the city, you understand (this is not a cheap place to eat) -- who each had additional complaints to lodge.
There was the business about the new manager. He's 29 years old. What could he possibly know of this restaurant's great traditions? Furthermore, they are now taking reservations, can you believe? They've opened up a second floor of the restaurant, whereas before it was small and cozy and diners could sit at a table for hours, lingering over their coffee. In the good old days, a waiter would chip ice for your drinks at your table, whereas now the management has brought in an ice- making machine! One diner recalled days when the eggplant was served with the skin intact, but now it has been removed. "It's still delicious," he says, "but I miss the skin." Formerly, there was no bartender and waiters mixed drinks for their diners, sometimes over- generously. These days, a bartender rides herd on the booze. Add to that the final insult of firing their favorite waiter, Gilberto -- who knew everyone's names, who took a personal interest in you, who had even been known to go back to the kitchen and cook up a special meal for you himself -- and it was the last straw.
The editor had to clear off the editorial page for several days. Citizens were incensed at the hoity-toity attitude of the city's elite who in this post-Sept. 11 world have nothing better to do than complain about the skin of an eggplant and defend a sexual harasser, and wanted to register their rancor. Meanwhile, Gilberto is still out of a job.
Someone came up to me Sunday night at church and asked if I had read the article about Galatoire's. "You need to read it," he said, "it's just exactly like what churches go through." He was right.
My first pastorate was Unity Baptist Church in Kimberly, Ala., for the calendar year of 1963. I've been at it ever since. Changes? How much time do you have? I recall the first time I saw a drum set in a sanctuary. I thought it was like putting a Minnie Pearl hat on the Mona Lisa. These days, my church has a set of digital drums up there. And chairs for the rest of the orchestra. And banners around the wall. And fulltime staffers to deal with preschool and youth and singles and every other segment of the population you can name.
Everyone has his own computer terminal and some carry laptops around. Cell phones. Fax machines. Projectors and screens in church. Drama. And members going out this year to minister in Thailand, Moscow, Tanzania, Romania, Ireland, Peru, China and Australia.
You don't hear stories anymore of churches that split because some wanted the piano on the left side of the church, or over the color of the carpet. It's bigger stuff now, like whether we will have a contemporary or traditional or blended worship service, whether to relocate to where the population is or to hold forth on the block where my grand-daddy was the Sunday School superintendent. Shall we change our format to reach the young adults or sing the old songs that the retirees cut their teeth on?
In 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, here is what I have learned about change in the church:
1. It's real hard, even for those of us doing it. Almost no one enjoys it.
2. It's necessary if we want to stay fresh and to find better ways to do our work.
3. It's foolish, however, to make changes just for changes' sake.
4. The best way to minimize the difficulty of change is to always be tweaking the services and forever be making little changes around the place. That way, no one gets too settled in liking it one way.
5. To be alive is to change. Not to change is to die. The only way the human body stays alive and fresh and energetic is the continual process of regeneration it goes through, replenishing every cell every few years.
6. Every time God calls away old members, by moving van or hearse, and every time new people move in, he is fine-tuning your church. That's another term for change.
What was it the Lord said? "No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins" (Luke 5:37-38).
Big tips, big uproar in the Big Easy 8/8/02
By Jerry Shriver, USA TODAY
NEW ORLEANS — A ruckus has erupted down on Bourbon Street, if you can imagine that.
But not one of your every-night slobberfests starring
No, this contretemps is fraying the social fabric of the upper classes. Ruffling the seersucker. It carries a whiff of local boy Tennessee Williams' work, involving as it does charges of sexual misconduct, a splintered old family, meddling outsiders and diluted Sazerac cocktails.
This one involves a restaurant that is the city's soul.
It began on April 27, when Gilberto Eyzaguirre, a waiter for nearly 23 years at Galatoire's, was fired after two female employees accused him of sexual harassment within two months.
Eyzaguirre, 56, disputes the accusations but says he isn't fighting his dismissal. The women haven't spoken publicly, and the restaurant management won't discuss the situation.
Normally, a sad episode such as this would have been quietly flushed into the Mississippi by now. But the aftermath has evolved into a summer-long tragicomedy. Huge segments of The City That Care Forgot have been paying extra-close attention.
To understand why a city beleaguered by street crime, political corruption and chronically bad pro football would clutch its breast over the firing of a waiter, one must accept certain New Orleans truths: The sword swallowers in Jackson Square are the sanest residents. It's crazy-hot. Tradition is thicker than the humidity and often more unbearable. And 97-year-old Galatoire's is sacred ground.
"There are priorities down here that aren't the same as the rest of the country's," says food writer Gene Bourg. "New Orleans was restaurant-obsessed before any other city in the United States. Dining was a way of life here before the Civil War, not just for the wealthy but for the man in the street."
And no place is more obsessed over than Galatoire's, a family-owned bastion of French Creole cooking that shares a French Quarter block with Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, Mango Mango Daiquiris and The Bourbon Strip Tease adult gift shop.
The food is neither the city's best nor its most expensive. But it is often said that the only important business in New Orleans gets transacted over Friday lunches at Galatoire's — lunches that may bleed into the cocktail hour and then into dinner. William Faulkner, Walker Percy and Williams have graced the tables, and numerous indicted politicians have disgraced them.
"It's a place where people fall in and out of love," says French Quarter antiques dealer Patrick Dunne, who has dined there for decades.
The restaurant's clubby, old-world tone was set in the
early 20th century by founder Jean Galatoire and his descendants, and it has
changed very little until some recent tweaking. Tuxedoed waiters such as
"Having your own waiter made you feel like a hotshot," Dunne says. "You could give me a car, and it wouldn't make me feel as good as signing my name to a Galatoire's charge slip.
"They knew your drink and made it themselves. The waiters all had their fiefdoms and clients, and they rewarded us with a giant portion of crab or a big bourbon on the rocks. And I'm sure that created anarchy. On the other hand, that's what creates the magic."
But anarchy staged in an aging venue eventually takes its toll, as the Galatoire family investors, now numbering 24, came to realize.
By the early 1990s, the place was tired, "like a museum," says Bourg, who speculates that revenues hadn't kept pace, either.
So in 1997, the board of directors looked outside the family for a general manager and hired New Orleans native Melvin Rodrigue, then 24. They charged him with overseeing a renovation, reining in the excesses and ushering in a few modern business practices such as tracking orders by computer and accepting reservations.
Many customers believe some of those moves might have contributed to Eyzaguirre's dismissal and certainly led to the outsized outcry from the old-guard regulars.
So does Eyzaguirre. "I think I had become too popular." The waiter says he would return if asked but doesn't believe that will happen and is sending out résumés.
Soon after Eyzaguirre's firing, word spread among his former clients, and a letter-writing campaign commenced. In late May, prominent physician Brobson Lutz collected 123 letters of protest, bound them in plastic and sent them to Galatoire's board. Among those pleading for Eyzaguirre's return were Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford and a high-powered collection of judges, lawyers, businessmen and socialites.
Some of the missives were calm and measured: "Surely, after 22 years of his life being a good ambassador for Galatoire's to the world, there is still room for him there," Ford wrote.
Others slathered on the local color: "I laid ridiculously high tips on Gilberto because he understood the importance of wit and hard drinking to my Galatoire's meal," wrote businessman John Stinson. "All of my clients and ugly girlfriends have been delighted with him."
In the letters and subsequent endless debates, Eyzaguirre's dismissal became the excuse for the old guard to air every niggling grievance that had been festering in their souls for years.
Socialite Mickey Easterling complained about the drink-diluting, machine-made ice that replaced the ice chipped from blocks. Writer Kenneth Holditch speaks of a slackened dress code and changes in the shrimp Clemenceau. Others weighed in on what they feel is the tackiness of the upstairs dining rooms, reopened in 1999 after a $3 million renovation.
Some of the anger was directed at Rodrigue, who, until he was hired, had never dined at the restaurant. Though some of the changes had occurred or were planned before his hiring, he became a target.
"I don't want to change Galatoire's," Rodrigue says. "But whether we like it or not, Galatoire's changed a long time ago. It's a different market, more competitive, and you just can't keep letting things go the way that they go and hope that in the end you still have a restaurant. You can't have 26 waiters making the decisions for a business."
Nonsense, says Holditch, who is working on a book about the early days at Galatoire's. "Nobody wants Galatoire's to be current," he says. "It's a time warp. Change is necessary on occasion, but you don't change that which is working."
Adds Dunne, wearily: "Things change. This city is addicted to looking backward rather than forward. People want to have cocktails with ghosts, not prophets."
The dialogue has spilled out into a Web site, www.welove
The Times-Picayune newspaper weighed in with a three-page article, unleashing a flood of letters to the editor, mostly bashing the pro-Gilberto faction for whining about a waiter when the world around them is going to hell.
"It was like a class rage that simmered below the surface. I had never seen that before," says Brett Anderson, who wrote the article.
More theatrics have followed. On July 12, two men dashed into the dining room during lunch carrying about 100 helium-filled balloons printed with the Gilberto Web site address and released them toward the 14-foot ceiling, to the cheers of patrons.
Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose has written several humorous pieces, calling the book of protest letters "the best publication to come out of this city since A Confederacy of Dunces."
And last week at Le Chat Noir theater, Rose staged a show called The Galatoire's Monologues, in which comedians and actors read from the letters. The two sold-out performances, which benefited a food bank, were advertised as "feeding the hungry on the indignation of the overfed." Two more shows have just been added.
Meanwhile, business at the restaurant has been unusually strong. "Galatoire's owes The Times-Picayune and the letter writers a million bucks in free publicity," Bourg says. "That place is packed!"
With other local scandals emerging — last week, 84 city workers were charged with corruption — the Galatoire's drama finally seems to be playing out.
Or is it?
"In this city," says Lutz, "it usually takes a jazz funeral to end the mourning, and there has been no funeral."
Tempest in a saucepan: Scandal, New Orleans style
By William Hageman Tribune staff reporter Published November 7, 2002
NEW ORLEANS -- A waiter is fired for sexual harassment.
In most cities, the story might circulate among the restaurant's regulars for a few days, then die.
But this is New Orleans. The restaurant is the venerable Galatoire's. And the waiter is Gilberto Eyzaguirre, a top-notch server with, it's now obvious, many friends -- vocal friends, prominent friends, silly friends -- who have turned his dismissal into theater of the absurd.
There have been pranks, a mass letter-writing campaign, a series of performance art/cabaret shows based on the situation, and even a jazz funeral earlier this month tweaking Galatoire's.
"I've been in a couple of other cities, and I would say this is true New Orleans," says Galatoire's general manager, Melvin Rodrigue.
Only now, after six months, are there signs things are dying down. But before the goofy details, some history.
Eyzaguirre, 56, came to the U.S. from Peru in 1979 and got a job as a waiter at Galatoire's. He was a natural -- "I started developing an osmosis with customers," is how he puts it -- and even after earning a business degree from the University of New Orleans he stayed on as a waiter. A married father of three, his second family is the loyal clientele he has built over the years.
"When you wait on different generations of a family, you become part of their life," he says. "You're like a family member."
Problems began in April when Eyzaguirre was told to pack his tux and hit the bricks after he was accused of sexual harassment by a co-worker. It was the second accusation in two months against Eyzaguirre, forcing the hand of management at the bustling 97-year-old institution known for its French-Creole cooking and impeccable service.
What exactly happened is, of course, a matter of dispute. Eyzaguirre either touched a waitress from behind or merely placed his hand on her shoulder as he passed her in the narrow space between tables at Galatoire's. She may have dropped several beers when he touched her. Or not. The second incident allegedly involved him placing his hand on the hand or arm of another co-worker. He said he was merely trying to get past her. She claimed it was more. Classic cases of he said/she said.
"In 23 years, I waited on a million people," Eyzaguirre says. "I've never had a complaint on anything of this type in my file."
(Rodrigue declined to comment on the specifics of the firing, but he did say it hadn't hurt business. Galatoire's had "probably the best summer in the history of the restaurant," he says.)
The reasons vary
Eyzaguirre's supporters claim the firing was either a case of jealousy -- a few co-workers wanted him gone, the theory goes, because so many customers asked for him as their waiter that they lost out on tips -- or perhaps just another change in the way Galatoire's does business, something it has been under fire for recently.
Either way, once Eyzaguirre was fired, dozens of Galatoire's regulars -- "my people," he calls them -- rallied to his defense and tried to get him rehired.
When it became obvious Galatoire's was not going to bring Eyzaguirre back, he was hired by The Bombay Club, an eatery a couple of blocks away from Galatoire's. (Some of his followers scouted the place to make sure it would be a suitable establishment for him; he checked it out and pronounced it worthy, and went to work there in August.)
"He's brought his people," says owner/manager Richard Fiske. "They've been starting to come in."
If nothing else, Eyzaguirre's customers are loyal. And why not? Even at Galatoire's, with career waiters who know their regulars by name, mix a diner's cocktails and are trusted to the point of choosing their customers' meals, he was special.
"If you ever go to a restaurant, you realize there are those who know how to set a table, know how to serve a table, anticipate the needs of a client, especially if they've been serving that client many, many years," says Mickey Easterling, something of a grande dame around New Orleans and one of Eyzaguirre's "people" for more than 20 years.
That's Eyzaguirre, though he brings a lot more to the table than warm bread.
"He almost guides the customer through the dining experience," Fiske says. "First, with information -- what is on the menu, what we have to offer that night. Second, he delivers service, smooth and unobtrusive, reflecting the pace of the customer. Finally, it's the general conversation that goes with the meal. Information like little tidbits about the club, information about who he is. He gives his regulars a sense of entertainment while they're dining."
The making of a regular
Eyzaguirre worked his charm on Dr. Brobson Lutz about a dozen years ago. Lutz, the former director of health for the City of New Orleans, went to Galatoire's with a friend, who introduced him to Eyzaguirre.
"About a month later I got this phone call," Lutz says. "It's Gilberto, and he says, `Dr. Lutz, you haven't come back. You didn't like my restaurant?' So I went back. And then I learned that if I didn't go at least once a month, Gilberto would call. So I'd go every month just to miss the phone call."
He soon was a regular, as was Dakin Williams, brother of Tennessee Williams. When he's in New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, he has always brought a crowd to Galatoire's to see his friend.
"Gilberto gives me special treatment," he says. "We have drinks, usually, before dinner, and he makes sure we get ample size -- with minimum ice and maximum amount of alcohol. And during cocktails he brings in special hors d'oeuvres that aren't on the menu. And he's very attentive. Everybody has a delightful time."
You just don't find guys like that falling off balconies in the French Quarter. Usually. That's why there was an uproar when Eyzaguirre was fired. Angry letters were written to Galatoire's. A Web site (www.welovegilberto.com) was set up to display the letters and keep his fans updated. Copies of more than 130 letters were collected in bound volumes and delivered to the restaurant's board of directors at its annual meeting last summer. A revolt -- though genteel -- was in full swing.
The board, though, was unmoved. So the protests escalated into guerrilla warfare. During one busy Friday lunchtime -- Galatoire's is the meeting place for lawyers on Friday afternoons -- two men walked into the restaurant and released 100 black helium balloons with "welovegilberto.com" printed on them. They floated to the ceiling, out of reach of Galatoire's staff, which could only keep serving up martinis and Sazeracs.
The restaurant took another hit in July when New Orleans Times-Picayune restaurant writer Brett Anderson did a long piece detailing not only le affaire d'Gilberto, but other recent changes that had alienated longtime regulars. (To outsiders, these are really small potatoes, such as using machine-made ice cubes instead of hand-chipped ice, or letting customers -- gasp! -- pay via credit card. But this is, after all, New Orleans. And this is, after all, Galatoire's.)
The issue runs its course
After the letters and the newspaper articles, the story began to fade. But every time things would quiet down, someone would stir the pot once more.
In July, for example, a group of local actors, stand-up comedians, singers and dancers picked up the cause. They began doing readings of the angry letters written on Eyzaguirre's behalf at a local cabaret. The shows, "Galatoire's Monologues," are regular sellouts.
"On any given night, about half the people there either wrote the letters or support the people who did, and the other half think the people who wrote the letters are idiots," says Chris Rose, a columnist for the Times-Picayune and the director of the production.
"It's fun. And it seems to have taken on a life of its own. In fact, we can't seem to stop it."
Last month they held what they vow are their last four shows, which they called "Last Call at Galatoire's."
"After this I think it's time to focus on other topics," Rose says.
Some folks have been saying that for months. But Eyzaguirre's supporters made one last splash last month by holding a surprise New Orleans jazz funeral at Galatoire's. The festivities started with 35 or 40 supporters planted in the usual Friday afternoon crowd. A rag-tag funeral band arrived out front and the diners stood up en masse and walked out, following the musicians from Galatoire's to The Bombay Club.
"Some people thought the funeral was Gilberto, that he had died," Lutz says with a hearty laugh. "But the funeral was laying to rest the old traditions of Galatoire's, and they were resurrected at The Bombay Club."
The funeral has been held and the "Monologues" are history. The party may finally be over.
"It's been a gas," Rose says. "Nobody has ever approached us about what lies beneath. We're well aware of, and everybody is, the unspoken thing, that technically this is not stuff you joke about. I mean, Adam Sandler is not going to make a bright comedy about sexual harassment. And we seem to have gone and made it a very ridiculous topic."
"Is it over? I really don't know," says Rodrigue. "I mean, I hope so. This isn't something we wanted to drag out. Every time I think it's over something else happens."
Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune
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