First Person Singular: John Kim, 32, Annandale, manager, the Cue Club
By Amanda Long,
My mom has always owned a business. Her first store was one of those carry-out corner stores in Baltimore. Then, she had a deli. Her thing was always looking for businesses that were undervalued, and then go in and turn them around. I didn’t really have summer vacations; I was always running the cash register. Growing up, you hate it, but in hindsight, I picked up so much about how to treat people. She may have not known everyone’s name, but she knew everyone’s order. It was more of a, “Hello, Mr. Egg Salad Sandwich.” She’d hear customers talking about their kids and ask them to bring in a picture. We had a whole wall of baby pictures behind the counter. That would give customers in line, who may not have anything in common, something to talk about.
I was working in IT and Web development for a defense contractor when my mom bought the Cue Club. I liked my job, but I was starting to see the reality of the corporate world. I had a mentor — just a good guy, a nice old man. He got there early, left late every day. I saw how he was treated at the end [of his career] and did not like it. When you’re working for someone else, you can give and give, but you’re always taking orders. So, I came back home to work with my mom again. When we bought this place six years ago, it was basically a dive, the kind of place parents tell their kids not to go into.
People tell us now that it’s like “Cheers” here. We’re not clique-ish. Just because you’re not Norm doesn’t mean you’re going to feel out of place the first time you come. It’s easy to become a regular here. I tell my staff to think of how they hate to be treated in bars and do the opposite. You walk in here, someone is going to shake your hand, get your name and do the best to remember your name. Everyone works hard for their money, so if they decide to spend it here, the very least we can do is remember their name. My mom always treated everyone with respect until they did something to lose it. That’s how we work.
The biggest thing for me is watching people come in that generally, in any other kind of bar, you’d be afraid of having sit together. I like watching mechanics and doctors talking about life, or young kids offering up their chair up to an older lady. Everyone’s experiences are pretty universal. That doctor has kids. That mechanic has kids. It’s important to have places where you’re not just what you do for a living.
I’m not an extroverted person. I went to five different grade schools, two different high schools. That and being in an immigrant family, you always feel a bit disjointed, disconnected. The customers let us into their lives.