A franchise on chutzpah? Some would say Washington has always had one.
Now Bethesda resident Ann Hoffman has made a career out of it.
This summer she opened the Washington branch of nationally franchised Chutzpah, Inc., which for fees starting at $10 will make phone calls and deliver messages people don't have the guts or desire to do themselves.
"The word Chutzpah, prounced hoots-pah, is Yiddish for unmitigated fall, audacity, even brazen effrontery," reminds Hoffman. A favorite illustration is the story of the man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. (From "The Joys of Yiddish," by Leo Rosten. McGraw-Hill, 1968.)
So what are Chutzpah professionals asked to do?
A woman bought a $15,000 fur coat, wore it a few times and the fur fell out. She was afraid that if she called the store she would become hysterical. Chutzpah made the call for her, and a new coat followed.
There was the housewife unable to silence her next-door neighbor's horn-honking every time she came up the driveway. A call to Chutzpah. The honking stopped.
Another woman couldn't get her ex-husband to make child-support payments. Every phone call ended in tears and recrimination, and no money. Chutzpah now calls him twice-monthly year round to nudge nicely, and the money comes. He claims, in fact, that he looks forward to the calls and the chit-chat.
Chutzpah took over all collection calls for one group of dentists.
Also, says Hoffman, "An awful lot of people want to tell other people off, anonymously."
Chutzpah will send Chutzpahgrams and sell Chutzpah gift certificates, which start at $10 and entitle people to one free Chutzpah call or anything else they want, so long as it's not obscene.
Hoffman, 31, purchased the franchise last spring for $1,200 from Philadelphia Chutzpahnik Rachel Borden, who formed the company in 1977. Borden now has 16 franchises in the United States, and will open branches in Canada and the Philippines this winter.
"A common request in other cities is to throw pies in people's faces," says Hoffman, who has ruled this out of her franchise operation.
Other typical requests have included delivering messages to players during professional sports games, and to performers during rock concerts.
"If the request is dangerous in any way, the fee goes up, as high as several hundred dollars," says Hoffman.
"In Los Angeles you can charge Chutzpah on all major credit cards."
Now, that's chutzpah.