IT’S FASCINATING WHAT played out in Marquette on Thursday and Friday. The Joe’s Caketroversy? The Facebook-Landmark Showdown? The Firing That Wasn’t a Firing?
A recap: On Thursday afternoon, Joe Heck, the near legendary and much-beloved cakemaker at the Landmark Inn, gets in a loud argument with managers at the hotel over changes that would affect his work space. He reportedly storms out of the meeting. Managers say they took his angry comments as an announcement that he was quitting.
They, after consultation with corporate executives at Graves Hospitality, decide to let him go. He then tells them he wasn’t really intending to quit but is nevertheless escorted out. After nine years at the Landmark, he’s finished.
This is where it gets really interesting. Heck goes to Facebook and informs his friends and supporters that he’s been terminated. No context as to how the termination came about. He simply explains that this is what can happen when a big corporation takes over a smaller, local business–a version of the story which is distinctly different from the Landmark’s.
The Landmark doesn’t answer. Probably the correct response at that point. Stay above the fray. Don’t engage in personal attacks against a popular personality.
The Facebook frenzy starts. Heck’s friends leap to his defense and to attacks on the hotel. They’re heartless! They’re corporate bastards! I’ll never eat there again!! Boycott!!!
More than 800 Facebookers share his post. It’s a genuinely viral event. Others flock to the Landmark Inn website and post damning comments about the hotel. Its visitor ratings plummet in a matter of minutes. Some of Joe’s friends even mistakenly post damning comments on the website of another Landmark Inn in another state. The manager at that hotel calls the Landmark Inn here and asks “What the hell is going on? We’re being bashed by people we don’t even know and have never even been here!”
Kinda funny in retrospect, but not really. People work at that hotel. They depend on the income. And that’s certainly the case here in Marquette. Something close to 100 of our neighbors work at the Landmark, most of them very hard and conscientiously, and suddenly their employer was being destroyed by a Facebook mob.
A modern day digital lynching party–thousands of enraged people who didn’t have all the facts but nevertheless wanted to destroy a local institution.
The narrative was simple and compelling: a highly skilled and popular pastry chef utterly devoted to his clients and to his community was summarily dismissed by the new, cold-hearted, out-of-touch corporate owners of the Landmark Inn.
The first part was true. Joe Heck is a gem. His desserts are delicious. He provides utmost service to his customers. He’s a genuine ambassador for the hotel and its restaurants. He contributes regularly to worthy causes in Marquette.
The second part about the cold-hearted bastards? Not so true. Ever since Graves Hospitality took over earlier this year, they’ve tried to blend in. They haven’t roiled the waters, they’ve avoided unpopular mandates, they’ve let very few employees go. They’ve come up with an infusion of cash to remake the restaurant. The new food and beverage manager, Mike Mering (a local boy, incidentally), has reportedly been embraced by the staff. He’s smart, he’s sympathetic, he gets it.
And things were going just fine until that noisy, little argument on Thursday between the local managers and a disgruntled but valuable and devoted employee.
That’s when Facebook blew up and the social media flexed their muscles. You can view it as democracy in action, or people power, or simply righting a wrong. But then again that’s also the mindset of a bloodthirsty mob eager to get their hands on an alleged criminal.
Fortunately, the bottom line here is that Joe got his job back and the Landmark Inn is almost back to normal. No boycotts, presumably.
The managers at Graves and the Landmark have almost certainly learned that they mishandled this mess but ultimately made the wise decision in bringing Joe back after the reported “misunderstanding.”
And Joe? Maybe he learned that no employee is indispensable.
The only clear winner here is Facebook with its awesome and frightful power.
(Full disclosure: I’m a very good friend of the former owner of the Landmark Inn.)
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