Guest Commentary: Recalling fond memories of Mr. Steak

Guest Commentary: Recalling fond memories of Mr. Steak

By RAMONA SULLIVAN

If you went out for dinner in Champaign-Urbana between 1990-1996, I may have been your server at Mr. Steak. I was a waitress at the corner of Goodwin and University Avenue several days each week during college and law school.

A friend had briefly worked as a "salad girl" at Mr. Steak and she encouraged me to apply there when I felt ready to fit a job into my college schedule. I drove by a few times before I found the nerve to go inside. When I went inside, Marillia Majercak greeted me at the entrance. I nervously asked if they were accepting applications, and she asked if I would like to sit down and talk with her. We spoke for a couple of minutes. I told her that I started detasseling in middle school, that I started working at Pizza Man in Newman in high school, that I was a reliable, hard worker, and that I was looking for work in C-U to help me pay for school and living expenses at the University of Illinois. I will never forget how that impromptu job interview ended. Mrs. M told me that she loved my smile, and that if I was going to be sharing my smile with customers at a local restaurant, she wanted to make sure it was her restaurant. I started work the following day.

Mr. Steak was a family business. Bob and Marillia Majercak, also known as Mr. and Mrs. M, treated everyone who came into their restaurant like family. I got to work with the Ms, with their children, and with their closest friends. I got to watch their grandchildren grow up. Each year, the Ms threw a Christmas party and a Fourth of July party for everyone. If my memory is correct, those were the only two days during the year that Mr. Steak was closed. During my entire time at the UI, the Majercaks were my campus family.

The most important theme I remember from training on the first day was "attitude." Mrs. M said to imagine a hook outside the building at the employee entrance. She said that before we entered the building for a shift, we needed to hang anything that was bothering us on the hook outside. Anger, anxiety, jealousy, fear, insecurity ... none of that was allowed inside during our shifts. If we wanted to pick up our troubles after work, we could take them home with us, but she recommended just leaving that stuff hanging on the hook. I have tried to follow that incredibly good advice at every workplace.

Working at Mr. Steak taught me lessons that have transferred to all areas of my life. That showing up and doing my best is good enough, 99 percent of the time. That a small percentage of people in the world can't be satisfied, no matter how hard you try to satisfy them. That most people are reasonable, and they just want to believe that they were seen and heard and treated fairly. That very few things will be become a crisis if you pay attention and prepare, but almost everything in life can turn into a crisis — even condiments — if you don't pay attention and prepare. That some people show no appreciation even if they get everything they want exactly how they said they wanted it, and that some people tip generously even if everything goes wrong. That the ideal co-worker is someone who pulls their own weight and helps out, joyfully and without hesitation, when someone else gets behind. That an act of kindness, like serving a stranger a free, steak dinner, with a balloon and a birthday song, warms your heart and brings you joy every single time.

The Majercaks closed their restaurant in the summer of 1996. Over 20 years later, Mr. Steak still comes up in conversations and almost everyone begins sharing memories of times they spent at the restaurant with their own families. Many of us often wish we could go to Mr. Steak for lunch or dinner. The food was always good, the prices were fair, and the people were welcoming. I miss that place, I miss those people. At least the memories are safe and sound in my heart. And if anyone wants to share the secret recipe for the cinnamon rolls, please contact me.

Ramona Sullivan is an attorney in Champaign County. She graduated from the University of Illinois in 1993 and from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1996, and has been a legal aid attorney in central Illinois for 21 years.

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