In 1951, a short, round, jolly Greek immigrant named Jack Koustoubardis began cooking hamburgers in a tiny little spot on Hillcrest Avenue in Dallas just down the hill from SMU. The place is still there and it’s called the Burger House.
Everybody knew Jack. (His real name was actually Prometheus. Jack is the name he chose to authenticate his new status as an American.) The Burger House opened at 11 in the morning, closed at nine at night seven days a week and as nearly as I could tell, Jack was there for all 70 hours. Hard work and Jack Koustoubardis were fellow travelers.
If you believe the old proverb that says, “When you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” you should see what happens when you make a better hamburger.
In 1951, nearly every drugstore had a lunch counter with a griddle that turned out hamburgers. What those drugstores did not have was a Greek’s taste for seasoning. Jack concocted a unique seasoned salt that he applied to every hamburger and order of fries he turned out (unless you were fool enough to tell him not to). That special seasoned salt gave each hamburger a little kick in the pants that set it apart from the other burgers up and down the street.
Jack watched his costs, treated his customers like friends and turned out a great product. With that and a willingness to work like hell, Jack’s Burger House let a Greek immigrant into the American middle class and wove Jack’s family into the fabric of that bright and colorful tapestry that we call the American Dream.
Before he died, when Jack got too old to work, he sold his business to Angelo Chantillis and Steve Cannelos, and the two of them have lovingly taken care of it and have expanded with the greatest of care. Burger House now has seven locations with the newest being right here in Tyler on south Broadway in the Off Broadway Center across from Rose Hill Cemetery.
God bless Jack Koustoubardis. It’s men like Jack that helped make America the richest nation of Earth. It has been my experience that nobody “gets” America like a hard-working immigrant who just wants a chance.
I’m telling you all of this in light of the front-page story in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal bearing the headline, “Political Uncertainty Puts Freeze on Small Businesses.” (link may require subscription) The article goes on to detail how the grinding health care debate and the likelihood of a massive income tax increase as the Bush tax cuts expire and the possibility of rising energy costs under the so-called “cap and trade” legislation are all combining to scare small business owners to death. As a result, says the article, many small business owners are responding by, “freezing hiring, cutting benefits and delaying expansion plans.”
Jack Koustoubardis wanted nothing from the government other than to know that water would flow when he turned the valve and that the police would come if he had to call them. And if we don’t reset our expectations to that level, we’re sunk.
The idea that 535 members of Congress – with only a few notable exceptions a collection of self-serving sycophants, liars, thieves and blithering idiots – can bring the world’s most vibrant economy to a standstill, is embarrassing. It should never happen.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Congress: We don’t need you to overhaul health care or save the planet. We need you to get out of the way.
Leave us alone and we’ll figure out a way to make a better taco salad or crescent wrench or word processing program or something no one has even thought of yet. And the miracle for which Jack Koustoubardis changed his first name in order to fully embrace will continue uninterrupted.
Those of you listening or reading: Quit rewarding politicians for what they “do for you.” The time for that has passed. There is little that the government can do for you that you can’t do better for yourself.
If you don’t believe me, go to the Burger House on south Broadway today and order a hamburger and fries. In addition to a great lunch, you’ll get a little taste of the miraculous economic system that gave even a nobody immigrant like Jack Koustoubardis a clean shot at success.