A Young Man, His Kirwin Education, Mike Gaido’s Mentoring & the Fellow with the $50,000
By Bill Cherry
Galveston's Kirwin was a boys high school that was run by the Roman Catholic Christian Brothers. Dominican and Ursuline were the Catholic girls’ high schools. After Hurricane Carla severely damaged the Dominican and Ursuline buildings, the diocese decided to close the two girls campuses and move those students to Kirwin.
And that’s when Kirwin’s name was changed to honor another of the deceased rectors of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Fr. Dan O’Connell.
The teaching nuns left and the Christian Brothers went the way of attrition. Lay people took their places. Students no longer had to tolerate the strict brothers and nuns who were noted for being relentless disciplinarians.
The last of the students who went through the original, traditional Galveston Catholic schools are now in their late fifties to middle sixties. In the main, if one were to study the lives of those whose schooling included Dominican, Ursuline or Kirwin, they would find the alumni’s support of their religion as well as their work and social ethics to be far above average.
Anyone who went to one of those schools will almost always find a way to work that fact into every conversation where it will be presented with great pride, almost with a tone of aloofness. It’s very definitely thought of by them as a pedigree.
Armed with his Kirwin education and a couple of years in the Navy, and married and with young children, Benno Deltz went to work with his life-long friend, Wayne Gaido.
Together they got on the job training from famed Galveston restauranteur Mike Gaido, as they tried their hand at operating the old Surf Drive-In.
They had renamed it Wayne’s.
A couple of years later, Wayne’s went the way of most of the drive-in concepts, and Wayne and Benno went to work full-time at Gaido’s.
Benno managed the front dining room, Wayne managed the Pelican Club.
Nearly twenty years later, with a new lease on a failed Seawall fast-food restaurant and what he had learned from his mentor, Mr. Mike, Benno opened his first restaurant.
The kitchen equipment was mainly a pan or two he had scavenged, a used deep fat fryer he had scrubbed and then scrubbed again, and some kitchen utensils from Kmart.
The dining room furnishings were make-shift and sparse. And he had his Kirwin values and work ethic.
Within a few months, Benno was out of money and failure was definitely getting ready to deal him the final blow.
By chance, a prominent Galveston businessman walked in with his accountant to have lunch. It was 1983. “How’re ya doin’?” the man asked before lunch.
“I’m out of money and if something doesn’t happen quickly, I’m going to have to shut the doors,” Benno found himself admitting for the first time, even to himself.
The man and the accountant had a big lunch of fried shrimp and oysters, seasoned just right. It was a lunch that would have made Mr. Mike proud of his protege.
Then the man and the accountant wished Benno well and left.
Within the hour the man called. “Benno,” he said, “there is $50,000 waiting for you at the bank. Go pick it up. It comes with only one string. If you make it, I want my money back. If you don’t, you won’t owe me a dime, and you won’t have to worry about ever hearing from me again.”
Last week Benno was waiting for me in his office suite at the 10,000 square foot building he owns on Port Industrial. It houses his administrative offices and a catering facility that in both size and elaborateness of equipment, rivals that of the new convention center.
Thirty people work for him. The interior was designed by the man known as the “architect for the presidents,” Ed Eubanks.
The furniture, primarily antiques, is from New Orleans. Benno, himself, uses a small, highly polished Duncan Pyfe dinning table for a desk.
On the walls are photos of the famous and not so famous people for whom he has catered – huge parties and banquets around swimming pools, those inside massive River Oaks homes, and just as important, the smaller and less elaborate wedding receptions of your children’s and their friends.
Meanwhile, Benno’s starting place, Benno’s on the Beach, is managed by his 43-year old son, Tracy.
Diners there find the original recipes and the strict attention to detail that Mr. Mike taught Benno.
And they hear the same music Benno has been playing there since the day he opened, the Platters’ “My Prayer,” the Penguins’ “Earth Angel” and Ray Charles occasionally screaming to all who’ll listen, “Hit the road, Jack!”
It’s a package that presents a subtle homage to the time when Benno’s values were being instilled in him by the Christian Brothers, when his mentor Mr. Mike was teaching him to stretch a long string from table to table to make certain all of the plates and silverware were perfectly lined up, and, of course, to the man with the 50 thousand bucks who enjoyed standing back and watching the young man with the Kirwin ethic accomplish his dreams.
The man with the $50,000 was Galveston businessman, Rai Kelso.
Copyright 2004 -William S. Cherry
Keller Williams Dallas Premier
Direct: 214 503-8563