Most of the people employed at Harold’s snack foods, inc. were just there for a job. Steve however, was such a rabid fan of their acclaimed tortilla chips that he sought a direct role in their creation. It wasn’t enough to just be a loyal customer. He wanted to bring the joy of those magnificent, crunchy triangles to others.
During his interview with human resources, he was very specific about his employment goal. He only wanted to be involved in the ‘golden triangles’ division. For a moment the HR manager was taken aback by such an ultimatum. Soon however, Steve’s product-specific enthusiasm won him over. It wasn’t often they hired someone who was so ‘gung ho’ to produce their product.
The next day during orientation Steve was introduced to the line manager and shown around the plant. He was instructed on the various steps in the process and how the machinery worked. Steve was a bit surprised at the lack of enthusiasm among the plant workers. They were all-important cogs in the magical process of making the most fantastic tortilla chip in the world; yet many of them seemed bored out of their minds. He hoped he would never become that jaded. After the general tour, he was instructed on his duties and met some coworkers on the line. They were friendly enough but looked at him a little funny when he extolled the virtues of manufacturing ‘Harold’s tortilla chips’. Clearly the magnitude of their important accomplishments was lost to them.
“I have eaten many others over the years but Harold’s is by far the best; and I’m not just saying that because I work here now!” Steve beamed a one way grin to his disinterested assembly line supervisor. “They have a special taste that just can’t be beat!”
After parroted the company advertising slogan verbatim, he philosophized. “It’s hard to isolate specifically what makes them so great. It has to be some kind of special ingredient that the others do not have. Do you happen to know what it is?”
The production manager studied Steve’s euphoric demeanor to decide if he was actually being serious. To her amazement, he seemed to have a weird obsession with the sea of corn chips whizzing by on the conveyer belt. Theresa smiled conspiratorially, and leaned in to educate the young man. Because the machinery was so loud, she had to almost shout in his ear.
“Don’t tell anyone I told you this because I could be fired for exposing company secrets, Ok?” Steve nodded somberly. “There is this extremely rare herb that only grows in June on the peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Mr. Harold discovered it in 1958. He pays the natives to harvest it for us and then exports it here. That’s what makes the chips uniquely delicious.”
Steve’s eyes grew as wide as saucers after hearing the top-secret revelation. He grinned from ear-to-ear at Mr. Harold’s clever ingenuity but Theresa started feeling bad about ‘pulling his leg’. Before he spent the rest of the day believing the ridiculous whopper, she sheepishly admitted it wasn’t true. Steve smirked at her deception and then went back to his assigned task.
At lunch, Steve sat down at the far end of the cafeteria to ‘take it all in’. A few minutes later he was joined by an elderly gentleman named Frank. For the first few minutes they exchanged simple pleasantries but toward the end of their break, the tone changed. Frank had worked for Mr. Harold as a custodian for 33 years. Steve was enthralled by the colorful stories he told and eager to ask about the early days of Harold’s snack food empire.
“I don’t suppose you know what the secret ingredient is in our amazing tortilla chips, do you Frank?”
Frank’s jovial expression changed immediately to one of discomfort and suspicion.
“We were warned years ago that corporate espionage was rampant in the industry.”; Frank said, matter-of-factly. “Are you some sort of spy for McManus Snacks, trying to pry company secrets out of me?”; He demanded.
Steve held up his hands as a gesture of reassurance. He swore he was not a prying representative from McManus.
Frank snorted in disgust. “As IF you’d admit you are!”; He retorted. “Maybe you thought a lowly janitor like me would be easy to crack.”; He spat suspiciously.
Once again, Steve tried to dispel all of Frank’s suspicions. “Hey, I promise I am not. I realize there’s no way I can completely ease your mind. it’s just that I just love them and am curious what could make them so damn delicious!”
Finally Frank’s eyes softened a bit at Steve’s apparent sincerity. He took a deep breath before exclaiming: “I do KNOW the secret ingredient but I’m a little afraid of losing my pension. I’m almost ready to retire and if old man Harold knew I had loose lips….”
Steve nodded. He certainly didn’t want to put Frank’s retirement at risk but it seemed like an innocent enough question. Since he was a full fledged employee, it stood to reason that he could do a better job if he knew the ‘ins and outs’ of the business. Frank opened his mouth several times to speak and then quickly closed his lips.
“Hey Marcus, can you come over here a minute?”; Frank yelled to a tall man at a nearby table. The man came over and Frank introduced him as the plant’s ‘chief flavorist’. Steve was completely ‘star struck’ by the man with so much power over the products he loved. His transparent admiration made Marcus grin.
“Steve is new here. He’s such a fan of our products that he asked about the ‘secret ingredient’ in the tortillas. I’d let the cat out of the bag but I’m afraid to reveal your ‘trade secrets’. I figured you could decide if it was safe to tell him.”
Marcus eyed Steve for the longest minute of his life. He was so intimidated that he wished he could crawl under the table.
“Honestly sir. I was curious but I don’t want to over step my bounds or risk the security of your treasured recipe. Please forget that I asked! I promise I won’t bring it up again.”
Marcus shifted his focus back to Frank. “So, you didn’t tell him anything at all?” Frank shook his head slowly and cast his eyes downward. “If I’m going to be doing ‘damage control’ here, I need to know what I’m up against.”
“I didn’t tell him ANYTHING, Marcus. I promise. I wouldn’t do that.”
Steve began to feel horrible about risking the old man’s job. Just when he was about to apologize again, Marcus drew back his attention.
“Listen kid, I don’t normally risk giving away the Harold family recipe but I honestly think I can trust you. I believe what I’m about to reveal will stay locked away in your ‘mental vault’. Do you give me your sworn word that you will never tell another living soul?”
Steve nodded in affirmative and beamed with pride. He was about to be trusted with the the confidential ingredient in Harold’s tortilla chips!
“The secret ingredient is… SALT. Copious amounts of SALT. I’m sorry to disappoint you but we use ordinary sodium to make them appetizing. The body needs salt and as soon as it hits the tongue, it triggers a chemical ‘reward’ reaction in the brain. It’s hardly a trade secret. Every snack food maker in the world knows how essential salt is to a satisfied consumer.
We also supplement this snack food satisfaction by manufacturing Harold’s soft drinks. They compliment the eating of our chips. Guess what? More sodium! Sometimes it’s the simple things that work best, Steve. Between salt and sugars, it represents 90% of our market.”
Steve sat dumbfounded at the table. Slowly the reality of the words sank in. Marcus grinned as the company’s newest employee endured his requisite hazing. “I see you’ve already met Frank the practical joker and his daughter Theresa; your line supervisor. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! She let Frank and I know about your fascination with the chips. It seemed like the perfect angle to use in ‘welcoming you’ to the Harold foods family.
Steve was embarrassed by his naïve question but grinned when he realized the joke had all been in good natured fun. While still disillusioned about the ‘secret’ ingredient, knowing everyone went through the same hazing made the experience a bit easier to take. “So, if everyone had a joke pulled on them, what was yours, Sir?”; He asked Marcus.
“The day I started, Frank told me our potato supplier only digs them up at midnight during full moon phases. According to that phony gag, the heavier gravitational pull makes them taste better! I can’t believe I fell for it but he’s so good at keeping a straight face that anything seems possible. We’re going to miss our ring leader of deception when he retires. That’s for sure. Anyway, I hope you enjoy your time working at Harold snack foods. When the time comes, you can get your revenge on the next employee we hire.”
Written 12-29-2013 edited 12-19-2014