Well, I never. If I'm to be treated this way at the Mall of America, I might as well be doused in water at the Log Chute, too.
On a recent night at the new Dick's Last Resort, a server with a bushy mustache greeted us at our table and then promptly said he was going home. We smelled, he told us. Our new server came over and yelled: "You have 2.5 seconds to order." Then she threw napkins at us.
This is Dick's, where the service is attentive but also surly, funny, sometimes raunchy and always obnoxious. It's what they do. Oddly enough, it's what keeps people coming back to this national chain, which has been around for 27 years.
Now it has come to the Twin Cities -- the land of Minnesota Nice. We don't do obnoxious. Especially when it comes to restaurant service. So how will a place like Dick's go over in Garrison Keillor Country? There's a lot riding on its success, both for the company (at 15,000 square feet, it's the biggest Dick's in the country) and for the mall's maligned fourth-floor nightlife district.
Good news: The odd combination of Dick's and the new Princess Diana exhibit (not to mention Hooters, Cantina #1 and that comedy club) appears to be working. The once darkened corridor inside the nation's largest indoor shopping center is again humming with life.
The food at Dick's is typical Southern chain fare -- steak, burgers, catfish, chicken -- but everything is bigger. The ribs could feed Fred Flintstone. But customers don't come for the food. You're here to be abused.
One star at Dick's is Brett Cakerice, a big guy who likes to summon his best Chris Farley impression while waiting tables. On a recent Saturday night, he presided over a large birthday party. Before the second round of drinks, he drew a mustache in permanent marker on one customer's face. As is customary at Dick's, he later outfitted the rest of the group with tall paper hats. On each, he scribbled an embarrassing message.
This particular group had three generations of the family present at the table. Grandma's hat read: "I lost my virginity to George Washington."
"The servers are funnier than I thought they'd be," said son-in-law Todd Chambliss, 36, of Cottage Grove. "I would be really pissed off if it was personal. That was my biggest concern."
Chambliss asked Cakerice to direct him to the restroom. "The Ladies' is over there," he said.
Auditioning at Dick's
The Dick's chain was owned and operated by a Dallas entrepreneur named Steve Schiff until a private-equity firm bought it in 2008. I reached the company's president, Ralph McCracken, last week by phone. He was in Panama City Beach, Fla., where he had just opened the chain's 12th location. The Tennessean was quick to correct what he views as a misconception about Dick's -- mainly about their shtick.
"We're colorful, but not off-color," he said with a Southern drawl. "We're irreverent, but not rude."
Turns out there is a craft to insulting customers (and keeping them coming back for more). Prospective employees endure an interview process unlike any other in the service industry, says Kelly Bangert, manager at the MOA venue. They call their interviews "auditions." They ask tough questions, like, "What's your favorite scene in 'The Hangover'?" They do improv games, word association and charades ("You are an aging ballerina -- go."). The final test is a dance competition. Cakerice (yes, his real name) won his audition by doing the Worm.
Servers also were instructed to keep the mall's kid-friendly attitude in mind. Bangert said this location is considered "PG." (I'd say PG-13).
"We're very aware of Minnesota Nice," she said. "This store is very different than Vegas."
Jennifer McLoughlin of Cottage Grove brought her husband and their three young children. It was her birthday. Halfway through dinner, Cakerice got the attention of every table in the vicinity. He had an announcement.
"It's this lady's birthday today! On the count of three, let's tell her what we think of that," he yelled. "One ... two ... three: Who cares!"
Cakerice then lugged over an oversized highchair for McLoughlin to sit in.
The parents had been to a Dick's in San Antonio some years ago. "Down there they can be really surly," McLoughlin said. "San Antonio was a little more extreme."
Who will blush first?
"It's perfect. We're kind of raunchy anyway," said Amber Rode, ringleader of a bachelorette crew in black dresses. They were at Dick's on a recent night to celebrate their friend Megan Brathall.
"In fact, we'll probably make the waiter blush," the bride said.
The group had heard stories about Dick's and had driven an hour from New Richmond, Wis. For $20 a person, they received dinner, a cake and an R-rated drink for the bride.
Around them, chaos swirled. Two young girls were strapped to chairs with plastic wrap, while servers buttered their faces with whipped cream. Napkins rained down on an unsuspecting table nearby.
This is the scene envisioned by McCracken, Dick's president. "I'm just a redneck from Tennessee," he told me. "This is the best job I've ever had."
While he wouldn't discuss specifics, he said the January numbers were "$100,000 above projections." Obviously, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. But the chain has no shortage of admirers (27,000 fans on Facebook).
The mall location even made a fan out of Pati Cotlow, the 60-year-old grandma with the George Washington hat. She wasn't sure about Dick's at first.
"When I walked in, and I saw the behavior and the loudness, my first impression was 'These people are obnoxious,'" Cotlow said.
She's an industry vet herself, having worked in fine dining for 30 years in the Twin Cities (most notably for the Nicklow family's string of suburban restaurants). Cotlow thinks her fellow Minnesotans are ready for the sassiness. "It's not so Scandinavian now," she said.
Cotlow's family had come to Dick's for her 31-year-old daughter's birthday. Angela Chambliss' giant paper hat read: "Hard to believe I turned 40 today."
"I'm not 40," she told me.
"That's all right, honey, you look like it," her husband said.
The saucy fun seems to rub off on customers. And to think this group was planning to eat at the Rainforest Cafe.
Unless the aquatic life at that colorful chain has begun to talk back, they would have been in for an entirely different night at the Mall of America.
- Follow Horgen on Twitter: @tomhorgen