Friday, November 27, 2009

Gentlemanly Service - Ercole's Creative Fashion

In this day in age, when the apex of customer service is a live voice from India reading from a script, and the norm is a computer responding to keyed telephone entries, real service has disappeared, or so I thought.

Today I made my way to see my local tailor, Frank, at Ercoles in Brooklyn. I had a few things to do, order two pairs of trousers, check out some grey fabric for a sport jacket, and discuss some future plans to get his business online. I called at 11:30 AM and got Frank's father, Ercole, who told me that his son Frank would be in soon. I said OK, and made my way around the neighborhood to run some errands and pick up some groceries (fresh chicken cutlets, imported prosciutto, and home made mozzarella-one smoked and one well as some Italian cookies) and then headed over.

I got there, and said hello to Ercole and told him I'd wait for his son Frank, no problem. Talking with Ercole is a wonderful experience, as his English is doused with a beautiful operatic Italian accent. The minutes passed and still no Frank. In the meantime, a local developer with about $15,000 worth of sportcoats showed up, and was waiting, as was a local judge, and another young man who obviously had a lot of work for Frank and his crew. Now Ercole was getting steamed, and yelled at Frank on the phone for running late. Some choice Italian phrases (words even I understood) were thrown around and finally when Frank turned up at 1:00, Ercole was ready for lunch. He grabbed his cap, a black flat cap, and threw on a beautiful plaid sport jacket over his blue check shirt and deep blue trousers. I told Ercole to have a good lunch, and I said I'd wait for Frank to take care of the other customers, as I needed time to talk to him regarding the website I'm working on for him. Ercole invited me to join him. I took it as a polite gesture, and declined, until he insisted with a genuine and warm wave .

We made our way across the street to a little Italian place and shared a dish of antipasto, some sparkling water and some fresh Italian bread. We both got the fresh baccala (codfish) in a puttanesca sauce, one of the specials. The cod just arrived from Boston a few hours earlier. The fish was so fresh it didn't even need to be chewed. Ercole even gave some of his entree to an older patron who said she hadn't had baccala in ages, since her mother made it when she was a youth. We shared a nice glass of white wine, and an even nicer conversation. He told me about the town he came from, what it was like, .5 km from the sea in Calabria. he told me of his parents, how his father was hurt in the Second World War, and about being a father. I told him of how my great grandfather came here from Southern Italy and distanced himself from his heritage to fit into American society, and how I always regretted never being able to speak Italian, as he had to the beautiful waitress and the chef/owner, Butchie.

When it came time for the check, I asked him how much I owed, as I assumed we'd be splitting. He told me to give him $5 for the tip, and that was all that was needed. I insisted, knowing the meal was well above $50 without tip, but again, he turned my money away. I thanked him profusely. We then walked a few doors down for a cup of espresso, again, he picked up the tab. We then walked back to the shop and Frank was just finishing up with he last of the gentlemen that I left inside as we went to eat an hour earlier.

This is real customer service. This is what I imagine my great grandfather experienced when he went to get his clothing made in the mountain village of San Fele, Basilicata, 130 years ago, by their local craftsman. This is what's missing from today's mass produced, make a quick buck, men's clothing industry. I knew, before today, that I would be a customer at Ercoles for as long as I live, and Ercole knew that as well, and it didn't matter. This is the mark of a true gentleman, and to me that means more to me than any amount of money a sale can keep in my pocket. This is what keeps a customer loyal. It also doesn't hurt that I get a top quality product made for me, by a skilled artisan. But this artisan is also gentleman, and to me there is no value that can be placed on that.

I hope one day, when my son Hudson is old enough, to take him to Ercoles, and have clothing made for him. And when I do, I'll be sure to tell him of what happened to me today, and how being a man is more than just what our mass media tells us it is, and being a gentleman is all about how you treat people. I hope that one day he can pass it on to his son, as Ercole has passed it on to Frank, and on to me.


  1. That is a story for the ages, Rob! We've gotta hold on to such people, you don't see them too often.

  2. Just curious-- I've admired the stuff you've had made by Ercole's. What is the price range for a sport coat or a suit made there?