Olde Towne Café owner finds that it really pays to be kind

In a sea of Facebook Live videos, one recorded by Olde Towne Café owner Vicente Hernandez in late January really stood out.

Flashing his friendly trademark smile, Hernandez announced a special deal for Friday morning that week.

“I’m offering a two-for-one special Friday morning,” Hernandez said, “for everyone who comes in Friday morning and buys a breakfast sandwich.” But wait, there was more.

“The second sandwich is not for you,” Hernandez said. “It’s for one of the construction workers who is working hard to transform our city into something exceptional.”

Workers from several contractors, primarily George & Lynch Inc., have been in Downtown Salisbury for several months, working to complete roads and sidewalks projects.

North Division Street, which Olde Towne faces, only reopened to traffic about two weeks ago.

That Friday, which was Jan. 30, Hernandez said he sold about three times the normal number of breakfast sandwiches.

He was able to feed about 17 workers each day the following week, Monday through Thursday.

“The workers were so surprised,” Hernandez said, “and now when they walk by, they wave and smile. Before, they just kept their heads down and worked, but now it’s different.”

Having heard negative comments from his customers about the disruption caused by all the downtown construction, and hoping to turn a negative into a positive, Hernandez said his original goal was to make the workers feel more welcome.

What Hernandez had not expected was to be a trendsetter, in the best possible way.

After that first week, another wave of paying it forward started when Keith White, the owner of  both Salisbury Door in Delmar and Main Street Kids — a kid-friendly eatery and play area that’s coming to Powell Building after the renovation is completed — decided to do the same thing, but with a twist.

“He bought breakfast for the Downtown construction workers, who work for George Lynch and also for the Gillis Gilkerson corporate office workers,” said Hernandez, “with the intent that Gillis Gilkerson would in turn buy breakfast for the construction workers Downtown the following Friday — and buy breakfast for everyone in another Downtown workplace.”

Thus, he said, Gillis Gilkerson bought breakfast sandwiches for workers at Green Street Housing. Green Street Housing subsequently purchased breakfast for workers at McLean Mortgage — and of course for the downtown construction workers.

“It’s happened four times so far,” Hernandez said.

Of course, he pointed out, there’s no actual obligation to carry on with what is becoming a clear trend. It’s strictly a volunteer thing.

“Vicente has really turned the disruption downtown into a positive,” said Grace Foxwell Murdock, who spearheaded the successful effort to have Salisbury named the first World Kindness USA City.

She said the Malones, previous owners of Olde Towne Café, started their business with a tip jar on the counter.

The contents of that jar were used as seed money for community kindness efforts — long before Murdock began to make it formal.

While the “breakfast for construction workers” was unfolding, two other small businesses decided to get into the act on a smaller scale.

“Tony Weeg, a photographer and videographer with a Downtown studio, and The Athlete Academy located across from Sea Gull Square on Route 13, also purchased  the construction crew breakfast,” Hernandez said.

“And APPI donated $100 toward the kindness effort,” he said.

Hernandez was planning to change the narrative a bit by donating sandwich trays to teachers at Choices Academy.

Hernandez said he wants to help people who are doing good work in the community, not just Downtown.

“The Choices teachers work with at-risk kids in Wicomico public schools,” he said.

He has no expectation this chain will be broken, even if someone doesn’t choose to carry on for their part.

“Business has, unfortunately, been slow while the street has been torn up,” he said. “Without this breakfast initiative, I’m not sure how I would be able to stay in business during this period.”

Instead, he’s doubled and tripled his business while encouraging extraordinary kindness among businesses in the area.

“It can cost up to $200 to feed the construction workers,” he said.

But the good will that’s growing in Downtown Salisbury? That’s priceless.

Which just goes to show it really does pay to be kind.

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.