Dick Elliott is a good newspaperman gone bad, but I like him anyway.
After he left the news business, Elliott became a lawyer, which was bad enough. Then he left that to become a restaurateur, which really made us wonder about his sanity.
That said, he's one of the voices I heard from after a recent column about the food and beverage business in Charleston.
Some very nice people in that profession took offense when I wrote that many college kids get trapped in that lifestyle and end up waiting tables and tending bar and never manage to move on.
Elliott didn't disagree with my point. In fact, he's quite aware of the party reputation the industry has and often deserves. But that doesn't mean it has to be that way.
"People told me that's just the way it was in F&B," he said. "But I said I didn't want it to be like that in my business."
Over time, Elliott has built Maverick Southern Kitchens, a string of high-quality restaurants that are popular with the epicurean crowd. They include Slightly North Of Broad, High Cotton, Old Village Post House, another High Cotton in Greenville and Charleston Cooks (a local cooking school).
As a former barrister, Elliott made his case. Yes, there is a Peter Pan population in the world of F&B.
But, he said, there is an evolution afoot that continues to push the business toward respectable and rewarding careers.
To that end, he and some other owners of fine dining restaurants in the Holy City are now offering health insurance, paid vacation and other benefits.
Just like a real job.
But Charleston is a college town. That means there are lots of students waiting tables and tending bar to pay the bills. Many, however, can't wait until the day they "burn their apron" and move on.
Elliott understands that.
"We work hard to attract and retain good people through our employee development programs," said Elliott, who employs more than 250 people. "We want to offer them a career path and a ladder to climb."
To accomplish this, Elliott's trying to change the game. For instance, his employees no longer walk out the door with wads of cash every night.
"We pay every two weeks like a regular business," he said. "It allows employees to build a credit record, buy a car, a house, and it keeps them from being robbed."
But change isn't easy.
"We lost some people when we made these changes," he said. "Some people couldn't live without that instant cash. Our challenge has been to find talented people, train them and develop them," he said.
So, how does the average diner know if a place is being run professionally?
"You pretty much know when you walk in the door," Elliott said.