About 10 years ago when I returned to Puerto Rico to work as a IT security consultant for a local bank, I remember one of my biggest challenges was finding where to eat as a vegetarian.
Most places where actual sit down cafeterias that operated during lunch hours.
Most of them also served a certain amount of food and once it was finished, they closed down for the day. This meant I had to be one of the first in line to make sure I could get my Vegetarian lunch.
At that time I had a 90 minute commute from my house to work. I made sure I had an idea where I could get something to eat but the options were limited or non-existent.
Thankfully, Lucy would make lunch for me to take to work.
Only Fast Food locally with Vegan Options
Since then, there has only been one fast food place that offers vegetarian options. These options can also be Vegan with some modifications.
El Meson is a local chain of restaurants and they specialize in making Puerto Rican style sandwiches.
Not only do I like to support them because the concept was created by locals, they are the only fast food restaurant that has multiple vegetarian options.
When I first started visiting them I was still vegetarian.
I remember I learned to ask them to change the protein (to a vegetarian one) on some of my favorite sandwiches. This was an idea given to me by one of their managers at that time named Pedro.
On one occasion I ran into another assistant manager that really did not care about customer service. She made it difficult for me to get my order. I wrote El Meson’s Management an email and in a timely manner they apologized and sent me a gift certificate to have me return .
That action of caring brought me in closer as a customer. Since 2006, I have not purchased any other food at a fast food other than at El Meson.
El Meson Cares About Me as a Customer
Although they are the only ones offering vegetarian options, they care about me as a customer.
A Small Mistake
Weeks ago on a visit to Ponce, I ordered one of their “Turkey” Vegetarian option. Sadly the the meal had real turkey.
I realized the mistake at my family member’s home which is about a 10 minute drive away. I called the manager and he quickly apologized. He offered to exchange If I was willing to go back. At that point one of my non-vegetarian family members said he would eat the sandwich.
Two weeks later I returned to the same place. Given that Ponce has no decent options when it comes to getting vegetarian much less vegan food, I asked for their surfer (which use to be the Bazous Surfer) sandwich to be made Vegan.
I repeated myself No Cheese, No Mayonnaise, No Margarine, and nothing with dairy or eggs. I wanted to make sure that my order was made right.
I am sure the cashier does not have to handle many vegans at that Ponce location. I might be one of the few vegans buying from them.
After I got my order, I saw that both of my sandwiches had the veggie option. I grabbed my food and went home without inspecting it completely.
When I opened up my sandwich, it had two types of cheese. I removed the cheese not at all happy with the situation. I bit into my sandwich and it had a light covering of Mayonnaise.
I stopped eating and called the place again. This time I was very hungry so mad the 10 minute drive back to get my sandwich replaced. After all it was partly my fault that I did not inspect my food completely.
Customer Service and Rock Star Front Line Manager Juan
I called and asked for the Manager. Juan identified himself as the manager and he apologized immediately. He asked me what was wrong and what he could do to fix the issue. I told him I just wanted the sandwich remade.
I drove back and he was waiting for me. He apologized and quickly handed me some extra fries and gave me an extra drink for the mishap.
This made the little anger I had immediately go away. It also made me think of the importance of making things right in the quickest way possible.
If every time a mistake is made everyone in every business reacted in such a caring way like Juan, I would say no business would have as many unhappy customers.
I was grateful that Juan took care of me and made sure my sandwich was assembled per my request.
Top Level Management Great Employees in the Front Lines
Juan’s actions reflect what my experience has been in the past of El Meson’s top management.
In 2006 I had the chance to exchange emails with the son of El Meson’s founder Felipe. Our conversations were my recommendation on what their vegetarian options could be. I gave them my feedback and I remember months later they brought out a few more options for me to try.
Every time I visit my hometown of Ponce I will be supporting El Meson. So far no other place there has a decent vegetarian offering.
As a Vegan, I become a loyal customer to any food vendor with good customer service and vegan options.
Because even if you have vegan options and the service is poor or I feel cheated, I am not going to support your business and I will look for another place or eat at home.
I want to thank El Meson’s top management for having someone like Juan at El Meson. I would love for them to praise Juan on his actions of being excellent at customer service.
Having been on the other side as a waiter in the past and now a consultant for Uncle Gussy’s daily operations, I know mistakes happen often in those type of environments.
But it is how we make up for them that really counts.
Juan made up for it big time and he stands out from the hundreds of similar interactions I have had at other places. The other folks did not care enough.
Juan I applaud you for being a Customer Service Rock Star. You can count on me continuing to support a local concept like El Meson for years to come.
If only they had a location in my neighborhood of Isla Verde.