When Ray Koterba offered to help his grandson Kole find a job, he immediately knew who to ask.
He wanted someone who was honest, with integrity and impeccable character. He wanted someone who had compassion, one who “pours their heart out” and someone who could turn people around with “harsh, gentle comments, like a father should.”
Koterba, who for many years was Rock Hill’s director of housing and neighborhood services, turned to Derrick Lindsay, 44, manager of the Showmars restaurants at the Galleria and on Herlong Avenue.
Koterba had met Lindsay under a difficult set of circumstances several years ago as Lindsay and others questioned if the city was doing all it could for minorities.
Koterba suggested Lindsay take an “Inside Rock Hill” course to learn more about the city. When Lindsay finished the course he returned to Koterba and told him he had been too quick to judge. He didn’t have all the facts, and he apologized to Koterba.
Lindsay’s action impressed Koterba so much that to this day Koterba, father to three grown sons and a grandfather, boasts, “I would adopt him if I could.”
It’s not the first time Lindsay has reached out to help others.
As a Showmars manager, “I’m a counselor, a friend, a mom, a dad, you’re everything and you give advice on everything too, including school and religion,” Lindsay said.
His advice hasn’t been limited to a work setting. He has gone to schools to talk to students and traded his suit for gym clothes to help young children. One of his most endearing qualities, Koterba said, is that “he wants to improve people, people others have thrown away. He wants to turn them around, make them do something substantial with their lives.”
But to help others, Lindsay first had to help himself.
He was one of a family of five kids growing up in Rock Hill. His mom raised her children, and his dad, Jerry, worked in the mills, doing every job possible so that when layoffs happened, “they couldn’t lay him off,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay’s childhood dream was to go to college, join ROTC and then the Air Force. The dream always ended with Lindsay blasting off the deck of a carrier, flying an F-16.
It didn’t happen. “I wasn’t focused,” he said.
After high school his dream became playing in the NFL. At 6-foot, 5-inches and 275 pounds – and a top speed, he claims, of 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash – Lindsay was convinced he was just a phone call away from the NFL.
He played semi-professional football for the Charlotte Blast – until he blew his knee out during the fall of 1997.
“I wasn’t going to the NFL,” he said. “I needed a career. I had to humble myself.”
At the time he was working full-time at a Winn-Dixie warehouse and part-time for Showmars.
His dad told him to stick with the full-time job. Lindsay asked him how many times his parents went out for dinner now that their children were grown. His dad said sometimes four or five times a week. The son decided to act on his dad’s actions, not his words.
Humbling himself meant going to the people who had offered to mentor him and asking for their help. Previously, when they offered assistance, Lindsay’s response was, “If I want to flip burgers, I’ll go to McDonald’s.”
While Lindsay would ultimately flip burgers, he decided at first to specialize, learning how to cook and prepare a perfect fish plate. He worked at Showmars restaurants at the Galleria, at Plaza Fiesta, at Eastland Mall in Charlotte and at one in Monroe, N.C.
His mentors included Geoge Couchell, founder of Showmars, and Konstantine Zitsos, the company’s current CEO.
Zitsos would give Lindsay a list of 20 things to do, wait awhile, and ask him how much Lindsay had accomplished – and give him 20 additional tasks.
“When I told him I hadn’t done them, he told me, ‘You’re in charge, learn how to delegate,’” Lindsay said. “I learned quickly.”
He also learned “from a distance,” by watching how others did their jobs.
He kept waiting for Showmars executives to send him to formal management classes. But in January of 1998 Zitsos handed him the keys to the Galleria restaurant and told Lindsay he was in charge.
“I felt lost,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay described his management style at the time as “everything was a nail and I was the hammer.”
Like previous times, Lindsay listened, watched, learned and humbled himself.
His tests included customers’ reactions when they asked to speak to the manager. In some instances, the customers didn’t believe Lindsay, who is black, was the manager.
“You have to have a thick skin,” Lindsay said. “I call it the ‘wet-dog syndrome’; you just have to shake it off.”
Now that Lindsay is managing two stores, he’s learning to balance his time. What he won’t sacrifice is quality. He asks his staff, “Would you feed this to your mother? If not, you don’t deserve to serve it to the customers.”
Sometimes he takes a turn in the kitchen, usually on the fish side. “I cook with passion and I want my plate to be the best-looking plate,” he said.
Now, when he talks to others he reminds them that it’s “not ‘will life throw you a curve ball,’ it’s when.” So you need to have plan A, plan B, even plans C and D, he said
And, he said, it takes the right work ethic and the right attitude. “Hard work doesn’t bother me,” he said, adding – with a smile – “paperwork does.”
While he no longer has the speed that almost got him to the NFL, he still has the instincts of a left tackle, the blindside blocker for the quarterback, the protector who makes things happen.
“A lot has been set on my shoulders,” he said. “I’ve got broad shoulders. Failure is not an option.”