You might think that 6 months isn’t a long time to become invested in a company. Damir could just return to his old job. But one of the people my father had punched was the owner Kurt Richter. And honestly, it probably never even crossed Damir’s mind to quit. In relaying this story, he was always more upset about how his brand-new suit had been destroyed in the fight than losing the job.
The Wednesday night after the new regulations came into effect, Damir asked his soccer team if they’d like to import “fromage”. My father would fill out all the paperwork, and pay each of them in turn. Damir created separate legal companies for each of the 30 soccer players. What do soccer players know about cheese importing? Absolutely nothing, but there was a small loophole to using cheese licenses: Individuals were allowed to import a small yearly amount of cheese, stinky or otherwise. These quantities were so small that no import company could survive on just those sales.
My father had created 30 new businesses, one for each soccer player. When the total imports of all of these soccer companies were combined, my father now had the ability to import as much cheese as his richer competitors. Plus by agreeing to this, the Latvian soccer team made money without lifting a finger.
No one had ever done anything like this before. The laws that had tried to prevent Damir from importing still blocked more conventional competitors. My father’s business was now much more stable due to the value of these cheese licenses. Several of Epicure’s rivals immediately complained to the Food and Drug Administration (accusing him of smuggling). Back then, before the age of email, cell phones, or faxes, conversations were much less private than today. My father’s chats with these individuals became the genesis of his favorite English phrase “Go Fuck Yourself.” He used it so often that later on we had to create a public acronym for it – G.F.Y. By the late 1990’s Damir’s salespeople would use G.F.Y. about as often as most people say “Good Morning.”
Damir’s business grew steadily enough to allow him to move to the suburbs, and buy a small house in Florham Park, N.J. This was followed by a bigger house, nicer cars and joining a prestigious country club. His approach to tennis there was the same to him as how he played chess. He took great joy in beating people physically and mentally. And Damir respected them even more when he couldn’t.
Fast forward twenty years later to when my father asked me if I’d like to work for him. I’d just worked overseas and in Manhattan for a few years and was now in-between jobs. But my father and I didn’t have the smoothest of relationships. When he wanted to, though, Damir could be very persuasive. He convinced me to come in and lend a hand in the office. Growing up I’d worked at his company during the summers, driving the company’s one van or beat up, old forklift.
Hearing stories as you grow up is one thing. But it became apparent that my father’s approach to business wasn’t exactly textbook. After a few weeks on the job, Damir called me into his office for a meeting. The appointment was with a well-dressed salesman from Couturier, a French goat cheese company. His expensive suit was a sharp contrast to the room’s more weathered look. Ten minutes into the meeting the French salesman informed my father that, with regret, Couturier was raising his prices. Damir nodded in an understanding manner. He casually reached into his desk drawer, and slammed down a black .45 caliber Beretta. The barrel was pointing towards the Frenchman. In a coldly pissed Croatian accent, he said “Say that again.”