Firing leads to `dream job' for ex-college professor

July 29, 2005|By Bill Atkinson

ED SHERWIN is probably one of the few guys around whose wife approves of him being a regular at Hooters.

"He has the dream job of any man," says Debra Sherwin, an accounting professor at Goucher College, sitting next to him in a booth at the Hooters in Towson.

She adds with a smile, "Eddie doesn't look at the girls; he looks at the food."

This year, Hooters signed Sherwin Food Safety to a contract to do health and safety inspections of all 121 of its Hooters of America corporate-owned restaurants. Sherwin also has been inspecting 75 Hooters owned by franchisees. It's one of the biggest parts of what he hopes to build into the best-known food safety company in the business.

Along the way, he's looking to prove a point.

In 1993, Sherwin was chairman of then-Essex Community College's hospitality management department. But he was fired without warning along with several other professors because of budget cuts.

He was Maryland Teacher of the Year in 1987. His classes were packed, he says. He helped write the food-safety training guide adopted by the National Restaurant Association, and he chaired the leading professional association. But he was dumped after nearly 20 years at the school.

"I am bitter about what they did," said Sherwin, 57, as rock music blares in the background and a couple of boxers pound each other mercilessly on television. "My success ... has been my best revenge."

He won't say how much he's making, but the money is pouring in and so is the work. He spends 200 to 250 days a year on the road; a big chunk of that time - 1,200 hours, or 50 full days, he and his wife calculate - is at Hooters.

Staffs around the country know him so well that they post his name on welcome signs. He boasts a Hooters wardrobe complete with baseball caps, jackets, T-shirts and polo shirts. It has made him popular around the neighborhood because he doles out the largesse.

He even flies, on occasion, Hooters Air.

"It is just great," Sherwin said.

Sherwin also does business with Silver Diner, Cactus Willies, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ravens, he said. He has trained every Royal Farms store manager and assistant manager (there are more than 200) in food safety.

"He is excellent," said Judy Hunt, who is in human resources at Royal Farms.

"He is looked at as one of the leaders in the industry," added Richard Blessing, vice president of ORS Interactive, a Falls Church, Va., company that creates food-safety training programs.

Eddie Dopkin, a principal at the Classic Catering People and owner of Loco Hombre, Alonso's and Miss Shirley's restaurants, brings Sherwin in to inspect "mega-events."

"Nobody does it like Ed," Dopkin said. "He is like our lawyer and our accountant. He is certainly in demand."

Sherwin is no pushover.

He has a checklist of about 300 items. He tests meat with a laser thermometer to make sure it is cooked thoroughly, peers through freezers to see that they are well-lit and don't have grimy walls, and makes sure employees wash their hands after going to the bathroom. (He passes out white and blue stickers emblazoned with the Sherwin name to remind employees to keep their hands clean.)

Sometimes he makes surprise visits, and he always rates each restaurant with the "Sherwin Score," as it is becoming known in the industry.

He never passes or fails a restaurant but grades them on a zero-to-100 scale. Ninety-five or higher is excellent, while a score of 80 earns a "red code" in his spreadsheet and a road map for improvement. He wants it trademarked and plans to patent his inspection process.

A dirty table is a one-point deduction. Raw chicken in a malfunctioning cooler is a major offense and warrants a four-point deduction.

"We are on our toes," said Brian Burton, general manager at Hooters in Towson. "There is a little anxiousness, but I hold my boys [in the kitchen] to a pretty high standard."

Sherwin grew up in the food business. His parents ran a bakery and catering business in Cleveland. But he hated the weather and, in the early 1970s, took off for the East Coast with his wife.

On the trip out, the two spent the night at a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge off the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Pittsburgh. Sherwin complained about the service and ended up being hired as general manager.

But the gasoline crunch hit and business dried up. He landed a job at Martin's Caterers, working for Martin Resnick in Baltimore, but by 1976 he was teaching at Essex.

After he was fired, Resnick gave Sherwin some advice. He told him to stop worrying about what happened at Essex.

"Always be positive," Resnick told him.

Sherwin still can't let go completely, but revenge has been sweet.

"Sometimes fire destroys people, and sometimes it makes people stronger," Sherwin said. "I feel a sense of great accomplishment."

Bill Atkinson's column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 410-332-6961 or by e-mail at bill.atkinson@balt sun.com.

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