When the dishwashing employee failed to show up at Cafe 222 in the Gaslamp Quarter last Saturday morning, it turned out to be a good luck omen for Heath Sparks and his wife, Marci, visitors from Sacramento.
This kicked off a series of events that saw the couple being randomly selected to move to front-row seats at Garth Brooks’ Petco Park concert that night and getting recognized by Brooks in his March 7 podcast for washing dishes.
But first things first.
Cafe 222 owner Terryl Gavre awoke to a frantic text from the restaurant at 6:30 am Saturday that dishes were piled up and no one was there to wash them.
Staff shortages have been an ongoing headache for many restaurateurs, especially since the start of the pandemic.
She immediately rousted her two reluctant teens, Paisley and Elliott, from their beds, telling them she needed their help.
When the trio arrived at the cafe at 222 Island Ave. about 8 am, Gavre discovered a line of customers spilling out the door and dirty dishes piled high in the kitchen.
She explained the situation to those in line and apologized that she wouldn’t be able to seat anyone for 15 minutes until she got caught up in the back. Her daughter started bussing tables and her son helped with food prep.
As soon as she retreated to the kitchen, a breakfast customer she had met the previous morning entered the kitchen and informed her he had a lot of hotel management experience and had overseen food and beverage operations.
“Give me an apron and I’ll pull you out of the weeds,” he offered. Gavre gratefully lent him an apron.
“Everyone had started to leave,” Sparks later told me. “She’s got such a wonderful thing going. … It was so sad. I’m not going to let her lose business because of this. So, I took my jacket off and said, ‘Let’s do this. I’ve got you covered. ‘”
Gavre said he washed dishes for an hour until they got caught up. “As soon as I could, I got him out of the scullery and sat them at a table.” Diners gave him a round of applause after she publicly thanked him.
“It was celebrity status,” Sparks says. “It was great.”
Gavre refused to give the couple a breakfast bill, but Sparks says he handed the server money as they left. “I’m not here for a free lunch. I’m here to help, ”he told the server.
But that’s only the beginning of the story.
The Sparks are fans of singer Garth Brooks and had come to San Diego for a long weekend to attend his concert. They rented a corner room in the Omni San Diego Hotel overlooking Petco Park so they could track the concert preparation.
During Friday’s sound check, they stood watch for four hours in a Petco Park loading area in the hope of glimpsing the performer – and were rewarded when a Brooks entourage golf cart drove by and the singer waved to them.
On Saturday, they showed up at 5 pm when doors opened for the concert and climbed to their nosebleed seats, two rows from the top. Sparks was talking to a nearby attendee, upset because her Garth Brooks hat had just blown over the stadium wall, when a member of Brooks’ team approached.
“That’s OK, your luck is about to change,” said the stranger, whose assignment was to give away first- and second-row seats that Brooks insists on reserving at each concert to hand out to special visitors and a few fortunate attendees in upper sections.
He handed Sparks, along with the woman and her family, six tickets, saying: “You’re going to love these seats.”
Who wouldn’t love front-row center?
Brooks closed his concert with “Standing Outside the Fire” about not living on the sidelines of life but taking a risk and figuratively jumping into the fire when needed.
“It was giving us shivers because of what we had just gone through,” Sparks says. “We didn’t walk away. It was just dishes, but we went into the fire and got it done. “
Making the moment even more powerful, Brooks stood in front of them when he sang it.
Sparks, who does custom home construction, says he truly connects with that song. “That’s my life. I get involved. I don’t walk away when someone needs help. “
He and family members helped a woman escape an abusive relationship by renting and furnishing an apartment for her and getting her relatives involved. Sparks helped a friend recovering from drug addiction by paying for an apartment and a car so he could get back on his feet.
“When someone runs out of gas or people pick on someone with Down syndrome, I get involved,” he said.
Friends told Sparks that the front-row seats were good karma – something positive coming back to them for helping that day at Cafe 222.
Whatever the reason, the coincidence was too good not to share. Marci posted a thank-you note for the front-row seats on Brooks’ social media site and mentioned her husband’s kitchen heroics that morning. She included a copy of Gavre’s grateful Instagram post.
The singer hosts a brief Facebook Live podcast, “Inside Studio G,” on Mondays. He talks about recordings, new songs, concert insights and some of the special guests moved up to the front two rows, which he reserves at every concert for that purpose.
Sparks, whose heroism was not in a cape but in an apron, was among those special guests Brooks singled out. He read Marci’s message about Cafe 222, commenting “attaboy” when the apron went on.
“That is cool. That is awesome. That’s very sweet. And that’s who you want in the front row, ”Brooks said.