The Measure of Success
MAY 01, 1958 by ROBERT H. SIGNOR, ANN SIGNOR
Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Signor, whose families came to America before the Revolutionary War, hope you’ll share their admiration for their new-found friends.
America is still the land of opportunity for those willing to meet its challenge, to barter the commodities of hard work and intelligently directed ambition in exchange for success.
The United States today, for instance, still affords a man the opportunity of entering business on a small scale, with every hope of ultimate success. But he’ll have to begin by scrapping all that he may have believed of the “we’ll do it for you” school of ideas that has been foisted on a gullible public.
For example, take the Milan Prokupek family. With no assets but themselves, no subsidies, and no special concessions they built another man’s business from its beginning into a successful enterprise within a year’s time. Then they opened negotiations with its owner and today are buying that business, using their hands to mold a combination of thrift, integrity, and hard-working ambition into their version of the American Success Story.
But because the Prokupeks had an unusually clear vision of the road conditions which led to their goal, they may have had a head start on some of our native-born Americans, at that. For it happens that the golden lure of “planned security” as prescribed by labor, a benevolent government, and attendant disciples, has consistently failed to attract certain people.
All of these kind organizations have found it necessary to support their “benevolence” with more laws and heavier taxation of those of us who haven’t yet fallen under the spell of such questionable ideals. To these certain people, all this sounds terribly familiar, for they’ve been forced to live under similar doctrines, and the golden lure seems more like the glint of cheap tinsel to their eyes.
They have left their respective countries in search of freedom, and once arrived on American soil, they set about seeking their fortunes in the old-fashioned pre-”deal” American way. They cannot afford to be blinded by that glint, so they waste little time chasing a will-o’-the-wisp of something for nothing through the back alleys of welfare-statism. The majority of them are highly successful in their business ventures for this reason, as are the Prokupeks.
The Doctor Is Everywhere
Dr. Prokupek is the intensely warm, friendly host of an unusually good restaurant and lodge near San Francisco, California. The doctor who can be found personally greeting and seating each of his guests, is a rather harried looking gentleman, with red-blonde hair and vividly clear blue eyes. He wears an old shirt and slacks as he lopes around his domain, seeing into everything at once. No one has seen him sit down for long at a time, and he could be called the proverbial on-the-go American. Together with his wife, Manka, a delightfully diminutive lady who does all the lodge’s cooking, the doctor runs a teeming establishment. Their children, Alena, a lovely college student, and Milan, Jr., are a very necessary part of the team, however. They do K.P. Alena, who is achieving her long-sought dream of becoming a doctor, doubles in brass as a waitress on the weekends. During the week she attends a nearby university where she is studying medicine on a scholarship. Milan, Jr. is general factotum, but in his spare moments, can be found cruising around Tomales Bay in his small boat, with or without his father.
In 1947, however, Dr. Prokupek was a top-flight member of the Foreign Trades Ministry of Czechoslovakia. He was Chief of Transportation for his government. His wife was a leading hostess in the glittering diplomatic circles of Prague. They lived in the city but spent much of their time on the vast model farm which the doctor ran as a pastime. Their children had all the advantages that a well-to-do home could give them. One of Dr. Prokupek’s last official acts was to lead his country’s delegation that year to the UNRRA Conference of Paris.
Then early in 1948 after years of undermining, the communists suddenly staged their coup of state. Dr. Prokupek was forced to make a choice. He made it, and within hours was stripped of office, labeled “a friend of Western powers,” and compelled to flee for his life. A deeply religious man, he took with him and his family what he considered most important. In his words:”We left Prague within the hour. We had only time to pack one suitcase, and we carried my Czech language Bible.”
Escape to Canada
In due course the refugee family found themselves embarked for British Columbia where, it was said, existed boundless opportunities for those willing to work. However, once arrived, they found that opportunities were not quite so boundless for non-English speaking iron-curtain refugees. But necessity breeds adaptability, so ex-minister Prokupek became a lumberyard worker. In time, with a smattering of English which he learned on the job, and with his previous experience, he obtained a position as manager of a small farm. But the family barely made ends meet, so Manka went to work too, cooking for a large hospital. Alena, who already knew she wanted to be a doctor, had her hands full studying for the scholarship she knew she must earn in order to get her training.
In the meantime, the Prokupeks began casting around for ways of making more money. Manka’s recipes, which are centuries old, had attracted considerable attention in the hospital. That, and her pastries which were in demand, gave them the answer to their money problem. Manka began making pastries to sell from her home, and the children delivered orders while she spent the evenings baking. They plowed what earnings were necessary back into the business and saved the rest. With some of what Milan earned they at length achieved their goal of five-hundred painstakingly saved dollars. With that nest egg, they opened a small tearoom.
It represented a momentous step for them, although it contained exactly three tables. Manka’s cooking, essentially the same as the fare she prepares now, quickly earned them a name as far away as Washington, D. C. From there, the Diner’s Club wrote a letter of commendation to the proud family.
Thence to California
When Alena finally got her scholarship, it meant that the family would have to come to northern California to be near her. The tearoom was quite successful, and Manka had to be persuaded to leave it, but the doctor figured if they had done it once, do it again. So they stakes once more, for time in eight years.
When they arrived, no money with which they could pulled up the second they had to start a business, hence they were looking for a situation as managers or caretakers when Charles Mel, the president of Cabo Dog and Cat Foods, heard of them. Mr. Mel, who knew of their astounding success with the tearoom, decided, in company with his son-in-law, Stan Culp, that the Prokupeks represented a good investment. Accordingly, the two men bought a small lodge situated on a heavily wooded hillside overlooking Tomales Bay just thirty-eight miles north of San Francisco.
But the lodge had seen better days, so the two men offered Dr. Prokupek and his family the job of bringing new life and a new day to it. They accepted the offer with enthusiasm. The Prokupeks, who believe in doing things for themselves, set to with a will, put the lodge and adjoining cabins in order, painted, cleaned, and cooked. Within a short time Manka’s Exclusive Dinners and Pastry were making culinary history.
Manka’s recipes, handed down in her family for generations, represented the very finest in Continental Cuisine. Shortly after their opening, the noted San Francisco broadcaster, Jim Grady, devoted an enthusiastic program to the intricacies of Manka’s genius with Wiener Schnitzel, Sauerbraten, Czech Suzettes, and other European delights.
Work and Thrift
As it is written, all this may sound simple, and a little as if someone waved a magic wand. But the Prokupek day begins at 5:00 a.m. and seldom ends before 11:00 at night. The intervening hours provide ample opportunity for an intimate acquaintance with bone-labor, and any incidental help receives its introduction to the same. Thrifty use of good food and materials is a by-word in this regime, and the result is always Quality, as any of their numerous customers can point out — a reservation is always needed for their Sunday dinners. It takes work and ingenuity to avoid waste and even more work and planning to save money. But the Prokupeks are doing it. Today they own a small car and the little boat. Last September they began purchase of the lodge from Mr. Mel and Mr. Culp—a far cry from the one suitcase and a Bible of ten years ago.
It is obvious that this family, with nothing more at its disposal than industrious hands and a willingness to give an honest value for money received, has literally worked itself to remarkable success not only once, but twice within ten years. They haven’t made use of secret formulae, unless the earnest application of what used to be called American know-how could be considered secret. They simply have taken advantage of the tremendous opportunities for individual action that always have abounded, and still do, in these United States should one wish to look for them.
America‘s New Frontiersmen
The fact that fewer and fewer natural-born Americans look for these chances, makes the Prokupeks and those like them America’s new frontiersmen. They are pioneering a badly needed rediscovery of the challenge that made this country great. They are not afraid of hard work and humble beginnings; nor are they afraid they might give something for nothing in return. They know what our forefathers knew; that true ability and good service is always recognized and rewarded in a free society. Such a society depends on men of ability for its existence! Such people are strongly inclined to resist the insidious crutches of a closed shop and of a government which has assumed the role of comforter extraordinaire. They take the opposite view of such matters, with its foreordained results.
Thinking and planned action by the individual forms the very basis of successful free enterprise. To delegate that responsibility to someone else or a group of someone elses means that when the profits are handed out, the hand on the receiving end will not be that of the deputator. The success of the Inverness Lodge is proof of that.
In the Prokupek scrapbook is a photograph showing the doctor, who is a graduate Doctor of Law from the world-famous Karlova University of Prague. It is a worn group picture of the Czech delegates to that 1947 Paris conference. Ten years have gone under the bridge, and with it, a whole family’s might-have-been future, fortune, and possessions. They were rudely juggled in the changing kaleidoscope of the world communistic ambitions, and today the doctor’s face and slight stoop show it. But ten years ago the Prokupeks made the choice. Let us not forget that they chose freedom and all that that implies!