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Petra’s Fish & Chips*

Fred grew up in a small coastal New England town. Like most other New Englanders, Fred loved sea food. Though there were many sea food restaurants in his small town, from the time he had his first taste of Cod, he and his family were devoted customers of Abrezzi’s Fish & Chips! Occasionally they might eat somewhere else, if invited by a friend who was buying, but otherwise, it was always and only Abrezzi’s. 

And, of course, they would never even set foot in Petra’s Fish & Chips! Fred didn’t really know why—he grew up hearing lots of despicable rumors. He also never knew why his parents, and frankly his grandparents, had always been so singularly devoted to Abrezzi’s. He never asked. He merely followed their example and remained a devoted Abrezzi customer.

Fred was such a devoted customer and lover of sea food, that his first job was as a fisherman for Abrezzi’s. Eventually, he worked himself up the ladder, until he became the manager of Abrezzi’s West, one of their three branch restaurants. He loved his work, loved the sea food they provided, and, without a doubt, he believed that Abrezzi’s was the best sea food restaurant in town.

Then one day he bumped into an old friend and crew-mate named Scott. Fred invited Scott to join him for a drink, to catch up on their lives. It was then he heard what would change his life. Scott told him, with unquestionable data, the true history of the sea food business in their town. To his shock Fred learned that Petra’s Fish & Chips was, in fact, the first! Several hundred years before, a Greek immigrant named Petra began selling his live catch directly from the docks. In time, this grew into a small Fish & Chips shack, and then a restaurant, and then a chain of restaurants, all of which featured his own unique recipes. 

Over time, however, some of Petra’s employees and cooks began to disagree with his ideas. They had contrary opinions about the recipes and how the business should be run. So some left to start their own restaurants. 

Most of the sea food restaurants in town, in fact, were either break-aways from Petra’s or break-aways from break-aways. With indisputable details, Scott proved to Fred that behind all the recipes and operations of all the sea food restaurants in town was the foundational core of Petra’s original Fish & Chips restaurant.

Fred was shocked and cut to the quick. The very next day, Fred slipped into the nearest Petra’s Fish & Chips, and was astounded by what he found! Indeed he could see how the menu at Abrezzi’s was based on that at Petra’s, but even more so, his entire operation was a mere modification of the well-seasoned management of Petra’s. After many weeks of soul searching, Fred knew he had but one option—he resigned as manager of Abrezzi’s West, found another way of supporting himself and his family, who now together, only ate sea food at Petra’s.

But this was not where it ended. Fred told everyone about his radical change, and did everything he could to convince others to abandon whatever their present loyalties were to “come home” to Petra’s! And he became quite successful at this. Over the next year, he had convinced dozens of friends to become loyal patrons of Petra’s. 

The sea food business had been Fred’s life; it was really all he knew, and he loved sea food! He tried to get a job at one of Petra’s branches, but, once they heard he had been a manger at Abrezzi’s, they were suspicious of him, and turned him away. Some of the friends he convinced to change their loyalties had been employees and cooks of other sea food restaurants, who as a result lost their jobs. In conscience, Fred tried to help them find work. He even tried to help them get jobs at one of Petra’s branches, but was not very successful.

One year after his “conversion”, Petra’s was having a Three-Hundred-Year Anniversary Lobster Bake, open to the entire town! Fred took all of his family, and with great enthusiasm boasted to those eating around him about how he had convinced so many former customers of Petra’s competition to come home. 

Overhearing him was one of the Vice-Presidents of Petra’s entire chain of restaurants. He pulled Fred aside, and asked him who had told him to proselytize amongst their competition? And who had told him he needed to quit his job with Abrezzi’s?

When Fred told him what he learned about the history of the sea food business in their small town, the Vice-President admitted that he and the management knew all that, of course, but it really didn’t matter any more. The customers at all the other restaurants were getting good food, most of which was still, at least to some extent, based on Petra’s original recipes. They in fact were supportive of these other businesses, and encouraged their growth. The bottom line was that Fred was to quit telling these non-Petra’s customers they needed to come home. As long as they were being fed well, they could stay right where they were.

All the wind was gone from Fred’s sails. He felt a fool for listening to Scott; for leaving his job; for convincing his family and friends to leave the restaurants they had always liked. If the truth be told, Fred had not found the sea food at Petra’s to be as good as it had been claimed on paper. In fact, he remembered how much he had liked the food at Abrezzi’s—the food he had eaten with his family and extended family since he was a small child.

Fred left the Anniversary Lobster Bake a changed man. In conscience, he could no longer encourage anyone to leave the sea food restaurants they already liked to “come home” to Petra’s. Petra’s may have been the first, but that really didn’t matter any more.

In fact, as a result of this, Fred pretty much lost his taste for sea food.


*In response to Pope Francis’ repeated statements that it’s a sin to proselytize (evangelize) non-Catholic Christians, this story is penance for the more than 1500 non-Catholic clergy and tens-of-thousands of laity who have been received into the Catholic Church, just in our lifetime in America, as the result of the evangelizing efforts of thousands of Catholic bishops, priests, religious, and laity. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

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