Mike Larkin, president of the $20-million Border Cafe restaurants, used to bring two pairs of shoes to the airport when he dropped off or picked somebody up. "It was the only time I could get my shoes shined," he says. His entrepreneur's sixth sense kicked in, and he realized that he was on to something. While scouting El Paso for ideas to bring back to his five-restaurant chain, Larkin came across Kenny Schultz, "the Joe Montana of shoe shines," and hired him as a shoe-shine trainer.

Now, while sipping a margarita and waiting for a table at the Border Cafe, in Saugus, Mass., customers get extra service -- a free professional shoe shine. "One customer, who owned 102 pairs of shoes, hired one of our shoe-shine people on an independent basis," says Larkin. Is the expense of employing someone just to shine customers' shoes worth it? The results speak for themselves: In an area that has seen the turnover of more than 1,500 restaurants, the Border Cafe in Saugus has been thriving since 1989. Oh, and by the way, while you're savoring a chicken fajita and wiggling your toes inside shiny black boots, it's just possible that one of the valet parkers will be vacuuming your car for free.

Copyright 1998 G+J USA Publishing