A severed tendon won’t sink this ship

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Boyar’s preparing for Night in Venice parade Saturday

OCEAN CITY — When Gail Ping sliced her right hand on the June 1, she thought little of the considerable pain and barely noticed the blood. She had only one thing on her mind - Night in Venice.

It’s the night when all eyes are on the bay for one of the largest boat parades of its kind in the world. It’s a big night for parties, “Christmas in July” for local businesses. For Boyar’s Market it’s the busiest day of the year.

Ping, the co-owner of the market, is the “master fruit cutter,” the only one with three decades of experience. Not to mention the chief designer of the fresh veggie and cold cut trays, chicken cutlets, salads, wraps, hoagies and all the other party tray favorites.

With the assistance of a small army of helpers, Ping organizes a giant Night in Venice operation. Capable of producing nearly 500 trays, feeding thousands of hungry guests, the operation requires a huge refrigerated truck to handle the overload.

What if she was incapacitated?

“I started doing the math in my head,” said Ping, who cut her hand on the lid of a can. “Fourth of July was one thing, but Night in Venice? I had a feeling this little tiny cut was going to be a big problem.”

Ping had no feeling in her hand; it wasn’t working. She severed a tendon.

“As soon as I found out it was a big problem, and I needed surgery, I started counting down. The cast would barely be off in time.”

Late last week, the cast came off, but the hand is barely functional, so she’s improvising. A local fruit supplier arranged for her to borrow their expert, saving the day for Boyar’s.

“Fruit trays take eight hours, with five people working on them,” she said, and they can only be prepared so far ahead of time to keep them fresh and looking nice. “Employees come and go. I’m the one who has been doing this all these years. Take me out of the equation and you’re talking a lot of extra hours.”

Night in Venice provides a big challenge for all local businesses whose livelihood depends on creating party trays. It’s a big opportunity, but a lot can go wrong when a small business is forced to expand exponentially for just one big night.

“You have to be worried about a snafu, an unknown snafu,” she said. “In this business, something always happens. You have to scramble quickly, you have to remain calm and do what it takes. I have a pretty good scrambling ability. My hand is but one more challenge.

“On Christmas Eve, our second biggest day of the year, I came in and found that the refrigerated truck was 35 degrees below zero and a lot of the food was frozen,” she said. “We had to trash all the veggie trays, everything had to be redone.”

The “Queen of Improvisation” put out the call, “All hands on deck,” and within a few hours they had salvaged what they could and reproduced every last tray, in time for the parties. No one was disappointed, and Ping said that’s what it’s all about.

“I have a good staff, they’re very dedicated,” she said. “When we need them to go in overdrive, they do.”

Ping said most waterfront property owners have their parties planned, but how much food might be needed tends to fluctuate. Last minute guests and other unpredictable things are a given.

“I’ve been doing this for so long, I pretty much know, based on how many orders I have by Friday, how much more I should prepare of everything, just in case,” she said.

No one wants to turn business away, Ping said.

“I try to be accommodating for last minute orders. I know the percentages, but you don’t want to order too much either. It’s a very delicate balance, between having enough and having too much,” she said.

“Chicken cutlets have to be cut, trimmed, marinated and grilled, then cut again,” she said. “You want to do that once, not do it over again because you need more.”

It’s a well-oiled machine, and even a severed tendon won’t sink the ship for Night in Venice.

“I hired two people to replace my right hand,” Ping said. “My right hand did a lot of stuff.”

Ping said she is feeling good vibes about Night in Venice.

“I think it’s going to be big,” she said. “It’s late this year, late in July and that means a bigger gap between the Fourth of July and Night in Venice. People are a little more organized, they’re getting their orders in early; they’re planning ahead. Does that mean it’s going to be bigger? I’m not sure, but it does mean that people are really excited and looking forward to it.

“They’re feeling that it’s ‘time to party, time to party,’” she said. “The extra time is helping us.”

Ping admits that she was “freaked out” about her right hand when she cut it, but reminded herself to “get a grip” and work through the problem. She said you can’t be in this business if you sweat the small stuff.

“It’s a mere inconvenience. There are worse things in life, than a severed tendon,” said Ping. “I really, really try to maintain my perspective. I think rationally, but there’s always that ‘but still, it’s Night in Venice’ in my mind. I’m over it. I had to hire help. Six months, and I’ll be good.

“Just in time for Christmas Eve,” she said.

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