Chef Claus Hjortkjaer, owner of Le Café Miche in Albuquerque, N.M., had long forgotten about the Valentine’s Day in 1997 when he had given one his patrons, a young man, $40 to help cover the bill he couldn’t afford while attempting to impress his date.
But apparently the young man, who remains anonymous, never forgot the chef’s good deed and, 16 years later, made it a point to return the favor.
“I didn’t remember him until he told me the story,” Hjortkjaer told GoodMorningAmerica.com. “But people change in their looks after 16 years.”
Hjortkjaer, 55, had even closed his original restaurant about five or six years ago, but just recently got an opportunity to reopen. And as shocking as it was, one of his very first customers was the young man waiting to repay him.
“The first day I reopen this guy shows up in a suit and tie and looks over me, and I’m in the kitchen cooking, and he asks if I’m Claus,” Hjortkjaer said. “And when a man asks you a question like that, you respond, ‘Who’s Asking?’
“Then he told me the story about him being 17, and his date, she was 16. They were in for Valentine’s and he did not have enough money to cover the bill. So he asked me, ‘What do I do?’ And I said, ‘Well I tell you what. I have 40 bucks in my pocket I can give to you. Don’t worry about paying me back. If you’re in the position to pay me back, pay me back, but don’t worry about it.’”
And 16 years later, on May 1, the man handed the chef a $100 bill. It was enough to cover the $40 he was originally loaned, plus interest.
The young man left before Hjortkjaer could even catch his name.
“I looked at my wife and said, ‘Can you believe that just happened?’ It’s a make-you-feel-good kind of an event. Just because there’s so much [crap] going in the world, and then all of a sudden this happens, it just makes you feel good.”
Hjortkjaer took the $100 and bought a nice bouquet of flowers for his restaurant.
“It pays to be a nice guy. Maybe not always, but this time it did,” he laughed.
Although the chef doesn’t know the man’s name, Hjortkjaer encourages him to return to the restaurant to share a great glass of wine with him, some nice, fresh cheeses and to sit around and chit chat.