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Tom Criner and Jennifer Cundiff

A lifetime of serving (and even saving a life)


One of them works well into the night. The other starts his day long before the sun comes up. They're both passionate about serving customers.

"I'm here at 4 a.m. each morning. I'm doing the books, cutting the meat and doing a fair amount of the shopping," said Thomas Criner, owner of Lindy's Steak House. "What can I say? I'm really picky."

"I'm a caregiver by nature," said Jennifer Cundiff. "I've been in the medical field most of my professional life, but I recently returned to be a server here at Lindy's."

Their stories are individually unique, but Boise Weekly sat down with the pair at the beginning of Cundiff's schedule and the end of Criner's, to talk about their customers, the challenge of operating a pub/restaurant after the smoking ban and one particular life-saving event.

Is this restaurant your passion?

Criner: I was a meat cutter for 28 years. [Criner chronicled a working-class life of selling newspapers at the age of 8, beginning his career as a meat cutter while in middle school, his time in the Army, his return to his Montana home, his move to Idaho in 1983 and his ownership of a bar, cutlery shop and Lindy's restaurant].

Who's Lindy?

Criner: My wife. She wanted to name it Tom, but that's not really any good. I had a bar called Lindy's at Ustick and Five Mile in the 1980s. And I've had this bigger place, Lindy's Steak House [on Chinden Boulevard] for 18 years now.

I'm presuming that you have a very good eye for a really good cut of meat.

Criner: Let's put it this way: I know what I want.

Are you tough with your vendors?

Criner: The chickens absolutely have to be fresh. The beef has to be choice, and I'm very picky about the size. I'll send them back if they're not perfect. And we make everything here at the restaurant. You name it—desserts, sauces, gravies—they're all from scratch.

And the customer favorites?

Cundiff: The giant prawns and the finger steaks.

Criner: And the prime rib. Every night, it's the prime rib.

I'm assuming that you've hired a lot of people over the years.

Criner: Oh boy. But the real secret is not to have big turnover.

And your success is due to...

Criner: Wages. I pay my people a lot better than most places.

It appears as if your place is a success.

Criner: Well, it was until the city of Boise smoking ordinance came along. I've lost $6,000 a month. What's a bar for? Smoking and drinking. I built a smoking area, but customers aren't going to come in, order a drink and then walk outside.

Have you determined how much business you may have lost due to the anti-smoking ordinance?

Criner: Our income used to be 55 percent liquor, 45 percent food; now, it's 60 percent-40 percent food to liquor. The smoking ban has cost me 20 percent of my business. If the ban was imposed statewide, it would have been a lot fairer.

You had a bit of excitement here on Jan. 6.

Cundiff: There was a husband and wife here. I knew they were from out of town because they were wearing University of Oregon colors. I checked on them and everything seemed to be fine. I was putting silverware together when I heard the wife ask, "Are you choking?" I turned around, and he was nodding. They both stood up, and the wife immediately tried to help but nothing was working. He couldn't talk, and I could definitely tell he was choking. She needed help.

Were you trained to use the Heimlich maneuver?

Cundiff: [I learned it] when I was 18 years old; I was a certified nursing assistant at the time. I had never had to perform it, but the Heimlich was second nature for me. He was turning color, fast. I stood right behind him—he was pretty tall—and I put my hands right below his sternum and thrust up.

Sorry to ask, but what came out?

Cundiff: Thankfully, he had a napkin to catch what came out of his windpipe.

It had to be a pretty big piece of beef that he hadn't chewed.

Cundiff: I felt so bad for him. But his wife said, "Don't apologize. You're not the one who told him not to eat half a cow in one bite."

I hope they tipped you OK.

Cundiff: He handed me a $50 bill and said, "Thank you for saving my life." It's really something to hear those words.

Criner: I can't tell you how much of a big deal this was to me. She was amazing.

And while your waitstaff is taking care of your customers, what are you up to?

Criner: I'm bussing tables. Hey, I like to see what goes out, but I always want to see what comes back. And usually, that's not much.