The 550 Café
Maxwell Davis was a well-dressed green Skeith who knew his way around Neopian eateries. He was a frequenter of the Golden Dubloon, a regular at kelp, and an old friend of Chuffer Bob.
That was why it was with great elation that he discovered a new restaurant by the outskirts of Neopia Central, just by the rainbow that extended to Roo Island.
He had been on a business trip to negotiate the funding of a new shop at Roo, but that had not gone over very well with the natives. Defeated and hungry, he stepped onto the shores that led to Neopia Central feeling rather sorry for himself. But what joy, to be hit with the delicious aromas of that unknown café!
It was a café, all right. Davis only had to walk a few steps in before a suave black Eyrie intercepted him with a polite, "How do you do?"
After murmuring niceties, Davis was led to the side of the café where the cook, a large yellow Elephante, grinned and waved him over. The Eyrie bowed and receded away as subtly as if he'd never been there at all.
"What would you like? I can make anything."
The unusual statement did nothing to stem Davis' heavy excitement. This place was the stuff of food-lovers' dreams. The cook stood in front of a glass screen that extended from one wall to the other. Underneath was a table filled with the most essential of raw ingredients that covered the vast range from Baggusses to Neggs.
"What's your specialty cuisine?" Davis asked, a bit baffled by the diversity.
The Elephante, whose nametag read Stevens, smiled. It was the kind of smile that said that the Elephante knew everything that there ever had been to know and, simultaneously, knew nothing at all; was as softly ignorant as a Draik's egg.
"Everything," Stevens answered. "You name it, I'll make it."
Faced with such a bold assertion, Davis decided to test the cook on his word. "I'll have the Ocean Platter that kelp loves to boast about, then."
The cook nodded. Already, fire jugs were on the counter. Davis watched wide-eyed as Stevens glided through the motions of preparing the chokato salad medley.
Pulsating with nerves, Davis felt his lips open and the words fly out, "But wait! I'm not done with my order."
Immediately, Stevens' gaze fixed upon him, alarmingly penetrative in its force. "Yes?"
The Elephante threw the fish in the air and chopped it with dexterity his sturdy build had not hinted at.
Davis continued on urgently, "I would also like a barrel of hogshead, the favorite drink at the Dubloon. And, while we're at it, for dessert I'll have some Ice Cream dumplings from Shenkuu, if you'd please."
Stevens burst out laughing. "You're a funny one. All right. Please have a seat. Your food will be ready in five minutes."
Five minutes? That was a sixth of the prep time that kelp needed! Davis thought vigorously. He was beginning to see the profitability in this.
Davis sat in a gold colored chair by the glass, overlooking Stevens' speedy cooking. No sooner had the Skeith blinked; the Ocean Platter was completed. However, Stevens had yet to lug the heavy barrel of Hogshead to Davis' dining table.
What would the Elephante do? If he delayed the serving of the Platter, the result would not be as hot and delicious. The answer didn't cost Stevens a second's worth of thought. He drew out a Fire Sword and held it high above the Platter at just the right height so that the Platter remained warm.
The Ocean Platter was soon set in front of Davis.
"Where's the Hogshead?" he asked, not too snobbishly.
"Look again." Indeed, the Hogshead had been set down easily adjacent to the Platter. The large barrel looked absurd next to such a small platter of food, but Davis was far too hungry to simply admire the view. He chomped down the filet in two bites, and then attacked the salad. The tastes lingered in his mouth, crispy and savory. Sauces melted into sharp, tangy spices which delved into fresh meat. Kelp was no competition.
"Would you like seconds?" Davis nodded vigorously.
A second platter was set down to replace the first. Davis stared it in disbelief. When had the cook made that?
After Davis had wolfed down three more platters that had also appeared from nowhere, the dessert was placed in front of him.
A large white dish with exactly sixteen ice cream dumplings peered back at him. Davis almost choked on the Hogshead. He did the math in his head. Two dumplings were about 65,000 neopoints. Sixteen would be a whopping 520 grand.
But as he plopped one into his mouth, he knew that it was worth it. These dumplings were even better than the ones he had had in Shenkuu. The ice cream was colder; the dumpling's floury exterior far softer and chewier.
The Eyrie brought him the check.
The 550 Café
Located between Roo Island and Neopia Central
Total: 550 neopoints
Davis dropped the last dumpling in surprise. He scrambled after it hastily but it was diving to the floor faster than he was.
The waiter calmly caught it with a napkin before it reached the floor. He placed it on the dish.
Davis swallowed. "Who are you people?"
"Us? Only the staff of the 550 Café."
His luck was too good, Davis thought. Here, he had ordered the most expensive delicacies of Neopia only to be charged a mere 550 neopoints!
His eyes narrowed. There had to be a catch. "What's the tax?"
"No tax. Our location assures that."
"What—but then how on Neopia do you make any money?"
Stevens joined in the conversation with a faint smile. "It may not seem that way to you, but 550 neopoints is a fairly large sum for us." He exchanged a look with the Eyrie and added, addressing the waiter, "As they say, the rich are very different from you and me."
Those words didn't make any sense to Davis so instead, he paid off the check. He breathed in and out a few times, to try to calm down. "Could I get your business card?"
The Eyrie produced one out of his pocket.
"Thanks. Well, it was nice eating here," Davis offered, exiting hurriedly in case the ground should open up to swallow him whole.
"You too!" Stevens called.
The Eyrie, whose name tag read Octavian, looked after the departing Skeith with wry amusement. "He's certainly an odd one, isn't he?"
"What's odd to you is refreshing to me," Stevens chirped in response. Octavian rolled his eyes and shook his head at the cook. "You're another one."
About a week after the whole ordeal, Davis had settled back into his daily office routine. He had a lower-tier job at the company, which meant that his routine was largely composed of paperwork and errands that others preferred to avoid.
Additionally, his boss was unhappy with him for the "poor way" he had dealt with Roo Island. If he didn't manage to shape up in the next few weeks, he might suffer a demotion or perhaps even a termination, if his boss were feeling particularly grumpy.
A salesman at heart, Davis pulled out his stack of business cards and began to thumb through them. His eyes landed on the 550 Café .
It had to be done. The café was begging to be caught and sold, like a stray Meowclops begged its way into the homes of the haunted on cold, stormy nights.
He would just go in there, and subtly convince them to sell the place and move it to Roo Island. The natives of Roo wouldn't be able to turn down otherworldly food that always came at a consistent, cheap price.
The job would take charisma, it would take persuasion.
On a whim, he flipped over the card. It was a finely made card, but as Davis stopped to admire its beauty, he caught sight of words that he hadn't noticed before.
It was a warning.
No repeat customers.
Davis felt a shiver of dread at those words. There, that was something else he would have to convince them out of. Such a policy would destroy the business. A restaurant depended on its regulars, and sometimes its spur-of-the-moment rich tourists.
But in the time being, he needed to find a proper disguise that would allow him to enter the premises again in spite of the odd rule...
Davis emerged at the 550 Café hours later, having been dragged down by the nuts and bolts of his plan. He was not a man of great efficiency, only a man of great appetite. He needed to exercise any and all prudency he had to ensure the success of this particular venture.
On his head, he wore a sleek black fedora that shaded his eyes. On his back he wore a grave digger's trench coat that had been made with a Chomby in mind. There were large, gaping holes at the back that he had hastily covered with patches of purple cloth.
He had not the resources to buy a more believable disguise, but he thought this would do.
"May I seat you, sir? Right over there," instructed Octavian, the black Eyrie.
As Davis walked in, he was flummoxed to see that the walls had been revamped into deep mahogany wood with benches instead of gold chairs. The glass display had been replaced with an open air barbeque. The yellow Elephante smiled kindly and tipped his little chef's hat in greeting.
The ambience was much warmer than before, Davis observed. On that note, he remembered his assumed persona. Straightening up, he pulled his trench coat tighter across himself (which was a mistake; the buttons were coming loose) and called the waiter over.
"Mr. Octavian , it pleases me to inform you that you are in the company of Alaster the Great Critic. I am the famed reviewer who first discovered kelp and the Golden Dubloon and made them what they are," Davis told the Eyrie, lying through his teeth.
Octavian chuckled. "Those establishments? Why, they're nothing compared to us! Sit at ease, Mr. Alaster. You'll have a ball of a time here."
Davis hid his disappointment. He had been hoping for a more intimidating effect. "Ah, yes, well, it must be. Otherwise, I might be inclined to write an unfavorable—"
"You'll do no such thing, Mr. Alaster," Octavian cut in primly. "Take my word for it. This afternoon, you'll have a feast."
As Davis looked around, he noticed that there were other customers there, enjoying the delicious food as well. They ate simpler fare like deviled eggs and jam but Davis didn't doubt that it was equally as good.
He again ordered the most expensive thing he could think of. As he ate it, he began to make light conversation with the cook, slowly leading the Elephante to the conversation of the location.
"Oh, we just love the place! Right smack in the middle of nowhere. Not quite Roo Island, but not Neopia Central either. It's hard to find which makes it rather secluded, don't you think?" Stevens gushed.
Davis feigned a laugh. "Ah yes. But shouldn't you like to move to a bigger city? More customers, for instance."
"No, sir! Don't do it!" called an old Blumaroo, sitting a little ways from Davis. "Never sell out! Know what's good fer ya."
Davis scowled at the heckling stranger. This was not helping his cause.
Stevens contemplated a bit. "More customers? Do you really think..."
Davis nodded his head. "Of course."
"Neopia Central already has the Pizzaroo and the Food Shop, though."
"Yes, which is why, I was thinking more of Roo Island."
The old Blumaroo spat. "I hate 'em Blumaroos!"
Davis stared at the man, dumbfounded.
Stevens laughed. "I don't know..."
"There's a lovely lake on the island," Davis tried.
"That sounds nice," the cook replied in a tone that suggested otherwise.
In an act of desperation, Davis threatened, "If you don't do as I say, I'll only pay you 549 neopoints."
The cook's speedy limbs stilled. Stevens gawked at the impetuous man in the fedora. "You wouldn't ."
"I would," Davis said with confidence he did not feel. "I'll deduct a neopoint for lousy service!"
"What can I do to make you happy?" Stevens asked.
"Move to Roo Island. And change your policy about no repeat customers," Davis added the second part as an afterthought.
"I—I can't do that." Stevens stumbled back from the cooking pot. He looked around for Octavian.
"What is all this about 549 neopoints?" grumbled the old Blumaroo. "I don't fin' it fair. If you discounting, best discount us all. I'd only pay 549 neopoints too!"
"No—no!" Stevens cried out, waving his dexterous arms at the air, his great big eyes upturned in alarm. "You mustn't!" Gone was the faint knowing smile, or the skillful ease of culinary talent. Davis felt the slightest pang of guilt which he passed off as indigestion.
The news was spreading to the other customers who were standing up and announcing that they, too, would pay a mere 549 neopoints.
Upon Stevens' breaking the news to Octavian, the waiter dropped to his knees in defeat. His head bowed, his wings slumped—he was the epitome of a broken soul.
Davis wondered what the big deal was but neither of the two staff members said a word.
"Could I just get you to sign this contract to move the business to Roo Island, then?"
With numb, shaking fingers, the cook scrawled his name down. The waiter did the same.
Davis tried to smile at them but the mood was simply too downcast so he took the paper, paid the 550, and left.
Unbeknownst to the Skeith, the rest of the customers had it in their heads that the meal should only cost 549 neopoints, despite whatever deliciousness it possessed. They paid what they thought was fair and left.
Shortly thereafter, the entire foundation of the 550 Café collapsed and Octavian and Stevens were never seen again.
When Davis returned the next day with his movers and his boss, who had insisted on surveying his employee's handiwork, it was the most curious thing—he seemed to instinctively understand what had happened and began to bawl and cry for his boss' forgiveness.
The boss, who was much a glutton himself, demoted Davis out of disappointment that he hadn't the chance to enjoy the supposed wonderful food.
Out of the heap that lay between Roo Island and Neopia Central, another odd twist of life came to pass. The old Blumaroo crawled out, unharmed but quite dusty. In his hand, he held a neopoint. As a token of his appreciation for having had the adventure of his life, he dropped it in the rubble and limped off.
Then, when no one was looking, the whole thing shimmered one last, magical time and vanished into the abyss.