PHILADELPHIA — WHEN Ricardeau Scutt immigrated to Philadelphia from Haiti in 2000, he came for one reason — to work — even though he'd never had a job.
"There are no jobs in Haiti," Scutt said. "A job there is like winning the lottery."
Scutt's father worked as a taxi driver in Philadelphia to send money back to his family in Haiti. He brought Ricardeau, then 20, over to do the same.
But Ricardeau Scutt spoke very little English and for three months nobody would hire him.
One day while driving his taxi, Scutt's dad told a passenger about the difficulty his son was having.
The stranger told him to have his son meet him at the corner of 17th and Market streets. The man walked Scutt into the Liberty Place Saladworks, where he knew the owner, and introduced him.
"The man said, 'He doesn't speak no English, I just want to help him out,' " Scutt recalled.
Saladworks gave Scutt his first job, as a dishwasher.
Scutt tried to get the stranger's phone number so he could thank the man properly, but he refused.
"He said, 'No, I'm just doing a favor,' " Scutt said. "I never seen him since then."
Within three years, Scutt became the general manager of the Liberty Place Saladworks. In November, the company gave him his own store after he won a hidden-camera reality show competition on the Food Network.
"I was screaming the entire drive back from the show," Scutt said. "My dream had just become a reality in front of me."
When Joe Cattie became the owner of the Liberty Place Saladworks about 10 years ago, Scutt was working as a shift leader. He asked Cattie for a shot at the GM position at the store, which is consistently among the busiest of the Conshohocken-based company's 103 locations.
Cattie was skeptical, given Scutt's poor grasp of English, but he gave him a 60-day trial period.
"I never looked back," Cattie said. "He's the best manager in the whole system."
While working full time at Saladworks, Scutt took English courses. He also worked nights as a taxi driver, just like his old man, so he could send money home and save enough to buy his own Saladworks franchise one day.
Scutt, now a father of five, met his future wife when she was a coworker at Saladworks. In between working two jobs, studying English and romancing his lady, Scutt applied for U.S. citizenship, which he obtained in July 2005.
"I think I partied for the entire night," Scutt said of the day he became a U.S. citizen. "I was screaming at my wife, 'I'm an American now, you can't talk to me any kind of way!' "
The best part of becoming a citizen, Scutt said, was that he was able to fast-track his mother and eldest daughter's applications for U.S. residency. They were both approved the day a destructive earthquake hit Haiti in 2010.
Even though his mother and daughter are now here, Scutt still sends about half his paycheck home to Haiti to take care of his grandmother, sister, brothers, nieces and nephews.
Scutt, now 34, had been a Saladworks employee for 13 years when he received an email from the company vice president early last year, asking him to be part of a commercial. He declined.
"That's not for me," Scutt said. "I'm attention shy."
The vice president asked him to think on it for a week. Scutt did, and again declined.
The next email came from Saladworks president Paul Steck. Scutt said the email, in not so many words, told him to "stop being an a-hole" and come help out with the commercial.
"I said, 'Call my boss. If my boss say yes, I will do it,' " Scutt said. "Five minutes later, my phone rang. He had said yes. I said, 'Arggh! OK. Whatever. I'll do it.'"
But the commercial was a ruse and Cattie, Scutt's boss, was in on it. He knew Scutt had been handpicked by company heads as one of the top four managers in the Saladworks system. They wanted him to compete on Food Network's hidden-camera reality show, "Giving You the Business," where the winner would be given his own Saladworks store.
"When they told me what the prize for winning was, I wasn't the happiest person in the world (because I'd lose Scutt.) I told them so, but I wouldn't stand in his way," Cattie said. "They said, 'Don't worry, maybe he won't win.' I said, 'There's not a chance he won't win.' "
As part of the ruse, Scutt was told he'd have to manage one of the chain's North Jersey locations for a day to make sure Saladworks could pull him out at any given time to help elsewhere.
The show puts four managers from a restaurant chain through ridiculous hidden-camera challenges to see how they handle tough situations. The winner is chosen by the company CEO.
Scutt's challenges included handling a flirty employee who feeds a customer with his hands and dealing with a man who tries to pay a $40 bill in change. The final challenge included having to handle a food fight in the store while a group of "surly senior citizens" demanded their orders be completed within 10 minutes.
As company CEO John Scardapane watched behind the scenes, he noted that Scutt kept "his happy face" through it all.
Scutt credits his time in Philadelphia, which he said is a "beautiful" place but "not an easy city," with preparing him for what he faced on the show.
"Being in Liberty Place, nothing surprises you. You see everything," he said. "By driving a taxi and dealing with every different local slice, every color, you learn you just gotta keep your cool."
It was only after the challenge, when Scutt was brought into a room with the other contestants, that he realized he'd been set up.
"That's when I started shaking," he said.
Before Scutt won, he told the cameras: "My heart is racing. My entire family back home is on my shoulders."
On Nov. 1, Scutt opened the doors to his very own Saladworks in the Andorra Shopping Center on Henry Avenue near Ridge.
Now that he's achieved his American Dream, he has another one: "I want to open a second Saladworks to make my family's life back home slightly better."
The mottos Scutt lived by as a dishwasher still hold true now: "If you work hard, somebody will notice," and "If you bring your best every day, there is no way you can go wrong."
As for that stranger in the back seat of his dad's cab who helped him get his first job, Scutt knows just what he'd do if he saw him again.
"I'd hug him for the next five minutes and tell him, 'Thank you for everything,' " he said. "If I ever met that guy I would thank him a million times. He literally put me in the position I am."
Information from: The Philadelphia Daily News, http://www.phillydailynews.com/