Chef-Owners Share the Advice They Never Forgot6 successful restaurateurs recall the words of wisdom that stuck with them through the years.
Have you ever received words of wisdom that echoed in your mind when you faced a crossroad or fought an uphill battle for success? These chefs did.
From words on a motivational poster to advice handed down from bosses, academics and elders, six chefs recall the wise counsel that guided them during key moments and beyond.
Show up on time
Back before he became an award-winning TV host and traveling foodie, Anthony Bourdain was a struggling young man who had burned plenty of bridges and struck out handfuls of times. Eventually he got a job as a lunch cook, and his boss was an imposing man Bourdain called “Bigfoot” in his book “Kitchen Confidential.”
“[Bigfoot’s] advice to me was an order,” Bourdain told Fortune Magazine. “He said, ‘If you’re going to work for me, the most important thing is that you show up on time. Meaning 15 minutes before you are due to begin your shift. If you arrive 14 minutes before your shift, you will be sent home without pay.’ To this day, I am never late for anything. That requirement to show your co-workers and employer the respect to at least show up on time made a huge difference in my life.”
It’s all about the people
Before there were memes and gifs, there were office motivational posters. One of them hung in the office of Max and Ben Goldberg’s grandfather. It read: ‘A business succeeds, not because it is big or because it has been long established, but because there are men/women in it, who live it, sleep it, dream it, and build great future plans for it.”
The Goldberg brothers are now owner of Strategic Hospitality, a Nashville-based restaurant group featuring such venues as Paradise Park, The Patterson House, The Catbird Seat, Merchants, Pinewood Social, Le Sel, Bastion and rooftop private event space Aerial. Their mission is to revolutionize Nashville’s dining scene.
So how do the brothers apply the mantra to their businesses nowadays? “I try to always remember…to treat everybody well,” Ben Goldberg told USA Today. “Not only do they deserve it and you never know what they are going through, you also never know what you can learn from them…It is amazing how short conversations with people can inspire you and teach you so many new things.”
Finish what you start
In the 1990s, Ron Green was a superconductor engineer with Lockheed Martin, traveling the world and logging countless hours. But he was growing tired of the grind, and he experienced what he describes as “midlife clarity.” So, despite having no previous restaurant experience, he quit his job and in 1996 decided to renovate an old summer home in Louisiana to turn it into a breakfast cafe.
It was in that moment of clarity, Green says, that he remembered what his grandfather, Papa Sam, once told him: “If you commit to something, then do it justice and finish the project.” Papa Sam lived to be 102 years old and worked until he was 92.
Now, Green’s little cafe in a quaint Louisiana town has grown to 50 locations in 13 states. Papa Sam’s advice, Green said, “has been part of my restaurant roots since opening the first Broken Egg 17 years ago.”
Use the force
What secret wisdom catapulted Jeni Britton-Bauer to massive success with 23 Jeni’s scoop shops in seven states? Apparently, to make award-winning ice cream, you have to go to a galaxy far, far away.
“Everything I learned about business I learned from fantasy and sci-fi,” said Britton-Bauer, the Columbus, Ohio-based ice cream entrepreneur, before quoting one of Yoda’s most famous maxims from “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Live your brand
Before striking out on his own with Chef T’s, an artisan pub and grill featuring handcrafted burgers, pulled pork and housemade Angus beef hot dogs, Todd Gross was a food-service consultant and a chef for several hotels. But the Academy of Culinary Arts graduate missed interacting with the public, so in 2015, he opened his own pub in an up-and-coming village in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio.
So far, business has been good, but the New Jersey native always keeps one thing in mind, something a former marketing classmate told him: don’t forget the brand.
“You live it, model it, lead it and you are it,” Gross said. “Everything you do, every interaction with customers, every plate you serve reflects back on your band. That is an indelible mark that you want your customers to leave with. And you want them to leave feeling happy, fulfilled and excited to come back.”
Go back to school
Alan Wong, who owns three restaurants in his native Hawaii and is one of the founding fathers of Hawaiian regional cuisine, says the best advice he ever got came when he was 20 and working as a dining room manager in Waikiki.
“A friend asked the provost of Kapiolani Community College to give me some advice,” he remembers. “I wasn’t in school – I had kind of dropped out of UH-Manoa – and his advice was, ‘Go back to school, Alan.’
“Then he pointed to the chef behind the counter. ‘You see that guy back there? He’s going to be able to run circles around you because you know nothing of the kitchen and nothing of food. You go back to KCC and enroll in the food-service program, and learn about food and the kitchen, and it’s going to make you a better manager. If you stay on this current path, I foresee that maybe you’ll get to be an assistant food and beverage manager in a small hotel.’
“That didn’t sit well with me. So in the end I did go to school and learned about food and the kitchen with the purpose of coming back into the front of the house, but I never did because I loved the food part so much.”