Thinking back on the last thirty-plus years of my life in the restaurant business I can’t help but wonder: did I take the easy way out, or the hard way forward? I started bussing tables and washing dishes when I was sixteen because the service industry provided cash flow that most of my teenage friends didn’t have. It wasn’t easy on my social life. Often, I would show up so late to a party it would be winding down. (Then, my job was to take care of my wasted buddies!) Other times I would miss a special occasion altogether. At some point after I graduated from high school my friends just stopped inviting me out because the answer was always, “It’s the weekend, I have to work.” And so the restaurant crew became my friends, my family. By my early twenties I think I knew that this career path, which seemed to have chosen me, had its serious drawbacks. The hours were long and usually late into the night. Weekends were a blur of getting my ass kicked on the line and drinking as many cocktails as quickly as I could before last call, just to wind down from the shift. As I watched “normal people” start their business careers, buy cars or new houses, start families or go on weekend adventures, I struggled to get by, living paycheck to paycheck. I was pretty good at this whole cooking thing but I knew there were other career paths I could take that would give me a lot more financial freedom and a lot more personal freedom.
Yet still: I loved being a chef with all my heart. At this point in my life and career, how can I help to build something new or into this industry that means so much to me? A set of solutions that will bring more security and ease to those of us who make it all work, while keeping its value alive for all those — all of you — who depend on us to make wonderful food and give you a happy place to go for the sustenance of good company and a good meal?