The grass is always greener on the other side, and while I would not trade what I have created with very many people, there are the days like today that are full of tasks that don’t exactly fit into the perception of what an executive chef does with his time. This is precisely why I believe so many restaurants go under. Incompetence in the kitchen can kill a place quickly, but so can incompetence with the spreadsheet or with leading employees to work to their fullest potential.

My eyes are drawn to television commercials that talk about career and retirement planning, obviously since I have reinvented my life and am closer to the day when I will need to slow down. Last night, I saw a couple of ads with people saying, “I want to own a restaurant some day.” And while I can understand the pull of the dream, I want also to be able to offer some of my education from the School of Hard Knocks and tell them, “Here are some things to know…”

The dream of owning a restaurant, bakery, café or other food type establishment has a romantic charm to it. And I feel it is critical to maintain that mood, while at the same time having a realistic grasp on the nuts and bolts of what it takes to do business. Owning my restaurant is both sentiment and a grind. And I am willing to keep a firm hold on one and not let go of the other. This is my advice to anyone looking to start his or her own business, especially a restaurant.

My first textbook suggestion in your education is the E-Myth, by Michael Gerber. He identifies one glaring characteristic mistake people make when going into business. He says many ventures are started by a craftsman, that is, someone who has a capable skill. If the Craftsman thinks business is all about making widgets, he is destined for inevitable failure. Yes, someone has to make the widgets, but someone also has to manage the making of those widgets, and give thought to how those widgets are going to continue to be made and get into the hands of people who need them.

Thus he speaks of the three hats, the Craftsman, the Manager, and the Entrepreneur. Some have the skill to wear all three and know when to switch back and forth, but ultimately its best to wear only one, which is what I must eventually figure out how to do.

In the early days, I did it all. I cooked. I baked. I planned menus, events and catering. I paid bills, kept track of invoices, monitored payroll and food costs. But it didn’t take long for the business to grow as it was intended, which meant needing to bring on more people to shoulder the work that I once did. I started feeling less tired, and that’s when it dawned on me how many hours I was putting in during the week, and how unsustainable it would eventually be if I did not grow up as an executive chef and business owner should.

I have the privilege of crafting my job as I see fit. This is why many of us go into business. We like the autonomy of it all. The buck stops at our feet, and we are more than happy to own that responsibility. Hard work creates no allergic reaction in our skin. We know how to achieve and align ourselves with people who have the same kind of drive. Success breeds success, and we are more than willing to procreate it.

If you aspire to be a Future Chef, I applaud your dream. Just make sure you have a good idea of what lies ahead. Cooking is a rewarding task. It is full of creativity and immediate results, but being a Chef is more than just cooking. It requires a set of skills that aren’t taught at the stove or in front of the cutting board. It demands emotional intelligence, something of which I learned nothing in undergrad or even graduate level work. Daniel Goleman did not coin the term, but wrote an excellent book on the subject. Resources like these need to be on the same shelf as Ruhlman’s Ratio or McGee’s On Food and Cooking.

If you are considering owning your own place, I would be more than happy to open a dialogue with you, arrange a stage or compare notes. Life is too short to sit on what we know, especially if it helps lead others to success.

So you want my job?

One thought on “So you want my job?

  • March 8, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Somewhere in Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" (can't find my copy for an exact quote) he recommends an exercise for people who think they want to start their own restaurant. It goes something like this: Turn up the heat in your kitchen to about 90 degrees, get a crowd of people you don't like very much to assist you, play music that you hate at a high volume, give everyone really sharp knives and then crank up the pressure on everyone to perform at or beyond his or her capacity. If that sounds romantic and like something you want to do for a living, start a restaurant.

    I think he also mentions the huge startup costs, the expensive inventory of perishable goods, the management hassles, having to work when everyone else is playing, etc., etc.

    I know a lot of people in the food and restaurant business and I'm always astounded and impressed by how hard they work. So, no, I don't want your job, but I'm so glad that dedicated and talented people like you continue to be drawn into the profession so that those of us who love good food can enjoy and appreciate the amazing work you do.

    Roger Bruhn

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