The Restaurant Industry: Building Blocks to the American Dream

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This is a guest blog post from Marla Topliff, President of Rosatis Pizza

Rosati’s was my first job in the industry, and I didn’t start as a kid but as a mom reentering the workforce after raising her kids. People often say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but this old dog took to the pizza business like cheese takes to sauce. At age 49, I started a new career in the restaurant business and have never looked back. I am now president of the company.

There are few industries that would have given a 49-year-old woman a chance. I had to learn the restaurant business from the ground up and work every position in the store to learn all aspects of how the restaurant runs. It was hard work to say the least, but this industry encouraged me to go for it and welcomed me with open arms. The restaurant industry welcomes everyone! 

It has been an amazing journey that exemplifies one key point:

This industry of ours is not just about kids starting out who need extra money. Sure, that accounts for some of it, but it’s more about being a launching pad to a bright and promising career. It’s about new beginnings for our returning veterans and giving them a chance for a bright future when they need it most. Or as in my case, it’s about the restart of a new career that allows for a returning workforce to use their years of life experience in a whole new way. Ultimately the restaurant industry is a building block to the American Dream - a land of chances for anyone who wants to reach out and grab one, and I’m living proof of that.

For more information on the restaurant workforce, visit here. 

Opportunity and Advancement in the Restaurant Industry

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This is a guest post from Nathan Gearhart, General Manager/Managing Partner at Chili’s Bar & Grill in Peoria, Arizona.

I began working in a restaurant as my first job opportunity.  I was hired at McDonalds as a team member, and had a chance to work on voice techniques in the Drive Through as the voice of the evening shift (after school and on weekends).  This job provided me with enough money to save up and purchase a car, which I used to transport me to my next opportunity as a Kitchen Crew member at the KFC further down the street.  This job provided me with the skills I needed, and confidence in foodservice, to pursue a different challenge in the industry.  After a few stopgap jobs outside of the food industry (TELEMARKETING….YIKES!!!), I realized that I was truly happy working in a foodservice environment. 

In 1996 I was hired at Chili’s Paradise Valley in Phoenix, AZ.  My first job function was Dishwasher.  I loved the pace and energy of this job, and the PEOPLE were what made it AWESOME!  I developed many new friendships, and in the process met the woman who became my wife and mother of my 5 sons.

Over the years I learned each function in the kitchen at Chili’s, and eventually got the great opportunity to become an On the Road Trainer, teaching new team members how to work in our kitchens and prepare our AWESOME food all over the country!  During this time I was also a musician touring with a band, so my time at home was quite limited.  Eventually it became clear that I needed to be at home more to support my wife as she was taking care of our first two sons without my help.  I gave up the touring lifestyle both with Chili’s and Music and focused on excellence with both on a local level.  This focus allowed me the opportunity to partner with great GM’s and managers at Chili’s to develop the skills I needed to become a restaurant manager.  I was fortunate to apply for and to be hired for a management position with Chili’s, and started the next chapter in my career.

As a manager I continued to refine and develop the knowledge and skills needed to run a great and balanced business.  After about 5 years of assistant managing, I set my sights on the next level, GM!  Luckily, again I was partnered with GREAT leaders that continued to teach me all of the skills needed to take on this role.  I was promoted to GM three years ago, and achieved Managing Partner status a short while later.

I am currently the General Manager/Managing Partner at Chili’s Happy Valley in Peoria, Arizona.  My restaurant leads Culinary Rollouts for our area, and I have the great opportunity to also train and develop new managers in our area.  I am truly passionate about my job, and will continue to pursue the next challenge and opportunity for advancement in the future.    

For more information on the restaurant industry workforce, visit here. 

Restaurant careers: Opportunity for advancement, ownership

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s today released Who Works in the U.S. Restaurant Industry. This new survey explores the past, present and future job experiences and perceptions of nearly 5,100 restaurant operators, employees who work in the industry today, as well as individuals who have previously worked in the industry. It covers how people get started in the industry, their tenure and upward mobility, compensation, and how they perceive the status and opportunity of restaurant jobs and entrepreneurship.

The results give us valuable insight into why so many people choose restaurant careers. A strong majority of current employees say they are proud to work in the restaurant industry, that a restaurant job is a good one to have, and that the industry is a good place to get a first job. A majority also agrees that the restaurant industry provides good long-term career opportunities, and is a place where hard work leads to success and people of all backgrounds can open their own business – something that three in five say they would like to do some day. And what’s more, over three-quarters would recommend working in the restaurant industry to friends and family members. 

From giving one in three Americans their first work experience, to providing long term career paths, the restaurant industry is one of opportunity, advancement and reward. 

Click on the infographic below to view in full:

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Buffalo Wild Wings can definitely bring the heat in the kitchen with their signature wing sauces! What’s the spiciest ingredient YOU have ever had to use in a dish? COMMENT here for a chance to win a $100 gift card from Buffalo Wild Wings: http://ow.ly/AHNoK 
Random winner will be announced Wednesday at 12pm/CT.

Buffalo Wild Wings can definitely bring the heat in the kitchen with their signature wing sauces! What’s the spiciest ingredient YOU have ever had to use in a dish? 

COMMENT here for a chance to win a $100 gift card from Buffalo Wild Wings: http://ow.ly/AHNoK 

Random winner will be announced Wednesday at 12pm/CT.

ProStart Student Wins Food Network’s Chopped Teen Tournament!

Announcing the winner of Food Network's Chopped Teen Tournament: Tommi Rae Fowler! 

Tommi Rae is a ProStart student from South Carolina and we couldn’t be more proud. The grand prize included $25,000 in cash and a $40,000 culinary school scholarship. Read Tommi Rae’s reaction here: http://bit.ly/1oMBMXA

We chatted briefly with Tommi following her win:

How has ProStart helped you prepare for the competition?

ProStart helped me because our chef educator taught our class in the same type of fast-paced competition-style manner. I also learned many basic kitchen skills which gave me an upper hand to competitors who hadn’t had any training before. 

What culinary school would you like to attend with your scholarship? 

I would like to attend the Art Institute in Charleston.

What high school do you go to? 

I go to Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina. 

How ProStart Prepared Sequoia for Food Network’s ‘Teen Chopped Tournament’

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This is a guest blog post from Sequoia Pranger of South Salem High School who has earned a spot in the grand finale of the “Chopped” Teen Tournament tonight on the Food Network Channel at 10/9c. She is competing for for $25,000 and a $40,000 scholarship to culinary arts school.

I decided to apply for Chopped because my ProStart culinary instructor prompted me to and I thought that I had nothing to lose! I had already been to a Prostart competition, and felt the intensity of it. I thought I was as prepared as I could be for a show like Chopped. When I applied (along with a few other classmates), I heard back the next day. I was cooking at school in our culinary arts room, and I was getting a call from New York. I answered and the person on the other line said “Hello, this is so and so from the Food Network.” I almost immediately cried and could hardly articulate my answers to their questions! After that, my life turned into a whirlwind of skype interviews, phone calls and copious emails. Next thing I knew I was on a plane to New York! I spent the majority of my flight wondering how I got this far and hoping that I was indeed ready to compete. 

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In the first round of the competition, I was a frazzled mess. They can only show so much in a one hour program but I literally spun around in a circle for 10 minutes saying some version of “oh my gosh.” Chopped judge Chris Santos later told me that I was almost chopped because I couldn’t get my nerves under control. I was really embarrassed about the appetizer round, and the fact that the judges didn’t even get to see who I really am as a chef. In the following rounds, however, I just kept getting better. I can’t bake anything and have almost no pastry skills whatsoever but I put out a dessert that I am more than proud of.

ProStart helped me preform under pressure more than anything. Without it, I don’t even know if I would have had the courage to apply. Teaching kids at a young age that you have to adapt to your situation (whether the stakes are high or absent) helps them grow in to strong, independent individuals. I was able to put my nerves aside and really focus on what was in front of me, and behold, I won my round! 

Thank you, ProStart!

In Her Own Words: Aiming for Pastry Greatness ]

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A Texas ProStart student discusses her plans to one day open her own bakery!

Inspiring Dreams: A Texas ProStart Student Finds Her Passion
A Texas ProStart student discusses her passion for the restaurant industry in this blog post from the Texas Restaurant Association. 

Inspiring Dreams: A Texas ProStart Student Finds Her Passion

A Texas ProStart student discusses her passion for the restaurant industry in this blog post from the Texas Restaurant Association

Career Advice from Darden Restaurants’ Chefs

This is a guest blog post courtesy of Darden Restaurants.

In recognition of National Culinary Arts Month in July, we asked our corporate chefs to share career advice for individuals looking to pursue culinary careers. Below are some of the tips they shared.

“Find the best chef in town and work for her or him. It will likely be very hard work, but it will be in this environment that you will learn the most. Spend the extra money you have on cookbooks that are written by chefs that interest you as well as going out to eat. Also, it is not always about you, but it is always about the guest.” -Chef Jim Neutzi, Olive Garden

“Get a part-time job in a restaurant to see if you enjoy the atmosphere, pace and work, preferably just washing dishes. Almost every great chef started by washing dishes. It keeps you humble, prepares you for the long road, and begins to shed light on what guests like and don’t like. It may seem simplistic, but I think that it is the shortest route to understanding the restaurant culture and the differences from what may be presented on TV.” -Chef Christopher Black, LongHorn Steakhouse

“The restaurant business is like no other. The kitchen is alive with fresh ingredients that must be sold.  It is the only business that receives raw, perishable materials, manufactures those materials and sells them all in the same day. Managing this process is very challenging. Managing this process profitably is even more challenging. Anyone who is seriously considering a career in the culinary arts should first get a job as a cook in a restaurant. Not all restaurants are the same so working in a couple different kitchens may be necessary to form an opinion. If after a year of working full time in restaurants, you are still passionate about a career in the culinary arts, consider investing in culinary school. Culinary school will not only teach the fundamentals of cooking, it will provide understanding into the many facets of the business and management. On the other hand, I have worked with some of the best chefs in the world, and many of them did not attend culinary school but gained the knowledge from real-world experience.” -Chef Keith Hanks, Olive Garden

“Enjoying cooking at home and watching TV chefs does not prepare you for a career in the kitchen. Before you make the decision to enroll in culinary school, go and work in a professional restaurant kitchen to make sure you enjoy the hours and schedule. Then enroll in an accredited culinary school. The school will teach you the basics to be successful, but to become a chef, work in restaurants or hotels that are quality focused and make great food. Don’t go for the money—go for the experience. It will pay off later.” -Chef Peter Olsacher, Bahama Breeze

“For anyone who wants to be in the culinary field, it is important to have hands-on experience in a real working kitchen. Today’s chef is not just a cook anymore. Today a chef plays many roles, from cook to buyer, from scheduler to finance manager. Going to culinary school helps teach you to learn how to run a restaurant and use tools and recipes. Working in a restaurant helps teach you to understand the production area and the line pressure during busy times.” -Chef Paolo Lafata, Olive Garden

“This can be a challenging business and not what you see on TV. You have to love it to succeed. Being a chef is not what you do, it is who you are. Also, learn every day.  Look at and listen to as much as you can. Becoming a professional chef is a lifelong journey.” -Chef Michael LaDuke, The Capital Grille

“The culinary industry is very challenging but also yields great rewards for the aspiring young chef. It is critical to have a passion for cooking and a “being-of-service” mentality. The culinary industry can push you to the limit but when you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. Consider pursuing a culinary education to understand the fundamentals of cooking as well as how to run a successful business.” -Chef Vern Thomas, Olive Garden

For more stories from Darden and its family of restaurants, visit Darden Digest.

From the ProStart Classroom to a Masters in Hospitality Management

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My ProStart journey has continued long after I graduated high school in 2006. As I graduate once again, this time with my Master of Science in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona, I can’t help but reflect on the impact ProStart has had on my life. I was a ProStart student in 2005 and 2006 at La Quinta High School in California. I had the incredible opportunity to compete in the management competition at Nationals both years. Those competitions, and the countless hours, days, and months of practice leading up to them, were some the most formative experiences of my life.

The ProStart program and the competitions gave me leadership, communication, and soft skills that have allowed me to advance in all aspects of my life and career. Equally as important, ProStart exposed me to an incredibly rich and diverse network of hospitality leaders. It is a network that I continue to use daily, more than eight years after I graduated from high school. This proves that ProStart does not end when high school does.I doubt I would have ever pursued a career and my college degrees (both undergraduate and master’s) in hospitality management without the industry exposure provided by ProStart and the financial assistance provided by the California and National Restaurant Associations. By eliminating the financial burden of college tuition, CRA and NRA allowed to me to focus on my classes, internships in Los Angles and D.C., and leadership positions in student organizations. To all of the current ProStart students: go and get your college degree! You will have the time of your life and your ProStart family will be there to support you every step of the way. 

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