10 Inspirational BIPOC Chefs & Restaurateurs Share The Top Things You Need To Succeed As a Chef
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Have you ever watched a show like MasterChef and considered becoming a chef or opening a restaurant? Where do you start? What steps are involved?
Recently, Authority Magazine started a new interview series sharing the stories of Inspirational BIPOC Chefs And Restaurateurs
We interviewed dozens of successful BIPOC chefs and restaurant owners who shared the lessons they learned from their experience and the stories of how they were able to overcome obstacles to achieve the success they currently enjoy.
We asked them to share the "Five Things They Wish Someone Told Them Before They Became a Chef or Restaurateur."
Please enjoy ten highlights of these interviews below.
Chef Emily D. Edwards of Emily’s Foods
1. Keep your focus on one product: Most start-ups have an incredible vision and a fantastic idea: “It’s going to be phenomenal, and we have a plethora of ideas and features that are going to be in this start-up.” Focus only on the core product or business — the most viable product — get that up and running! It’s essential to have a big picture of where to go, but then start to take away each feature or service one by one until you’re down to the minimum core product. For me focusing on too many products at one time was overwhelming and it made it difficult to relay my brand message to my audience.
2. Own your mistakes: I am sure there are many people like me who follow many relevant business people, so you frequently see tweets like: “Five things to avoid when starting your business” or similar posts. Sometimes, you probably take the time to read them. But here’s the thing: None of that matters. Every individual’s journey is different. No two things work exactly the same. You will make many mistakes. Take ownership that you made the mistake, learn from it, move on, and work to not repeat it. As someone who takes great joy in providing an accurate and professional service, it was not easy for me to accept mistakes in the beginning. Nevertheless, I quickly learned that mistakes don’t mean failure but growth. At the end of every week, I evaluate my mistakes and develop strategies to correct them and move on.
Chef Crystal Blanchette
1. Don't sweat the small stuff: I wish someone would have told me to not sweat the small stuff. I took everything personally at the beginning of my career and instead of looking at it as feedback, I took it to heart. I remember when I was cooking for a director and his family and he just didn’t eat my food…ever. I was so upset because I thought it was me, but it turned out he just didn’t eat much. I would go home crying because I was so nervous I was going to be fired every day, but it all worked out.
2. Try everything three times: I wish someone would have told me to try everything three times. This was something else I didn’t do until I was much further in my career. I had a love-hate relationship with liver as a child because my mother would tell us it was steak, and well, it wasn’t. I didn’t like it as a child and so when I was a young chef I would always pass on it. As I became more mature I began trying liver everywhere I went and although it is still not my favorite, I have enjoyed it in wonderful dishes by allowing myself to be open to trying it.
Lin Jerome of Refined Hospitality
1. If you don't love it don't do it: If you don’t love everything about it, don’t do it. Days turn into nights, which turn into weeks and months of constantly working. The phone never stops ringing, texts are constant, and there is always a fire to put out. But seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they walk through your doors, celebrate milestones with you, post photos of enjoyment on social media, and become a part of your family makes it all worth it.
2. You cannot make everyone happy: You have to stick to what is true to your concept and your vision. Some will love it and some won’t, and that’s okay. Take constructive criticism to perfect your craft, but know that you will never please everyone, and do not beat yourself up over it!
Michael & Kwini Reed of Poppy + Rose
1. Find your path: Find the right path for you. Know that every path is not the right path and just because someone went to culinary school or went to college does not mean that you must do things that way. Some people just have a knack for things, so they don’t necessarily need to follow the same path as everyone else, meaning culinary school might be necessary for some people but not others.
2. You need to learn business: If you are going to be a restaurateur or entrepreneur, you need to learn business. You need to learn accounting and understand how taxes work. It will save you a lot of trouble. The worst thing would be to start a business where you have a great idea and you didn’t take time to learn what it means to run a business or what certifications and permits you would need. It can cost you a lot of money and your business in the long run.
Akino West of The Copper Door B&B
1. Dedicate time to being creative: There have been many moments where I haven’t felt inspired on a culinary level like I constantly did when I was a cook. Becoming a chef meant a completely different shift in responsibilities and it was exhausting to keep up. Now I try to designate time to simply have fun with food, it is liberating to not have to worry about ticket times, or payroll, or the hustle. I still love to just cook and it keeps me grounded.
2. Being social media savvy: Who would have thought that being a great chef in today’s industry equally means being a great photographer and a savvy marketer? Now, I give extensive props to marketing firms or social media professionals because this aspect of the restaurant business is evolving constantly, and especially in the age of COVID, it is crucial to keep future and past guests engaged.
Chef Michelle Roberts of "Dr. Shells Soul Food Cooking"
1. Cut your losses: I wish someone had told me that it’s going to always be that one customer who’s going to complain no matter what and you can’t let one person spoil the lot. I had a particular customer who always complained. Either “the cornbread was too cold” or “the drink was too hot” I finally realized it was in both of our best interests to no longer continue on — sometimes you have to cut your losses and reframe. Even though I lost this particular customer, I gained several other customers after letting go of that one.
1.Never be afraid to ask for referrals: I used to be a little shy about asking people to refer me to others because I was just loving the fact the people enjoy my food, but I realized that I had to ask people who were happy with my service to refer me to other people in order for my business to grow and thrive.
Chef Ricky Moore, Saltbox Seafood Joint
1. Be patient: Be prepared to work in a team environment and be patient with people who might not have your skill level — it’s the team, not the individual. The military really taught me that.
2. Vary your skillset: Make sure to have a multitude of different skill sets — you have to understand how to juggle, be disciplined, and have an understanding of the different aspects of the business. There are tons of great cooks, but if you want to be a restaurateur you need to be creative about the business, it’s not just about being a great cook. You need to know how to take care of the three most important parts of your business: your customers, your employees, and your investors.
3. Steel yourself: Be prepared for all of the physical and mental sharpness required to succeed. It’s a tough business and you have to take care of yourself. Someone early on told me this and boy am I glad I listened.
4. Ignore the TV chef trend: Don’t get caught up in the trappings of the TV chef.
Chef Patty Ruiz of The Mad Table
1. Start with your community first: This is also a hard one, especially with social media. I spent too much time trying to reach out to people on the west coast of the US, Canada, and all over the world instead of reaching out to my local peeps first. Big mistake!
2. Get into the habit of turning off your phone and computer periodically: Another hard one for me! The competition is brutal. Again, it goes back to finding your niche, doing you, and doing it well!
3. Embrace the people that come your way and be grateful: I always think that I’m only as good as the people around me! Although I am a one-woman-show, I always have a friend or a peer that lends a hand and I am eternally grateful for them!
Chef Jolie Oree-Bailey of Low Country Quisine
1. Restaurants take a lot of time to grow: In growing Low Country Quisine, I knew it would take a large investment of time. However, in the early days, I would work 70 plus hours per week regularly. It was really rough on my young family. My husband had to step up and handle a lot of the responsibilities in the household that a wife or mother would typically handle. It was not easy to balance everything in the beginning and I don’t think my husband or I were prepared for the amount of time I spent away from home. Now that I have a great team that has been with me for several years, I’ve created more work-life balance that enables me to spend more time with my family, and that’s a blessing.
2.Loving what you do will always have a better payout than a job you don't love: Nobody told me it would take me eight-plus years to get back to the same salary I had when I left corporate America. There were two things that kept me from throwing in the towel during the beginning stages of my career: faith and passion. I knew I had come too far to give up and I believed that the best was yet to come. As hard as it was, I still loved what I did so I kept moving forward. My mother always said, “If you find something that you love doing and find a way to make a living at it, you’ll never “work” a day in your life.” For the most part, this is true.
The one thing to keep in mind is that on your journey of building your company there will be many things that you’ll have to do that feel like work. However, they are necessary to complete the big picture. The key is to keep growing your company and team to the point where you can delegate the parts that feel too much like work. You still need to have knowledge of how everything works within your company. However, you want to get to the point where you don’t have to physically manage every moving piece.
Ron Jordan of Jordan Hospitality Group
You aren’t truly in the restaurant business; you are in the people business. You are only as strong as the people you employ. If you don’t have a strong team around you, you will not succeed. Surround yourself with people who embody your brand and your goals for the future and invest in them.
When we first acquired our Popeyes restaurants in Michigan and acquired the personnel that came with the business, we didn’t realize how much we were in a deficit for human capital at that time. We quickly realized that the pool of talent we had was attracting more of the same type of talent instead of the talent we knew we needed for the business to run smoothly. We were managing the business from five hours away but didn’t have the people in place to help us succeed. We learned really quickly that the people you employ are a direct representation of you. I can’t be there shaking hands and welcoming guests at all of my restaurants. I need strong leaders at the foundation, so our message is never mismanaged.