What started your passion for hospitality?
It was a rainy, stormy, summer day in 1998 (yes, I remember, weird). My brother and I were fortunate enough to never have to go to daycare. We had my grandma who watched us Monday-Friday during the day in the summer while our parents were at work. My grandma was always very interested in what I did, even if she wasn’t, she has been one of my biggest supporters of all activities that I do. Anyways, back to that summer day. My brother and I watched it rain and we knew we wouldn’t be able to go outside and play that day which we loved to do. I spent my time inside watching Emeril Lagasse, Sara Moulton, Old Julia Child programs, Jacques Pepin, and other TV chefs..Food Network was only about 5 years old at the time but my mom also had an outstanding collection of cookbooks. I had seen Sara Moulton make a yummy breakfast that morning and my 8 year old self thought at the time “Hey, I can do that!”
I told my grandma that I wanted to make her a candlelight breakfast. It was so dark outside and one of my favorite part of all these food shows was the presentation at the end. My grandma was great about just supervising me in the kitchen. She showed me how to carefully put the pan on the stove on low, scramble the eggs in a bowl, cook the sausage first so you could use the yummy sausage drippings to scramble your eggs instead of butter or oil, and how to make perfectly golden hash browns. My grandma, my brother, and myself enjoyed the great breakfast I had just concocted and my mind started racing with “more”.
I had an easy bake oven that I received for Christmas in 1996 but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to use the adult cooking utensils. I flipped through cookbooks and started learning “why”. I have never considered myself a foodie, but an eater. I love food and I love the experience but I want to know why..I yearn for why. Why isn’t a hot dog considered a sandwich? Why does everyone hate on Rick Bayless for being one of the most successful white mexican chefs of his time? Why do we call potato salad, salad?
My grandma of course helped me when I wanted during the week but my parents were also great helps when I wanted to cook. My dad was a cook in the Army. He taught me the importance of “clean as you go”. My mom always had the gift of “Oh I just threw this together” and I knew someday I wanted to be like that.
I started my first job in April of 2004. I was a bus person at the restaurant my mom had worked at for many, many years. I bussed tables, took out garbages, cleaned bathrooms, and washed dishes. It wasn’t exactly my idea of fun but I did it anyways. I was one of the first kids to have a job at my school and I thought that was pretty neat. I worked there all through high school. I moved up the rankings, I move to hostess, and then to where the hospitality industry clicked for me, a server.
I moved up to server in June of 2006. I quickly learned that server = cash money. I loved being a server. I quickly grew up in this restaurant. I learned many skills that I retained today and I know it was all thanks to that place. (I still work there..believe it or not, lol). It soon came time for me to go to college. I had the idea of moving away for awhile, applied to college 2 hours away and got in. July of 2008 came and it was almost a month away from me moving. I started to think about the 4 year university in my town and think about how much I didn’t want to leave home or my great job. My parents were always there for me when I needed them. What if I needed them when I lived two hours away?! The thoughts raced quickly through my mind and on my day off the next day I called the local university and she said there was still time to apply! I immediately applied and 2 weeks later was accepted. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I lived in a rural area my whole life and thought for sure I wanted to do Ag Economics. 1. I hate math. 2. I love agriculture but did I really want to work for a seed company for the rest of my life?
My passion for food continued. I changed my major 2 more times. I tried elementary education for a semester, turns out, I don’t like kids that much. Yikes. I had lost quite a bit of weight between high school and college so I then thought “Hmm, exercise science sounds great!” It wasn’t great. I still wasn’t happy. I went over to my parents house and was chatting with them about my frustrations and by this time at my restaurant job I had become a manager/server. I loved the rush of being in charge. I got to count money at the end of the night and my boss trusted me with keys to the restaurant. The recession of 2008 was what really made me struggle with choosing a major. I don’t want to be poor for the rest of my life. If only hospitality was a career…*Lightbulb*. The one thing my dad said that has always stuck with me was “money or not people are gunna eat”. I got to thinking about the recession proof hospitality industry.
I ran to my advisor a couple of days later during “advising day”. I was her only sophomore at the time still “undecided” in the major category. I looked at her and told her “I know what I want to do, I’m ready to pick a major and stick to it”. I entered into the hospitality program at Southwest Minnesota State University and never looked back.
The first day of my “Introduction to Hospitality Management” class I immediately knew it was where I was meant to be. I sat patiently waiting for class to start when the professor walks up to me, points at my book and asks “are you sure this is the right book?” I panic for a quick second and look around and realize every one else has the exact same book and I say “I think it’ll do for now!” I entered into that class with abandon. I heard some terms that were familiar to me because of my restaurant experience. I learned a lot of new terms that would soon turn into me choosing a major concentration in restaurant AND hotel management. I immersed myself in this new world of knowledge and quickly learned so many things and had so many opportunities that I never would have had before.
I had endless opportunities in college. I got to go to the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago where some of my best friendships blossomed. I got to go to Jamaica and stay at an all inclusive resort. It was for a class. Rough life. I got to meet many people in my network that I am blessed to still know today. I got to work at a convention in Las Vegas. I got to cater a real life wedding for one of my classes and meet a chef who was on “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”. I learned skills that added to my love of cooking and presentation and was a member of our student hospitality organization. I think most people think that you don’t need a degree in hospitality and that it’s all about “who you know” which is also true but I wouldn’t have the connections that I DO have for the “who you know” if it wasn’t for my 5 years at SMSU. I also just completed the work for my master’s degree. Do you remember the professor that I mentioned a paragraph ago? He moved to Miami which was sad but at the same time he became the Director of the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University. He told me about an online master’s program that I could complete in a year. I applied and got in and am now just waiting for one final grade to complete my studies. I love learning about hospitality so getting my Masters in Hospitality Management was a no brainer.
I think if you’re passionate about something, you should follow it. I have been so blessed in life also in knowing that my best friend has pretty much been on the same journey with me and now we are living out our dream in running a restaurant together. She worked with me at the restaurant I mentioned before also and we grew up in the same industry together. It has been an incredible journey to get where we are today including me moving away for two years. We had our reserves about going on this venture together. Anyone who knows us knows we would be incredibly lost without each other and we are okay with that :). Working with your best friend is a huge risk but we took it and now we are reaping the benefits. We continue to learn everyday.
I have a passion for this industry. I always will. I can’t get out now nor do I want too. I mentioned a lot of people in this post but it was the support from my family that pushed me harder so thank you. Thank you grandma for helping me make perfect scrambled eggs that stormy summer day, thank you mom for teaching me it’s okay to fail in the kitchen but never apologize for it, thank you dad for coming home from Army cooking school and after a month in Ft. Lee, Virginia, giving me your recipe book you received and letting me flip through it and helping me butcher a chicken and make homemade fried chicken. It’s about not having fear. In this industry you can’t have fear even though it takes a special species to make it in this industry. It’s late nights but being able to enjoy a few drinks with co-workers afterwards, it’s early mornings but going home to take a nap, it’s working on holiday’s to take care of someone else’s family because you need the money for Christmas gifts. It’s not easy, it’s not for the faint of heart, and you certainly have to have passion and drive.
I hope the passion finds you early in life just like it did with me.
Thank you, Grandma.