Issue 29

Food Service Warrior: How the Industry has Shaped My Life

Food Service Warrior: How the Industry has Shaped My Life

When I sit back and reflect upon my life in the restaurant world I often wonder if I made the right choices. Maybe I should have gone to college or pursued my love for extreme sports. I think about what would make me the happiest and I can honestly say I am glad I didn’t go to college. I never was good in school. I have had office jobs and they drove me nuts. I thought about being an auto mechanic but found myself being sidetracked to easily.

I made the right choice. I have a job where everyday a new challenge arises. I get to meet new people and I don’t leave work feeling pressured to reach any deadlines. And most of all I have a lot in common with everyone I see: we all like food and spirits.

My first two years in the restaurant world were in fast food. I hated it. That’s when I started working at a gas station/machine shop. I thought I could build engines and work on cars all day but that was short-lived. I was convinced that restaurant work was out of the question. I spent the next year running around with the wrong crowd. I eventually went back to cooking, but not in fast food. I got a job at a real place cooking real food. It was great. I was learning a lot and got along with everyone I worked with.

It was a place that had just come to Omaha and was one of the hottest spots in west Omaha. I stayed and worked myself into a management position. After being there for a while I moved to Kansas City to open a new store. This was by far one of the most demanding kitchens I had ever seen.

I was able to see a lot of what goes on when opening a new place. We were in our early 20s and thought we were on top of the world. We were working seven days a week and making more money than we ever imagined we could at that age. It didn’t hurt that we had no time to spend any money, either.

That all came to an abrupt halt when 11 months after opening, the owner left town with most of the money the place made. Paychecks were bouncing and delivery companies wanted cash only. Within two months of that the doors were chained shut by the government for tax evasion.

After some time being unemployed and depleting all the money I had saved, I found a job at a new place coming to town. They were opening stores all over the Midwest. That’s when my focus shifted to having my own store. I had yet to work in the front of the house and had no desire to. I became a corporate kitchen trainer. I traveled around and opened numerous stores. I loved it. I ate and drank for free. I met new people every three-and-a-half weeks and was teaching people how to cook.

After three years as a trainer I finally got the break I was looking for. I was offered the chance to open nine stores as the head trainer down South. Unfortunately, corporate backed out and it didn’t happen. As they say: “When one door closes another one opens.”

I was asked to help open our own concept. It went very well. In a year there was talk of a second store. I didn’t stay with them much longer because of a difference of opinions with another manager. So I went back to where I first started. I had no desire to be in the front of the house, but that was all that was available. I became a server.

I was never too excited to be a server, but the money was decent and it was every night. Then one night there was mutiny on the front line: five of six cooks walked out at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night. I was waiting tables and had a full section. I was able to pass off my tables to other servers and go help the kitchen. When all was said and done I went to the manager and owner and asked to be a manager up front so that if this ever happened again we would be more prepared. I became a manager and did that for a year or two until I had an offer to be a kitchen manager at an Irish pub.

Within a year and a half I had worked my way into the general manager position. After I did that for about a year I was relieved of my duties because of another manager’s poor judgment. I again returned to be a server, but downtown this time. This was the best job I have ever had working for other people. I was there for two years and decided to move to the East Coast to work at a private golf course as the beverage manager, my second-best job ever. After two years of that I decided watching my nephews grow up was more important than being on the East Coast.

I came back and got a job at a microbrewery as a manager until I had an accident and couldn’t do my job any more. I was released from that job and had a nice severance check to go with it. As they say: “When one door closes another one opens.” I finally got to start my own company with my brother.

My brother had an idea to open a small pizza place north of Omaha. This is where all of our experience came together. We both had run restaurants and had been fairly successful. We were open for 14 months and decided the profit wasn’t worth the sacrifice. I then again went back to waiting tables and bartending downtown. I’m still there and will not stop until I have another business of my own.

So now when I ask myself if I made the right choices with the way I lived my life, I don’t doubt that this is what I was meant to do. I have tried other things through my journeys and always find myself wanting to be around people and having fun. This is it. I might not be in the exact place I want to be right now, but I am having a fun time trying to find it.

Jeremy Hunter

Jeremy Hunter

Jeremy Hunter has lived off and on in Nebraska for 18 years. He has been in the industry for nearly 20 years. His experience as a food service warrior spans from starting out as a dishwasher to owning his own pizza restaurant. He has been a part of every aspect of the industry, but loves being a server and bartender above all. When he is not behind the bar or helping customers, he can be found with a nice microbrew and a glass of Grand Marnier.


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