Does a Chef have to be present in his restaurant every night?
I love my kitchen and being in the restaurant, but with the birth of my new son, the recent celebration of Father’s Day and now with summer in full swing, it truly makes one think more about family time. When we brought Timothy home from the hospital last month, I fired the grill up every night in my driveway (I only use charcoal by the way). We had family in town, and someone needed to cook. I remember texting Cara and saying, “I just love to cook.” There I was with my son, shooting basketball while the fire warmed up…Everything was right.
But it wasn’t always that way. Lockeland has allowed me the opportunity to be at this place at this time in my life. Let’s face it, if I wasn’t at Lockeland I’d have been somewhere else working 70-80 hours a week helping to pull another man’s wagon. Few people may know that when Cara and I had the idea for Lockeland Table it was originally done in terms of balance and money. We figured if we were going to work at “a” restaurant, why not work at “our” restaurant. Her kids were very young and my son Cole was on the way. When we transitioned into business ownership, that first year and a half I was working 5-6 days a week. You’d even find me on the Grill station or the Pizza station. When we were finally able to hire a sous chef I began to take more time off in order to focus on a home life. I absolutely love being a father.
I am so blessed in business and that is because of the people I am surrounded by. It all starts with Cara and Floyd, then my thoughts move into the kitchen. I feel so grateful. We have a wonderful staff who are great people, and things are good.
Due to the standards we’ve set and put into place, the training and the quality of our current staff, we don’t have to live that crazy schedule any more.
The Balancing Act
Life and work balance is a discipline. You have to tell yourself, yes, I could linger and mingle, or snack in the back,or work with the saute cook for 10 more minutes on one minute detail…but you have to be able to know when things are going well, that it’s been a good day, and that now it’s time to start gathering your things, saying your thank yous and goodbyes and begin the drive home to be there in time to still get that hug. I don’t need to be the guy spinning every pizza or grilling every steak. But it requires me to make a choice.
The balance of worklife and homelife in this very difficult industry is tough to manage. Each person has to examine their own life and lifestyle. You have to know what matters to you. And then you have to find a way to make it work.
When people ask professional athletes why they went the direction they chose, their answer is usually that it’s because they loved the sport. The reality is, after time, it does become a job. And at some point, you can lose your original love. When you are in the right atmosphere, there comes that moment that reminds you of what it was that drove you and you realize that it’s still very much alive inside of you. There is a time, however, when your constant presence at the craft (12-15 hours a day) isn’t what you want to do anymore. That’s no longer part of the passion.
Letting go of certain tasks in order to have more freedom is hard. You have to let people help you. You have to learn to hand things off and how to delegate. One thing I won’t ever let loose of is the menu. I will drive that as long as the seasons change. Originally the food thoughts that got LT up and running were my own, and I will work to maintain those standards. But we have a team that is very strong and creative: Jason comes up with great pizzas, Jamie creates a new ice cream, Popp works with a new Shrub, Gooch is in charge the ever changing empanada filling, and Danny builds a unique appetizer—it’s great! Who wants to do everything themselves anyway? But you have to acquire the people around you that have that kind of talent. That’s when you share the load. It’s good for them, too, as it provides them with a sense of responsibility, freedom and ownership. That, plus fair wages and fair treatment, is a recipe in search of perfection.
If a team knows what to do, and does it well, and ours does, why hang over their shoulders? Especially if I can be at home spending some time with my family or tucking my son into bed.
Being an Executive Chef, a business owner and juggling home life is a challenge, but I don’t want to be a modern day man. I’m a bit old-school. I do, however, want to be a modern day chef. Interestingly, I come from a generation where the Chef’s I trained under were tough and the standards and demands were high. Today they would be called in by the Labor Board. I’ve heard many Chef’s complain that they missed their kids childhoods, but you hear them say, ‘Hey, I am a good Chef and I have a successful restaurant.” I want to be a good Chef, too, and I want a successful establishment, but I want my kids to know who I am. I want them to have memories that involve me as well as other members of our family.
When people come into the restaurant, they still like to see “Hal and Cara”. If we aren’t here, they will still have a good experience, but many do want us to stop by their table and say, “hi.” Our regular guests have come to understand that Cara may be at the ball field, and they’re happy for her to be there. But we realize LT is very much us, as it is with most businesses. We are the owners. But again, our great staff allows us to meet our personal goals or targets and provide us time to be with our family.
Lockeland Table, has in a way, been my saviour, not only professionally but personally as well. It’s given me the opportunity to be the rest of the things that I want to be in life, such as a provider, family man and a good Chef. I want to be someone who is “there”. Not just someone who shows up at night, sleeps, then leaves. I want my children to know that I was there for them and was with them. It reminds me of the old saying, when you’re on your deathbed you won’t be saying, “I sure wish I’d worked more…” That’s probably some good advice that we could all stand to chew on a bit.