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Career Crossroads... Which way to go?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I am a culinary student, should be graduating in December of this year. Within 3-5 years, I plan to be opening my own restaurant, so I know that as soon as I graduate, that needs to be my biggest focus.

Currently I am a closing shift leader at a cafe 5 blocks away from my apartment. I make decent money, and it costs me nothing to get to work. In a few months, assuming I stay at this cafe, I will be promoted to assistant manager, doing a lot more of the bookkeeping and getting more into the management aspect of things, which I have little experience with.

Starting in May, I have the opportunity to take a ten-week internship position as a line cook at the Detroit Athletic Club, which would be about a 30-45 minute commute in good traffic--and I can never count on good traffic in Michigan in summer! This is a requirement of my degree, and as such I would be guaranteed 20 hours a week for those 10 weeks. The preference for these, bot not a requirement, is that they are supposed to be opportunities to maybe turn into full time positions.

I have no desire to work at the DAC past my internship. The chef is great, and I would love to work with him, plus just having the DAC on my resume would look superb. But the commute would kill me, and comes with a significant pay cut (even if you just include the expense of the commute) and therefore it's not something I could do long-term.

Assistant manager would look great on my resume, too... and that's a potentially much longer-term position. There's risk there though, because my boss isn't the most reliable about fulfilling promises. I could do my internship at the cafe and more than likely use that to force the promotion he already promised me, but that's still iffy.

I'm not sure I can go to school full time and do the internship at the DAC AND keep my shift leader position at the cafe--if I can keep that position at all, given how tight my schedule will be. My boss likes me though, and if I have to take ten weeks of "leave" (and just be an on-call shifter) or cut my hours, I think I can convince him to keep me.

Plus, once I finish my internship, I still have about 4 months of school left. And then maybe I'll be moving on to another job, so I don't want to lose the cafe job, or be stuck at the DAC for those extra months, or even be stuck unemployed.

I really like working with the chef at the DAC and I think I could gain some great experience, since I have NO experience in a fine dining kitchen. However, I think that in the long run, the job at the cafe--unreliable and frustrating though my boss is--could be more beneficial, just because it costs me nothing to work there; it can help me network for MY restaurant; I can stay almost as long as I want; and I will have management experience. Wouldn't that management experience look better than line cook in my qualifications when a bank is deciding whether I will be able to run my restaurant?

So my options appear to be:
* Take the internship at the DAC and risk losing my shift leader/asst manager position and maybe even the whole cafe job;
* Stay at the cafe and risk not getting promoted; or
* Quit the cafe outright, take the job at the DAC, HOPE they let me stay there thru December despite the strain on my school, car, health and life and then try to find a new job somewhere, taking the risk that I will have to find a job that will work around school for a few months but then go full time, AND allow me time off for my wedding less than year after starting there...

I feel like the smart financial decision is the one in the middle, but maybe I'm missing career implications or under-evaluating the worth of the DAC position when it comes to the final goal of opening the restaurant.
post #2 of 10
Keep in mind I am still low on the totem pole, someone with more experience probably has a more informed answer then I do.

There really is no easy answer to this one... and chances are that you will never really know if you were wrong/right until years later. Don't just think about money, concern yourself with learning as much as possible.

Assistant manager sounds great now, but is it really a long term thing that you can see doing and being able to support yourself comfortably. Is there any job growth opportunity beyond that? If the boss is unreliable, you do not want to bank on promises to be later on disappointed.

As a potential restaurant owner, it is preferrable that you know the back of house as well as your chef does. If you know nothing about the BOH, your chef will most likely be taking advantage of that. It sounds bad, but many a naive owner have been taken for a ride into bankruptcy without knowing anything about it.

Personally, I would take the job at the DAC and tell the cafe that I need to take a more kitchen-related job to complete my externship. I would try to negotiate the possibility of returning after the externship, as it seems that you are close with the owner. After the externship, I hopefully know alot more about each place and am able to make a far more solid decision.

Either way it goes, good luck.
post #3 of 10
You have plenty of plans. I was like this once too. A wise sage once told me

"You have a past, and you have a future, but you have no present."
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 
RAS: I have plenty of BOH experience, just not with fine dining, which isn't what my restaurant will be anyway, And it'll be really hard for a chef to take adantage of me when I'm the chef for the first few years.

Kuan: I'm not entirely sure what your response was supposed to say, but thanks for the thought.
post #5 of 10
What I'm saying is, it's really really hard to plan to fast track your career. The longer you pay your dues, the better your chances of remaining in the industry for the long haul. Many successful chefs with long term staying power worked without thinking much of eventually being in the position of chef.
post #6 of 10
Do you want more management experience or cooking experience ? The way I read your post that seems to be the issue.
I believe the more knowledge you have regarding the techniques and methodology of quality food preparation the better in any event.
If you stay in the management end of the business you still need to be able to step into a slot in the kitchen, perform "perfectly" and lead by example.
post #7 of 10
Serenity, short term goals should be just about gaining practical knowledge about all aspects of this biz. Are you learning at the cafe or is it just a job? Would you be learning at the club?
I would do both so as to keep my earnings and practical skills increasing especially if you and chef get along. Hard work and long hours but welcome to the biz.....................
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
post #8 of 10
Being from Detroit, I know that the DAC will offer some insight into the business that you will not get at a cafe. DAC has several dining outlets, plus banquets, and is generally regarded as the place to be for old money in Michigan. They do things right there. Maybe a little old school, but they do it right. I don't know what cafe you are at, but I think the better path is with the DAC, and to stay on there. Management experience has less impact when it is with a lower quality place. Being a manager at the French Laundry carries more weight than Denny's. Don't be in such a rush to open your own restaurant before you learn the business, earn your chops on the line and develop your skills. It is good to be motivated and driven, but don't put the cart before the horse. What school are you at? Schoolcraft, OCC?

Once you are done at DAC, look into places like Pike Street in Pontiac, Charley's Crab, Northern Lakes Seafood Co., Forte, The Lark, The Whitney, Steve and Rocky's, etc. Those places will give you great training and look great on a resume.
It's Good To Be The King!
It's Good To Be The King!
post #9 of 10

oy vey.

ah, the ambition.
slow down killer. No bank is going to give anyone as green as you any money in this economy. You need to pay your dues. a resume with culinary school and a few years at a cafe and/or an externship at a fine dining place ain't gonna cut it. Any veteran of this industry will tell you you learn by moving around, working with different people. Your grand vision of your restaurant isn't enough. A diploma from culinary school does not automatically make you a professional ready to open up shop. I don't mean to be harsh, but you've barely built your foundation and you're already trying to put the roof on. Relax and learn. The rest will come in time.
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the thoughts StellasMomma. Am I understanding your advice to be that you think I should take the opportunity to work at the DAC?

Montelago, thanks for the advice. If I took the job at the DAC, I more than likely wouldn't stay there long. I'm not in Detroit or the Det suburbs even, and I'm tied to the community I live in by a number of factors so moving out there is not an option. I would relish the experience, but not the consequences.

Paulgreen, I see what you're saying. And I think that mindset of wanting to know more and wanting to be the best I can be, plus knowing I'll need to lead by example in my own shop is really tripping me up in this decision. Because I feel like no matter what I choose, I have to sacrifice something very important, and I'm not sure which sacrifice is going to give me the most advantage.

ChefBoy, I am indeed learning quite a bit at the cafe, and I have more to learn there if I stayed. But only if I stayed in a management position; I think I've learning about as much as he has to teach, as a general employee. On the other hand, as it's a small, locally-owned business, he has gained quite a bit by my being there, and I have a great deal more I'd like to see happen with this cafe that I can help with. He's also expanding into more then just a cafe, practically opening a whole new business, not immediately but soonish, and being there during that process could REALLY give me the opportunity to see the process from the front lines, as well as network with some more investors beyond the ones I have, and various other useful contacts for opening my own place. It is definitely a dilemma..... But then, I'm also very excited at having so many opportunities right in front of me.

to all: I think I've pretty much made my decision here, or at the very least I have narrowed it down to my next step in the process--I only have 4 weeks to make my final decision about where to proceed from here. Of course, I appreciate any further input and insight; additional viewpoints are always useful :)
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