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First Executive Chef Position

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

Hello everyone!


This is a title I have been working for for quite some time now, so it is very exciting to have earned it. I would just like to share my thoughts and experiences in this post and hopefully help someone along the way who is curious about this transition. Any dialogue or feedback is welcome of course!


My background: I am 29 years young, with approximately 15 years experience in the business. I have worked for McDonalds, IHOP, Chili's, Applebee's, Olga's Kitchen, a fine-dining French restaurant, a AAA 4 diamond resort restaurant, at the airport offsite at a 48,000 sq. ft. commissary, BJ's restaurant and now my current location. I have worked in the positions cashier, busser, host, dishwasher, cook, kitchen manager, front of the house manager, sous chef and now chef. I believe that my experiences have turned me into a well rounded individual, with an appropriate mixture of scratch kitchen and corporate experience.


I recently just hired in at a coffee shop that has been open for approximately two years. It is German-named but the connections to Germany pretty much end there, aside from some German beers on tap. The owner lived in Germany for a year and this was his baby. The cafe is pretty well established in the middle of a semi-busy downtown college area, just a few miles away from the California coast. There are many restaurants on the same block, and I am hoping to draw a new crowd in over time. I am new to the area, but am constantly walking up and down the street, studying the restaurants, their customers, their specials boards and scouting out the times the street seems to get busy.


Our menu is odd with many random sandwiches and salads, all named after famous authors. You used to be able to buy used books at the old location but now that we have relocated to a larger venue, the menu just doesn't make sense. I am dying to change the menu item names and delete over 50% of them. Patience is a virtue (or so I hear). I am gearing up to get some Oktoberfest specials going and the owners seems excited about this. I am hoping this works out (why go anywhere else in October than a German restaurant, and the only one in town at that) and will ultimately allow me the freedom to change the menu as I see fit. I imagine this as a gradual phasing out over the next 6 months.


The restaurant is a large coffee shop, with quite a bit of seating. There is no table service, everything is ordered from a counter. The pressure for fast ticket times is a demand the current staff has been unable to meet thus far, and part of the reason I was hired. The kitchen has a small passout window. Up one stair is the kitchen. By my experience standards, the kitchen is small, but not the smallest I have worked in. The line is approximately 20 feet long, with the bakeshop occupying 1/3 and the hot line occupying the other 2/3. At the end of the hot line is a flip-top cooler that does not work and is stocked only with ice and salad items. The middle has a grill, small flat top, large flat top, oven, small fryer and a stainless steel table. I am excited about the potential of the kitchen. The kitchen was actually a Chinese restaurant kitchen before it was sold to us. Needless to say the upkeep has a little to be desired, but nothing that can't be remedied. The owners are soon moving the bakeshop to the other side of the kitchen, opening up a future salad/pantry station for my line. Ultimately I would section the kitchen pantry/expo/hot apps. Daily sales (including bev) amount to around $4,000 average. Food cost is TBD, but does not appear high off the bat.


Staffing is a slight concern for me, as I don't want to spend all my time on the line. I have a vision for this place that could be buried for a while if I am consistently in a cook role. For the short term, this may be my future. I am hoping the owners are flexible with hiring. I would like to hire one full time dishwasher, right off the bat, followed by at least one full time cook and possibly another part timer. The owners are running without a dishwasher during the day time and we only have one full time dishwasher that works 5 nights a week, who I have yet to meet. I can understand wanting to save labor, especially for how slow we are, but busy season is around the corner and I also need this restaurant cleaned to my liking (which of course I am assisting with, actually doing it all myself currently). The owners want my schedule to be Monday-Thursday from 8:00 to 4:00, as we do most of our volume during lunch. I do have an issue with this, because I need to work some nights to see what is happening in my kitchen when I am not there. Not only that, 40 hours a week (on hourly pay) seems tough to pull off if I want to go a great, thorough job as a head chef. Advice in approaching this? There is one full time AM cook, who apparently is our most efficient, who has 3 jobs and cannot work the weekend mornings, our busiest times. I plan on trying to convince him to work weekends with us. There is another full time AM cook, who has a mediocre skill set but may have potential. There is another AM cook who will be leaving us in 2 weeks. There is a full time PM cook, who is not happy with how much he is making. So, not the ideal staffing situation yet. Any advice or general thoughts on this would be appreciated, as this is the first time I am directly responsible for hiring and placement. There is also the matter of the individual I am replacing, who may or may not stay and who may or may not be bitter about the situation. He has been with the company from the beginning, was at one point the GM and is salaried. He took over the kitchen and has never ran a kitchen before this one. The owner has had a "heart to heart" and let him know the situation, and he has stated he has no ill feelings. I think he would be an asset to keep on as one of my cooks, but I'm not sure I see that happening. Right now he is helping to get me trained on the current menu and answering any questions I may have. It is an awkward transition for me, but nothing overwhelming.


Essentially, I believe I have landed a great opportunity overall. Cynically, it is just that; only an opportunity. It is up to me to make the most of it. I imagine turning this already successful restaurant into a full-fledged German bistro serving great (house-roasted/brewed coffee), authentic German beers and most importantly authentic, amazing German food! My final thoughts: I am concerned about the switch to German, because of how drastic a change it is. The current clientelle are mostly students, who come in and sit and study and order coffee and occasionally food. The current vibe is "hipster". I'd like to turn it into a bustling, all-demographic restaurant. There aren't any authentic German restaurants around it. I plan on just starting with specials and pushing them, and hoping they catch on. Beyond that, how do I really know what the people want? What will happen to all the hot women who currently come in? Do hot women love hearty German food?? I guess only time will tell.


Best wishes,


post #2 of 5

Congrats on the challenge. Don't get caught up in the title. Seems you have mostly QSR experience, how does that relate to you changing a hipster coffee shop into a full fledged German Bistro?

What do you know about German food?

Some red flags to me, you were hired to be the "executive chef", you are being paid as an hourly, part time line cook. (32 hrs M-Th)

The salaried guy that was running the kitchen staying on as one of your line cooks is a problem, the owners will always be looking to him when you are not there.

A place that is doing over $1m in mostly lunch business and has no AM dishwasher is a problem.


The hipsters that currently support and occupy this place will be lost once you change formats, all the "hot women" will be lost, because they won't order sauerbraten & mashed potatoes.

post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the reply chef. My experience also afforded me to work around very talented chefs who were passionate about what they did, and I learned a lot from the people around me because I too am passionate about food and the industry. I spend a lot of my off time reading and watching videos culinary related. I also have good business sense, so I think this combination will allow me to excel.


Sorry if I mistyped, I am getting paid for 5 days a week, not 4. The owner and I had a conversation, and he will be moving me to salary within 30 days. The salaried guy is out at the end of October, for sure. I am the guy, no doubt. I also talked the owner into hiring a dishwasher today (and another soon). A productive administrative day for sure.


We walked up and down the avenue today, and he gave me a run down on all of the local competition. I made a comment about our specials board being too far back on the patio, and the writing was too small. We will be making a change on that tomorrow. I will also be switching our colored plates to white plates. Luckily, there are backup white plates in our storage area. Also in the storage area was a perfectly good meat grinder and a hot well, so we will be bringing those into the restaurant soon.


I placed an $850 order for kitchen utensils and equipment today on Sysco's website, kid tested, owner approved. Sunny days on the horizon.

post #4 of 5

I'm going to re ask Bubba's question. What do you know about German food? 

I would also ask the owner why, and when did they stop focusing on german food, if ever did they focus on it? There may be a reason for this. Maybe the market isn't there for german food?


If it's any consolation, right by my house there is a brew pub that has a German/Czech/Brewpub type menu. They are always busy. They always have a hip crowd... even "hot chicks" eat there. The food there is always excellent. They are quite well known around here. A bit different concept than yours since it's a brewery and they make very good beer, but I figure it's still relevant to you. Check out their menu. See if it inspires you... 

post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 

Actually my girlfriend's family is of german heritage and my friend's dad is from Austria and he knows a lot about German cuisine, also my Sysco rep is from Germany and he is a good wealth of knowledge. It's hard to answer the question of what I know about German cuisine. I've made sausages like Landjager at a resort restaurant in Phoenix, I've made spatzle a few times and I'm very familiar with pate a choux, I love meats and cheeses and fresh bread and those are large parts of german cuisine, I can make tons of different types of potato dishes, I own a few german cookbooks that I've read and made notes with plus I know what I've learned by reading in the past few weeks.


The owner never had a german menu, it's more of a german coffee shop vibe that he experienced while he was there oversees. He hasn't quite gotten the food on the same page yet. Thanks, that is consolation! I'll take a look at the menu.


I'm off today, hopefully all of my new toys will be there on Thursday :)

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