What Foodpump has been up to, and a question

Joined Oct 10, 2005
2019 has Ibeen an evenftfull year for me. Since we sold the business in ‘17, I worked at a hotel as pastry chef, quit there almost a year ago after I got one too many drunk phone calls from the chef at 9:30 pm. So then I worked at a catering place, but this time in grade manger. Some big events, 800, 1200, 1100, After the 800 I asked the owner to order some sheet pans for next month’s 1200 hors d’ouvre party.
Why? She asked
“Well um, there’s 1200 people, 9 trayed and passed varieties, and two grazing bars, and at last count I can only find about thirty pans, and pastry needs a dozen of them anyways.
“Oh, we’ll manage”

Uh, huh. Stupid request anyway, pans are useless with rack n’ rolls, and the three we had were held together with coat hangers and rusted-in-place in the walk in. Efffen shit show that one was. Next one two weeks later was a sit-down for 1100 at Stanley Park. Twenty cooks standing around with our thumbs up our bums waiting for a huddle, a meeting, some kind of information. Nothing. The chef just stood in a corner plucking lambs leaf and telling everyone not to worry. Stuff of nightmares, you knows those ones where you see problems coming and can’t do anything? By that time my 3 months probation had passed and I had negotiated for a salary increase after that date. Nothing. I lost it a few days later looking for something in the freezer. That $&*()-zing freezer was a tiny 6x8, if that, and to get in there you had to pull out stacks of milk crates to physically get in the door. There was a narrow hallway with a door opening to the freezer directly opposite, and by the time I had pulled out my milk crates the hall door swings open and the Sysco guy nails me with his dolly. I quit the next day, was polite and gave my 2 weeks, and when “she “ protested, I just smiled and told her I was getting to old for this. But I mean, this was a mature business, well over 20 years operating, no excuse for this kind of crap. The chef/ owner was pleasant to work with, but she was stuck on auto-pilot, didn’t want any changes, and her idea of new equipment was a quick $200 run to Ikea.

So for the next 6 months I did some “soul searching”. Bullsheet, I went camping with the wife, made new planters for the garden, made some nice furniture in my garage/man cave, sold my p.o.s car that I had been threatening to do for years, and bought a new car. Like new, new. First time I ever had a new car, I bought a lot of p.o.s.’s over the years, but never anything new. And wonder of wonders, helped my 24 yr old move out of the house into a crappy basement suite shared with three of his best buds.

By late fall I knew I had to go back to work. I knew because my wife threatened divorce if I didn’t do something other than making noise and sawdust in the garage and stacking beer cans in pyramids all over the yard to mess with the squirrels. I didn’t want to go back to the kitchen. A friend of mine works at a very high end hardware store, he was the guy who sold me a lot of the tools I use and asked me to work for the over Christmas. I have a pretty good knowledge of woodworking and basic house maintainence, plus I was the only guy who really knew the kitchen gadgets they sold. But the pay sucks, worse than the kitchens and I knew it was only part time. Still, I’m keeping it for one day a week, because employees get a big discount on stuff, and this store chain makes their own line of some very nice hand tools.

So now Im in another catering place, and its a nice place to work, But... yeah, here we go again, the owner doesn’t really “see” her kitchen. We got friiggen twin-wall ( a plastic panel commonly used for cheap sign boards and cake bases) for the ceiling in the walk-in. The drywall screws are rusting and there’s mold trapped in between the overlapping panels. The cold kitchen has piss-poor lighting, no hot water, and many of the work tables are just cheap banquet tables covered with LOOSE sheets of laminate. The icing on the cake was I was hired by the chef: Get this, interview went normal, 3hour trial went normal, we sat down and negotiated terms normally, o.k., start on Monday. Monday I show up and the chef isn’t there. I mean fired, turfed out over the weekend. No one talks about it and I ain’t asking.

Still it’s a nice place to work, the owner is pleasant to work with, but jeezus, one disgruntled health inspector could either shut down the place or make some significant infrastructure demands that need to done within a week.

So my question is this:
If you were hired as the chef, would you negotiate a budget for new equipment and upgrades?

I ask because the owner is actively searching for a replacement and three guys have toured the place so far. I don’t know if they see what I see. From the grapevine I hear the previous chef had an equipment budget, and any surplus was his at the end of the fiscal year. This is kinda shitty, and really bites the owner in the butt when you look at it long term. I mean most chefs stay, what 2,4 years? The owners has been operating over 15 years, it’s in her best interest not to get any surprises from yea olde health inspector.

Joined May 5, 2010
Foodpump, your stories are so familiar.
Owners with no clue, cheap bastards, with quick fixes.
Been there and done that.
Opinion....Sometimes owners need reality checks. Put all your wants and needs in writing with estimates and your knowledge. Nothing much else you can do after that.
I do not believe negotiating an equipment budget would be in your best interests.
Joined Feb 8, 2009
foodpump foodpump , This is like leaving home at 18 only to return 3 years later. Your parents welcome you with open arms and then lower the boom that the rules still apply. Everything in the house is the same, your parents are fixed in their lives. The problem is everything drives us nuts.
This is how it is working for someone else after you have had your own business. We went from owning our own and making all decisions about everything. When we work for someone else no-one cares about what we think.
The world stayed the same, we changed. It's hard to work for owners that know nothing about the workings of the kitchen. Try to challenge another Chef and get a look like your dirt.
IMHO, there is a work life after owning your own business. I think the place to look for is a place that you will be appreciated for your years of knowledge. We have gone through and paid our dues in this business and don't need to pay them again. Find the right mix and you'll be happy........ChefBillyB
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Thanks chef billy, that explanation really makes sense.
Thanks for your comments chefross.

On the one hand I gotta slow down. If Bob or Sue calls in sick, it ain’t my problem, I don’t have to work till 12:50 am to cover their prep. I don’t have to sweat the next property tax installment, and if the fridge breaks down I don’t have to pay the guy that tells me “ I don’t have those parts on the truck”. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m looking forward to doing it!
Joined Feb 18, 2007
Any news yet? Have they hired anyone? Have you been able to casually mention the things you've observed? I am always amused by these owner stories - because I AM an owner and I shake my head in disbelief at some of the shenanigans you all share about owners you've worked for.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Yeah, they hired a new exec chef, but he’ll start in two weeks.
Last week there was a break in, and the owner told us all to be extra viliigent. All employees enter through one door that is always open, and this door is facing the back lane, there is also a garage door that is always open since we have 4 delivery vehicles.

So I chatted up the owner, as a professional she is always pleasant, cheerful, and engaging. There have been break ins in the past with copper piping stolen ( sounds like crackheads) to the last one with money stolen( sounds like an ex employee).

I suggested a simple combination lock on the door with a 3 or 4 digit code, and a timer on the garage door that would shut after 2 or three minutes. Both would be very cheap, fast, and very easy to do. No action so far.

This week our regular dishwasher called in sick, so we’ve had a series of temps. The last one wanted to know why there was no hot water available to do her job. I suggested she see the owner......
Joined Sep 26, 2017
In my experience, most catering places are pretty run down. The only catering service that looks well-off is that of Mark McEwan's (as seen on The Heat).

Most places seem to depend on the current gig to pay for the next gig too. They usually don't have extra money to put into renovation and such.

I worked at 2 catering places, and swore to never work at one again. Restaurants usually pay less, but I find them to be better managed in general.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Not really... This one is about 17 years old, the last one was 20. Both are mature, well running businesses that rely on corporate catering for their bread and butter. Gravy is made with events, but the bread and butter is very consistent, and neither business was strapped for cash.
As a former owner ( I also owned/ opererated my own catering business from ‘97-07) I like act, and hate to react—if I see staff or suppliers dragging their arse, I step in before something bad happens, if a piece of equipment has a history of breaking down I replace it before it can cause some serious damage/monetary cost. Acting is almost always better than reacting..

But for ( deleted) sakes! If an effin 12’ garage door is left open 6 out of 10 operational hours per day, it’s only a matter of time before rats or mice trundle in and set up shop. This being Vancouver does not guarantee said rodents are gay and won’t pro-create, or observe normal incest laws. Those little critters multiply fast and crap all over the place.
Now, being broken into multiple times over a year tells me A) the thieves were successfully, and B) because they were successful, they’ll be back.

In terms of hot water, it will only be a question of time before the health inspector does her thing and sends her thermometer through the dishwasher and finds it cold. WHen this happens I can guarantee she (health inspector) will want to see sufficient hot water within 5 working days. Good luck getting a plumber with that time frame.....
In all the scenarios I laid out, it is far easier, cheaper, and practical to act and spend a little money now before it really costs, in terms of money, labour, and reputation.
Joined May 1, 2019
Thanks chef billy, that explanation really makes sense.
Thanks for your comments chefross.

On the one hand I gotta slow down. If Bob or Sue calls in sick, it ain’t my problem, I don’t have to work till 12:50 am to cover their prep. I don’t have to sweat the next property tax installment, and if the fridge breaks down I don’t have to pay the guy that tells me “ I don’t have those parts on the truck”. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m looking forward to doing it!
I have the same issue i cannot say no to ANYTHING. I CAN but don't
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