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Chefs Should Sharpen Their Mind, Not Just Their Knives

Chefs Should Sharpen Their Mind, Not Just Their Knives

Anthony Rudolf left a successful job to create a platform that educates and promotes career development for professionals working in the restaurant industry.

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Anthony Rudolf has spent over a decade working in some of America’s finest restaurants. Originally a culinary student, he gained experience at places like Jean George in New York before he spent a seven year career working for Thomas Keller where he quickly worked his way up to director of operations for his restaurant group.

Starting as a waiter and building your way to the director of operations for one of America’s most prestigious restaurant groups is no small feat, and many would be happy to sit in the position, but in 2013, after just two years in the job, Rudolf stepped down to start his own group: Journee. A unique platform aimed at helping provide all manner of expertise, education and enlightenment to the massive chunk of American’s who work in the restaurant industry, “over 4.7 million people are currently working in the restaurant sector in the U.S.”, explained Rudolf during a recent chat in New York.

“It’s really a professionals’ organisation to provide a platform for people who choose this as a career, to find access to things to help them take that career to the next level.”

It’s something that Rudolf says he wanted to do for a while, after noticing a lack of a “support network” for employers or employees working in the restaurant industry. “It’s a club in a sense… A club for restaurant people focused on mentorship, networking, education, finding mentors and getting access to content made specifically for restaurant people.” Rudolf, in his frank and seemingly honest tone, said he really needed something like Journee when he was working in restaurants.

Depending on their role, members pay a different fee to sign up. Tier One - which includes cooks, bartenders, servers, hosts and captains - costs $98. Tier 3, for the owners and exec chefs, costs $498. For this, members receive access to talks, events, suppers, conferences and a mentorship program. There’s also email shout outs, help with editing resumes and access to the Journee’s collection of content covering a whole range of topics.

Rudolf is quick to admit that what he’s trying to do isn’t easy, “there’s not a lot of things built for restaurant people, they don’t have any time and they don’t have a lot of money, it’s the worst demographic to build a business around. But to me, that’s the demographic that’s most in need of resources. These are people who serve the world but no one serves them.”

“They’re being helped too late in the game, they’re already all-in, already scrambling, already suffering. We have to get in and help the 21-year-olds that are entering the industry.”

On top of aiming to help create resources that guide everyone from waiters right through to restaurateurs, Rudolf also wants to see restaurant industry professionals come together, to form a stronger group, and look at big issues that effect them all. 

“How much better could we do if we were sharing and collaborating? Getting some of that simple stuff done so we can get on and enjoy the fun, creative stuff. We’re all trying to solve the same shit. We all open a new restaurant, go to Excel and spend three hours staring at a screen, trying to understand how to format a new schedule for the staff when somebody else already has it. “Hey, can I take a look at your schedule?”

“The big challenge is that when you get a hundred chefs in a room they all come with different issues, when actually we should be forgetting the 99 problems and picking one important one that effects us all.”

But it’s not just issues like sharing schedules that Rudolf wants to focus on with Journee. Tipping, for example, in New York has been going through a number of different changes lately and the group has been there to help members navigate new waters. They’ve held talks, highlighted content and followed legislation around the issue closely.

“The idea of 'No Tipping' has been a big topic for us. It’s an everyday challenge in the industry, minimum wage in New York will go up to $15 next year, right now it’s around $12 - no tipping is one pathway through. There’s also an admin fee idea sitting on the mayor’s desk, the National Restaurant Association is also working at a Federal level to try and unlock the tip pool so it can be shared by all the employees.”

Journee has hosted a number of talks and presentations around the topic and Rudolf thinks the idea of banding together as a community to tackle the big ideas like tipping will quickly change the restaurant landscape. What’s really exciting about the entrepreneur and his perspective is that he sees no end to what can be achieved with a pack mentality.

“Politically we’re very strong, we’re the second largest employer outside of the U.S. Government but we don’t leverage this…Individually we are the tastemakers of society, we get on the cover of magazines, we get our own TV shows, hundreds of thousands of social media followers, we have platforms, yet to collectively come together and write legislation, we don’t do it.”

“The big challenge is that when you get a hundred chefs in a room they all come with different issues, when actually we should be forgetting the 99 problems and picking one important one that effects us all.”

The issues Rudolf is interested in looking at might seem out of the box to some, yet, the logic is there. During our chat he mused about real estate, something killing off many great restaurants in New York, “why don’t we own a bank?”, he asked.

“A credit union for chefs? Why not? Imagine: we own the banks, we start buying the buildings, we become the landlords and then we get the rents? Have the restaurants below rent free and make the money from above - own the land.” He even spoke about the idea of using the buildings to provide community housing for chefs, a great potential option for people who often work in cities they can’t afford to live in.

At the moment Journee is a few hundred members and an idea that’s in motion, they’re hosting around 25 events a year and focusing in on important topics shared across the sector. Rudolf said they represent the “human aspect” of the industry, a side of things that is too often forgotten. “We will hold these meetings in different cities with the idea of focusing on picking two or three things, maybe something local, something State and something Federal - lets get organised and get our shit together.”

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