Jan. 29, 2022

Part I Best Served with Rebel Chef Jensen


In part I we follow along on Chef Jensen’s culinary journey from working for Debbie Golds a Top Chef Masters award winner to working for Troy Guard as he became the Executive Chef at Tag in Denver Co. Then well switch gears and learn how Jensen launched a massive storytelling hospitality movement with Best Served Podcast. I am excited to introduce you to Chef Jensen Cummings a fifth-generation chef. His family has owned restaurants since 1900. 

Our guest: https://www.bestservedpodcast.com/

Our site: https://www.voice4chefs.com/

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/MichaelDugan)

Transcript

Michael Dugan:

In part I we follow along on Chef Jensens culinary journey from working for Debbie Golds a Top Chef Masters award winner to working for Troy Guard as he became the Executive Chef at Tag in Denver Co. Then well switch gears and learn how Jensen launched a massive storytelling hospitality movement with Best Served Podcast. I am excited to introduce you to Chef Jensen Cummings a fifth-generation chef. His family has owned restaurants since 1900. Chef Jensen, it's an honor and a pleasure to welcome you to our show.

Jensen Cummings:

Michael, so happy to be here. So happy to engage with your audience.

Michael Dugan:

I am thrilled. And I want to take everyone back to where all of this really started. And I think it really started at an early age. So what was it like growing up in the hospitality industry around the restaurant business?

Jensen Cummings:

It's very interesting when you have you mentioned the fifth generation, this kind of legacy industry, this legacy business. So entrepreneurs come from 1900 Little Falls Minnesota to San Francisco, two generations were really Bar Men Restauranters and Restauranters in San Francisco. My father's three younger brothers all in restaurants, in multiple different states. And so there was always this underpinning of understanding that there was this entrepreneurial hustle in our family, as well as drive for hospitality, food and beverage. Yet, growing up in Southern California, the family that was in the restaurant business was actually not where I was growing up. And so there was you know, kind of trips and family trips were go to I remember, one of my uncle's was at one point running a, like a hospitality group that had multiple units at the Mall of America, in Minneapolis, Minnesota and going there and go, What is this? Oh, my Young, Wild lifestyle that they're living. And then my two uncles on multiple restaurants in Ames, Iowa, where I was status. And that's really where I'm at my phone's close right there. And so taking a trip there with my grandmother, it just kind of she very much was somebody who taught me about the legacy of uncles taught me the business. And it was really a grandmother who taught me that this is what it means to be a part of our family, which was very unique to me. But the day to day growing up in Southern California wasn't immersed in the business. I didn't work in the restaurant, so to speak, you know, shocking fava beans as a 12 year old kid. That's all people have that story. It was always kind of something that was there in the distance. It also very much my DNA, so very unique perspective. So when I graduated high school, in Southern California, in Vista, California, I was a wise Ass and really, really smart. And I was really, an outlaw. And I think that that actually served me well, and was a detriment to me in the hospitality industry. I'm sure we'll talk about that for multiple reasons. But my uncle said get your ass out here. You're gonna come wash dishes for the summer and get out of get out of that place that maybe was influencing your whatever. And so I went out and I just instantly fell in love with with the chaos of it with the artistry of it with the hard work and intensity and lived in a house with with four other guys that all worked at the restaurants Well, my uncle's restaurant, all of these Bar Grill in Ames, Iowa since 1988. I believe so long legacy there. And, and really cool. We made everything from scratch. It's like on USA Today is like number 35 Sports bar in the country. college towns on the Nebraska football games, Kansas basketball games, right? It's like religion. Wow, they're in the Midwest. Man. I really like found my people, because I was that misfit yet I wanted to really express myself. And also, I had a little bit that competitive edge to want to prove myself to my two uncles out there. So worked for them for a lot of years. And although it was a unique trajectory, because it was always in me it wasn't until now 17 years old that I got an issue which is still pretty young. But a lot of people you know, they grew up they literally they're changing diapers and table 12. And that wasn't my perspective. So it was very interesting. I didn't have to like leave the family business to come find it later life. That's an interesting kind of trajectory. I found it stuck with it, then tried to leave, they came back and tried to leave again. Without that life path.

Michael Dugan:

You know, it's funny because I think about leaving, right, I left for Well, long story short, there was a drive by shooting in the restaurant and I was an assistant manager and I decided it wasn't for me. And I missed it. I really missed it. And I fell into technology. And that's why the podcast right, because it connects me back to my roots. And so it's funny how you talk about leaving coming back and even coming back and, and that sort of rubberband effect. I have that as well. But it's so interesting.

Jensen Cummings:

Sucks you in.

Michael Dugan:

I know, man, it really, really does. And clubhouse sucks me in too. And we'll talk about that. But so then what happened?

Jensen Cummings:

Yeah, you know, I went on kind of that chef driven path was for me, went to, went to culinary school. And then went and tried to find kind of those chefs that I thought could level me up. So I went to Kansas City, and worked for Debbie Golds who's a James Beard award was on Top Chef Masters at a really defined Kansas City high end restaurant called the American which is which is classically famous restaurant like Hallmark family, his own that building that establishment for a lot of a lot of generations, I believe that and then opened up a place called 40, sardines which very much was on the forefront of how progressive American in the mid 2000s and got to work there. And then my, my now wife was graduated from Iowa State's. And we said, what do we have to do where we had to go, and her brother had just recently moved to Boulder, kind of a year before she took a trip out, she said, We're going there. So alright, let's go, I knew nothing of Denver, nothing of the Denver food scene, reached out to a handful of chefs that again, were kind of that chef driven type mentality and approach to restaurants. And kind of just found the scene out here was really great for me out here, because, you know, it was it was still a young seat. So I felt like I was going to be able to make put a stamp on it have an impact on what happened in the food scene, and definitely was able to do that I felt like there was a good foundation. Here. He had something to build upon. And I think as Denver's obviously emerged over the last decade, feeling very connected to that growth has been pretty meaningful. For me, that kind of got me into the restaurant scene. And here and embedded here. And a lot of ups and downs for sure. And, and, and finding, finding my own way and losing it. And being that great leader that created dynamic teams, and then being a selfish asshole chef, I didn't realize that as a leader, it's my job to work for my people and empower them. And every single time I succeeded as binary, I realized that that was my responsibility opportunity that I had. And every time that I failed, it took for granted that they were lucky to be here, so to speak, and so had to deal with that kind of adolescence, in growth as

Michael Dugan:

a leader see that all over the industry, right? Is that they, that abuse that happens and that taking for granted peace and you don't make any money. You know, it's like you're working your ass off. And it's like, you need to treat people with respect. And you know, they work so hard.

Jensen Cummings:

You prey on your own passions, often, the industry at large preys on passion. There's something to find that passion of being passionate about what you do, yet puts us in a position where we make really bad decisions categorically as an industry. And I think there's a couple things that play into that. And in terms of the abuse, it's almost like the Stockholm Syndrome, that the self abuses the work, the lack of self worth is and self deprecation. This industry is something that draws godless misfits where there's this little bit of a protective blanket of being a part of that brigade yet that brigade means that you have to become a caricature of yourself, just survive or thrive within it. That's a huge struggle that we we have to reconcile I think we're seeing the ramifications of that we've earned real hot for the last 25 years we went from being those misfits to ultimetly were the cool kids this totally all of a sudden like being a chef was cool. And I was getting invited you know from Colorado Avalanche hockey players to like after parties and stuff, you know, stuff like that like stupid

Michael Dugan:

Oh, wow. celebrity status, right.

Jensen Cummings:

Right. And, and I had no business being there. I was not mature enough to understand how to handle that. And and that was reflected in this like trying way too hard. Forcing things not recognizing the food does not matter. This is the hardest thing as a chef that I've learned, does not matter. Interesting. Food is just the proof that you are who you say. And the story that we tell them the relationships that we build. That's what actually matters. That's what has legacy. That's what creates actually viable long term successful businesses. Right, like you better make good food. You better have a good business. That's the barrier of entry. The thing that creates something that has a sense of belonging and purpose is always the story. And we are in a very unique business, actually, when the relationship is the people that were the people business, every business is a people business, I don't care to make sprockets, you have to be able to interact with people, like the relationship businesses are fundamentally different. Because no relationship was ever cultivated through a product or service. It's always been people that have found a way to build relationships, product and service definitely create the opportunity, right, like mine is, you know, similar tastes. We've been to Italy, so other people who like really resonate with that kind of lifestyle, and connection, to travel and hospitality. But it's always the relationships. So being able to understand that the most important relationship we have is with ourselves. Then from there, it's with the people that we interact with the people that are part of our teams. And we forgot that, right. And so now we see people want to work in restaurants, restaurants are not a great place to work. And it's been exposed, we're having to deal with the ramifications of that was a big reason that I started Best Served.

Michael Dugan:

Let's let's talk a little bit more about your, your chef background. I know you work for a couple other places, and in Denver Tag and Row 14.

Jensen Cummings:

Yeah, tag was a was a really important restaurant. It was one of the few departures in the early days and Denver restaurants that weren't the Americana with European influence bistro type scenario. So much of that, I mean, still, like very pervasive, this idea of new American, which doesn't actually mean anything. In in the food scene, and here, we leaned very heavily into the influences of Troy Guard, which were simpatico with mine, myself being of Japanese descent, growing up in Southern California spent a lot of time in Mexico. And from Hawaii, also spending time in Southern California, there was a lot of influence from our from our travels and the people that we grew up with. And it was just that was different than more of a Midwestern or mountain kind of lifestyle. So that was a very unique way that we got to play a little bit more, I got to kind of find myself as a chef, I found Japanese culture, which is something very interesting when I was growing up, you know, my grandmother's from Kyoto, Japan. And so we had this, this connection to Japan. But I also was, interestingly, like, didn't want to be Japanese. Like when I was growing up, it wasn't cool yet to be to be Asian, in America. And so I had this this more like complex like, that. I wanted to be white. And I was tall, and my dad's a six foot six, French Irish, white dude. So I was able to kind of hide enough that I remember these moments where people were like, What are you? And I'm Irish and French. They like, yeah, what's the Asian and then I would like, be grudgingly kind of mumble that, oh, you know, our Japanese. In the food side, that was a struggle as well. Because behind closed doors, we always had a pot of rice. There was always, you know, pickled ginger and Umeboshi. And things like that. Soy sauce in our refrigerator. Like, these are things that weren't necessarily when I go to my friend's house is the things that they were eating. So there was a little bit of that self worth that shame that I was able to kind of bring out. And so so many of the things like, you know, like little fermented pickles, or Nacho or these like funky things that my grandmother would watch I would bring to the house. When she left I would like throw anything she left away. I was like making sure that my friends would never see any this weird Asian stuff. And now that's like, foundational to the way that I cook. And so many chefs are influenced by that. There's a long time for me to find that. So Tag was important for me, me to be able to let some of that loose a little bit and play and show some homage and respect to kind of where I came from outside of the restaurant side of my family but bringing that Japanese culture to the forefront a little bit and struggling with the two for another reason. My two younger sisters have both been to Japan with my grandmother. All of my female cousins have been none of the boys have gotten this this very strange kind of Japanese culture thing where my grandmother from aristocratic family, who they have a Shinto temple in Kyoto, but they found her feet Also, she had small fee to walk pigeon for like a lot of these these kind of cultural tropes that are very patriarchal. And so I think she was the black sheep. And there was a little bit of like, I'm going to take care of my girls. And so we respected that very much. Also, we're very tall and big individual, as she would tell us. Our family is going to come they're going to ask you three times to come and visit them and three times you have to respectfully decline. This very Japanese thing, I think, people bowing and bowing and bowing to hand business cards like this, this very, very, like orchestrated dance that needs to happen to respect family and culture, oh, my god, like navigate a lot of those things as well. So just a lot of a lot of layers that we have to sit on the couch and share in my future.

Michael Dugan:

I can't imagine that. But you were very successful chef. Right. And so in Tag, I know that you have a passion for knives because I've heard on your podcast. I remember you saying something about you having enough knives to purchase a car?

Jensen Cummings:

Yeah, I got a little bit obsessed with the Knifes. It's like Elan Wenzel. Oh man. The Elan Wenzel element knife company. Now a friend who was really prolific sushi chef, in Denver place called Sushi Sasa that really put Denver on the map, Wayne Conwell, he worked for Morimoto who called him the best American born sushi chef in the country. Yeah, and so they have a short legacy there. And yet he would bring around a knife broker from Japan, to his friends restaurants and started buying restaurants in China made Japanese knives. And so there was there's this level of obsession yet, when the tools of your trade are important having the right tool for the right job. That definitely was something to be important to that. And I do get a little bit obsessed in that way. And I think you sometimes have to kind of find the bottom of whatever, rabbit hole you're going down. And so knifes was definitely some of that for me. And I always pride myself in being a very, very technical chef was much less of the the true artists that you avant guard, I was much more of a tech. And so my knife skills were always the best in the kitchen. I made sure I was very competitive. But borderline competitive about this famous thing called the chive test where anybody who's like chives appropriately, would get offered a job on the spot and get paid whatever they want. Seven years a few 100 people took it, and one person ever passed it. It was this litmus test of everything it means to understand a kitchen and understand your tools and your ingredients, and all all of these things. And so it was it was like my, oh my

Michael Dugan:

gosh, I love this.

Jensen Cummings:

Like public use, you know, from Munich, or I like that kind of like, understand who they are, and then be able to show them where they're standing. Because I was ended up with a lot of the number six or seven person down the road at Tag. And then row 14 was just coming from being you know, the executive chef at some other restaurants. Because we just had this we are known for kind of building up chefs in a meaningful way, and always looking to like cultivate talents, which is a great strength. And then, so often it's a catch 22 I talk a lot about opportunity, turning into obligation. We have this thing where anybody could come in at any time. And I was there 16 hours a day. And I would teach them anything that we were working on that they want to learn or want to know how to make mole, which took six hours, they wanted to know how to put your car, they wanted to learn how to break down a whole duck at 36 seconds. I think I still hold that record.

Michael Dugan:

I can't do it in 36. I used to debone ducks I'm telling you, I know what you're talking about.

Jensen Cummings:

In that, right. And so they could learn those things. And people would come in and hours before their shift. And it was this amazing environment of teaching. As we started to expand and I had multiple restaurants that are my pure purview and so many chefs and other things. We still have that approach. If there was nobody committed to that. So all of a sudden, what ended up happening is this culture that we have created, where it was like come and learn and cultivate yourself and be able to touch ingredients even beyond your station level up when we bring in people that would help us with butchery and like we were very educationally based on some people would come into ours with a shift just to set up their station. And then there became a culture like I came into ours to make sure my station was good. Why didn't you come into ours and there became this this underlying obligation where if you didn't come in to be come in As an indentured servant, to to undervalue your physical and emotional labor, then you were less committed to the team. And it created this toxic culture that started as this beautiful thing. And opportunity turns into obligation. When we don't pay attention, I think of the quote from from Batman, "you die a hero or you live long enough, see yourself become the villain." I think we've seen that in restaurants. We don't like that, quote unquote, kids these days are calling us out on our bullshit. Reality is we didn't want the nine to five, we did not want to sit in a cubicle, I did not want the suit and tie. So we found something different. We found Bourdaine pirates on the pirate ship. And there was like this amazingly beautiful thing about it because it was about us. And all of a sudden we went from I mentioned going to be the cool kids. And we became establishments. And we built these businesses that no longer value, the unsung hospitality hero, that band of rebels, it was built for something different and and part of it's my fault, I helped build a lot of the inequity, because we thought that that's what we were supposed to do. And now we're going to blame 22 year olds for the state of this industry, because they're not as dedicated and determined and hardworking, because they don't think that getting a plate thrown at your head is a badge of honor. Turns out they're right. And turns out, they're calling us out, it turns out, they don't want to be a part of the establishment, either. We've become the cubicle and the suit and tie and don't like it. And we're having to grapple with that. And that is a huge existential crisis that we see playing out every single thing in the industry. We talked about labor shortage, there is no labor issue, there's a culture issue, playing out a mass scale. And it was always going to be that way, because we've plateaued and we've dropped off a massive cliff. What do we do next? And it was me looking at my my two young sons, and saying what I want them to be the sixth generation knows the answer, Michael, two years ago, three years ago, so they have to do something different, I have to find a way to build something that millions of people can call their own in the future. Otherwise, this industry that love and hate and so many of us do, doesn't exist. And so that's what was the real catalyst for best served, it was in part to try and highlight building something new and do the work behind the scenes to, you know, reimagine and restructure P&L that more plays in the way that this business actually works and restructuring, we would call workplaces worth working, where we're actually investing in our most valuable asset, people having the story going to be at the forefront of that because it's important.

Michael Dugan:

That blew me away. That absolutely blew me away that got me hooked on your podcast. And that's the next phase. I wanted to set time for this because I'm like, You're a chef, let's talk about being a chef. But let's talk about your podcast. So what

Jensen Cummings:

It was actually, November 18 2019, when best served as kind of a podcast that storytelling apparatus kind of media, highlighting people across the industry started. And it was a need to highlight more voices always been able to, like get attention for, for doing interesting stuff as a chef, sometimes it was trying way too hard doing stuff I probably shouldn't have been doing to food, but hey, it got me some attention. So like, again, I read too many of my own news clippings. And, and so I recognize that I also recognize there's a need to highlight the people that impacted you. I thought about all the people that impacted me. It wasn't people that anybody knew was a dishwasher from Guatemala, it was a it was a prep cook from you know, with three kids who she, you know, learn how to make soup dumplings, and potstickers having never worked in a restaurant, yeah, Delphinus Sorano one of the most inspiring people I've ever worked with. And I was like, nobody knows these people. These are the most important people that have ever been a part of my success and in my work in this industry, so I needed to highlight them and I wanted to hold the space for that to happen. And tone, apologize and be able to call myself out and not hide behind the shiny tower of amazing food, beverage hospitality experiences that we that we always showcase in the restaurants but behind the scenes, leadership door smile or uniform, you're only as good as your next plate. These tropes that we perpetuate, are killing us literally putting us in a position where our mental health is is in the garbage as an industry where the most likely to have substance abuse issues and mental health issues and and we don't keep any hospitality for ourselves and for each other. So wanted to shift that paradigm and There was an audio only podcast. Right now I'm sharing on my personal Facebook the first 37 episodes, each day of my, my 37 days of Christmas. And it was just amazing to see how bad I was at this whole podcasting,

Michael Dugan:

I'm going to check it out.

Jensen Cummings:

Definitely matters just like get the stories out there, there's a video of me with a like, like a headset looks like I work at a sprint call center and buy a cheap headset on in my jeep outside of my gym with a couple of hoodies hanging around me your sound. And I'm just recording on my phone and the anchor to make a podcast. That was it.

Michael Dugan:

I saw that man, I watched that.

Unknown:

It was so important for me tojust get it out there. And I wasn't worried about a posture syndrome. I said, I'm just going to tell these stories, and probably nobody's gonna care, but that's okay. And so sharing those first 37 was was important to me. And, you know, you just just just do it, it starts with one meant to meet you never know what's gonna happen.

Jensen Cummings:

We are one piece of content away from that break through personal and professional, make that one piece of content and then do it again. And again and again and put in the reps. And you'll find that there's there's something for you that when you start to tell your story, and not just focus on the food, the beverage that commoditize is the actual value that sensual, cover indispensible workers bring into commerce and culture, their community, and we need to really put that on the pedestal.

Michael Dugan:

So how did it evolve? 400 episodes, man, I mean, that's, that's incredible. I remember you said that you record it every day for six months. That's a lot of recordings. That's a lot of people.

Jensen Cummings:

It was a lot of recording. On March 18 2020. I went live on Facebook for the first time. And leading up to that, you know, I had just regular audio podcasts scheduled. And it was like March 14 13, something like that, and realize that the ship was hitting the fan. Things were changing. We had I had a couple of events coming up, I had to cancel those. And then in like a four day span, right? The consulting work that was actually kind of how I make my money went to zero. Like, in four days. Every project everything I had going people pulled out, they're not doing it, whatever. And I had to make a decision, like, what am I going to do, and I had no idea what to do. And like, the only thing I know how to do is hustle and communicate. So I'm going to just show up for people. I don't know what they need, or if they even want to hear from me when all this is going on. But I'm just going to be there and see what happens and see if people need to talk or want to talk or have insights or advice or resources. And so on March 18 2020 with live on Facebook, no idea. Like there's another video on YouTube that has all these bloopers and stuff. It's like how bad it was like I was using the camera on my Dell like mini laptop and the cameras actually at the bottom of the screen. So like sometimes I was like typing a comment you can see like a giant claw coming at you is just so bad. But didn't matter. I was just committed. I'm gonna keep doing this. And yeah, I did. I was on for almost six months, seven days a week. Not like relenting in the pursuit of just showing up for people because it's all I knew how to do and kept finding people and finding people we started like best serve team. Yes. All through like storytelling commitment to content. Angel Car was like really my partner in this wrote an article about kind of people in hospitality and it was on media and I read it. I was like, let's talk some more. And now you know, we have a core team of six people. And we're bringing on interns and we any given time we've got like 15 people working on best serve projects, and it started at zero, I didn't even know that this was going to be the direction that we take in we're out here trying to amplify the worth and work of those and feed their community and do it through media and storytelling, do it through understanding different business models. And also especially understanding that the investment you make in people in the workplace that you provide is the real asset that these business has. The investment you make in your people is the only line item budget that will never depreciate value. Only one I don't care what you spend on equipment on plate were on on consumable goods they will always depreciate in value. People will never depreciate in value if you invested then you can look at study after study from Deloitte and all the big boys who invest in people it pays dividends yet, we are always looking to to hardening control when it comes to people versus, versus that growth in investment mindset, so a lot of shifting there. We just kept that. And Michael, you know how important that is?

Michael Dugan:

Made me think of this. So I'm gonna throw this in there. If investment in people is so important, why is there so much abuse by chefs of their staff? Why? How do you educate them to change their mindset to create a team environment?

Jensen Cummings:

That is, that is the biggest challenge that I face. The number one thing is we are so tethered to the way that we came up, it is so hard to see past that the inequities that that created within us, the the anger that we have the self doubt, and the force, force greatness that we try to put on the plate, and got to recognize like that, all those things, there, they are just masking the real thing that we're trying to accomplish. And so the first thing is you have to understand the business that you're actually at. So I mentioned the relationship business, if you understand the business that you're in, and the actual value that you bring, you start to prioritize where you spend time, money and effort, what you're trying to cultivate. And so if we understand that it shifts the dynamic, but there's, there's this very chicken or egg scenario to talk to chefs about a lot. It's like, why would I spend time ever money on they're just going to leave? They stay, and I'm going to spend any time, money and effort. So it's this, this this vicious cycle that yeah, all of a sudden, you know, pre pandemic, we have 73% turnover rates that are basically average for about a decade, you know, the worst of it, which is worse now. But let's just stay pre pandemic, 56 days with the average tenure of a restaurant employee. And we're blaming, quote, unquote, kids these days, and I think that shift in what potential opportunity you have, and then, you know, I go to making a business case, once I get them beyond understanding that your turnover rates are costing the average restaurant service have, you know, 3040 employees, that's costing you $100,000, in lost revenue and additional training costs in hiring an acquisition and increase in ways in a decrease in efficiency and productivity, a decrease in check average and decrease in frequency. Yet, we're trying to nickel and dime our most valuable asset but we're spending $45 on plates and not willing to pay somebody a living wage. And so we have to, like make both the emotional and the business case simultaneously, which is incredibly challenging. And point people to a couple places, Michael, that I think are good resources, the number one thing I do is go look at MIT's living wage calculater, truly understand what it takes to be able to just have a basic living wage within your community. Don't tote please don't do this. I still struggle with this. Sometimes as I tell my backstory, whatever the hell that is. But like, I, we glorify, when when I lived in a house with four other guys eating Top Ramen felt lucky if I could put a fried egg on it. Like that somehow was the fire that molded me really it was one of the things that that held me back is staying in that small mindset. And I kept perpetuating that. And so we need to stop glorifying that and recognize that that's not the reality. Like somebody's wanting $15 an hour when you were coming up and you made seven doesn't mean that they're greedy or entitled or selfish or not hard working to full what it means that's the reality of the economic state that we're in. And to you and me, were idiots, you allowed yourself to be taken advantage of and call it passion and did not put yourself in a position to be sustainable and have an equitable and actually profitable business model for people and for the health of the business itself. So that's, that's where I kind of go at living wage is big, and shifting the value prop that we have, right? If you are selling a burger, it's making get a burger for $1.02 burgers for $2. Like, whatever, it's ridiculous. There's a lot of reasons that that's the case. So how can you charge 16 or $18 for a burger? The reality is in a sustainable fashion. Actually, you can't. What you can do is you can create a model where you're not selling the burger, the burgers, the proof that you are who you say or you're selling the story, the connection, the history, the legacy, the innovation, of what is going on that place That's what people connect to. And the burger. Yeah, it'd be good. And all of those barriers to entry that the cost of doing business, that's the value that we see. So when I think about the American culture, my belief for anybody listening, thinking about this, like we, we value food less than almost any country in the world, we are always in the bottom three of percentage of income spent on food, which means we don't value food. And there's a lot of reasons for that the farm bill and the way that that food is is commoditized. And the way that the system works, we don't value food. But we do value more than any culture history, his story, this little bit, look at, look at my Disney plus, and my Amazon, Amazon Video and my Netflix and my Paramount plus like we value story.

Michael Dugan:

Your podcast is story. My wife is hooked. She's listened once and she's like, this is really good. So our listeners need to take you out. I'm pumped.

Jensen Cummings:

All right, glad to hear stories. So important, Michael. It's like what's connected us since we were in caves, telling, writing stories on walls, like we are just such storytellers. It's how we contextualize the world, how we connect to people. Sometimes, unfortunately, it's how we segregate ourselves. So the people that story is such a powerful medium. I know I think about that. And think about Rob Walker, who was a New York magazine writer, and this kind of social experiment where he and some other writers bought a bunch of mundane, nothing items on eBay, wrote these incredibly compelling stories, resold them, and made 6400x their money. So I talk about that story a lot. Because what it illustrates is one we sometimes are, like they scammed people for this. So don't please don't do that. Don't lie. Don't be true to yourself. But what it illustrates is that we value story. And so I think about that, if you're in the industry, that's actually the relationship business. Understand what that means that you're actually investing in people, your most valuable asset. Thinking about that? Understanding that people don't value it, nobody gives a shit what's on your burger, unless you're telling meaningful story about it and understand how to develop that story. And then understand the value that we be placed on story in our culture will change is the business model completely. And so that is the paradigm shift that we're really pushing, which I must say all this sounds good. Is is incredibly difficult. And it's a long haul for sure and is why, you know, monetizing what best served eventually becomes when it's this like storytelling mechanism is really hard because most people don't believe me, and I don't blame them. Like this is completely different than everything we know about the way we communicate within food, beverage and hospitality. I am nothing if not unrelenting, and maybe naive force of nature and I'll keep at it.

Jensen Cummings Profile Photo

Jensen Cummings

CHIEF WHY OFFICER

My family has been in the restaurant industry for over 120 years. I am the fifth consecutive generation of chef/restaurateur. We opened our first place, called La Fond House, in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1900. I am one of the lucky few working in a restaurant early in their life, that was never asked, “when are you getting a real job?”. I have always felt empowered by that level of belief and support in becoming a chef. Even with all this lineage and legacy within my family history, I still did not grow up thinking I would be a chef. Movie director, musician, pro skateboarder or Superhero were more on my radar.

It was not until I graduated high school in Southern California and went to Ames, Iowa to work a summer job for my uncle Rick at his restaurant, Wallaby’s Bar & Grill as a dishwasher. Just a seventeen year-old punk in the dish pit and less than a month in, I was hooked! The fast-paced lifestyle, work hard, play hard and the comradery (albeit dysfunctional and ultimately toxic) it was the band of counter-culture rebels I had been longing for.

I’ve run the gamut of dishwasher, line-cook, bartender, Sous, Exec Chef, General Manager, Owner, Consultant, Fermented Foods production biz, Speaker, all in the pursuit of valuing and focusing on Why and Who before what and how for the Hospitality Industry. Today, my brand Best Served is delivering upon this vision as a strategy and consulting firm, as well as our Best Served Podcast, in which we speak to industry leaders about the people who have impacted their lives and careers. I am here to be of service, to hustle and communicate for our humans in hospitality. That’s why I do what I do, that’s who truly matters!