Jan. 30, 2022

Part II Best Served with Rebel Chef Jensen


In part two Chef Jensen takes us deeper and bring storytelling to life with his epic Storytelling Challenge, and in this episode, you will leave impacted and inspired and ready to tell your story. You'll learn about why restaurants should become podcasters and ambassadors for their community. Let's connect back with Chef Jensen of Best Served.

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

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

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

Transcript

Jensen Cummings:

nobody got told. There's drama in the restaurant, all these things that we know so I want to take that and flip it. I also wanted to challenge us. And when I say the 868686 challenge, the challenge was really for us. And what I wanted to do is say could we for three months, basically put a story out every single day, find a way to do a couple things, one, to be able to create the infrastructure and process to be able to publish articles very quickly, with people that don't have writing backgrounds. Because when I say authors, writers, were talking there was lying cooks, there was servers, there were bartenders. It was not professional writers. And we told them like your story matters, and nobody can tell it as good as you. So we want to hear it. We want to find a way to put it out there and we want to pay $86 which was also an important number for a couple reasons. One is so many writers that I know they're professional writers, just pumping out another listicle best burgers in town, they get paid like $75 for those I was like No wonder we don't have meaningful food media, because we don't value the people that are bringing those stories to life, let alone the people on the other end that are that are giving those stories to the writers to be able to express and so I wanted to put a number out there that shifted that expectation. Of that financial and kind of emotional input. And also I wanted to then be able to figure out a way that I could get people to pay for this and sponsorship model. So the first thing was like let's create a really clear financial expectation, no ambiguity, so a sponsor gonna sponsor an article $110 and 86 of those dollars went directly to the writer. We had a nonprofit partner in the weeds so that that that contribution was was tax deductible which made it easier yes for you know, corporate sponsor types and then 5% went to them and then didn't even really actually pay for all the cost of production and all that but then there was a small amount that went to the cost of production. And, and so we had that clear transparency, and it allowed them to directly support somebody in the industry, which there isn't that direct pipeline, enough in our industry to really support the human on the other end. That's that's putting out their story. And then the hardest part of Michael of this whole thing was convincing people across our industry I interacted with 1000s of people to lay the groundwork for this. And so many people did not believe me that I actually wanted their story out there that there was a way to get help to get them paid. And there are hundreds of people that said I'm Yes, I'm writing a story. This sounds perfect. And then when they I can just tell from interactions with them, they sat down and all of the doubt all of the imposter syndrome, all of the self worth crept in. And so many people we'd set deadlines, this was one of my tests for you. I'd said that the day after the deadline. They reached back out to me Oh, I missed it. I was so busy. I extended the deadline for them to go I could just see them go oh shit, call my bluff. And some of them wrote them but others, you know, kind of ghosted and found more excuses to get the story out there. So I learned a lot. It was a big challenge and that was the hardest challenge is to have people believe in themselves enough and even as good of a hype man and cheerleader as I am for people in our industry. It was a massive struggle. I spent so much time you know people like I don't know what to write about. And I was like, just write what would you cook for dinner last night. Right about the first time you went to a sushi restaurant write about cooking with your grandmother read about your favorite holiday cookies like anything as a story. We desperately need to connect to people and find new adventures and food and find things that bring us home that familiar that there's a kinship, again, relationship business, people say I have the same experience. You're forever connected. And so that was a great challenge. A lot that we learned from that a lot more work we have to do to get everybody on every side of the equation to really buy into it. So we got a lot more to figure out. Huge challenges there. But that's that's the kind of thing we want to do to bring this this connective tissue of what best served is meant to be coming to the forefront.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, you hooked me on that challenge. When I looked at the story behind the story is what I would call in the story behind that challenge is amazing. And then you help these people from all walks of life that are telling these stories. It's It's so real and raw, you know, it's so unique and articles were so good.

Jensen Cummings:

I know man, I've been reading them. We were really impressed. I couldn't believe it. We thought like we had a team of amazing teams headed up by Sophie Breaker. Katie O'Hara.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, I was listening to Katie the other day.

Jensen Cummings:

Yeah. Zoe Shack, Camille Shoemaker. Sarah Carpenter. And Nicole Vargas really helps as well. Alejandro Gonzalez helped us because we had Spanish language. We have Spanish language content. And we've published managed language articles, which I thought was very important for us in this process, as well. They did an amazing job and I was I was sure that they are going to spend hours and hours like completely rewriting are back and forth and back and forth. And there was an article there. I didn't change a single thing. I published it in 12 minutes. I was like, That is amazing. And so that was really exciting. And then when people got to check the pictures that I got people sent us with their check was just like, it was amazing. I felt like it was one of those publisher clearing house where you show up with a giant check at their door and they're just blown away. Except it wasn't some raffle you did that you manifest with that with your story that one piece of content away from being a published and paid writer. How cool is that?

Michael Dugan:

Say you should create a collage of those photos of people taking those pictures, you know, I mean, he did so many cool things, but I think that would be really impactful to see and for them to see to be honored right.

Jensen Cummings:

There it was, it was fun. Some people I think still didn't believe that they were getting an $86 Check out showed up at their door like what is this thing? Wait a minute. You know, we had like a letter that got sent to them. It was

Michael Dugan:

it's like an award Come on. It's like an award man or ribbon or you know, some sort of recognition. It's brilliant. It really represents that.

Jensen Cummings:

For them they might as well want to James Beard Award. Yeah, right! They were acknowledged by their peers at the highest level. For being able to put out a story that's meaningful, that's personal that has an impact. I don't know how you can do something better in our industry than that.

Michael Dugan:

The suffering and the reality and just, oh my god, I'm hooked. Like I don't have that much time and you are taking up so much of my life. Now. You don't even realize like I'm hooked on your show. And you inspire me and you inspire me to be a podcaster and that's what I really wanted to tell you because

Jensen Cummings:

I'm grateful Yeah, devastated and inspired by so many of those. Some of them were really tough to read.

Michael Dugan:

What makes a good storyteller?

Jensen Cummings:

Having the willingness to tell the story it's it's everything. Like I I so appreciate what you're saying. And I am novice at best. What I have is not this immense, profound ability to tell a story. I have an unwavering commitment. That story is what I want to bring to the world. What I what I actually have to offer. Yeah, and so that I think is the most important thing. And we're all storytellers. We all have something to say we all have something that that is so uniquely us, and just being willing to do it to kind of go back to this like your one story, your one piece of content away from having that breakthrough. It might be personal, could be professional could be both. And so that's what makes a great storyteller and look yes, absolutely. skills and talent. that feed into that he had, you don't know that the person on the other end of hearing or watching that story is not going to resonate. And I think this is something that comes into the restaurant. I remember early on realizing that I didn't need as many customers as I thought I thought I needed every single person in Denver to come into my restaurant to be successful. And the reality is like, you know what I need like 50 people to really give a shit. And that's it. Right? And everything else is is transient business and you definitely need to have a vehicle to be able to bring in that type of business or that type of audience. You just need that that core. So when I talk about like our core team, like that's what I'm really building like if I build a legacy for this storytelling and content, idea, this concept that we have, it's not going to be because millions of people have listened to it, watched it interact with it as because 12 People 15 People 20 People decided that they were willing to work with us to collaborate and contribute be a part of our team. That to me is more powerful and meaningful than anything. So we're able to build up a team that now sees the work that they do having an impact on the world and some people that they know that to me is super meaningful, good if that creates an ops opportunities gives me an upside potential for millions of people to be able to get value out of it. I think that is just so worth

Michael Dugan:

I'm glad you're doing it.

Jensen Cummings:

The time the effort, the heartache, the pain, the struggle, the I don't want to put out content anymore. That's me. I know I love putting up content at the same time I could work. We're not putting out content right now. Kind of sharing some stuff here but we don't have original content and we were best served we kind of go into planning for 2022 Wow, our team took off a week for Thanksgiving. We're taking off a week from Christmas Eve through New Year's, which in my adult life I've never done because I know how we're doing it. And so we're not putting out original content and some days I wake up I'm like, I'm kind of glad I don't have to like be on today and and so that's okay too. Like you're gonna have those days and I definitely will okay with the fact that I'm some days I'm like I'm fired up I got like two shows recording for another video chats I'm doing we're doing a brainstorm session a meeting of the minds with the client this natum Fired up. I'm like going to be on all day. I'm just putting on a show and I'm gonna like bring value in other days. I'm gonna like, not have to like do my hair?

Michael Dugan:

I do audio only because I was amazing. I'm fine with video, but it's more to honor the chef because they're so busy. And a lot of times they cancel and that's that's what happens. It's like, because they're just so overwhelmed by the industry right now. When when we set up for interviews, and they're nervous, and I try to help them along, right, and with coaching and stuff, so audio seems to be easier for me. I'm thinking about moving the video but but anyway, before we wrap up, I really want to put a huge shout out to Chef Mimi, who connected us . When I met her we really clicked and she's like you have to check out Best Serve. We're doing this miniseries on best serve on on clubhouse. And you know, it's about storytelling. And I went to your storytelling session. And I remember Chef Michelly Fox, I remember you of course and Chef Mimi was there and a lot of really incredible chefs. There's one guy talking about cooking bear. And I just remember how impactful that was for me to say, I get it. You know, you're honoring people in the hospitality business. You're giving them a voice. And Chef Mimi, I just can't thank you enough for connecting us.

Jensen Cummings:

Chef Mimi is my my spirit animal. One of those people that like, has overcome their own doubts and self doubts. You know, this is she talks about this as her third career, right? Like she didn't come up, hasn't worked in restaurants and all that and also, you know, doubted the ability to tell story or sometimes right, struggling with English as a second language being Vietnamese and and clubhouse just found that platform because also video is really scary. I'm excited because in January, she's gonna do a video show with us and I'm so grateful that you trust what we've done enough. And Mimi was one of those people. She's just like, I love what you're doing. What can I do to be a part of it? And she's like, I want to be on your team maybe has a Mimi is on our website has a title has an email address is on our Slack channel. She's like, she's a force so she was like I'm on the team you just tell me what what that means is like I don't know what that means. But let's just work on stuff and figure it out. This series you're talking about me are called the James Beard Foundation, you know, a pinnacle organization in our industry. And they're like you all are some of the most organized and detailed and inclusive and focused and great storytellers and content producers and that we've come across and like shut the hell up because I'm pretty sure we have no idea what the hell we're doing. So thank you. And we're going to continue to do that because we just think differently and have different metrics and understanding. So even when you mentioned like, the amount of comments or like all that stuff, I spent exactly zero time worrying about that. Even though I know even though we have a great marketing mind, I understand how the metrics work. I understand how the business work. We're so thinking long term that was like for two years. We're going to do nothing but find meaningful content and stories and people and we're going to you know dabble in other things and we're going to AV test a little bit. We're gonna do some of that stuff. We're not going to go full in on what it takes to like really build a strong following, because I know how to do that, you know, like, in a one year span went from zero to 17,000 followers on Instagram. I know like I know how to do that. Right? But like for me, it's like something we're building something different. And then I see it you know, there's like episodes they have 150 views, but then I see now, you know now we can't put out an episode that gets less than 7000 views. You know, and there's ones that are like 20,000 views and this is no paid media, like again, I know the strategies I could definitely post all of these things and and get them to a quarter million and we'll probably do some stuff like that because we want to break through into new audiences and be more public and forward facing but like it was important to build the foundation of what we're actually trying to do and not worry about the vanity metrics until we were in a true growth stage. And I think restaurants we struggle with that too. We're so focused on some of those vanity metrics. And I want people thinking about how do I tell the story of this one dish that is the foundation of why I cook and I don't want you to just put a picture of that on Instagram say come by my shit. I want you to tell a meaningful story. So we talked about cross utilization. This is a little like value add for the audience. Think about cross utilization. What do we do in a restaurant in the kitchen, behind a bar to multi purpose as many ingredients as possible to minimize food waste, to maximize our purchasing opportunity, case sizes, all those type of things. We do a pretty good job of that in restaurants. But then we don't apply that same methodology when it comes to storytelling content and marketing. And so I want you to do that like the transactional nature of how we use social media and expecting because we have a good burger. Somebody is gonna come and buy it is obligated to buy that because we put a post on social media. It's just ridiculous. So we talked about that. And we talked about like, what's the 12 pack? How do we build a 12 pack a full case around a single dish so I want to know what's the 250 word article you're gonna write about this dish? Because if you can't read write a 250 word article that every dish in your menu, then why is it on your menu? You're just hype chasing, you're just trying to to capture the the attention that you think that that dish creates within the market and then you end up being everything for everybody which means you're not known for one thing you'll be known for nothing we fall into that trap. I want to know what's the journey? What what brought us here. What are the what are the you know, Danny Meyer talks about like no, the cow like what is that backstory? What, what is your personal connection? to it? I wonder about the culture like what what are your employees feel about it? What would somebody who's a potential employee of your short staff which is every restaurant, tell me why I should care enough to come cook that burger. What is it about that burger and cooking it with you and for our guests that's going to be meaningful to my life, you know, and then the product itself like showing a 360 degree view of that product. I want to know the video of you talking about why it's on your menu like I want to know more than just like look at this pretty finished plates come by it. And we haven't done a bit of that. So we want to look at that cross utilization as a new approach and methodology to be able to actually bring those stories to life. The 12 is a rule that I have you get to ask for a sale and one in 12 You can make offers and you can create further engagement in interaction in every single one of these 12 stories that you're telling around this dish. You only get to ask for a direct sale come by my stuff, one out of 12 and if you shift that mindset and approach and actually bring value, it changes the relationship significantly because restaurants too often Michael, you know, it's like, they're like, Well, I don't want to post too often because I won't spam people's like you're only spamming them if you're actually spamming them. Because we're consuming massive amounts of food content. People want the story they want to know all about it. They want unfettered access to you and the story. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no personal space when you are a public facing business like a restaurant, but that's that's what people want and the value that you bring. So put it out there in a meaningful way. You're only spamming if you're spamming unfortunately, we become so transactional and come by my shit because we need to sell more of them because we're not getting as many butts and seats because you know, we just brought in this really expensive product with no plan on how to actually sell it now we're freaking out that we need to sell 22 of them. Otherwise we're gonna lose money. And we got to think a little bit more long term and strategic. So hopefully some restaurant chefs and people are out there listening that going, Oh, I can tell 12 Different micro stories around one dish and make a huge impact.

Michael Dugan:

I mean, that's the key right his story story creates impact. That's why there's so many podcasts right? And but, but the podcasts that get listened to are the ones that have good stories.

Jensen Cummings:

In every restaurant should have a podcast Yeah, restaurant should be on clubhouse and then turn that audio recording into a podcast like even beyond just thinking about like talking about food. I've been talking about this a lot. Nobody's taking me up yet. Somebody will at some point. Maybe it's somebody listening right now, out there. Right now. I want you as a restaurant to start a podcast and you might be in a little neighborhood that has four other restaurants and 12 other retail shops and there's a dentist office on the corner and there's this and there's that in the other. And I want you to start a podcast that is named after whatever your small neighborhood is called or the streets that your neighborhood is, is on. And I want you to become the ambassador of that community. And so you can talk about food you can talk about the other restaurants you can have the the dentist on talking about, you know how they've had clients who they're on their third generation of people who've lived in this neighborhood and they've been coming to their dentist office since 1974. You can create that kind of story people look to you to be that Ambassador, that voice for that community. Well, when they're deciding where they're going to spend their money where they're going to have their holiday event for their business where they're going to bring their family when they come into town. You are going to always be top of mind for them because you are a storyteller within that community that brings the most value and the most connection to people. And for one hour a week. You could tell stories just about that neighborhood and the 4000 people in your neighborhood that then bring you those 50 people that come and on average spend $24,000 a year with you. That's the foundation of a business that's equitable, profit sustainable, because you spend an hour a week talking to your neighbors. Imagine that.

Michael Dugan:

That's a really powerful message. So as we wrap up, how do people find you I know how to find you. You're all over the place, but how? What's the best way to find you and get connected with you?

Jensen Cummings:

Yes, well, you mentioned the 86 challenge. That's what I want people to be really looking right now. So definitely go to best serve podcast.com And head over to the 868686 challenge and be prompted right off the bat to kind of pick your journey and so we want to take you over there because I want people reading those articles because somebody is gonna read that article and go I have something to say like I want them reaching out to us. So I think that's important. And yeah, besser podcast or at chef Jensen Cummings and kind of most of the platforms. I'm definitely wanting more restaurants to connect on tick tock, you'll see a lot more content from us on tick tock, as I think that is going to be the most crucial social media platform for restaurants within two years. And so we're definitely going to be very much more active and kind of just messing around testing stuff but tick tock will be where you find significant amount of customers when I call whole house marketing. You need to look at whole house not just the front house versus back house. We're taking that same mindset to people are struggling right now to find customers and to find employees and so we're gonna, you're gonna see people on there talking about, you know, I'm a line cook and I believe in this and I believe in that and I want to work at a place that's this and you're going to reach out to them and say, Hey, we're exactly that and you're gonna share the Tic Tock that you may talking about what we call job stories, like here's the type of environment that we're cultivating. Here's why we're a great workplace worth working. Here's why we love to have this type of person who believes in this type of thing, working at a restaurant, so you're going to create an opportunity for bringing, you know those classic butts in seats, but also you're going to develop your team that way in and Tik Tok is going to be one of the ways that that happens. So those are a couple places I would say. definitely connect with us. And if you want to go check out the video podcast. Facebook is definitely the spot where there's the most activity happening around the show itself.

Michael Dugan:

Great. And one last question for you. Please. What's one thing when you launched the best serve podcast that you never expect it to happen?

Jensen Cummings:

I would still be doing it two years later? Or maybe that's the only thing I expected to happen was I would still be doing it two years later. I just didn't know if anybody would care enough to listen or to want to be a part of it and yeah, you should start making content and telling your story today, because I didn't expect to be here. And now we've had 10s of 1000s of pieces of content million of engagements. And hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people have trusted us with their story and we've you know, built a real business and we have a great team and never would have expected if that's what I went in trying to manipulate it into being something it just was what I was willing to put out there in the world and it always comes back to you.

Michael Dugan:

Well, fantastic. Chef Jensen, thank you so much for being a guest and making the time for us. We really appreciate it.

Jensen Cummings:

Truly honored to talk with you and your audience and hopefully your wife enjoys this episode as well.

Michael Dugan:

I'm sure she will.

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!