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Episode 41: Culinary School

The Check welcomes Emmalee Zimmerman, a student in the culinary arts program at ECPI. She plans to use the skills she's learning to serve first responders and military personnel after her brother -- a marine and firefighter -- was killed in Afghanistan.





Transcript


Brady Viccellio

Welcome to The Check podcast. We're here with Emmalee Zimmerman. And I've just completed an interview with Emmalee. Emmalee had me here for a school project. You're a student at…


Emmalee Zimmerman

... Culinary Arts Institute at ECPI here in Virginia Beach. I'm getting my bachelor's. I got my associate's degree in Alvin, Texas.


Brady Viccellio

And Alvin, Texas. So it's funny you mentioned that because we're here with my co host, Alvin Williams.


Alvin Williams

Welcome to the Check, Emmalee.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Oh, yeah, I followed you from Alvin.


Alvin Williams

Brady is quite a project that you have there with your schoolwork.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Yes, I find it interesting how when they presented this to us, we had to pick a restaurant. All over Hampton Roads, we could pick any restaurant we want. And I wanted to go back for a history because I love history. And I think this area needs to learn a little bit more about what's around and try to bring that back.


Brady Viccellio

I agree. History is a good thing.


Alvin Williams

I agree. You picked a great restaurant, it is probably one of the most historical restaurants in Tidewater and I don’t know if it's the oldest but it's close. Right?


Emmalee Zimmerman

There's one more in Norfolk …


Brady Viccellio

Doumars is older. For sure. Yeah, like 1896 or something ridiculous. Yeah, but I don't know if there's another one. At least, I don't know. Certainly in Virginia Beach. I don't think there's an older one, right? I've haven’t heard of that one that's continuously been in business and owned by the same family. So tell me about your project.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Besides picking a restaurant which I picked you guys with the history because I like I said, I love history. And I believe the area should be brought up. And what we're going to be doing is I talked about the questions, and then I put it together. And then I will be putting it like a newspaper article for school. Also, I want to expand you guys like trying to get your name out there and help you guys out.


Brady Viccellio

We certainly appreciate that. We can use all the help we can get. So are you going for a career in cooking? Are you going for a career in food writing?


Emmalee Zimmerman

I actually want to be a teacher. The reason why I got into cooking was I have five brothers, either in the military or the fire department. And my one brother, he was a New York firefighter for 15 years. He was also a Marine. He was killed on Afghanistan four years ago. And while he was a father, husband, brother, son, brother, you name it, uncle, everything. He was also trying to educate himself in the food area, because in the fire department, you have to eat right, or you're just you're just not going to be able to get through the day. And some of his rookies in the Bronx, they do all the cooking into cleaning. Well, some of them didn't know how to do some cooking and cleaning. But he's so he was trying to teach them, teach them how to do some cooking and cleaning. So he was starting that process to educate himself in the culinary world. But then he was deployed and he never made it back alive. As his sister, I chose to finish what he started. And I went to school, I started to get my associates degree, I graduated May 13 of this year, and started right back up to get my bachelor's because I have a goal to teach our first responders and military members, some food. Our first responders around here, they don't get fed that much. I had the opportunity to do in my internship with Virginia Beach and Norfolk. And I was able to feed a bunch of firefighters and it was amazing. But I think like they need a break sometimes I know they can't get like a lunch break here and there because we get up and go during calls. I'm trying to figure out how I could teach them more. Maybe teach them firefighters some more cooking, so they can actually designate somebody to cook a meal or two instead of depending on somebody who doesn't know how to cook at all.


Brady Viccellio

So do you plan on having turning this into a business to teach firefighters?


Emmalee Zimmerman

I don't know. I don't know.


Alvin Williams

It's a pretty cool and noble concept. Today, I haven't heard of anyone else doing that. So maybe you've got a nice day to start a little business. Maybe a big business. I mean, there's a lot of EMTs out there and a lot of firefighters and maybe they're not getting nutritional meals or something more than just a quick sandwich or something.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Because I do see a lot of them out there and going through drive throughs or park and go in and they deserve a little bit more than what they're getting.


Brady Viccellio

Everybody deserves to eat well.


Alvin Williams

I don’t like getting stuck behind a fire truck in that Chick fil A line. I mean, just kidding.


Brady Viccellio

But it's a big vehicle to take to the drive through right? Alvin and I, as we discussed in the interview a little bit, have struggled with hiring quality help. Tell me a little bit about what you and your classmates do to find work and to get placed. What can you tell us about that, from your perspective as a student?


Emmalee Zimmerman

Well, we cheat a little bit. We have a career services. We have a gentleman named Greg Ambrose. He helps the students try to find placement on where or what we want to do. So anybody can take that can call up to a school and say, hey, look, I'm looking for some help. Do you have anybody? They called up and asked, I have a job opening? Do you have any students and they passed on the message. So that's how sometimes you can get some labor in is by calling around to the schools because you never know, the opportunity there. Even if somebody wants to come and learn from you take that opportunity.


Alvin Williams

What is it most of the students are looking for? Where would they like to be placed?


Emmalee Zimmerman

It's up to them?


Brady Viccellio

Well, I mean, in talking to your classmates, is there is there a theme? Do they want to be at Sbarro? Or where do they want to be?


Alvin Williams

Is it money driven? Is it passion driven? Is it long-term job focused?


Emmalee Zimmerman

They're all there for passion. I know that they want to be able to learn and cook, especially the bakery department. They make some good stuff. But I don't think it's money. I think it's when we're learning at first, we have to learn to accept to put our foot in the door and accept anything, even if it's to me if it's $10, I got to accept that $10. Because I got to step up the ladder, and I got to prove to myself, hey, I can earn that $20 an hour. This is what I can do. This is how I can do it.


Brady Viccellio

Your classmates, do they have restaurant experience? Or do they just have an interest in cooking and decided that that's the direction career direction they want to go in?


Emmalee Zimmerman

It’s 50/50. Some of them may have mom and dad restaurants, that they are helping, running or working and they want to educate themselves. So they go to school to get a certification. Because you can also get just a regular certification and culinary arts, or you can get associate style. So help build that and expand like I'm doing for food service management right now. Because it's not just as a chef, you gotta learn more than just cooking.


Brady Viccellio

Well tell us a little bit more. I mean, we have a wide audience who they don't all work in work in restaurants. Tell us tell us a little bit about what your classes are like, what else do you learn about other than just you know how to fry an egg or bake a cake?


Emmalee Zimmerman

Definitely math. Because sometimes as a chef, you may not have a calculator and your head is a calculator.


Brady Viccellio

What do you need math for?


Emmalee Zimmerman

Well, you have weigh the flour, you guys sometimes get to make the recipe if you don't have the right measurements. So conversions. Culinary calculation was a big tough one for me, because you got to literally take a normal recipe and try to make it for 36 people, or you take that recipe that's 36 people down to four people. So that was a little difficult.


Alvin Williams

And then what about not just culinary but did they teach you food service, like how to wait on tables or how to bartend or how to do the books and that kind of stuff?


Emmalee Zimmerman

At the associate's level, no. At the bachelors level, yes, I will be learning all that from the back of house, front of house, computers, the books...


Brady Viccellio

Food costing?


Alvin Williams

Menu planning.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Yes. And dishwashing. I did a lot of that in Alvin.


Brady Viccellio

How is Alvin, Texas


Emmalee Zimmerman

It is a very cute little town it's in between Houston and Galveston. The area there is amazing. Which I miss about that -- sorry Virginia Beach in Hampton Roads area-- is their beef is in house, in Texas says local beef. So that's what I miss about it is the freshness and the in house where you can get the chicken, the beef, you name it. Now what they don't have in that Galveston Houston area is the seafood. The seafood is amazing over here.


Alvin Williams

So what are they doing there? There is a lot of barbecue food, I’d guess.


Emmalee Zimmerman

They do a lot of barbecue or deep fried. Deep-fried Twinkies. You name it. You'll see it at the Texas rodeo fair that they have once a year.


Alvin Williams

Excellent -- health conscious. So how long is your school program? Two years and then you do another two years, is that the deal?


Emmalee Zimmerman

Associate's was two years, my bachelor's degree since I came into literally graduated and jumped right on in. I have a few classes that Alvin did not accept, but it's going to be about 15 months.


Alvin Williams

And then usually you just go right out into the workforce unless like you, you might be starting your own niche business.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Or I can go on and try to get my master's in food safety. You got to hit all the steps.


Alvin Williams

Especially if you want to own your own place, it's really good to know


Emmalee Zimmerman

Or be a great chef or a teacher.


Alvin Williams

Or a teacher.


Emmalee Zimmerman

I want to make sure our first responders, even military get fed.


Alvin Williams

Well, congratulations on your success thus far. And we wish you well going forward.


Brady Viccellio

Thank you very much, Emmalee, it was a pleasure meeting you and we do wish you well in your career. And I hope you have this wonderful business. That just goes gangbusters.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Now, I don't know about that.


Brady Viccellio

It just just could be anything. I wish you success in your future.


Alvin Williams

That's great that your intentions are to look after these military folks and the firefighters. And that's really cool. So congratulations. Thank you,


Emmalee Zimmerman

Thank you, guys, for having me. I will make sure I stop by.


Brady Viccellio

And I hope your project goes well. I'm Brady.


Alvin Williams

And I'm Alvin. This is The Check.


Emmalee Zimmerman

The turnover rate is an average high in the food industry. What does the restaurant do to keep the turnover rate steady, and to ensure that it stays steady?


Brady Viccellio

A steady turnover rate? I mean, you want it steady, low. And right now it's steady, high. So we don't want to sustain that. I think labor is a major thing right now. And the turnover rate is awful. And it's very expensive to hire people to train people and then have people leave, which is what's going on right now. So I have no idea how to fix it. I don't know that there is a solution other than time. In normal times, it's very important to you know, take good care of your staff and try to be a good employer be reasonable with your requests. We have benefits, we have we have an insurance plan, we have an IRA plan, retirement plan, things like that are important. They don't necessarily keep people but sometimes it keeps us slightly competitive with other businesses to try to keep people but right now it's a hard time for employers and probably employees, I don't know. But there's so much turnover. And it's really honestly out of control right now.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Well, what has that optimal staffing model for the restaurant right now? What do you want it to be compared to what it is now?


Brady Viccellio

to go out and find quality people at a reasonable prices? It's impossible. So we have to pay more or hire less qualified people.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Who do you have on staff right now? How many chefs servers host


Brady Viccellio

We have about 65 people--somewhere in there--on the payroll right now. About a quarter of that is back of house and three quarters as front of house, somewhere around there.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Long history -- third generation with two successful restaurants. How did the family keep the tradition alive when one in three restaurants do not survive the first year?


Brady Viccellio

A lot of luck, a lot of hard work. My grandfather opened up in 1939. So it was a hard time in history to open any business. And, you know, right after them it was one of the World War II, and I'm not sure the exact date. But at one point, the restaurant was recommissioned as an officer's club. There was a Camp Ashby, which is kind of I think around where Central Library is now. So just about a mile away. And the only real business kind of club type business close by that they could use to their benefit was this restaurant. And they came knocked on the door and said, you know, you have a choice, you can leave and let us have our way with your business. Or you can stick around and help us with it. Serve us when you're here. And we'll let you know our schedule and you can try to continue to do business. And during that time, my grandfather, obviously he took the second option and he served them when they were here. And when they weren't, he would get on the phone and call his friends. They had a downstairs. They had a jukebox. And I think well, they had a jukebox and some other entertainment items that were coin operated. And there was a guy who had come to empty out the coins of the jukebox -- service the jukebox, changed his records and all that sort of thing. He would on his way out the door, he gave my grandfather, a handful of coins, a couple of dollars, $4 or $5, something like that. My grandfather said if it weren’t for that guy giving my grandfather a tip on his way out the door, he wouldn't have made it through those times. So just luck, and, we can go back to this guy who was a jukebox maintenance man who made the difference.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Now our families come from service. You guys are food service as my family is public service in the military and the fire department. I chose doing what I love, which is the food service. What has been what you love?


Brady Viccellio

So I've never been a fireman. I might like that more. I like the trucks and their ladders. So it might be cool. I grew up in this business and it's all I've done and all I know so I suppose that can be love.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Is the podcast one of them?


Brady Viccellio

Yeah, sure. We do the podcast as a as kind of a therapy session.


Emmalee Zimmerman

Has it helped the business that any type of way?


Brady Viccellio

Probably not. It hasn't hurt.


Emmalee Zimmerman

And the last question, you started talking about your family. I just want to know a little bit more about you guys.


Brady Viccellio

I'm third generation here at Steinhilber’s. It was my grandfather who started this with my grandmother. My gradmother passed away before I was born. I think she passed away in 1973. My grandfather in the late 80s. And growing up with my grandfather – we’d spent a lot of time together here at the restaurant and you know, fixing things, working on things, doing restaurant stuff. My first job was making coffee and you know, as I don't know, 10 year old probably remember washing dishes standing on a milk crate so I could reach the countertop. I grew up doing it. My uncle and my mother ran the with my grandfather and after his passing and my uncle died about 15 years ago now. So it's been my mother and I since then. I graduated from college in 1997. And I've been here full time ever since and quite a bit of part time work before then full time summers and part time during school. That's it.

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