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Have any busboys/line cooks ever opened a restaurant?

Here in Los Angeles, and probably in most of the U.S., essentially all meals, from fast food to top-rated restaurants, across all ethnicities, are prepared by non-English-speaking, largely Hispanic immigrant staff. I wonder if anyone knows:

1. Have anyone from these ranks (or dishwashers, busboys) - specifically *non-English-speaking* individuals - ever taken those skills to open their own restaurant?

2. Would this even be possible, and if not, why not?

3. Does anyone know anyone in this position to say whether they even use these (often amazing) kitchen skills just around the house, at holiday dinners, etc. Or is it more of a "just a job" situation that doesn't leave the place of employment. I'm wondering if the Salvadoran cook at the awesome local kebab place makes kebabs when he bbq's with friends, and if they're equally awesome. Ditto for Thai food, Italian, etc.

I asked an acquaintance of mine recently who supplied restaurants in the L.A. area about this possibility, and he just laughed and said "impossible". Is it??

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    1. I think you may need to realize there is a whole lot more world than " la"

      1. I have seen this, so yes.

        anyway, why wouldn't it be possible? people who think it's "impossible" are ignorant and/or living in a small box.

        1. The last restaurant I owned AND actively managed was a higher end steak house. Soon after purchasing the restaurant and observing the routines of the staff I realized that the head Chef who was American born and raised really did very little actual work. Yes he was behind the line and worked the grill/expedited a bit but all the sauté or “skill” cooking was being done by the Mexican line cooks.

          It took me less than two months to decide I didn’t need to pay a Chef to just be a supervisor I have enough kitchen skills and restaurant experience that I could assume the supervisory position. My experience was just this…….I could teach these guys anything and they could replicate it however outside of some local Mexican cuisine that they cooked for themselves they didn’t have one ounce of creativity. After a couple months of me preparing specials showing them how I wanted them made and presented I would try to engage them to come up with some dishes of their own the results would me nothing, none zip. No originality or ability to put something together. They were EXCELLENT workers but not very good leaders or original thinkers. I believe they just grow up in a worker mentality where creativity isn’t cultivated and isn’t a strong suit of theirs.

          I will also say this…..most I would say at least 75/80% of kitchen workers in restaurants (not chains…but some chains as well) are undocumented illegal aliens. Thus opening up a location of their own would be extremely difficult from a tax stand point unless they were only going to accept cash. I’m sure there are examples out there but I would say they are very few and far between.

          2 Replies
          1. re: jrvedivici

            I agree with almost everything you say jr, except that I would add, those were particular people you employed who did not have creativity. Some of the guys I work with now are definitely creative. You should have tasted the cream of mushroom soup the new manager made!

            1. re: Missmoo

              It could be......I'll tell you this much too, the fact that I actually fired the Chef and put them in charge made them fiercely loyal and appreciative to me. I know these guys had been in the state's 10+ years.....some had families and children who were American Citizens in the school systems etc. I could not believe the pride they took in the fact I trusted them with this responsibility. Those were a special group of guys......on my last restaurant venture I tried to track the main two brothers down but sadly they went home for a visit and got caught trying to cross the boarder again. I believe it wasn't their first attempt so now they have to stay 5 years I believe or get jail time if they get caught trying to cross again. (Not 100% sure but that close to what I was told)

          2. Language has nothing to do with it. What matters are knowlege and skills beyond those of a typical line cook, and business acumen. There was a restaurant in my neighborhood which had an established reputation and which drew customers from a wide area for years. Eventually it was sold, and the cook who took it over ruined the business practically overnight. He didn't want to (or couldn't) make the food that had made the place a success, and had nothing to replace it that he could sell.

            1. It takes more than cooking skills to have a successful restaurant.

              One of the wisest things I ever did was to say no when backers approached me to open a place solely based on my recipes and skills.

              1. What are you trying to ask?

                It's not very clear.

                Are you asking whether bussers or dishwashers can work their way up to being a cook and then to opening their own restaurant?

                Or are you asking whether a non-English speaking person can start their own business in America?

                Also, if someone is preparing your food, like the Salvadoran cook in your local kebab place, they are not a dishwasher or a busser. They are a cook.

                1. A former server at Dai Ho (in Temple City) opened up a restaurant of their own.

                  Arguably the entire Mama's Lu empire was started by "line cooks" (whatever that term means).

                  My mom was a "line cook" and opened up 2 restaurants.

                  Happens all the time.

                  1. jrvedivici, your response is almost exactly what I was told, and which spurred my post. Ipse, I'm sorry, but "line cook" is the best approximation I could come up with. Please suggest another. I don't work in the industry (obviously) and if you have a better suggestion I'd use it, but somehow both you and jrvedivici got what I was asking despite the incorrect terminology. I mean people who speak no English and produce amazing and ethnically accurate dishes unrelated to their ancestry/ethnicity, and who had no knowledge of the cuisine before arriving in the U.S.

                    That you guys came up with two completely divergent responses ("few and far between") vs. "happens all the time" confirms my original suspicions, that it's a complex situation, probably variable based on ethnicities and neighborhoods (and patrons involved).

                    I guess for queries 1 and 2 of my OP, the long odds in opening a restaurant (and keeping it open) that would apply to (sorry, "line cooks") would apply to anyone else; plus, as others pointed out, citizenship and language issues, financial realities, etc.

                    As for question 3, whether these "against-type" cooks ever applied the skills, techniques, recipes, etc. in their home cooking, to know this might require someone who was a) a part of this culture *and* b) a chowhound reader; probably an unlikely pairing. Still I'm really curious if anyone's seen it happen.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: cant talk...eating

                      I can't speak for any local restaurant back stories where I live but in tourist-driven exotic locals around the world where I have worked there are dozens of natives running small to medium sized food businesses counting on the tourist trade to make a good living off of and a good deal of hotels hire from this pool of talent to run a hotel kitchen. I have photographed many of these people..and their children who have entered the business the same way.

                      1. re: cant talk...eating

                        In SGV I'd say a sizeable portion of the Chinese restaurants opens pre 2004 were by busboys, servers or kitchen staff - probably around 1 in 5. It's less common now as many of the newer restaurants are funded and opened by Mainlanders.

                        Many of the Shau Mays come from this type of lineage.

                        Also the same is probably true for restaurants in Huntington Park. And I'm not just talking about fruit stands either.

                        1. re: cant talk...eating

                          The divergence can be in part interpretation of the question. IMHO, it is extremely unlikely for a busboy or line cook to go directly to open their own restaurant for many reasons. For one, there are far more busboys and line cooks vs restaurants. Statistically "extremely unlikely" is factually the order of the day. The same would go for any profession. How many legal assistants or associates go on to open their own law firm, or nurse/resident go to open their own practice, actuary/accountant their own accounting firm, handyman/construction worker their own construction firm, bar-backs and bartenders their own bars, stage hands/actors their own theaters?

                          Even if you allow for busboys and line cooks to work their way up to sous chefs and executive chefs, which selects a population displaying some skill, desire or luck above and beyond that possessed by other busboys/line cooks - statistically "unlikely" would still factually be the order of the day.

                          The slightly different question that "of the restaurants opening, what percentage are opened by by someone, or a group of people of which at least one of which who has had some experience as a busboy/line chef (for chain restaurants counting those people sent out to run the new location)", I would say almost all of them.

                          Far more busboys/line chefs would move to opening up food stalls/food carts/ food trucks than move to opening full on restaurants. Lower initial capital costs, lower operating costs, easier business management and accounting, fewer/no personnel to manage, fewer/no investors to answer to, etc. Far more of those business than restaurants for that reason, so statistically more likely.

                          Again, if you ask an owner/operator of food stalls/food carts/food trucks, almost always they will have had some experience in the food industry in a restaurant somewhere.

                        2. I'm generalizing but pretty well all Asians in the country are 'legal'. Many many Latinos who work in restaurants are in the country illegally. That makes quite a difference if they want to start any business. Apples and oranges really.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Puffin3

                            Ok, I'm not sure I agree w/r/t legal vs. illegal Asian kitchen staff, but just assuming it's true, still curious if anyone has observations or opinions about whether cooking skills are being absorbed and used by kitchen staff outside of work, particularly cross-cultural ones.

                            Just to pose a hypothetical example, "Rogelio" walked across the border from Guatemala five years ago and took buses to reach his cousin in the U.S. He has been working in a high-end Italian restaurant in Santa Monica since then, producing $30/plate homemade pasta dishes, serving up 5 plates of fusilli with lamb every 15 minutes. Prior to this, his sole experience with pasta was fideo soup and mushy spaghetti stirred with Ragu from the local grocery. On his nights off, does he now whip up an al dente spaghetti with olive oil, parsley and a couple shaves of pecorino, which he could do blind-folded, or does he just let his girlfriend cook him fideo? In other words, have his tastes and approach to cooking, and maybe even cultural mores, changed since arriving in the U.S. and working in restaurants?

                            I guess my bet would be that for most people like him, no, he likes being cooked for, that his kitchen job is just a job. But for a small percentage of people like him, maybe there are cultural shifts going on. Sorry if this is too out-there, but we know these exchanges and influences are working on "us" - my 2-year-old refers to any flat, disk-like food as "quesadilla" (latkes, pita bread). My question is, is it also working in the other direction, on "them", and if so, how?

                            1. re: cant talk...eating

                              This line of thinking seems based on the assumption that the immigrant back off the house staff is uneducated and unsophisticated. Like anything - some are, some aren't. I've known people who were very educated professionals in their home country to end up busing tables once here. Often between language difficulties and credentials not being accepted they were unable to resume their past profession.

                              Regarding a shift in personal cooking/eating due to back of the house exposure - again, depends on the individual. I know many U.S. born chefs who create high end cuisine at work. At home they are like any one else. When you want a meatloaf molecular cuisine ain't gonna cut it!

                              At home these staff members have SO's, picky kids, limited budgets, limited time. Much of exploring new cuisines is a luxury really. You need enough time and money to take a chance. When those details are in short supply most will stick with the tried and true.

                              Much boils down to the individual. Some people are naturally curious and love to explore. Some just prefer to do a job and go home.

                              1. re: meatn3

                                Meatn3 - on the contrary, I am simply soliciting examples and accounts about whether line cooks import their cross-cultural skills to home.

                                I realize that any discussion of ethnicity is bound to elicit accusations of bias and stereotyping, which I hope wasn't what I was conveying. Look, I'm not saying that *every* Hispanic line cook is uneducated and unsophisticated, or every line cook in L.A. is Hispanic. I'm sure a few could quote flawless Shakespeare and Thucydides. But seriously for a second - *most* (and I'm saying not all, only saying most) are coming with limited English skills and what we'd consider traditional American education.

                                It sounds like you don't really know whether these guys (again, not talking about U.S. born chefs) cook Thai or Italian at home, which is perfectly fine. I don't either. Which is why I posted.

                                1. re: cant talk...eating

                                  This is a different question than if non-english speaking line cooks and busboys ever open up restaurants of their own.

                                  1. re: khuzdul

                                    Khuzdul, I realize it's a different question from the title, but my post had three parts ("3. Does anyone know anyone in this position to say whether they even use these (often amazing) kitchen skills just around the house, at holiday dinners, etc. ..."

                                    I couldn't make my subject 10 lines long, so stuck with just question #1 in the subject line. All three are related (in my opinion), dealing with issues of assimilation I happen to be interested in.

                                  2. re: cant talk...eating

                                    No, I don't think you crossed *that* line of generalization.
                                    :-)

                                    I just think this line of questioning has too many variables. Any observant person will be aware of new new techniques/concepts/materials in their work place. What they incorporate at home will depend solely on how well those new things fit into their personal life. Exposure results in personal change only if the individual finds the change relevant.

                            2. When we had to close our huge Asian Fusion restaurant, several of our employees went on to become head chefs and/or managers at places.

                              The most amazing story was the lady who was a line cook, dedicated to the fry machines. She'd saved nearly every penny since she came here from China. She invested it in her son, who now operates (with she and her husband) a thriving, highly-rated Chinese restaurant in our town.

                              Me, I went to college and proceeded thru my career, but in high school I washed dishes and was a "pantry chef". Now, five restaurants later ...

                              (oops. I'm still washing dishes and still making salads!)