Celebrating 10 Years: Stefan Johnson

INVITATION OF A ‘DECADE’, Act 1

Flashback to September 10th, 2004 at approximately 8:30 pm. How many of you remember what you were doing? Sounds like one of the questions we hear on the courtroom dramas on TV where the witness answers in a stoic tone ‘I do not recall’. I can tell you exactly where I was, along with about 50 other people. I was in the main dining room of Zazios in the Radisson in downtown Kalamazoo.

Zazion Main Dining Room: 2004

Zazion Main Dining Room: 2004

I’ll set the stage. I just arrived at the Radisson after 10 hours of driving from Kansas City, I hadn’t set eyes on the restaurant in about a month and was very curious as to the finish construction that was being done and literally ran into the dining room. Unfortunately, I interrupted a Front of the House meeting where new servers were being trained on points of service. That was my introduction to many of them; windblown from a long car ride, t-shirt shorts and sandals, having had way too much coffee, and needing a shower.

Many of that initial crew of new hires didn’t stick around very long. When we opened the restaurant on October 1st, 2004, the volume was more than many could handle. Those that did make the grade enjoyed an extremely successful server career before many moved on to find placements in their fields of study. I’m grateful for the relationships established in those first months of being open and stay connected with many of those initial openers via Linked In.

Happy Birthday Zazios!

 

When I was asked to write this ‘blog’ about the 10 years that I’ve been with the Radisson in both Zazios and now Webster’s, I wondered what was the purpose. In Food and Beverage we are graded or scored by our performance every day, by satisfied guests, by being exceptional at understanding what a guest wants, and by being proactive to the needs of others. Then I was reminded that we are participating in a series of Chef’s Tables at Zazios to help celebrate the 10 year Anniversary.

 

THE CHEF’S TABLE, Act 2

Besides being friends with Executive Chef John Korycki at Zazios, having worked with John in Kansas City, one of the reasons I came to the Radisson was the Chef’s Table. What a concept! More importantly, what a gas as a chef to be able to perform for people every night! It was both the most enjoyable and the most frightening experience. I recall walking around the Radisson on the sidewalks downtown before I cooked at the Chef’s Table the first time, asking for help and intervention to not screw it up and have the presence of mind to talk while I was cooking.

Prayers were answered and that first Chef’s Table went great. It is so much fun from a Chef’s perspective, it has to be a blast as a guest. I’ve only experienced the full Chef’s Table once as a guest and it was great. I couldn’t tell you how many times John or I performed at the Chef’s Table those first few years, some nights we did 2 seating’s, it seemed like a bunch. Each time it was stressful and enjoyable. Sure we had mishaps, cut fingers on truffle shavers, I remember burning all the crostini’s once and asking if the guests wanted to help scrape the burnt parts off. Two people raised their hands and said that’s what their grandmothers would have done! It was great.

Alec Durocher and Matt Lewis getting back to their roots at their recent Guest Chefs' Table at Zazios.

Alec Durocher and Matt Lewis getting back to their roots at their recent Guest Chefs’ Table at Zazios.

For the month of October Zazios will be offering guest chef’s the chance to perform at the Chef’s Table. Nate Shaw and I will do a couple of tables offering our Webster’s versions of some Zazios favorites (expect great beef!) and another table with our idea of what Zazios will be in ten more years. That will be fun, I see the entire Webster’s culinary team having a course at that table with their ideas of where food will be in ten years. Can’t wait to see their visions.

Of course, we need to sell out the seats for these events. If you have questions or are just so sold on the idea that you want to book your seats now, call Alexa (Alex) Tipton at 269-226-3144.   By the way, it was her idea to have me write this blog so if you are bored to death, you have permission to call her to tell her that as well!

 

Nate is looking forward to cooking at the Chef's Table with Stefan, and can give mom a break this time around!

Nate is looking forward to cooking at the Chef’s Table with Stefan, and can give mom a break this time around!

A DECADE OF GIFTS, Act 3

Chefs really don’t stay at jobs for decades. Our profession is usually one of moving from spot to spot to make our name until we can save enough or convince some people to invest in a restaurant with our name on it. I’ve been blessed to stay with Greenleaf Hospitality for ten plus years. I can pinpoint the reason in two words, the people.

The gifts of a decade have been the young men and women that I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years. I hope their perspective is a positive one regarding our relationships, but I often don’t get to see the impact that I might have had, so I take it on faith that they learned some life lessons and got better at their craft and better at being human beings who care about others and our planet.

I work for some of the most unusual and talented bosses on the planet. They are extremely transparent and goal focused, at the time very helpful and hands off. They trust us to run our business effectively with fiscal responsibility. More importantly, they realize that without our trusted staffs to assist running our operations, we’d fail. They let us take care of our employees and try to find a balance with life and work. I’m lucky in that regard.

Signature Chef's

Besides, in the ten years since coming to Kalamazoo from Kansas City, my lovely wife Amy and I have three amazing granddaughters who all enjoy making messes in both Zazios and Webster’s. What can be better than that, no cooking or cleaning up! I need to eat out more often!

 

– Stefan Johnson

– Webster’s Prime

 

The kids and grandkids celebrating the fourth.

The kids and grandkids celebrating the fourth.

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