Brother luck is familiar with loss and the feeling of being marginalized. His father died when he was 10. His mother worked to support the family, but that left plenty of opportunities to be influenced by the crime and violence in his Oakland, California, neighborhood. But he also knows firsthand that a chance can make a profound difference, one that will open doors. Then it’s hard work, he says, adding, “it’s all on you to make it happen.” That’s why his kind of A-listers stand out in the foodservice industry: high school students, adrift or not, individuals with a criminal record, veterans and basically anyone with barriers to employment will get a chance with Luck at his restaurants, including the recently opened Lucky Dumpling. Here, Luck discusses why today’s chefs and industry leaders need to step up.
Q. What separated one path from the next for you?
A. My adolescence was around a lot of tough characters – everything was negative or violence or aggression or disrespect. None of it was positive. I stared working at 14, washing dishes in a restaurant. Cooking was something I knew I was good at, and I had a positive role model who led me to want that positive attention and validation again and again.
Q. How did you score the scholarship for culinary school?A. I moved to Phoenix and got into a vocational program in high school. C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program) had a program in Arizona working with a lot of inner city kids there. Part of the award was from C-CAP, $15,000, and matched by other culinary competitions.
Q. This helped form the values behind your own business?
A. As a business owner you have the opportunity to really build a culture. And that is everything. As we started to grow and further our company, values are really important. When it comes to staffing – knowing that I come from a vocational school that made it click for me – I want to make sure kids have the opportunity that I did. I work with a lot of high school kids. We’re mentoring (high school) culinary teams – two members are working in a restaurant – and they’re learning skills that will last them a lifetime. On top of that, we work with a youth organization – kids in the system, kids from a broken home or in tough living situations. We bring them in, they work with local chefs, we have them work in charity events and in our kitchens all to learn skills and get that positive feedback and encouragement that will help them see their potential. That’s our culture.
Q. Your culture and community involvement, though, extends beyond high school students?
A. Fort Carson is close by, so we do a vocational program with the cooks there. They spend 45 days with us to learn what this industry has to offer, and it’s amazing to watch them go back to their dining facilities and cook with newfound inspirations. The last two guys got shipped to Afghanistan and are cooking there. It feels special to be a part of such amazing life-changing moments.
Q. Some restaurateurs are giving back by giving second chances to people who are otherwise turned away by employers. What’s your take on that?
A. Our kitchen is really diverse. People with a troubled past? We don’t judge. We have one guy who spent 10 years in prison but just got out, getting his life together. He heard about us, got a job washing dishes and we’re helping him fill out forms (financial aid for college). Those are the kinds of people I’m really proud of.
Q. Do you have a mantra that you live by?
A. I received a compliment once that’s stuck me with. After we started a culinary high school competition, someone thanked me for being consistent. I love that – it sums up what we need to be doing as leaders: Be consistent. Hold yourself accountable to what you say you are and what people expect. A lot of the people who need help are used to being abandoned. When you offer help, be accessible. If you can’t be, say when you are and follow up.
MORE ABOUT LUCK
- Graduate of the Art Institute of Phoenix and a certified executive chef through the American Culinary Federation
- Opened Brother Luck Street Eats followed by Four By Brother Luck and most recently Brother Luck Dumplings in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He’s 35
- Contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and the Food Network’s “Chopped.” Won the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay”
- Worked at hotels and resorts around the world for 12 years to taste and learn about other cuisines
- Brother is a name passed down from his grandfather and father. Family lore has it that Luck was the plantation name given to his father’s ancestors
TO CREATE OPPORTUNITIES for teen recruits or the underserved, visit Careers Through Culinary Arts at ccapinc.org or the National Restaurant Association’s Prostart at chooserestaurants.org/prostart.