Top 5 Takeaways from Talk Shop LIVE’s We Help You Make It® Panel.

Exploring the future of the foodservice industry (NRA 2019).


Marcus Samuelsson - Award-Winning Chef, Restaurateur and Author


  • Jonny Hunter – Co-founder, Underground Food Collective (Madison, WI)
  • Brother Luck – Chef and Owner, Lucky Dumpling and Four by Brother Luck (Colorado Springs, CO)
  • Mari Katsumura – Executive Chef, Yugen and Kaisho (Chicago, IL)

“I wouldn’t be here without having great mentors”, says Chef Marcus Samuelsson. While there is a shortage of labor in the restaurant industry, there has also been a shortage of mentorship. Not only do mentorship programs empower your staff and develop their leadership skills, but they can also improve your overall employee retention rates. Looking to implement a mentoring program in your restaurant? See why Brother Luck, Johnny Hunter and Mari Katsumura view this as a key component of their business!

1. See One, Be One

Because of the positive influences surrounding Brother Luck, he was able to get a $30,000 scholarship to attend culinary school after he graduated from high school. These mentors took the time to teach him the ins and outs of the business, from the front to the back of the house. Because he had seen so many great examples of chefs and restaurant owners, he felt fully equipped to go out on his own because of his mentors. It's important to make sure you’re investing time in the next generation of culinary leaders, so that they are prepared to carry the baton and then pass it on to those who come after them.

2. Mentorship Fosters Strong Company Culture

When Mari studied under Chef Dana Cree, she was provided with endless opportunities to learn and develop her skill set. To this day, she can still recall Dana’s thoughtfulness and the way she conducted her kitchen. Chef Dana took the time to teach all her employees to care about everything they do in the kitchen, no matter how big or small. She also kept a bookshelf that was stocked with the latest culinary books, to give her staff opportunities for ongoing education. Creating this classroom environment in the kitchen helped to foster an inclusive and authentic work culture. When employees feel like they have opportunities to learn and grow, they are more likely to want to stay put and be fully invested in your business.

3. You’re Only As Successful As the Team You Develop

While driving traffic and boosting profits are always top of mind, employee development should also be prioritized as a key goal. Over the years, success has meant many different things to Jonny, but he now defines it as seeing his employees flourish and grow within their careers. Underground Food Collective is involved in many different areas of the industry, which provides team members with the opportunity to learn different sides of the business. You’re only as good as the team you have surrounding you, so it’s important to make sure that employees are getting opportunities to learn new skills.

4. The More Approachable You Are, the More Initiative Your Team Will Take

One of the greatest lessons that Brother learned while being mentored is to take initiative and ask questions. In order for your employees to feel empowered to do this, you have to be approachable and make yourself available. The first step is getting to know your team on a personal level and understanding their professional goals. If there’s a skill they want to learn and you’re not able to teach them, connect them with someone who can.

5. Mentorship Can Pay Off Down the Line

Opportunities are plentiful, but the workers are few. When Mari finally decided to go out on her own to start Yugen Chicago, she was able to bring along staff members that she had mentored throughout her career. Not only are operators dealing with the issue of labor shortage, but they also have the challenge of finding quality employees who will care about their businesses as much as they do. That's why it's pivotal to invest time into employees who are willing to work and eager to learn. Even if an employee decides to move on and pursue other opportunities, they’ll be more inclined to work with you again, if they know they were able to learn and grow under your leadership.