Wesley Conger

Wesley Conger

Director of Operations at BOKA Restaurant Group

I love to inspire young people to grow into their potential. Whether it is in the restaurant or outside of the industry, there are so many transferable skills that you learn from working in a restaurant that translate into other career paths.

I LOVE “Smartless,” it is a podcast that I listen to regularly with my girlfriends and we chat about it almost every week. We even went to a live taping when they were in Chicago. I also love “Wiser Than Me with Julia Louis – Dreyfus,” this one's for work and for pleasure. She speaks with older woman who are wiser than her – and all of us as well. I am a big true crime podcaster as well, I love a good story. “Serial” is my favorite one ever in that genre.
Be kind to people because you never know when you will run into that person in life again or if they will be your boss one day.
For self-care, I get a manicure every two weeks. It gives me some time to myself to just sit and be still for a few hours which I never do on a day-to-day basis.
I try to meet with friends for dinner at least once a month. Whether it is my girlfriends or a double date with my husband, it makes me happy to sit and eat at one of our restaurants or another restaurant. It fills my cup to sit down and break bread and share wine with the people that mean the most to me. There will always be laughs and good conversation when there is bread and wine.
I honestly don’t think I am very good at having a healthy work/life balance yet, but I continue to work on maintaining this for myself so that I can set an example for my team. I make my rounds to each of my restaurants and then head home to lay in bed with my kids and sing them a song before bed. Sometimes I am successful with this, but most times I am not because things pop up all around me. When I do make it, the sheer joy on my kids faces is enough to try and make it happen again sometime soon.
We had a very large team and then the pandemic changed everything. There were only a few of us who were brought back in to pivot and do take out. There were a couple front of the house and a couple back of the house and that was all. We had to come up with all the ideas and systems and cook and pack all the food. The team that I was part of at the time is incredible, and I’m grateful I still work with many of them. We all just buckled down and got the job done. There were so many things that were thrown at us on a regular basis, we adjusted and made it happen. We eventually had more team members return, and we opened up a yurt village, sponsored by AMEX, that was a huge hit in the winter in Chicago. There were so many times during that period that I wasn’t sure if I would continue in this industry, but my team got me through and motivated me to be a better version of myself every day. I became an even stronger leader because of all of them.
I drive a lot to get to and from work and I love listening to audible books and podcasts. Some favorites are anything with Simon Sinek, specifically his podcast “A Bit of Optimism.” I also really enjoyed Glennon Doyle’s book “Untamed” and Matthew McConaughey’s “Greenlights.”
I find a ton of inspiration in my family. My husband is a sommelier, and we own a wine shop in Andersonville. He runs the wine shop and takes care of our two kids, schlepping them to every sports practice and piano lesson while I am working in the restaurants. It was always our dream that our kids should have the best life possible. For us to be able to give this to them is extremely motivational. My kids inspire me every day. They also happen to be pretty great kids who love coming in to see mom at work when they can. And my husband loves bringing them in too.
We have a family that comes into the restaurants all the time, they have always been wonderful to me and my teams. We just love having them in. They often bring their kids with them and this one time, just the dad and his son came in. We got to talking and the dad asked if I would be interested in hiring his son. I said yes immediately and gave him my card to call me. We ended up hiring the son as a host. It was his first job, and he was a bit timid at the start. As time went on, he started to feel more confident and loved talking to the guests as he was seating them. His mom called me a few weeks after he started to thank me for hiring him. She told me that he was really enjoying it and it was helping him to come out of his shell in other aspects of his life as well. This is why I continue to do what I do.
I love to build communities and help them bloom and grow. I especially love to build up other women in the business. We work in a male-dominated industry and hiring and cultivating other women is extremely inspiring to me. We need to lift each other up and advocate for each other. I have three General Managers and all of them are extremely talented women who are all making their mark in their respective restaurants. We don’t always agree, but we support each other, work through challenges and always find the best solutions for the team. This is why these restaurants are so successful.
Contests are good motivators. Especially when we have good prizes, like a nice bottle of wine or gift cards to another Boka restaurant.
The teams all really love a good pizza party or fun family meal that they can all sit down and enjoy together.
We try to make education fun. At Momotaro, we are currently doing a sake scavenger hunt so that the team can find the answers on their own. They are learning a ton about different types of sake they may never, otherwise, have the chance to learn about. They can then bring this knowledge with them to the tables.
When I was the GM of Swift, we started weekly Saturday training classes. These were mostly focused on wine education, but we sprinkled in service-centric classes as well. Today the program has expanded to encompass wine classes, liquor classes and beer trainings along with steps of service and food knowledge classes. This ensures the staff is continuing their education and not getting stagnant.
Take time for self-reflection. It’s critical to being the best version of yourself. If you can’t see your flaws and talk about them then how can you grow? If you can’t grow, then you cannot be a good leader.
Training and continued education are the best things you can do for yourself, your staff, and your restaurant. Knowledge is power.
I never ask anyone to do a job that I can’t or won’t do.

Disclaimer: Individuals featured in the Inspirational Career Timelines section have been nominated by peers, colleagues and/or other members of the hospitality industry. It is to the best of our knowledge that each individual has demonstrated leadership and acted as a positive role model for others.

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