While there are many different ways to enter the hospitality industry, those who have made it their profession often remember the aha moment or specific experience that solidified their start. Get inspired by these seven leaders and their turning points.


"I started cooking when I was 17 years old, not knowing what I was really doing. I knew that I needed the money and somehow I got a job as a dishwasher at the age of 16. Then I was asked to help on the line a year later. I worked my way up through that kitchen not realizing how happy I was while learning. At the age of 22, I knew that I wanted to become a chef, I didn't see myself doing anything else but cooking."

Francisco Ramirez, Executive Chef at LMNO

"After leaving culinary school, I took on prep and line cook positions. I was the only woman in the kitchen during my five year stint in the BOH. It was extremely difficult to advance and to be taken seriously as a chef being 5 feet tall and super cheerful. I made a shift to the FOH as a server at a small Thai restaurant and fell in love with taking care of guests. I spent the next five years serving in higher volume and finer dining restaurants, excelling in the art of service and quickly became a server trainer."

Nokkie Lipsey, Director of Operations & Expansion/Events at Id Est Hospitality

"I chose this industry because I love the team work that exists in the kitchen. Through that I developed an intense passion for food and the history of serving guests. I am proud to be a part of the next generation of chefs who will leave their marks on the future of dining out."

Aaron Bludorn, Executive Chef & Owner at Bludorn & Navy Blue

"When I first started in the kitchen, I wanted to become a Michelin starred chef. I was headed down that path of working at fine dining restaurants when I was given the opportunity to become the Corporate Chef for an up-and-coming Glamping/Outdoor Hospitality group out of California. This really changed my perspective and helped me find other areas of the industry that I was interested in and good at. It was a combination of luck and good connections that landed me that job, but I ended up learning that I really enjoyed working with multiple different restaurants within a company and looking at the bigger picture as opposed to being in the day-to-day focusing on perfecting each plate and mis en place item."

Mara Jaffe, Culinary Operations Manager at Heirloom Hospitality

"Flunking out of college was a pivotal point in my life. I had always been good at school. It was easy. Going to college, I got to make my own mistakes and boy I made them. I was at a low point couch surfing and giving plasma three times a week to survive. My best friend offered me a job washing dishes at his dad's wing spot and the rest is history."

Gregory Collier, Chef / Owner of Leah & Louise

"My first job in the culinary world was for a catering company owned by a woman named Lucia Walsh. She taught me so much about taking care of employees, hospitality for guests and the work ethic it takes to be successful. She put a lot of trust and faith in me and I never wanted to let her down. She was a force."

Lauren DeSteno, Corporate Executive Chef at Altamarea Group, Executive Chef at Marea & Ai Fiori

"I bartended while I was in college and was fascinated by how much you could learn about people in general and also how you could positively impact people on a personal level simply by listening. I continue to use that lesson to this day."

Robert LeBlanc, Founder and Creative Director of LeBLANC+SMITH