Long hours, demanding customers, and challenging responsibilities can make working in the restaurant industry one of the hardest career paths to choose. However, the saying goes, "if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life." Here are nine hospitality leaders who have found a way to do what they love and love what they do.


"Working in hospitality was a natural path for me; my personality type and strengths aligned well with the energy and demands of the Restaurant Industry. Over time, I realized that I valued the opportunities I had to build strong teams and grow my employees most of all, and wanted to focus on this aspect of my previous management roles exclusively and looked for opportunities to do that.

As a Talent Acquisitions Manager for Fabio Trabocchi Restaurants, I am in a position to find and acquire the best talent in the industry and assemble world-class teams to support and drive our mission. The most satisfying part of my career is watching our people thrive and succeed, and knowing that I played a role in shaping our company's future."

Shana McKillop, Corporate Talent Acquisitions Manager for Fabio Trabocchi Restaurants in Washington, DC

"I started cooking when I was 14 because I needed a job. I just happened to be lucky enough to be pretty good at it and love doing it. I have the personality type where I always want to be better and learn more; the restaurant industry is the perfect career choice if you need something that has endless opportunities for education and pursuit of perfection. From product education to team leadership and mentorship, to creative technique development, there is always something that you can learn in this field."

Nicholas Elmi, Chef/Owner/Consultant at Nicholas Elmi Restaurants (Laurel, In the Valley, Royal Boucherie) in Philadelphia, PA 

"I am passionate about people – their kindness, complexities, challenges, and, most of all, the common threads that connect them. I have found restaurants to be the convergence of all that is beautiful about humanity. It is a unique industry that brings people from such diverse backgrounds and identities together for the common goal of providing others with a joyful experience.

When I started in this industry, I found it to be a fantastic unifier that allowed me to meet so many people from different walks of life who I may have never otherwise known. When I transitioned from working in the restaurants to the Home Office of Boka Restaurant Group, I found myself drawn to the conversations about how this industry treats people and how we can do better. If an employee was upset, I valued the opportunity to speak to them and understand what we could do to improve their experiences and prevent others from sharing those same frustrations. On the flip-side, I cherished the moments when employees were joined together in the celebration of a shared accomplishment. I remember a team meeting of all employees at Boka Restaurant, where Lee Wolen spoke about why he cared so deeply for the work we do. I was moved by the collective passion of everyone in that room at that moment, who may have only known each other's differences if they met in different circumstances. Though I didn't realize it when I started on this path, my career in hospitality has not only been built upon my passion for people; it has fed it."

Abby Kritzler, Chief Cultural Officer/ Executive Director at Boka Restaurant Group in Chicago, IL

“I wasn’t originally going to culinary school – in fact, I didn’t know that was a viable career path at the time. As a kid growing up in Bucks County innately surrounded by farmland, my parents had me cooking for the whole family (with many of the ingredients grown right on our property) instead of watching TV in the evenings. So, when my brother suggested I look into culinary school, we visited CIA and Johnson + Wales, and I was hooked immediately between the regimented schedule and the hands-on training. The story isn’t so much that I turned a passion into my career, but rather I naturally became good at cooking and over time, I became more and more passionate about the industry, cooking, French food & techniques and surrounding myself with really good mentors. The marriage of those philosophies more organically increased my passion for the culinary arts. I often think of the culinary arts as more of an artisan trade versus an art because an artisan’s work has to go hand in hand with action. I can be passionate about cooking, but if I don’t act on that, then I can’t grow and evolve. My upbringing helped drive my ethos… I then parlayed that into a career I didn’t know previously existed.”

Matthew Ridgway, Executive Chef for Cooks & Soldiers in Atlanta, GA

“I found a love for the kitchen as a child watching Julia Child on PBS when I was six-years-old. Julia confirmed to me I wanted to be able to eat different food and my mom wasn't gonna cook that food. I didn't have that Italian or French grandmother making pasta or mother sauces on Sundays in the kitchen. And the lack of another programming on TV — we lived in the hills in the woods — and one of the three channels we had on TV was PBS and that's how Julia came into my life.

I vividly remember the first time I cooked for people shortly after I started watching Julia. There was a small lake in the general area where I grew up and all the general houses in the area had the right to spend time there. In the summer there it was summer picnics and 4th of July fireworks and in the winter it was ice skating and hot chocolate — all very super Americana. So on that lake, there was a potluck contest and I entered and made crepes suzette. And I was generally ridiculed for making it that day. But it didn't stop me.

I kept cooking at home, and for school projects. I also worked in a bakery in high school. And over the last few decades, I've been fortunate to cook and run restaurants and travel and eat all over the country and the world. All thanks to Julia Child for inspiring me.”

Nate Henssler, Executive Chef/Partner of Portsmith, Steadfast, Utopian Tailgate, 90th Meridian Kitchen & Bar in Chicago, IL

"I loved working in restaurants and decided to pursue the hospitality industry rather than my field of study (Math) because I would be surrounding myself with people I wanted to emulate."

Nick Salinger, Service Manager at 232 Bleecker in New York, NY

“I’ve always had a passion for being in the kitchen. I grew up cooking with my parents, and after graduating from UGA I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I did know that I really enjoyed cooking for myself and my friends — it was the one constant throughout my years there. Before fully committing to culinary school, I decided to apply to every culinary position I could find to see if it was a career I was interested in pursuing. Eventually, I landed a 6-month internship at a B&B in Maine. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a totally non-conventional restaurant setting, but I loved getting up in the morning to pick the vegetables for dinner. Soon after, I ended up in Atlanta at Cooks and Soldiers where everything finally clicked into place for me and I realized I could really make a career out of this (and also how important it was to find a good restaurant home and mentoring community). Transitioning over to Recess was an even more natural progression for me — I’m always snacking on veggies and piling green things (avocados included!) on toast.” 

Victoria Shore, Executive Chef at Recess in Atlanta, GA 

"My passion is perseverance to outdo myself each day. I fell in love with pursuing a career in hospitality because everyone in our industry challenges their peers and themselves to outperform what was done yesterday. When perseverance delivers the unexpected, while being the most expected,  there is nothing more purposeful than that."

Joon Choi, Senior Director of Front of House Operations for Quality Branded in New York, NY

"Great mentors are key! You have to study and care a lot about what you’re doing, but finding people to work with or to work for that continue to inspire and challenge you is the only way to keep it going."

Mirra Sims, Sous Chef for 232 Bleecker in New York, NY