Joseph H. Workman, or 'Herb', as we have come to know him, experienced a call to create something, and he ignored it. Does this sound familiar to any of you? It certainly does to us. So much of our creative impulses (and by 'creative', we mean the act of creating something, be it growing food, cleaning and straightening up your office, making lunch for yourself or someone else, etc.) are squashed early on in life. Herb reminds us that it's never too late to answer the call that you've put off, or ignored. In doing so, he created a series of three handbooks on the topic of Authentic Team Building, and he would like to offer them up for a free download to all GFJ readers. We hope you'll find meaning and value in his hard work and generosity. Click here to download Authentic Team Building for Restaurants & Anywhere.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
Restaurants are frequented by the poor, the powerful and everyone in between. They are an intersection of diet, ecology, economy, culture and community. They can be examples of dynamic productivity and esprit de corps for good purposes, e.g. for community building and for building the more beautiful world. Since my childhood, a portal to a more beautiful world has been presenting itself. It calls and sings to me to reach towards it, to live it, to understand. I'd push it away when it would interfere too much with whatever else I was doing at the moment. But, again and again it would return. Again I would answer the call and again it would beautifully and chaotically disrupt my more myopic and normative strivings. This book is the distilled culmination of my life experience in search for practical ways forward to help actualize the more beautiful world.
In my many years of travel, vagabonding from state to state, and the temporary settling down in one place or another, I've worked in several fields and over one hundred places both white collar and blue, high paying and low. Occupational therapy, massage therapist, banking, art teacher, door to door sales, roofing, construction, ditch digging, cross country tractor trailer driver, town bus, school bus, and taxi driver, general laborer, painting, landscaping, window washer, security guard, late night convenience store clerk, piano mover, all levels of the food service industry from dishwasher to general manager, and entrepreneur. I've been involved with a multitude of organizations with varying degrees of healthy human relations. In most of the places I've worked, it is more or less the same gripes and workplace frustrations. If one listens very carefully, early in the morning when first arriving to work, one can almost hear the same complaints, almost verbatim, emanating from the surrounding neighboring workplaces across the city or town. I was privy to, and a part of, significant workplace dysfunction as well as high functioning, soaring and seamless teamwork. While dysfunction can be a prod to progress, I believe so too can high functioning, authentic teamwork be a catalyst for rapid evolution. Learning and growing in proactive, intentional, life affirming and enjoyable ways. One of my favorite authors is Charles Eisenstein.
How did you get your current good food job?
I created my own Good Food Job: writing and promoting my handbook series. After leaving a high paying job in the healthcare field for moral reasons, I re-entered the food service industry. I chose entry or mid level positions because I did not want the stress of managing an inherently dysfunctional organization. To keep myself sane, I started writing operations manuals for the places I worked in, just for fun. My friend and an accomplished chef, Ashton Carter, asked me to help him with operations for a three month pop-up restaurant. Having the freedom to do as we chose, it was a tremendous joy and, I don't mind saying, a resounding success! Word spread and Ashton was asked to assume the executive chef position for a badly floundering restaurant of a nearby resort. Ashton asked me to be his operations manager to help turn this restaurant around. The owners backtracked on their agreements, and, effectively tied our hands as we worked to turn their dysfunctional restaurant into a smooth running, highly functional, profitable place, as we had with our pop-up restaurant. I left that living nightmare behind and wrote my book.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
My main interest is to reduce human suffering and promote thriving communities. I believe good food plays a central role.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
I edited, designed and published my book under challenging circumstances. Shortly before the recent presidential election, my wife decided to return to her home in Mexico City. I took care of loose ends in the United States and soon reunited with my wife. We then moved to the jungles of Veracruz to take care of a friend's permaculture farm for four months. With the book finished, we are now beginning our next phase of life in the Caribbean where we plan to, eventually, open our community cafe. In Good Company Community Hub and Supper Club. Until then, we will be involved in ecotourism and importing healthy food to the city from the neighboring countrysides. I did suffer a few mini-nervous breakdowns, as we worried about acquiring food and shelter but, since the love of my life depended on me to remain functioning, I persevered. I stayed strong largely by marrying the most wonderful person in the world.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
Many years ago, I served as a waiter for a catered event in Sonoma County. The event was held at the Mondavi Winery estate and was for the unveiling of a new wine, a joint effort by the Mondavi family and the Duchess of Spain. As I recall, I opened and poured the wine prematurely, confusing it with another wine. The owner of the company, my boss, didn't bat an eye (although I saw a flash of high stress streak across her face). She redirected me and told me to carry on. I was blown away. At that moment, my gratitude, admiration and loyalty to her were immeasurable.
At another place and time, the owner of a pizza delivery company took me aside, looked me straight in the eye, shook my hand and said, "Herb, never in my life have I seen a store opening go as smoothly as the one tonight. Good work!" At that moment I felt like a million bucks.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Because of increased channels of production and digital media, it is much easier to connect local growers with chefs who wish to serve good food. Coupled with the increasing awareness many people have now about real food vs. fake food, there is a lot of potential for growth. Chefs and restaurant owners are more aware than ever about food quality, and how promoting good food and fair trade supports an industry that is depending less on large corporation's processed foods and giving opportunities to small scale producers. It is all a teamwork process from farm to table and knowing your grower.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Being part of an authentic team and eating delicious, healthy food.