Transcript:Chef Shawn Boling – In The Trenches!

Chef Shawn Boling – In The Trenches!


Mike Peacock: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to another delicious episode of Cosmic Soup. Today’s guest, Shawn Boling, is a magnetic spirit. He’s quite literally the pied piper of chefs, drawing people in with his over-the-top personality and high energy operating style. Shawn makes his living helping communities to rethink their outdated, old-school culinary programs and to turn things around to create modern, high-end, sustainable dining experiences.

Today, we’re going to dig into what it is he really does, look under the refrigerator, behind the stove, and in the corners of the dish pit for those tasty nuggets of culinary service wisdom that you can start using today to make your community that much better. Shawn, welcome back to the show, man. It’s been so long since I’ve talked to you.

Shawn Boling: Thank you. Yeah, I’m excited to be here. We’re going to rock and roll it.

Mike: Awesome.

Shawn: Let’s get going.

Mike: Cool. You and I are Culinary Coaches. Explain to everybody what exactly that is.

Shawn: Well, you know, technically, I guess, we’re consultants. But, over the years, consultants come in, they throw you some data and then they walk away. Coaching, what we do, is we’re in it for the long-haul. We have skin in the game, and so we come in.

Me being a huge football fan, a coach doesn’t come – Pete Carroll, our coach of the Seahawks, he doesn’t show up on the first day and say, “Hey, guess what? You’ve got to get this football across that line over there more than the other team does. You do that, we’re going to the Super Bowl. Peace out. See you in five months.” That’s more of a consultant; “You’ve got to do this and this and this to get that.”

No, we’re a coach. We’re going to actually show the cooks how to sauté. We’re going to actually show people how to use the equipment that’s in the kitchen. It’s one-on-one and we’re there. We’re not just in and out. We’re there for a certain amount of time. Folks can talk to us 24/7 depending on what program you set up. Yeah, so you’ve got a buddy in the kitchen.

Mike: Right. Yeah, I like that analogy. I love the football analogy. The reality is, yeah, it’s really cool to be able to go into a place and not just point a finger and say, “You’re doing that wrong.” It’s really like, “Here, let me show you how this works.”

Your path to become where you are now was kind of a long one. I know that we got a little bit of an origin story from you in the very first episode, but let’s just kind of recap that. What was your professional path to be here? When did you decide that catering and restaurant work wasn’t satisfying enough? Why did you want to get into senior living?

Shawn: Oh, excellent question. Well, being in this business since I was 13 years old and working every position, as I got older, I went to chef school. I was one of those; I want to be a high-end chef and learn, do all the fancy stuff. I just got bored with it.

It’s not what people really bond [with]. People don’t really bond with $5,000 Baluga caviar. Most people bond with a bacon cheeseburger or some fries or some really good cheese and a nice glass of wine.

After a while, I just said I want to do something different but I really don’t know what. I had a buddy who was in a CCRC here in Seattle. He said, “Hey, they’re looking for a chef. Why don’t you swing by and I’ll give you a tour?” My first thought was like, “Nah. That’s not for me.”

But I went ahead and did it and just went, “Wow!” when I walked in the door. These kitchens are like hotels, because I’ve had a lot of hotel background.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: From what I saw, I was a little confused because I went, “Well, these folks have got a budget that are bigger than a private hotel does and they’ve got the crew and the same equipment,” but I was baffled how bad the food was. It was horrible: overcooked, undercooked. The sanitation wasn’t there. I just put a formula in as if it’s a hotel.

I remember the first time I said that to an executive director. He was like, “What do you mean a hotel?” I go, “It’s just the same people every day. It’s still a hotel and it’s a dining service formula like that.”

Going in and making it happen and the culture too. Like you were saying, we don’t just go in and say, “Do this. That’s the wrong way. This is the right way.” It’s a culture. Folks need — they’re artists. That’s why they call it culinary arts.

Mike: Right.

Shawn: It’s not called room keeping arts or maintenance arts.


Shawn: It’s culinary arts and most of us a little weird – you and I.

Mike: Wait a second.

Shawn: Our emotions are on our sleeves.

Mike: Maybe so.

Shawn: Okay. There’s passion, and cooks are a different breed. They really are. Front of the house, back of the house, we’re just a different kind of animal, and so you have to approach it differently and not so black and white and mechanical.

Mike: Yeah, I always said to people who don’t understand, people that come from the foodservice industry, I would say there are people that work in the foodservice industry because it’s their point A to point B job. Then there are people that they live the foodservice industry.

Shawn: Yeah. Yep.

Mike: It’s definitely two different breeds of people.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: You’ve been in a ton of communities, both as an in-house worker as well as a consultant. You go into communities all the time that have various challenges, including dining department challenges. What are some of the common issues that you see time and time again? Let’s also talk about the fixes for those.

Shawn: Yeah, I would say the most – well, if we wanted to go emotions in humans, I would say morale. There’s a lot of low morale kitchens out there for whatever reason. There are a million things you can say why they are but you have to look.

Usually, it’s the morale that needs to get fixed, kitchen equipment. Like you said, I go all over the U.S. A lot of these kitchens are rundown. It’s like the culinary infrastructure, if you will, of America. No one has really put the time and money into them until something breaks, which is super costly.

There are a lot of old menus floating out there as well. When I go into a community, it is not uncommon at all to have somebody say they’ve had these same menus for 20 years, 30 years.

Mike: Like the exact same menus?

Shawn: Yeah. I mean it’s just a repeat, repeat, repeat because they are having different residents every few years. It’s just the nature of the beast that it works.

Mike: Got it.

Shawn: Yeah, you add all those, that combination up of bad equipment, old menus. There’s not a real good culture going on in the kitchen that’s healthy. Yeah, and that’s what’s exciting about my job is to go in and it’s all fixable. It’s all formulas and it’s really not that hard. It’s just, do you want to do it?

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: As the C-level, as we say, are you really serious about wanting to offer seniors a decent, good, hot meal that’s flavorful, palatable, visually stimulating? That’s the hurdle. Do you want to actually do it?

Mike: Right. The step one to fix that is to have whoever is in charge of the culinary program really say, “We need to step this up.”

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: Maybe if they’re doing something that’s really good, you walk into a place and their dining service is nailed down, what are you doing to get your next level people trained up? How is the leadership, things like that?

Shawn: Oh, you just hit the potato with a potato peeler.

Mike: [Laughter] That’s what I do.

Shawn: Here’s the scoop. Especially when the communities are mid-sized to large size, you’ve got folks at the top that really shouldn’t know the ins and outs intricately of culinary. They’re running a massive community: the presidents, the CFOs, CEOs. They’re relying on the folks under them, the general managers if they have that position. But mostly, it’s the culinary director position. If they don’t have a culinary, then the chef. It’s one of those, if you’re not really sure if your community has a really good, streamlined culinary department, grab a cup of coffee and walk through it.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: As a C-level, walk through the kitchen. See if there is food left out. See if there is food being wasted.

Pretend it’s your own kitchen at home. If you walk by and your kids have got turkey sitting out on the counter and you notice it there at 9:00 in the morning and it’s now 2:00 in the afternoon, and you start to root a little bit more and people are standing around. They’ve got their cell phones. I would even go so far as just pop in on people in the kitchens to see what’s going on.

Mike: Man.

Shawn: It doesn’t take long to figure it out.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Then you have that conversation with your culinary directors. Sometimes that’s the problem.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: That’s why I say you have to really be dedicated to change your program because it takes work.

Mike: Sure.

Shawn: It’s not impossible and it’s not rocket science. Dear lord, no. It takes dedication.

There are communities I’ve literally gone into and said, “You know the problem is the culinary director,” or the chef. I don’t care if they’ve been there 20 years or 10 days. That’s the issue and we have to talk about that. Sometimes you’ve got to make a hard decision of, you know, is that the right person for the right position?

Mike: Sure. Yeah, there are always tons of tough calls to make.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: In the sense of identifying the problems. One of the things that you do is you go in and you do operational evaluations. Part of that is analyzing the staff. But then also part of that is analyzing how current is the food program. You and I have talked about this many times where sometimes these menus are reminiscent of the ’50s and ’60s, like super basic cafeteria-style food.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: As you pointed out, a lot of these places have really, really—when they were designed—very innovative equipment for the time.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: Large spaces, huge prep areas, big areas that they can do production in. But then some of that equipment has kind of – you know the layout is not necessarily friendly for production.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: What are some of the common issues that you see in terms of how the kitchens are laid out and how the equipment is working and even like the décor of some of these places?

Shawn: Mm-hmm. You know I’ve been in a ton of kitchens from catering departments, restaurants, high-end bars, and there is a pretty large portion of kitchen layouts that do not make sense. If I didn’t want to be a culinary coach, I would have a full-time career just designing kitchens that have already been designed and just like, “What the heck were they doing?”

Mike: Right.

Shawn: What were they thinking? But as a chef looking at a kitchen the way it should be designed, it’s the flow and the flow of production. That can be everything. That also affects the morale because, if you’ve got a cook that’s on the sauté line and there’s no refrigeration there, he’s got to walk 80 feet to go get the frozen fries or the fresh fish in the walk-in. What’s that about? Why isn’t there a refrigeration underneath the hot line so that the cooks are leaving the hot line? That sounds pretty basic, but that’s a very big problem out there, just that one little incident.

Mike: Yeah, and sometimes kitchens are so big that, if you only have one or two people working because labor is a thing for a lot of these places, all of a sudden now, these people are having to go back and forth on very large lines.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: It just affects how long it takes to get the food put out, even.

Shawn: Exactly. I’ll even go so far as to say, if you have a kitchen that’s properly put together and it’s tight, let’s just say for your menu it would take three cooks to pull it off. Now you’ve got that same kitchen but it’s just designed horribly and things are put where they need to be. You literally would need maybe another two full-time people.

Mike: Right.

Shawn: It’s that sensitive.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: It’s that critical.

Mike: I think in situations like that where people that don’t understand how that comes into play, then they start cutting corners and altering their menu to kind of fit their layout when, really, if they fixed their layout then it solves a lot of the problems. It helps to solve labor problems because you can run it more efficiently.

Shawn: Mm-hmm. Food waste.

Mike: Yeah, food waste. If your menu is engineered to take into account kind of how your layout is going to be as well, you can fine-tune that to the point where it’s not as bad of a problem. I mean you and I were just in a community not too long ago where the layout was really very counterproductive.

Mike: Mm-hmm.

Shawn: While they wouldn’t go the route of doing a full new install, we got that kitchen – I should say you got that kitchen—

Mike: No, it was us.

Shawn: –pretty much reorganized to the point where at least it was productive.

Mike: Right? Yeah. We didn’t even buy any equipment, come to think of it, with that.

Shawn: No. Yeah.

Mike: That was just – and the cooks, it was so weird. We had a cook that had only been in the business like maybe a year. I said, “So, what do you think of the kitchen layout here?” Didn’t even skip a beat, it’s like, “What a mess!”

Mike: [Laughter]

Shawn: There were some other choice words because we’re cooks.

Mike: Right.

Shawn: I said, “So, you think it could be designed a little easier for the sauté and the pantry?” They’re like, “Yeah! Hello!” And so, I had that person help me. It took us—I don’t know—a couple of four-hour days.

Mike: Right.

Shawn: They were on cloud nine, man.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: It’s just working in the proper manner.

Mike: Yeah, and when you get that kind of squared away and people realize, “Oh, my gosh, this could have been so much easier so much longer ago.”

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: Then we get back to that morale issue where people are really like, “Oh, my god. I can actually do my job now.”

Shawn: Well, actually, this is the same kitchen that you were in that we did together. The line was set up so awkwardly that your back was—

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: –I don’t know—eight inches from the broiler and the oven.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: I was, after one meal period, just helping out and, within five minutes, I had to go change my chef coat. It was so hot.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: All we did was push the line out a foot and a half. It’s like, “Oh, my god. I can breathe. I don’t have to drink ten gallons of water.”

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: People quit their jobs over that.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: You push somebody like that and you make them work in a frustratingly flowing kitchen, you’re not going to keep good people.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: They’re going to be like, “Peace out.”

Mike: Sure. Yeah, we were talking about morale, productivity, and just the proper layout. Even let’s just say that you go in and you have to recommend to somebody, “Hey, all of your equipment is broken,” which in some cases some of it just was broken.

Shawn: Oh, yeah.

Mike: That steamer, for instance, that they kept spending $3,000 a shot to fix it when they could have—

Shawn: And a new one is $3,000.


Mike: $6,000 or whatever it was.

Shawn: Yeah.

Mike: Yeah, so how do you approach that with, say, an administrator or and ED to say, “Hey, listen. You’re going to need to have some repairs. It’s going to cost you some money, but you’re going to be able to spend less labor dollars. We’re going to get you, say, a dish machine that operates by today’s standards with chemical dispersion so that you’re not spending hundreds of dollars a week just on chemicals”?

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: How do you go about having that conversation to get them to understand that sometimes these fixes actually cost them less than keeping them going as is?

Shawn: Oh, well, I always say when I go into a community, the CFOs become my BFF. They love us.

Mike: Right.

Shawn: Because with that – let me answer the question first: How do we approach this? When we go in and do an evaluation of the kitchen, which is 150 different areas, literally, we go through all the equipment. We test it and we see how it’s working, how much life it might have on it, and that gets put into the proposal or, excuse me, the presentation of our evaluation of what we found and then what it would take to fix it. That gets right back to, are you dedicated?

Mike: Mm-hmm.

Shawn: It’s not a ten-page formula on moving a stove out that’s old and putting a new one in. See what I mean?

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: It’s all about, how serious are you and are you willing to find the funds when you need them? Now, real quick, I had a client that, at the end of my presentation, was like, “Okay. We’ve got to do it. Our equipment is horrible. We get it.” Most of the equipment was 25 years old.

One gentleman said, “Well, we just don’t have the money. We’ll have to wait another year.” The CFO said, “You know we have slotted a carport way in the back of the parking lot that really is not covering any residents’ cars. It was just slated to be done and that was a $0.5 million we were going to do this year.”

I jokingly said, “Well, there’s your money right there.” Just don’t have a carport until next year.

It was super quiet for about 15 seconds and I heard a, “Oh! Okay.”

Mike: [Laughter]

Shawn: It was like, just move the finances over.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: We pulled the trigger about three, four weeks later. As far as the money savings, this is where the CFOs – I always say, my involvement with the community, it pays for itself. It really does and probably a whole bunch more.

For instance, let’s go back to that dishwasher. True, true story. This is crazy.

We get in there, I do my eval, and I go, “Yeah, the dishwater is pretty old.”
They said, “Yeah, it’s over 30 years old.”
I said, “Well, it probably should be replaced.”
They go, “Yeah, well, last year we spent 30-some-odd-thousand-dollars to fix it and we keep having to fix it every few years.”
I said, “Well, a new one is,” I think it was, “$42,000 for a brand new one.”

Now, with this new machine, it has all of the sensors, computer chips and, actually, those have really exploded, the technology in equipment, on probably the past six or seven years, literally. They can conserve energy. They’ve got heat plates in the doors to know when to turn the heat on, the hot water. Amazing.

Long story short, we did a little evaluation of the old one before we ripped it out of how much water it was using and electricity to the new one. They were saving probably around $2,000 a month in water and electricity alone on one piece of equipment.

Mike: Not counting the chemical savings.

Shawn: Not at all. The chemicals were probably another $600 or $700 a month savings on that.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Because it doesn’t need as much chemicals. When you jump into the 21st Century equipment, it’s a whole other ballgame, a whole set of rules.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: It’s really cool, and so you can save. If you’ve got a normal size kitchen that’s got 15 pieces of equipment that has computer chips in it with heat sensors and all that good stuff, you could literally save thousands and thousands of dollars a month just in utilities.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: It doesn’t take long for CFOs to go, “Oh, heck yeah we’re doing that.” Your payoff is real, real quick.

Mike: You mentioned bringing things into the 21st Century. I think that we’re in agreement that there is definitely room for opportunity, especially in this industry, on all levels to bring things into the 21st Century. Why do you think that this industry has a reputation for not staying as current as, say, their restaurant equivalents? What’s the holdup? Why can’t we get up to speed in a lot of cases?

Shawn: Oh, yeah.

Mike: Why can’t we be where restaurants are? Why don’t we have restaurant-style dining? Why aren’t we restaurants? Why don’t we have more restaurants as opposed to kind of the cafeteria mentality that some of us have faced?

Shawn: Because no one complained. I hate to say it, but it’s an old, old business model. Palates are changing. Humans are changing. What your grandfather ate up until he died is different than, say, I’m a grandfather. My kids’ kids. I’m eating completely different than they will.

On top of that, they’re paying a lot more now. Folks going in and spending a lot of money to have food. We’re living longer. And so, you’re not having 80 and 90-year-olds coming into the community. Marketing is bringing in 65-year-olds, 68-year-olds, 70-year-olds. We are a very, very young, older group of people in 2020 versus the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.

The mentality: people are speaking up and enough is enough. They don’t want grossed-out canned potatoes and frozen vegetables and tislapia – what I call the fish, tilapia. It’s disgusting.

Mike: [Laughter] Keep it positive, Shawn.

Shawn: [Laughter] Yeah, I know, right. These folks, when they go out to eat, other than the community, they’re going to nice places. They’re going to upper scale restaurants. Pretty much, people are just not putting up with it. They’re not tolerating it. They’re demanding and it literally is a movement.

I go from Seattle to Connecticut to all over, Miami, and it’s the same. People are like, “Enough is enough. We want our hot food hot, our cold food cold. We want some fresh vegetables. We want fresh fish.”

Just the flavor profile too. Our menus are going to be different from one state to the next. Heck, my menus are different—and you know this from communities we worked on—just a few miles away. The two communities have a different flavor profile and you have to kind of dial it in for them.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Yeah. For marketing, too, it’s great. Whenever I go in and we redo the menus and the equipment, oh, my gosh. The marketing folks love that because that gives them something to beat the competition up with, quite frankly.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Not everybody is doing this. If you’ve got seven of eight communities within a five-mile radius of you; they all have outdated menus, outdated food, and all that; they’re not keeping their food in-house; and you come along and you say, “Hey, we’re doing something completely different than everybody else,” oh, you’re going to fill those rooms so quick you’re going to have a waiting list.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s exactly where you want to be.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: I think the challenge is as you said. Before, people weren’t complaining, and so it just kind of went on. It became one of those situations of, “Well, we’ve always done it this way,” which, as you know, I complain about that all the time. That’s my least favorite phrase in the entire universe.

Shawn: [Laughter] Is that right?

Mike: It just sets me in the red every time I hear that. Now, I think that it comes down to the leadership saying, “We can implement these changes.” Then it comes down to, again, getting the right people in charge and putting the right systems in place, which brings me to another topic that you and I have talked about so many times, which is, where have all the cooks gone? Where have all the chefs gone?

Shawn: [Laughter] Right?! Right.

Mike: Why can’t we get these people in this industry? Then if we do get them, why can’t we keep them?

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: Workforce, we can talk workforce until we’re blue in the face and our heads explode. Maybe, over the course of the show, down the road, we will. In general, I think it comes down to, if you don’t have the right people in place, how do you get those people?

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: You have to identify that you need them. You have to get them. Then once you get them, you have to keep them.

Shawn: Yep.

Mike: What do we have to do to make that happen?

Shawn: Well, there is not one thing that’s causing this problem. With the cooks, I’ll get back to what you first commented on, “Where have all the cooks gone?” My gosh, that’s a T-shirt we should make. You know what I mean?

Mike: Yeah, right.

Shawn: Have on the T-shirt, “Where have all the cooks gone?” Then on the back, you’ve got the would-be cooks playing Nintendo.

Mike: [Laughter]

Shawn: I don’t know where they’re going. You know? But here’s the scoop. What’s going on is that more and more people are retiring. Everybody knows 10,000 people a day retire and we’re growing as a world. We’re not getting smaller. The world is getting bigger. America is getting bigger. All these small towns are getting more and more eateries in there, if you will.

There was a statistic out a couple of years ago from a Chicago food critic that said that 25 years ago – we are pumping out of chef schools in America the same amount of cooks as we were 25 years ago. Now, you look at 25 years ago in your small town, your city. How many new restaurants popped up in 25 years? I’m not talking restaurants. I’m talking restaurants in a Microsoft building. They’ve got to eat. There’s an eatery.

Mike: Right.

Shawn: There’s an eatery in hospitals, the whole thing. There are probably two or three or four times more. Where do you find the cooks that aren’t going to fill those positions?

The other factor is that, as humans, we’re evolving. The young folks, I mean everybody knows that get into this business, it’s hard. It’s not easy. There are some things we can do to change that but there is that new kind of younger human that’s like, “You know, I don’t want to be in a kitchen eight, nine, ten hours a day where it’s noisy, loud, and maybe hot.”

You get beat up, too. You know that. Three times a day, we’re judged.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: I always say if a housekeeper makes a bed wrong the only person that knows is Betty, right?

Mike: [Laughter]

Shawn: I cook makes a soup wrong—

Mike: Everybody knows it.

Shawn: Everybody in that building is going to beat that cook up.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: There’s a lot more stress and pressure on our field. The newer humans on Earth, they’re like, “You know I’m not doing it.”

You and I are old enough to know, even 15 years ago, I’d put out on Craigslist for a cook, I’d get 30, 40, 50 people. I put one now, I’ll get two.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: And no one will show up.

Mike: My experience tells me that, right now, it’s not just a pay thing.

Shawn: Oh, no. No.

Mike: The pay scale for this industry is not drastically different than, say, the restaurant industry, with the exception of servers.

Shawn: Yeah.

Mike: Servers, we’ll maybe talk about on another episode on that.

Shawn: It is low. It is low. They’re working on it. I don’t know what it is but, the minute you attach culinary to it, you don’t get paid as much.

Mike: Yeah. My perception, and maybe you can chime in on this, is that I think that, in addition to those challenges, though, there is always kind of stigma that floats around, like you said. “I don’t know if that’s the industry for me. I don’t know if I want to do it.” I think it’s born out of a lack of understanding of what it actually can be.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: I think that there is a perception that, “Oh, we’re just going to sling out cafeteria food,” or, “There are too many restrictions. I don’t want to work with all the dietary stuff.”

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: “I don’t want to have to serve stuff that’s with no salt,” or, “I don’t want to have to do this.” People just think that there are all these things holding them back.

Shawn: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Mike: The reality is that that’s just not always the case anymore.

Shawn: Well, it’s a small part.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: For instance, let’s just take a typical community of a couple hundred folks. Maybe they’ve got 10 people, 15, 20 in skilled nursing. The bottom line is that you’re only going to have a few dozen meals a day that have to have specialty items to them or prepared textures. There is a designated person that does that.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Very, very, very few people are involved with those textured and therapeutic foods you’re talking about. Yeah, there’s a huge stigma. That’s why I didn’t get into the field until most recently in the last six, seven years.

Mike: Then you realize, wait a second, this is not at all what I thought it was. [Laughter]

Shawn: It’s really cool because you can be home. You’re not home at midnight. You’re usually home by 8 o’clock in the evening.

Mike: Right.

Shawn: Seven o’clock in some places. The kitchens are pretty well put together. It’s not a bad gig. It really isn’t.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: But we still need to work on – I think the pay structure, it’s there but it’s not as much as people think. These culinary artisans want to come into a kitchen, listen to some good music. They want to bond. They’re very emotional creatures. They want to do good food. If you’re serving crap food – I’m going to say the word “crap.”

Mike: Uh-oh.

Shawn: We’re going to say it on this program a lot, probably. Yeah, here we go. I said it.

If you’re going to serve crap food and you’re a cook that’s got, you know, some pride, you’re just going to go, “No, this ain’t for me. I don’t want to do this.”

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: I’ve literally seen that happen.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Ask them, “Hey, why are you leaving?”
“Well, it’s horrible here. I didn’t go to chef school to serve potatoes out of a can or overcooked fish,” or whatever the case may be.

Yeah, they want to go in and cook good food. They want to bond. They want to be respected. They want their voices heard. They want to be creative. My gosh, they want to be creative. Honestly, if you just do all of those things that I just said and do it well, in all of my kitchens, my folks stayed with me for years, dishwashers for years.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: You’ve got to be kind of Captain Kangaroo, though. You know? You’ve got to have some life in your blood.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: It’s a culture. You’ve got to have an upbeat tempo and respect culture.

Mike: And you have to lead by example.

Shawn: Amen.

Mike: Yeah and, to take it one step further, take some ideas and input from your people because, like you said—

Shawn: Oh, my gosh. Yeah.

Mike: –they want that creative input. You know your dishwasher can come up with a dinner special.

Shawn: You’ve heard me say this.

Mike: Yeah. [Laughter]

Shawn: I’ve never learned anything from a chef. I’ve learned everything I know through cooks.

Mike: Yeah, yeah.

Shawn: Never a chef.

Mike: Servers, dishwashers, maintenance people, you name it.

Shawn: Oh!

Mike: Everybody has got an idea. Once you have a leader that respects the opinions of their people, then those people are going to be more apt to follow that leader and be more comfortable in their environment.

Shawn: Yeah.

Mike: It’s not new. That’s not groundbreaking information.

Shawn: No. No.

Mike: It’s just surprising how little it actually happens.

Shawn: Well, you’ve got to leave the ego at the door.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: I always say—it’s a hotel term—if you’re looking at your kitchen, clean up the driftwood off the beach. That means if you have folks that are not team players, drama queens and kings, attitudes, you need to get rid of them.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: We’re just going to cut right to it.

Mike: Sure.

Shawn: Those people need to go somewhere else.

Mike: But it’s also important to state that everybody deserves that chance to have the slate wiped clean and say—

Shawn: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Mike: –“Going forward, this is what we need and I’m going to help you get there.”

Shawn: Yeah.

Mike: “I really want you to be successful because if you’re successful, I’m successful.” You know that whole adage.

Shawn: I’m glad you brought that up because when we go in, I always tell everybody they’re a rock star.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: You have to prove to me you’re not a rock star.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: I’m telling you; they love that because I don’t know your past, I always tell them.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: I don’t want to know your past. I don’t got time. You know? If you’ve made some mistakes, guess what. This is your free pass.

Mike: Yeah. Here you go.

Shawn: From here out, this is your free [pass]. Yeah, and there are a few people that might not hang around but I’ve had more than I can even count. Other cooks come up to me to talk about their colleagues saying, “This guy is always late. I don’t know what’s going on, chef, but he’s showing up and it’s like he cares.”

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Because he as a fresh start, you know, he’s not labeled.

Mike: Yeah, so these are issues that pop up in all industries: labor issues, teamwork issues, leadership issues, cleanliness issues, old school equipment issues, you name it. This is all stuff that we all have to deal with. It really just kind of comes down to, like you said, how committed are you to making a change, making improvements, or working with your people?

Shawn: You have to be ready.

Mike: You have to be ready. With all of that in mind, Shawn, now it’s your turn to tell us. If you could create the ideal community for yourself, one that you would want to live in, in your retirement years, just to kind of chill out for the rest of your life, what’s that community going to look like for you?

Shawn: Well, first off, everybody is going to be smiling.

Mike: Yep.

Shawn: Not because they have to smile. It’s not a Disney Land protocol where if you’re caught not smiling, you get in trouble. No, this community is going to be smiling because they genuinely are happy and they love doing what they love to do.

The food is fresh. The food is current. There are options. I would want my voice heard as a resident and to be respected that if for some reason the culinary is taking a left turn that isn’t good or right turn, whatever it might be, that there would be steps taken and not just sugarcoated but, “Okay, yeah, this is an issue. We’re having some cold food issues and, Shawn, we’re really going to dig into it and see what’s going on. Let me get back to you in a few days or in a week.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Oh, our next resident meeting in month,” and it’s the same, you know, just kick the can.

Mike: Same meeting over and over and over again. Yeah.

Shawn: Kick the can. Yeah, so I wouldn’t want to be in a community like that. Proactive and you know what? I’ll end it with, if people are just understood, if they’re just understood that, yeah, this is a problem and even if it might take a little bit to fix, be honest with them. Just be upfront. But at the end of the day, if you do what’s right, meaning every day you do the right thing, if there are some mistakes made, you’re forgiven quite easily.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Very easily. It’s like a relationship. Think about it, you know. If you’re always fighting with your buddy then everything he does is wrong. Right?

Mike: Sure.

Shawn: But if you’ve got a really, really good relationship and your buddy forgets to pick you up at the airport and you have to walk five miles, you’ll be a little upset but it’s not—

Mike: You’ll get over it.

Shawn: Yeah, you’ll get over it because you’ve built that relationship.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: You do care.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. No, that’s good stuff. What are three things that senior living providers can do starting today, no matter what program they’re on, that they could make an immediate positive impact on the lives of their residents?

Shawn: Walk through your culinary department.

Mike: Okay, number one.

Shawn: Walk through at mealtimes and walk through when no one is expecting you.

Mike: Yeah, surprise visits, man. They’re big.

Shawn: Just look and see what is going on, literally what’s going on.

Mike: Okay.

Shawn: I think the second one would be, look at your vendors.

Mike: Okay.

Shawn: What’s coming in the door? If you’ve got, say, a Sysco and you have no produce company, no meat company, no fish company, no bread company that’s local, right there you can go, “Well, obviously, we’re not using the freshest ingredients because there’s no way all this can come on a 58-foot semi.”

Mike: Right.

Shawn: That right there is a conversation starter with your chef. Let’s get the quality of the food up and you can tell right away.

Mike: Cool.

Shawn: The third one, I think, you know, if you’re walking through, you see what’s going on, you’re looking at your vendors, then I think the next thing would be staffing.

Mike: Okay.

Shawn: Are you understaffed? Are you overstaffed? Even go so far with staffing when you’re on that step. Pull a few key people aside and don’t let them know you’re going to do it and just say, “Hey, Johnny/Jill, I want to talk to you.” Pull a cook aside. Pull a server aside. Pull the chef aside. Just say, “What needs to go? What do you think could be fixed here? What are some good things that are here?”

Really start to understand that staffing because you can go in and have the staffing actually perfect. You have the right amount of people. They’re just not in the right position.

Mike: Yeah!

Shawn: They’re constantly struggling and failing because they’re not in the right position or they’re not the right person for the position.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: If you’ve got—

Mike: Or they’re not being shown how to do their jobs.

Shawn: Yeah. Yeah, and you’ll find that out super quick. If you’ve got your staffing taken care of, you look into the staffing, look into the vendors and things like that, and just walk through that kitchen and see what you can see and open doors.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Open those. Open oven doors, freezer doors. Look in ice machines. You will be really surprised what you find.

Mike: Awesome. Well, once again, Shawn, you’ve illustrated your simply amazing level of knowledge and experience.

Shawn: I’ve just been doing it forever and a day, dude.

Mike: Yeah and we’re going to obviously continue these dialogs many times over throughout the course of this show.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: You and I will talk tons of times about the different aspects of the culinary universe. I want to thank you for hanging out again today.

Shawn: You bet. Hey, by the way, nice cup of Cosmic Soup today. It was very flavorful.

Mike: Oh, it was a very delicious cup of Cosmic Soup.

Shawn: Yeah.

Mike: I might go for a big bowl next time.

Shawn: We’re going to spice it up.

Mike: [Laughter] If you guys like what we’re doing here on Cosmic Soup, send us a comment. Let us know what you think. Subscribe to the show: iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio. You name it, we’re everywhere.

If you have some questions you want us to answer, you want to pick Shawn’s brain, I don’t recommend it, but if you decide you want to go down that rabbit hole, hit us up, [email protected], and we’ll answer all your questions on one of our upcoming mailbag episodes. Of course, tell your friends. We appreciate all of you guys hanging out with us. We’ll talk to you again real soon on Cosmic Soup.