Julia Child said, “No one is born a great cook; one learns by doing.” That adage is being tested by a new generation of great cooks in the making, thanks to these Toledo area chefs!
Each chef developed an interest in cooking as a child by watching their own relatives cook with love. Now, as parents themselves, these culinary types share how their love of food and cooking has become a family affair.
Chefs share common knowledge about the restaurant industry. Even more valuable than the recipes they share with their kids, are the lessons on hard work, sacrifice, passion and grit that are required to own and run their restaurants.
Chef Jose Carlos Mendez
Jose Carlos Mendez became a chef “by accident.” While Jose’s father was a butcher and an excellent cook, Jose went to college for management and, over time, he discovered his love for cooking. He is now the owner and operator of all three Carlos Restaurants: Cocina de Carlos (Perrrysburg), Carlos Que Pasa (Cricket West off Central), and Carlos Poco Loco (Adams St, Downtown Toledo).
How do you make cooking a family matter? We hardly cook as a family anymore because of the work that we do in the business. But during special occasions and family reunions, food is a way to bring everyone together. We love making huge meals at any birthday, anniversary, or celebration.
What is something you want your daughter to know about your work as a chef? It’s not easy and it’s extremely competitive, but worth the fight. As long as you follow your dreams, anything is possible.
Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition? We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but because we close down all the restaurants, we have made it our own tradition to get together as a restaurant family and enjoy our own traditional Mexican cuisine.
Chef Seongho Cho
Following in the footsteps of his father, Joe, Seongho (Sung) is sushi chef/owner of Kyoto Ka. Before turning to the restaurant business, Sung’s father Joe, who was born in South Korea, was an international law student in Kyoto, Japan. While in Japan, he started helping out at the sushi restaurant in the building where he lived. When Joe moved to Toledo years later, he brought his love of sushi with him, opening Kyoto Ka (Ka means “family” in Korean).
Sung was in the U.S army (11 years total) when his dad called him and asked him to help open the second Kyoto Ka location, this one in downtown Toledo. Sung was thrilled to return and be part of the family business, explaining “we love what we do.”
How does running a restaurant work as a parent? Having a restaurant is a plus on our kids’ birthday. We invite the kids’ friends to our restaurant for their birthday to share our food. The challenge is working when it’s typically time for everyone to relax and enjoy time together — evenings, holidays, etcetera. Our kids, Aiden (12) and Irene (10), miss out on dinner with their dad.
Do you see your children incorporating cooking into their own lives? They like to cook small things at home, but have not yet been too involved in learning the details of sushi-making. One thing that I can say is that they try to appreciate different kinds of food.
Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition? We cook three different cultural foods for our Thanksgiving: Korean, Japanese and American food.
Chef Elias Hajjar
Poco Piatti and Beirut Street Kitchen Food Truck
Growing up watching his parents dedicate their love, time and energy to the Beirut restaurant, Elias naturally developed a desire to continue in the family business. After graduating from The Ohio State University in Hospitality Management, Elias returned home to run the first Poco Piatti on Monroe Street. With his entrepreneurial drive, he then opened Poco Piatti at Levis Commons, and years later, Poco Piatti Central Ave (at McCord) and now Poco Piatti Downtown (Huron St.). And, as of just a few months ago, he is the owner of the Beirut Street Kitchen Food Truck.
How does running multiple restaurants work as a parent? It works because it’s an industry that demands you to be social and part of a community. It hurts because of the time commitment away from home. With the food truck now, they can actually come to work with me and help out by taking orders. They love that.
Do you see your children incorporating cooking into their own lives? Absolutely. Rose (12), Jasmine (11), and Dahlia (8) take it upon themselves to read recipe books, to ask for ingredients so that they can experiment with new things. Cooking is as important a skill as anything they will learn in school.
Chef Hasan Hassan
Executive Diner and Executive on the Main
At age 13, Hasan was hired as a “back of the house” dishwasher at a local family business. He watched and learned closely what was going on in the kitchen. Thanks to a brother-in-law who took notice, he was taught how to cook and shown the ropes of running a kitchen. He learned quickly that cooking was his passion, eventually leading to the opening of Executive Diner (Monroe near Douglas) and more recently, Executive On the Main (Main St., Sylvania).
How do you make cooking a family matter? The kids–Lillian (13), Zackariah (11), Sophia (10)–have always loved coming into the restaurants to help out. Although they enjoy helping more with customer service, I’ve taught them how to flip eggs in a pan and do different types of prep work because they take pride in being able to help out.
How does running multiple restaurants work as a parent? I am very lucky to have most evenings free, being in the breakfast and lunch business, so we can do family dinners, and I can be involved in helping get them to and from extracurricular activities.
The hardest part is being almost completely unavailable on weekends. Our kids are very involved in multiple sports, so my wife is the one who has to manage their heavy schedules on the weekends. I’m glad they are understanding that I can’t be there, but it is still hard for me some days to know I’m missing it all.
Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition? It is one of the two days a year that the diners are closed, so we sleep in, do a family brunch that we all cook together, and then take a dip in our hot tub together. It’s probably my favorite morning of the year! Then we go to both of our family’s houses where someone else has done the cooking, which is great!