I had a list of questions I wanted to ask Sam Sanchez, owner of Old Crow Smokehouse in both Wrigleyville and River North.  But right as I was about to begin prying, I noticed a look I’ve seen before; he had something on his mind and he needed to get it off his chest.  So I let Sam do the talking…

“There’s a big concern in the industry right now; the work ethic is just not there anymore.  We’re struggling to find people that want to put in the time that it takes to grow with the industry.  Just in the state of IL, our industry employs over 530,000 individuals, so it’s a REAL job, yet people don’t take it seriously.  We are being forced to go out of state to find new managers, from secondary cities, that are looking for a good opportunity.”

Well that’s all I needed to hear in order to create a great story.  Plus, working in the industry myself, I had a lot of follow-up questions I wanted answered and Sam was the perfect prospect to get them.  If you want honesty, ask Sam.  Expect to cringe at the truth that spills out.  But that’s how I like it.

“Chicago has a problem – you can hop from restaurant job to restaurant job because there are so many opportunities here.” says Sanchez.  With the ever-growing opportunities, there’s no ‘need’ for an employee to stay in one spot too long.  The demand is too high.  I hear it from everyone in the industry, we are short on good staff!  The work ethic isn’t there.” I was curious to know why Sam associated hopping around to not having a good work ethic.  Because honestly, wouldn’t you take a higher paying job with better hours and more opportunities to grow, if you could?  I think the key word there is ‘job,’ not ‘career.’

It’s not always about the money you make. It’s about how you’re treated. As long as you know that your entry level position doesn’t have a ceiling, you’re most likely going to be happy, so you shouldn’t hop.

Sam Sanchez

“It’s not always about the money you make.  It’s about how you’re treated.  As long as you know that your entry level position doesn’t have a ceiling, you’re most likely going to be happy, so you shouldn’t hop.” says Sanchez.  I can agree with this statement for the most part.  Here’s what I still can’t wrap my head around; an entry level position is just that – entry.  It’s what gets your foot in the door for bigger and better opportunities with that company or another.  If entry level position A at one venue has less opportunities than entry level position B at another, wouldn’t you gravitate towards entry level position B?  Well here’s the difference…  We’re not necessarily talking about servers here.  We’re referring to managers.  A management role is not an entry level position.  This is a commitment and a career choice, not a job.  However a server has two options; move up the ladder or save some money while working towards a different career choice.  That’s the gamble a restaurant owner takes with hiring entry level employees.

“We invest a lot of time in our employees.  We know who’s born with it.  People are born with their work ethic.” says Sanchez.  And I couldn’t agree more; people are who they are.  I’ve never witnessed someone’s work ethic change long-term or indefinitely due to an increase in pay or opportunity.  You can either see the ceiling or you never look up.  And according to Sam, in his company, there is no ceiling.  Take for instance Michael Gonzalez, Sam’s partner in crime.  Michael started as a host and is now part owner in Old Crow Smokehouse, Moe’s Cantina, and John Barleycorn.

Every restaurant and owner is unique.  I call it the ‘beast', and every restaurant is a different beast

Sam Sanchez

  • “Your needs create your ability to succeed.  If you have a family to take care of or you’re going to school during the day, night shifts may be your ticket to success.  Working hard will indeed teach you a life lesson worth knowing.” – Sam Sanchez

“We do have people that have been with us for a long time.  It takes more than 3 months to learn the industry and OUR systems.  Like I said, every restaurant is a beast and it’s unique.”  says Sanchez.  Sam jokingly admits that most of the entry level employees that leave for a ‘better opportunity’ end up with what he likes to call, ‘The Cat Syndrome,’ which is, you walk out the front door and then scratch at the door so you are let back in.  This comes when a new place opens and they know they’re going to make money for the first six months.” says Sanchez.  Meow! Way to call it out like it is.  But isn’t that so true?  I have friends that I couldn’t tell you where they work because they hop around so much.

“Evolution of the hospitality industry is prevalent in the experience we expect you to have coming on board.” says Sanchez.  Back in my day, if you didn’t have at least a year of bartending experience under your belt, you weren’t getting a bartending job anywhere good.  You were a lucky ducky if someone gave you an opportunity to learn and grow with their company.  Now, restaurants are turning to a grassroots system, of training them young and untamed, for quality and brand recognition and loyalty.

What qualities are you looking for in new managers?

“Social Media savvy, computer savvy, being in-tuned with what’s going on in the city, and you have to have a lot of common sense. Having good work ethic and presentation are a given, so if you mess that up you’ll never make it here.  September is a big hiring month due to the shift in school schedules and sports, and we’re looking forward to training a whole new group of inexperienced individuals.  This is the dawn of a new age, for sure.”

If you want to learn and grow in your career in hospitality, first you need to be hospitable.  Respect the time and energy it takes to bring you onto our team, and be a team player.  Loyalty is everything to me and I take care of loyal people.

Sam Sanchez

Let’s put it simply – If you are working an entry level position and want to move up, stay put.  Make it known at the hiring gates that you are interested in bigger and better opportunities with said company.  If you’re making decent money and are treated fairly, there should be no reason to hop around to every girl with her legs open.  If you are perfectly comfortable at your entry level position, do what you need to do to make that money honey!  It takes all to make this industry operate.  We can’t all be restaurant managers and owners.  Some of us want to be dentists or brokers and simply need a job while in college.  Fair enough.