So what attracted you to the opportunity at NJRA?
I had been a member actually through my previous employer with the restaurant association and had worked closely with Deborah Dowdell on a state tourism committee. So for 10 years we served on the New Jersey Travel Industry Association together.
I knew Deborah, I knew the organization. I'd been involved and attended some of the events. So, you know it was not new to me. I was very aware of the excellent reputation that it has in the state of New Jersey. It was unfortunately the sadness of Deborah's passing because she was the Restaurant Association. It's a wonderful opportunity. I'm excited to be here but at the same time, every day I walk in this office I do think of her.
How did you get into the industry?
Like many of my colleagues, I started my career in front of a sink in the dish room. During high school, I was a “pearl diver” at a restaurant in my hometown of Olympia, Washington. The food bug bit me early. I stayed in the industry, in various positions, while in college and when I graduated I began feeding college kids with a company called SAGA.
How did you get involved in the industry?
I actually kind of fell into it. After completing my Architecture studies I then went on to get an MBA - the idea of a combination of creativity and business always interested me. During school I worked for a few caterers and then managed a 4 star resort and I really loved the service business. I then started up a catering company for Matthew Kenney, who was a star New York Chef. And that began Olivier Cheng Catering.
So how did you get into the industry?
How did I get into the industry? Well, it was a chance meeting at a restaurant in Manhattan called The Ballroom It was owned by a very famous chef at the time. His name was Felipe Rojas-Lombardi. He had been an assistant of the great James Beard at his cooking school and was very well connected. He had opened the first tapas bar in the US with a cabaret where many great singers like Peggy Lee performed.