“I’ve always been in the business, starting from when I was a bus boy/dishwasher for a pancake house in junior high school,” he says.
After stints as a waiter and bartender while attending college, Burks served as general manager and food and beverage director for a Houston-based nightclub chain with locations in more than 15 states. He eventually began traveling the country as opening director before transitioning into broadline foodservice procurement. Prior to joining Session Fixture Co. a year ago, Burks worked in procurement for an internet-based restaurant equipment company.
“I’ve been exposed to all sides of the industry. There’s no question I’ve been able to gain a better understanding of why operators do what they do,” he says.
FE&S spoke with Burks about his approach to projects and what he’s learned in his 40 years in the business.
FE&S: What keeps you engaged?
JB: I love the art of food and the energy level in this
business. There is something new every day and there is always an opportunity to learn.
I think recent trends, such as social media combined with technology, have been instrumental in driving the industry to what it is today, which is very fresh and innovative. There’s also a lot of excitement about technology, like induction and combi ovens that have been used in Europe for decades. My hope is that they will be in half of mainstream America’s restaurants in the next 10 years.
FE&S: You are known for being very thorough and thoughtful when approaching a project. How do you ensure the equipment spec is right?
JB: Asking the right questions and really listening is important, as well as going back to the menu over and over again if necessary. Whenever I’m talking to operators, they want to dwell on price, but I try to guide clients back to the menu to ensure the spec fits their application.
I like to go on-site so operators can walk me through their project and share their vision, rather than just look at drawings and blueprints. This way I can touch and feel the space and try to incorporate their vision into the design and flow of the project.
FE&S: How does your operator background help?
JB: I can empathize with operators, knowing they’re usually wearing 12 different hats. Whether it’s a startup, redesign or replacement, I first try to get a feel for their sense of urgency, which I try to mirror in my role.
It’s important to ask the right questions. It helps to drill down further for volume information to build a case for moving an operator into the right equipment.
FE&S: You have mentioned mentor Rick Thornhill taught you a lot while opening restaurants and night clubs together. What did you learn from him that still applies today?
JB: He always taught me to treat people the way you want to be treated; that’s the golden rule. Another thing I learned from him was to try to do the job right the first time, since you only get one shot.