He eventually landed in Arizona and worked for Barbara Shuman, a former culinary school vocational instructor and the person Zimmerman credits for his foodservice career. That led him to Vermont's New England Culinary Institute and a five-year career as a chef.
Zimmerman realized he needed a better work/life balance after proposing to his wife.
He joined Boston Showcase as an account executive nine years ago, focusing on tabletop and smallwares as he grew his knowledge and expertise in equipment and design. His book of business now includes a large group of independent restaurants, in addition to a variety of other operations, including hotels, assisted living centers and colleges and universities.
FE&S: How does your experience as a chef help you relate to your customers?
MZ: When someone says they need something, for the most part, I know what it is. I learned the nuances of equipment over time. Now it is easier to get people into the right equipment for what they're trying to do.
FE&S: How do you keep track of all the details that go into a project?
MZ: It's all about taking time and going through everything. I've always been detail oriented. When I first started I made sure I was on site for equipment removal and installs to make sure it went smoothly. Paying attention to detail has become a more refined skill over time, and I've developed my own system. I've won bids due to my attention to detail and asking a lot of questions. Although there are inevitably hiccups along the way, paying attention from the beginning is the key to everything falling into place.
FE&S: Tabletop and smallwares are often overlooked or get cut from the budget. From a chef's perspective, why are tabletop and smallwares important?
MZ: Smallwares are important; without them, you can't execute. For example, pots and pans are huge, but that's where operators are always trying to save money. I prefer to sell the highest quality line since it lasts forever and customers only make one purchase. Also, it's important to choose tabletop items and smallwares as early in the process as possible.
FE&S: Describe what a good spec looks like, whether it's tabletop, smallwares or equipment.
MZ: A good spec has to make sense with what the restaurant is doing, and equipment has to be geared to the menu. The key is to understand what the operator is trying to accomplish.
FE&S: How did you expand your knowledge base from tabletop and smallwares to equipment?
MZ: I learned from experience. Training also is important. I try to attend one or two training sessions a year. I began with manufacturer training and found that helped me. Having been a chef and working in kitchens for many years, I understand how a station needs to be laid out.