In this industry, we tend to think of service in terms of breakfast, lunch and dinner. In honor of Veterans Day, however, we thought we’d take a moment to speak with some members of the restaurant community who have experienced real service—in the military that is. We tapped some chefs who have gone on to have successful careers as restaurant owners and chefs after their tours of duty were finished, and got their takes on why it’s important to support veteran-owned establishments.
Amber Frymark, Chowventions
When Wisconsin native Amber Frymark was honorably discharged from the Air Force as a Wounded Warrior after 10 years of service, she “had to figure what my next move was in life,” she says. So she decided to go to culinary school and, after graduating, opened Chowventions, a “food inventions company” at which she produces small-batch artisan food products. “A long lost passion for food was reignited,” Frymark says. “I love to create my own works of art, so working for someone else was not an option.”
That said, in her previous life she was, in a sense, working for a lot of other people—putting her life on the line for her fellow citizens each day. So she appreciates it when her fellow citizens make an effort to return the favor. “Veterans are just like anyone else, trying to make ends meet,” she says. “The difference is, they made huge sacrifices for our country prior to being transplanted back into civilian life, which is very difficult in and of itself.” She gives back herself, donating a portion of the proceeds from every new product she launches to the veteran community. “Aside from that, we strive to be involved with veteran activities and events when they present themselves.”
Peter Raimondi, Aleo
It was a longer—and far more winding—road that led New Yorker Peter Raimondi to open his Mediterranean-inspired Flatiron restaurant, Aleo. Raimondi enlisted in 1974, when he was a student at Fordham University. He went through the Marine Corps and graduated from Fordam as a Second Lieutenant in 1977. His long career in the military was marked by action, including serving aboard a tank landing ship during the Iranian hostage crisis in the Middle East.
In his post-service life, he wore a lot of different hats before donning his chef toque. Raimondi worked as a network engineer for Loral Electronics, designing anti jamming warfare devices for the F-16 project, and for MCI Communications, building low noise reduction units for the space shuttle program. He then went on to worked for the New York Stock Exchange, as the floor manager of telecommunications, and at Citicorp as manager of Network Engineering, before serving as VP of technology hardware at Goldman Sachs & Co.
But he felt compelled to follow other dreams. ”I wanted to get away from Wall Street, and have the personal time to follow a passion of mine—baseball,” he says. “Owning the restaurant allowed me to get back into coaching baseball at a collegiate level.” Raimondi now serves as the assistant coach at New York’s Pace University when he’s not helming the stove at Aleo.
He says he welcomes the support of his civilian patrons. “If a woman or a man puts on a uniform to protect you and your way of life, it would be nice to put on a smile and support that person,” he says. To that end, he supports active servicemen and women and fellow veterans on Veterans Day with a special that offers 50 percent off their bill for military personnel in uniform, and 30 percent off for military personnel with ID.
Nancy Viswanathan, OM Indian Fusion Cuisine
Nancy Viswanathan, owner of OM Indian Fusion Cuisine in Madison, Wisconsin, draws parallels between her time in the military and the service she now provides in her restaurant. “The service industry has always been a focal point of my life,” she explains. “This is one of the largest growing industries in the world and I’ve always found it to be fast-paced and exciting. There’s a lot of different ways to serve people, whether it be travel, restaurants, lodging or various forms of entertainment. Taking care of people and seeing them enjoy themselves is something I’ve always been drawn to. It’s a rewarding experience.”
Before she was a restaurateur, Viswanathan served as a non-commissioned officer in the Army National Guard in Minneapolis. Her service saw her managing logistics, finance and human resources on deployment to Iraq in 2009. “The idea of owning and operating a restaurant actually stemmed from my husband, Sumanth,” she says. “He was born in Ooty, India, and always wanted to run his own business. He laid out the business plan to see if I was on board. We partnered with his good friend who was a well-known a respected chef and the three of us put this plan into action.”
They opened OM in June 2016, just about a year after she officially completed her military service. It pleases her to be able to continue to give back to the community in some way. Likewise, “Supporting veteran-owned businesses is an opportunity to give back to those who have served this country. Veterans and military personnel feel at home when we are able to connect with others who have served,” she says. “There’s a sense of pride when someone has been in the military and is also able to successfully run a business. It strengthens the community as a whole.”
Viswanathan says that OM always offers a 10-percent discount to both active service members and veterans, but on Veterans Day they grant 25 percent off, plus a complimentary bottle of house wine with the purchase of two entrees. “We welcome all veterans to join us on this special day,” she says.
Carrie Roeger, Semper Fi Bar & Grille
Carrie Roeger and her husband, Ralph, are both former Marines; she a Russian linguist, he a combat engineer. After completing their service, Ralph worked in sales and Carrie began working as the operations manager of a residential construction company, where she still works today. However, she says that opening a restaurant has always been a “distant bucket list idea.”
They were inspired to officially check that item off the list when they visited a Marine-only bar and restaurant in Las Vegas—soon after they opened Semper Fi Bar & Grille in Woodstock, Georgia. “After our visit to Las Vegas, we just jumped in and haven’t looked back,” she says. “We have created a place where veterans, first responders and their family members can be celebrated and honored. Veterans from all branches are welcome. The veterans who come to our establishment have found a place to feel comfortable and safe to tell their story. We see a lot of healing happening, within the camaraderie.”
Supporting veteran-owned business provides that tangible way to take care of our veterans.
And while she says that about 98 percent of their customers are veterans, they welcome civilian patronage and support. “As a veteran, and knowing many veterans and their stories, we were willing to sign a blank check, with the ultimate price of our life, to protect the freedoms our country offers to all citizens,” Roeger says. “For most in our country, there isn’t a tangible way to say ‘thank you.’ Supporting veteran-owned business provides that tangible way to take care of our veterans.” The Roegers take care of their fellow vets by keeping their price points low year-round. This Veterans Day, they’re offering a pork plate special not typically on their menu. And, she says, “November 10 is the Marine Corps Birthday and we are the place where Atlanta celebrates Marines. Party starts at 1700!”
Antwan Smalls, My Three Sons
Antwan Smalls, a co-owner (and one of the sons) of Charleston’s family-owned soul food spot My Three Sons, still works as a government contractor for the Navy, drilling once a month, when he’s not running operations at the restaurant.
Veterans are service driven so customers will always be a top priority.
The brainchild of local soul food legend Alice Warren, in partnership with Smalls’ mother Lorraine, My Three Sons gives Antwan a secondary way to serve the community. “It’s important to support [businesses like his] because as veteran and current soldier, I understand the sacrifices that were made,” Smalls says. “Veterans are service driven so customers will always be a top priority. It’s always good to support your fellow brothers and sisters in arms.”