Restaurant Owner Operator Jake Pulkrabek

Running any business isn’t an easy task. Running a restaurant might leave you crazy. Those that have worked in the Food and Beverage industry can attest to the long hours, expert multitasking, and general uncertainty of relying on other humans to want to spend their time and money eating the meals you have prepared for them.

It’s a labour of love. It has to be, because there’s nothing forcing you to get up in the morning to stay until late, bussing the last table and shutting off the lights. For those that have never worked in a restaurant setting before, there are a lot of misconceptions about what restaurateurs actually spend their time doing day to day. The answers may surprise you.

Jake Pulkrabek is the owner of Jake’s BBQ at 50 Pasteur Street in District 1. It’s an American barbecue joint, but sets itself apart with the authentic Americana strewn about the walls and atmosphere.

“For a lot of Americans it is great to come here,” he says. “But for Vietnamese and people from all over the world, they get to be washed in where I came from. A taste of America.” Jake beams as he tells me about his restaurant, growing up in a small town in northern Minnesota, USA, his past 10 years in various parts of Asia, and his daily regimen.

Jake is up at 7am. He walks to work every morning from District 4, it’s about a four kilometre hike. He gets into the restaurant at about half past eight, and he and his staff start immediately on all of the prep work in the kitchen.

“Everything we ran out of the night before we make,” Jake explains. “The ribs that were marinating the day before for 24 hours have now been put on the barbecue pit as soon as I get in. The fresh pork shoulder comes in at 9am. It takes 12 hours to make those. I get the barbecue pit rolling, smoking up a storm – then it’s set up for lunch.”

There’s a lot of work behind the scenes that the average restaurant goer probably doesn’t think about. Tasks like folding the napkins, wrapping the silverware, filling the ketchups, making sure everything is clean before the customers walk in.

Everything is dusted and wiped down carefully. Toothpicks in the toothpick holders, bathrooms sparkling. ‘Mis en place’, the French culinary term which means ‘everything in its place’, are words that every good restaurant operator and employee is overly familiar with.

“One thing about restaurants is a lot of it is repetition. There are just a ton of things that become muscle memory. All of the small, intricate detail stuff that a lot of people don’t realise we have to stay on top of every single day.”

Jake certainly has a hand in all of these tasks, and has obviously had to instil some of the practices that help his restaurant run smoothly in his staff, but as he will tell you, from a management perspective, he’s a lucky man.

“From the takeover of Mogumbo, to all the people that came over to my team, I really love to show my appreciation to people that have helped me get here, because they make my life so much easier. I kept the staff from the previous restaurant and they all stayed. Eleven people risked their livelihoods and their job for me to come and change it all over to something different, and [they] were willing to stay and help me do it. Because of the Vietnamese staff that’s been here, that’s been one of the key reasons why this place is successful.”

The restaurant gets their normal busy lunch crowd from 11am to 2pm. After the blitzkrieg of hungry lunch goers subside, they have a little bit of a break until happy hour starts at three. During that time they get set up for the night-time rush, which usually begins around 6.30pm and starts to die down around 9pm. So, what is Jake actually doing during all of the usual restaurant craziness?

Service. This is what you notice when you walk into Jake’s establishment. You meet the guy that makes the food, fills the orders, manages the problems, signs the checks, and shares the name of the restaurant – right when you walk in the door.

“That’s what American hospitality is all about,” Jake says. “People walk in the door and I am shaking their hand as they sit down and asking them about their life, where they are coming from.Not a lot of people get to share that kind of thing with other people and run a business while doing it. It’s the part that I love the most about this industry.”

Jake usually leaves the restaurant around 11 o’clock. He catches an episode of the TV show Suits, crawls into bed around midnight, and dreams about the start of the NFL season before switching off his alarm come morning to do it all over again.

“A lot of people think that because I am a chef and owner of a restaurant that I’m just making food. But that’s only one aspect of what I have to get done everyday. I’m dealing with orders coming and making sure quality is always the best it possibly can be. I’m developing relationships with new people every single day.”

It’s easy to see that someone running a restaurant might have to be cut from a special cloth. It’s not an easy gig, and it becomes a part of your identity. Jake Pulkrabek, to a lot of people, is “that Jake guy from the barbecue place.” That’s usually a pretty good sign that an owner is doing a fine job.

“It’s not about the money really, it’s about the passion that I have to do this. The love that I have for this profession, and you have to have that to show up every day through ups and downs. I get to sit at at my bar and wait to greet people while listening to classic rock tunes and catching games on the TV. My life is pretty damn great because I took a dream I had and pushed to make it happen.”