#BlogPostCard, Everyday Akron Stories

A School of Hard-Knocks: My Culinary Upbringing in Akron, OH | #BlogPostCard

By: Jeff Kucko, General Manager at Crave

Jeff Kucko, GM at Crave

I wish to pay back the gratitude any way I can.

I first met Crave owner Aaron Hervey at The University of Akron’s Annual Chef Alumni Dinner, formerly held at Gallucci Hall, back in November of 2010. I was a student in the culinary arts program and had been working in the food industry for eight years or so by that point. I was attending the university to achieve that glorious piece of paper that would springboard my career and help me become a successful chef. The dinner was going as planned, and as I was running around helping everywhere I could, I took a moment to ask the chefs in the kitchen, “Is anyone looking for help? I’m looking to pick up a second job.”

At this point, I was employed by a restaurant/bar in the Portage Lakes. Aaron took a chance on me, and now here I am 10 years later, feeling accomplished as I had worked my way up the ladder of success to being Crave’s current general manager.

During my third year at the University of Akron, my mother sadly passed away. I discontinued my education at that time as I was dealing with the loss. Aaron and his wife Dana were very caring in helping me deal with this experience. They gave me time off that I had not earned yet and just wanted to be sure I would be okay. This stood out to me as an employer that genuinely cared and was connected to their employees. As a result, I gained a great amount of respect for the Crave family.

Crave in Downtown Akron

Help #SaveCRAVE — Learn more

During that point in time, I was a line cook. I had been employed for a few years with Crave and was well-versed in the kitchen, working different positions on the line as needed. Starting in the pantry making salads, dressings, cold appetizers, and desserts, I caught on fairly fast. Aaron, being an active chef at the time (working 50+ hours a week as a chef/owner), saw that and trained me-—with the help of his kitchen staff—on grill and sauté. “Great!” I thought “This will really translate and allow me to land a good job elsewhere.” I have always been an ambitious person—ready to travel, gain experiences, and grow.

Returning to Akron

In September of 2013, I had packed my bags and moved to Asheville, NC. Asheville was a highly desired location for me to grow and learn, as the food industry is much stronger there since they have a large tourism industry to help fuel the market. I did that for a couple of years and ended up moving back to Akron for personal reasons. Once I knew Akron was again in my future, I reached out to Aaron to see if he had any positions in the restaurant that I could fill. Turns out, he did.

In April of 2016, I continued my employment at Crave—this time however, as sous chef, or second in charge. Aaron was working on opening up our other location, Crave Cantina, in Cuyahoga Falls. He had his former sous chef running the kitchen. The chef and I worked together for a good year or so before both personal and professional differences caused an issue in productivity and morale. I had expressed my concerns and issues with the matter at hand and put in my resignation.  

“I can’t work with this chef anymore,” I said. “I understand that this sucks and I am more than willing to talk and would appreciate the opportunity to work for you again if it presents itself.” Within a week, it seemed my case was heard. There were conversations with the chef and differences could not be settled, thus resulting in me taking on the position and title of head chef. “I DID IT!” I thought. “I finally made it to being the chef.” My ideas and artistry would be highlighted.

Building a brand

My experience in Asheville had the gears turning. There was a growing trend with creating dishes for individuals with dietary restrictions. The vegan/vegetarian community, the gluten-free diets, the paleo diets, in addition to the large group of individuals that have common food allergies—this is where I would focus my energy. That, and ensuring inclusiveness within the staff. I have a way of managing and working with people, rather than them working for me. It can be a thankless and stressful ideology at times, but it keeps me true to my morals and receives the best outcome in product and efficiency with guests and staff.

We were doing great! The kitchen was a brainstorm of creative ideas coming from multiple levels of experience and everyone was heard. For the first time to my knowledge, we created the menu as a full team. Every kitchen employee was invited out to my house to eat, drink, and plan. The outcome was a diverse, true-to-brand menu that was well accepted by the public.

Our monthly beer dinners that we coordinate with local breweries were moving at full steam. I began to see relationships forming with the “regulars,” as they were thrilled with the food we were presenting them month after month. I would hone in on my public speaking skills during these events. Little did I know at that time that I was building a skill set and relationships that would transfer to my next position with Crave.

The general manager we had at the time was furthering his own career path and put in his notice of resignation with the company. After witnessing the trials that Aaron and Dana were having in finding a replacement for him, I decided to hang my apron and put on a tie. I offered to fill the position and we could pass the kitchen off to one of the many qualified chefs we had.

A call for support 

And here we are today. Since November of 2019, I have been adapting to my new role as GM. Never did it occur to me that the entire world would suffer from the effects of a pandemic, halting business for two weeks when we were closed. We watched, listened, and developed a plan for reopening. Across the state of Ohio, it was established that restaurants had to operate at 50% capacity of their previous allotment. This clearly created challenges with generating revenue in addition to losing our lunch hours that supported feeding the business class of Akron during weekdays.

This has led me to creating a GoFundMe account for the Herveys and the restaurant. #SaveCRAVE was generated to try and tread water a bit longer, to give their business a fighting chance in a challenging market during an unprecedented time. The goal is to reach $15k to help further our operations. 

When put into perspective, it isn’t a large amount of money. But every business, every restaurant, every bar, retail shop, etc. are facing challenges of their own. I felt, in respect to everything going on, that asking for a little help so we can continue to navigate these times was appropriate. I want the Herveys to know that I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience by working for them. I wish to pay back that gratitude any way I can. As for right now, in this instance, I am reaching my hand out, not as a representative of the company, but as a representative of good will in people. 

Please check out #SaveCRAVE and our GoFundMe if you wish to support the Herveys’ journey in owning and operating their dream for over 15 years. Thank you, Akron!

Special thanks to Jeff Kucko, General Manager at Crave, for writing this #BlogPostCard. You can follow Crave on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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