Graduates of our Culinary Apprenticeship Certificate program can be found fulfilling their career goals at restaurants in the metro Atlanta area. However, more are venturing out as entrepreneurs. David Johnson, 2015 graduate, is the newest chef to add business owner to his list of skills.
Summer 2017 marked the debut of the Habanero Grill Food Truck and its Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. This Kennesaw-based business offers selections such as Baja fish tacos and habanero triple steak nachos. All items are prepared fresh, and ingredients are purchased from local farms and vendors.
Local businesses can also contact Johnson for their catering needs. Anheuser-Busch, Bank of America, and AMLI Lindbergh have all feasted on some of his best-selling menu items.
“Our tequila carne asada taco, Yucatan pulled pork taco, and habanero ‘slammin’ nachos’ are all flying out the door,” David said. “We also make our salsa from scratch.”
David said he considered a brick-and-mortar restaurant but having a food truck was more efficient and economical. He knew a few people whose food truck businesses were up and running, so he sought their advice.
“They told me it would be a good idea,” he said. “I would be able to get started much faster, get out there and see what the business is like.”
David already had 23 years of food and beverage industry experience. For starters, he was the banquet director of the Marriott. However, he said “getting out there on your own” was a little bit different but he received guidance and motivation from our program.
“KSU helped to define my cooking skills – I’ve been cooking for the past 20 years. I also opened two restaurants for Marriott and have worked for the Renaissance Waverly and Georgia World Congress Center. I was able to get experience with large group events,” he said. “I wanted to fine-tune my skills and look into opening my own business, and the apprenticeship program was a great fit.”
Pam Moss, Culinary Apprenticeship program manager, said, “The value in our program is twofold. First, we have multiple instructors, and this provides an opportunity for our students to explore various culinary experiences through the expertise of our chefs. Second, our apprenticeships are priceless. They enhance the classroom instruction, and our students leave our program with valuable work experience that often leads to employment.”
In David’s case, his chef instructor helped to develop his current menu: “As I was attending the Culinary program, I started leaning toward Mexican and Southwestern cooking. [Former chef instructor Rich Bradshaw] started pushing me and working with me on different recipes and flavor profiles. I also started reading more cookbooks and looking at YouTube videos to develop my own style and flavor.”
Pam remembers David speaking his dream into existence. She said, “He had a vision for his business and he spoke about it at graduation. To see him bring it to fruition in only two years is incredible. I’m so proud of him — I knew he could do it.”
David was able to reconnect with Chef Robert Gerstenecker, formerly of the Park 75 at the Four Seasons Hotel. Seeing one of his chef mentors — and showing him the brand-new food truck — was gratifying.
“I was happy to see Chef G.,” David said. “He was a very inspirational person in my development.”
Working with top chefs in Atlanta was one of the best aspects of his experience. David offers this advice for future students: “Take full advantage of the apprenticeships and develop those relationships. You will gain a great amount of skills from those sites.”
After spending decades in the hospitality industry and training to become a chef, Johnson looks forward to this next chapter. Hungry? Visit habanerogrillfoodtruck7.com or call 687-369-7548 for more information.