Today we’re going to take a closer look at how the son of a single mother and a young boy contemplating suicide would start his own company that is worth around $500 million today. This is the story of renowned chef Wolfgang Puck and the top 3 lessons that you can learn from his success.
“Young people want to be famous before they know how to cook, before they know how to treat people, before they know what hospitality means. I stayed in France for seven years and Austria for three, so before I was a chef anywhere I was already cooking for 10 years.” – Wolfgang Puck
Wolfgang Johann Puck (born January 8, 1949) was born to a hotel chef mother and a butcher father; the art and love of preparing food was in his blood. Puck’s father abandoned his mother just before his birth, leaving Maria Topfschnig as a single mother. In 1956, she remarried to coal-miner Josef Puck, who then adopted Wolfgang, making him Wolfgang Johann Puck. This marriage would result in two younger sisters and a little brother for Puck.
Under the guidance of his mother, who had been dabbling in the professional culinary arts for some time, Puck began cooking pastries. He had made up his mind at an early age that he wanted to follow in his mother’s footsteps and become a professional chef. Instead of following the traditional route of first attending culinary school, however, Puck chose to instead train under an apprenticeship from the age of 14. He was sent on a train to southern Austria to work in a hotel kitchen, but did not find the success he had hoped for. After stepping onto cakes on a bakery floor, he recalls that, “everyone told me I’m good for nothing.” A few days later, the head chef told Puck, “You’d better go home to your mother so she can breastfeed you for another year.” After pondering suicide, Puck chose instead to apprentice at another hotel. It proved to be a wise decision.
Puck decided to move to the United States in 1973 and worked in several restaurants before finding a home at Ma Maison, a failing Hollywood restaurant. There he would bring the restaurant back to prominence and become co-owner. In 1982, Puck launched his first cookbook, Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen. With the success that followed, and upon meeting his future wife and business partner Barbara Lazaroff who would encourage him to follow his dreams, Puck got the confidence he needed to finally realize one of his lifelong goals; Puck was going to open his own restaurant. With the backing of some investors, he opened Spago and the rest is history.
Action Item #1: Don’t Complicate Things
Action Item #2: Hire Good People
Action Item #3: Never Give Up
Wolfgang Puck has been seen many times by customers, but never in the light Terry Dullum remembers well. One evening he entered one of Puck’s new restaurants in Las Vegas, the Californian Pizza Kitchen at the MGM Grand Hotel. As Dullum tells the story, he walked in and sat down, only to see Puck through the open kitchen. He was surprised to see him there at all, but what surprised him more was Puck came out and took his order, then proceeded to make the pizza he ordered himself.
Dullum stated that he could see Puck toss the dough, put the ingredients on the pizza and then place it in the oven. According to Dullum, he thought maybe this was a dream and said he smiled each time he watched Puck sampling each one of the raw ingredients before he placed them on Dullum’s pizza. Here was a man worth around $500 million, owned a host of restaurants around the country, is the main caterer at the Governor’s Ball for the Academy Awards for the past 18 or so years and is probably the most famous chef in the world, but took the time to make one person a pizza. Dullum states Puck brought out the pizza and it was the best he has ever had.
“I love to make people happy.”
“There is no value with just one restaurant or with one person. The brand has to be bigger than the person.”
“LA is really very interesting. You have a Chinese part, a Japanese part, a Vietnamese part and so on. You have Thai markets. When I started to learn about the city, I said, ‘You know, maybe our menu should represent the cultural heritage of LA.”
What Do You Think?
Do you make things more complicated than they should be? Do you look to hire the most talented employees or just hire who you can find? Are you on the brink of giving up your dreams? Tell me what you think by leaving a comment below.
Learn more by reading my Wolfgang Puck articles (http://www.evancarmichael.com/Famous-Entrepreneurs/623/summary.php) or my website, http://www.EvanCarmichael.com.