“While studying for a degree in graphic design I never expected to be a chef”.
Yet as fate would have it while attending college in Charleston, SC from 1997-2003 the opportunities to work with Chef Donald Barickman (Magnolias, Blossom Café and Cypress) among others while surrounded by rising and dedicated young Culinary professionals introduced me to the Craft that has now become a part of my every day. And it was in Chicago while working as an opening team member for Shawn McClain’s Green Zebra (2004) where all the pieces fell into place. “Quality is a product of pride while pride is a product of ownership”.
After a year and a half at Green Zebra Justin was invited to join Chef Shawn McClain in a new venture as Sous Chef for now acclaimed Custom House also in Chicago where he continued to reach for quality, with personal and professional investments in hand made artisanal foods, and agricultural sustainability. After nearly four years at Custom House Justin was again invited to embark on a new restaurant venture, this time with Chef Chris Pandel and accepted a position as Sous Chef for The Bristol in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. This opportunity was the next step for a long aspired goal, to bring great quality craft food to the everyday person, to the neighborhood. A giant step away from his training in white table cloth high ticket restaurants, and though the price point went down and the tables turned rustic the pressure of technique, and quality was as demanding as ever.
At the end of 2009 with his first daughter (Maisie) acting as a catalyst for more change he happened upon Ken Featherston and John Vottero (owners of a restaurant in south west Michigan’s harbor country) who were in the search for a new partner and chef. After a few months of conceptual design and visits to the area the three decided to partner and re-launch Soe Café. “Our goal here is to focus on the region and support seasonal agriculture and to produce a quality hand crafted product for everyone to enjoy”. As time brings change, Justin missed Chicago and began looking for an opportunity to return. He came into contact with Phil McFarland (owner of SmallBar) who was seeking a chef to help with the task of converting SmallBar into a destination where honest food and great beer were the focal points.