This article appears in November Family magazine.
An army marches on its stomach, and the country’s restaurants thrive with the work of veterans.
As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, here’s an interesting fact: More than 250,000 veterans work in the food industry, and that number is expected to grow by more than 25,000 in the next five years, according to the National Restaurant Association.
One such veteran is Lance Matthews, formerly of the U.S. Navy and the current corporate chef at Quaker Steak & Lube, a family restaurant chain based in Pennsylvania known for its wings as well as its mission of rescuing muscle and vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles. As corporate chef, Matthews handles recipe and menu development, training and pricing.
Matthews began his culinary career at age 14 working as dishwasher, then was taken under the wing of a head chef who helped Matthews work his way to a line cook in just one year.
He attended the New England Culinary Institute, then joined the Navy and served as search and rescue swimmer from 1991 to 1999 as well as a mess specialist (now called a culinary specialist).
Stationed in San Diego, Matthews was young, unmarried and hungry to advance his culinary career. After clocking out each afternoon, he went to his second job working at prestigious restaurants, hotels and casinos in the area such as Hotel Del Coronado and Pechanga Resort & Casino.
“I’m a firm believer that the duty and leadership skills I learned in the Navy are a large part of my success today. It all goes back to core values,” Matthews said.
The hospitality and restarant industry is a great fit for veterans, he said.
“The military instills core values — honor, duty, integrety, respect, teamwork, cammeraderie. It’s built into you in boot camp forward. These characteristics are what set a veteran or active-duty personnel apart to rise in the industry,” Matthews said.
“Veterans enjoy a more direct path to upward mobility” than nonveterans, said B. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the research & knowledge group at the National Restaurant Association. A military background trains a person in leadership skills, and those skills translate to the food industry, he said.
Nineteen percent of veterans employed in the restaurant industry hold management positions, compared to 10 percent of nonveterans working in the industry, according to the National Restaurant Association. Similarly, 14 percent of veterans working in restaurants are in supervisor positions, compared to 8 percent of nonveterans.
While Matthews’ culinary background propelled him to success in the restaurant industry, he said it’s not necessary.
“Even if you don’t have a background in food a veteran can succeed because veterans adapt and overcome. We are trained to rise to the top,” Matthews said.
As veterans reintegrate into society, the food industry can provide a cushioned landing, Matthews said.
“As soldiers return home to civilian life, they find out things are a lot different,” he said.
The camaraderie and brotherhood that bouyed a veteran’s military career can be found working in a restaurant environment.
“As veterans model integrity and perserverence, they are a valuable asset to the business. Veterans bring the passion of service, and we need more people like that,” Matthews said.