The meez Podcast

JJ Johnson on How Rice is Culture

January 09, 2024 Josh Sharkey Season 2 Episode 41
The meez Podcast
JJ Johnson on How Rice is Culture
Show Notes Transcript

#41. Welcome to the first episode of season two of The meez Podcast! We are excited to introduce our first guest, JJ Johnson. JJ  is a James Beard Award-winning chef, TV Personality, and Author best known for his barrier-breaking cuisine informed by the Caribbean flavors of his upbringing. He has been featured on multiple television shows, and has his television show called 'Just Eats with Chef JJ’ on CLEO TV.

Chef JJ's cookbook with Danica Novgorodof, "The Simple Art of Rice: Recipes from Around the World for the Heart of Your Table," was listed as one of New York Times Best Cookbooks in 2023. Chef JJ’s signature cooking style combines culturally relevant ingredients and classical techniques with a global point of view.

At FIELDTRIP, his made-to-order rice bowl shop that debuted in 2019, Chef JJ
highlights rice as a hero ingredient and showcases it in recipes sourced from around the
world. As one of the only fast-casual restaurants on Esquire’s “America’s Best New
Restaurants” list in 2020, FIELDTRIP utilizes sustainable ingredients and ethically
sourced vegetables and proteins, creating a flavorful and diverse dining experience.
The brand’s motto, "Rice is Culture,” was born out of Chef JJ’s belief that rice is the
universal ingredient that connects us all and can be found at the center of the table in
almost every community.

In this episode, JJ and CEO of meez, Josh Sharkey, talk a lot about the restaurant, the story behind the dishes, different kinds of rice, and how JJ is overcoming some of the challenges of scaling FieldTrip to multiple locations. They also discuss how becoming a parent can make you a better leader, and thinking about how Josh and JJ's kids getting into the food business makes them feel. We hope you enjoy the show! 

 Where to find JJ Johnson: 

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:


Just give the code "meezpod24" to your meez Services Manager for 25 FREE Recipe Uploads

In this episode, we cover:

(03:30) Puerto Rican ingredients and the headache to try and order them in the states
(04:52) All about FieldTrip
(07:10) The varieties of rice featured on the menu
(07:59) JJ's goal of identifying rice farmers
(09:42) The beauty of a simple menu
(11:50) The ins and outs of properly cooking rice
(17:35) Lessons learned from scaling FieldTrip
(22:03) How FieldTrip is about empowering its employees
(31:04) How parenting influences leadership
(40:12) Crunchy rice in different cultures
(44:26) What five years from now looks like for JJ
(45:51) Auditing personal growth

[00:00:00] Josh Sharkey: 

You're listening to season two of The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, a culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, we're going to talk to high performers in the food business, everything from chefs to CEOs, technologists, writers, investors, and more about how they innovate and operate and how they consistently execute at a high level.


Day after day. And I would really love it if you could drop us a five star review anywhere that you listen to your podcast. That could be Apple, that could be Spotify, could be Google. I'm not picky. Anywhere works, but I really appreciate the support. And as always, I hope you enjoy the show.


All right, let's kick off season two of The meez Podcast. This first episode we recorded just at the end of last year. So my guest today is chef and author JJ Johnson. If you don't know JJ, he has won a James Beard Award for his work as co author of the book, Between Harlem and Heaven. The book explores the flavors and history of the Afro Asian American cuisine, which has had a really big influence on his food.


His latest book, The Simple Art of Rice, digs into the culture and common threads of rice dishes from around the world. JJ is also the founder of FieldTrip. It's a fast casual spot. Well, it's a group. There's three locations in New York City, and it's growing, and in case you didn't figure it out yet, the restaurant revolves around rice and rice dishes from around the world.


So JJ and I talk a lot. The restaurant, the dishes, we talk about different kinds of rice, crispy rice, and of course we dig into, you know, what it's been like to open a fast casual spot in Harlem before anything like that existed in the neighborhood, and how he's overcoming some of the challenges of scaling to multiple locations.


And because him and I are both parents of two kids, we also discuss how becoming a parent can make you a better leader, and thinking about how our kids getting into the food business makes us feel. So, as always, I hope you enjoy the episode, and here's to an incredible season two of The meez Podcast.

[00:02:02] Josh Sharkey: 

Welcome to the podcast, man. 

[00:02:03] JJ Johnson: 

Thanks for having me. 

[00:02:04] Josh Sharkey: 

What do you got planned for the holidays, dude?

[00:02:10] JJ Johnson: 

Uh, I go to my parents house in the Poconos where I grew up. So head there, it's like magical Christmas, like fairy tales, my mom, my dad do big things.

[00:02:20] JJ Johnson: 

 It's been a thing for, um, 39, 39 years and been still going strong. My kids love it. They literally, my kids literally told us that the elves on the shelf at my mom's house are the real elves on the shelf, not the ones at our house. Nice. And, uh, I'll cook Christmas Eve dinner like Noche Buena because keeps the spirit of my Puerto Rican grandmother alive.


So what do you cook? I'm gonna do, my wife doesn't eat pork, so instead of beignet, like roasted pork shoulder, I'll do roasted lamb shoulder, same way. I'll do roast gondolas, I'll do pasteles, I'll do some type of beans, we're gonna do roasted fish this year, I think some type of like oregano marinated fish, there'll be mac and cheese on the table, my wife makes a killer mac and cheese.

[00:03:02] Josh Sharkey: 

What's her background? 


Black and Native American, grew up in Boston. 

[00:03:06] Josh Sharkey: 

Oh wow. So, you know, I know you got a Puerto Rican background, uh, among other things, but I'm curious, like, do you find, is there other ingredients that you wish you could get here that are hard to find, like, you know, recal, or, you know, what we call culantro, like things that, like, make it less authentic, or?

[00:03:23] JJ Johnson: 

Yeah, like, you could get culantro, but when you tell people about culantro, they're like, they have no idea what you're talking about.

[00:03:28] Josh Sharkey: 

I mean, 

[00:03:30] JJ Johnson: 

what do you say when you call, like, a produce company, and you're like, yo, man, can you get me culantro? 

[00:03:34] Josh Sharkey: 

Like, yeah, we got culantro, it's spelled with an “I”. 

[00:03:36] JJ Johnson: 

Right, and then they send you cilantro.

[00:03:38] Josh Sharkey: 

Is there a big difference you think? 

[00:03:39] JJ Johnson:

I think a huge difference. Yeah. Yeah. I think culantro to me is like a mixture of like cilantro and sorrel, but I think that's the beauty of cooking though. Like you can only do so much in certain parts of the world or certain regions of the country, right? Like, you know, here in the Northeast, you get the best corn in the summer.


You get all the root vegetables. You know, you get amazing fish out of Montauk. You go to California, you know, the tomatoes are rocking. Strawberries are phenomenal. So I think like that's the methodology of like a chef or like the creativity of a chef. Like you really tap into what you have. 

[00:04:15] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah. You know, I'm going to assume most people probably already know your background. I want to make sure we talk about that, but you have this concept. called FieldTrip, which is, you know, rice's culture is a big part of the whole concept, which is awesome. And what's cool about it is like, it's not one, you know, culture or cuisine. You're actually looking at rice across all these different cuisines.


But, you know, you're talking about like, you know, what's in season and what's ripe and where you're at. Like, how do you actually, you know, maintain. that as you're scaling this company, right? So you're, and maybe we'll start with just like a little wind up of like what's FieldTrip and you know, what's like, what's the concept and what's the vision?

[00:04:52] JJ Johnson: 

FieldTrip trip is a rice bowl shop. I believe that rice is the greatest connector in the world, connects everybody. And I just utilize one ingredient to tell multitudes of stories around food and places that I've traveled or food that I loved. When I first started thinking about FieldTrip, I thought it was going to be like a Momofuku, like noodle bar, but with rice.


My business partner at the time, Will Sears, was like, nobody's gonna pay 28 for a bowl of rice. I'm like, but nobody wanted to pay 20 for ramen noodles, why can't we do it? But we then leaned in, I really leaned into fast casual, saying, okay. What if, you know, Chipotle does this very much fresh cooking type of approach, what about if we try to take that same approach and do this fresh cooking model around freshly milled grain?


So all the rice is freshly milled, well not all of it, 90 percent of rice is freshly milled from different regions of the world that celebrate rice and each of those bowls tell a story. Are the bowls seasonal? No. The bowls pretty much stay the same, our wok vegetables might change from time to time based off the season or introduce some, you know, a specialty item for a quarter, something of that nature, but for the most part, nothing at FieldTrip has really changed since we've opened, we've added a couple of bowls, we've taken some things away, we're always constantly like tweaking to try to get better, I think the biggest thing when I've come to the realization of people really like to want to build their own stuff, And I think I'm fighting against the grain on that one.

[00:06:24] Josh Sharkey: 

Is that what, do most people build their own bowl? 

[00:06:26] JJ Johnson: 

No, there's no build your own bowl section of FieldTrip at all. You pick a bowl, I'm trying to give you maximum flavor. I hear these like horror stories from brands that tell me that people build salads and they bring it back telling them that they don't like the salad.

[00:06:39] Josh Sharkey: 

It's brutal, yeah. And also, it's really hard to, it's really hard to track what's happening when everybody's building their bowl. You know, like if in store You know, you're not bringing in every little thing that they add. It's like, what am I actually, you know, what am I actually selling? 

[00:06:52] JJ Johnson: 

Yeah. So we, we've launched an add on section recently, but yeah, for the most part, you can eat FieldTrip, any meal period of the day, lunch or dinner.


It's a complete meal, but very different than anybody else that classifies themselves as a bowl restaurant. I believe that rice is best served in a bowl. So that's why I call it a rice bowl shop. 

[00:07:10] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah. I mean, there's like thousands of varieties of rice. So you chose, I know you have black rice and you have like a Texas brown, you have a Carolina gold.


But like, how did you choose the varietals that you did and are you going to keep adding on as you go? 

[00:07:24] JJ Johnson: 

Carolina gold rice was the foundation of the menu because that's America's rice. The reason why we call it Texas brown rice is Texas grows the most amount of brown rice in the country. So we're giving a big homage to Texas and then the rest are like the mother grains of the world.


So black rice comes from the Tribune, Chinese emperors, so that's why we have black. We have Lao and he's Sticky Rice because Lao is the founders of Sticky Rice. We have Basmati because Basmati is Basmati, but real Basmati from India. And I think for me on the second part of your question is I want to get to the point of like, I don't know if I want to add more rice grains.


I think I want to identify rice farmers. And it'd be great to be like, this Carolina gold rice comes from this rice farmer. This brown rice comes from this brown rice farmer. And that's where I hope to get to in the next two to five years. As we continually keep to grow, I want to grow there in some type of like supply chain.


Where does our salmon come from? Where does this shrimp come from? Like really letting people know where stuff comes from, because I believe the brand is like a consciously better for you brand. And I really want to lean into that because rice farmers call me all the time. Yeah. Being a rice farmer, every week I get an email from a rice farmer.

[00:08:33] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah, that's so interesting. I bet as you scale, you can really get, like, an economy of scale to really support them, like, buy an entire harvest. Correct. But there's so many, I mean, so, like, the idea of, you know, carnaroli or arborio or sushi rice or jasmine, that's just, like, you know, not on the table. 

[00:08:51] JJ Johnson: 

That's just, like, basic. Like, you get really deep into rice. You can get, like, midlands and Jefferson red and 

[00:08:59] Josh Sharkey: all the Italian red rices are like, so good. 

[00:09:02] JJ Johnson: 

You get into all the Italian red rices, but you know, there's so much, I mean, I tell people all the time, like just here in the United States, Jersey grows rice. Hudson Valley grows rice.

[00:09:12] Josh Sharkey: 

You know, something I love about when looking at the menu, I just make assumptions. from the menu is like, you're being really smart about keeping it simple. I'm trying to. Because, I mean. And I'm trying. I've scaled a bunch of, you know, fast casual brands, and we're gonna talk about it today, like hear how it's going for you.


But, you know, the more complex it is, the more types of rice you have, the more types of, you know, every new ingredient you add on, it's just more complexity you add. So it's, it definitely seems like, Again, this might be an assumption, but you're trying to keep it as simple as possible so you can scale. 

[00:09:42] JJ Johnson: 

I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible to scale.

I think a lot of folks when they look at like these scalable brands, most of them that have like very early stage brands that like have 10 locations, eight locations, early stage, they have like five menu items. Yeah. It's literally like a burger, cheese, bun, maybe a chicken sandwich. You're like, Oh my God, how do they have 10 locations?


Like, yeah, they got four items. Oh, and they got, they got a soda on the menu, you know, they're not really doing much. The whole other side of the business of like how to manage that inventory, how to cost that out. That's very easy. And kudos to them. I think as they get into bigger mass markets, could that.


Burger place or pizza spot or fried chicken restaurant make it in New Jersey or make it in Philly or make it in the Poconos I mean, that's where my mind goes. So when I think about FieldTrip, I think filter is more of a Suburban I call a suburban brand then it is an urban brand. 

[00:10:39] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah, you know, the great thing about simplicity of a menu too is like, I think employees are happier because it's hard, you know, it's hard to just, you know, cook online anyways.


And the more things you have to remember, the more skills you have to do, the more like different types of pickups makes it more difficult. So I imagine as you scale, like that's a big plus. 

[00:11:01] JJ Johnson: 

And everybody cooking isn't me. Right? I think when I first built a concept, it was like, Oh, this is how I would cook it. This is how I want the line set up. This is how I, it's not, it's no more I. It's like, what can the team do? How can they do it? How do you, how does it get executed the best? 

[00:11:16] Josh Sharkey: 

You know, most people, by the way, I ordered some FieldTrip. Oh, you did? Oh, wow. Yeah. Open it up. We got a couple, we got a couple of bowls and some sides here. Crab pockets. Crab pockets. I, I will never not order crab if it's on the menu. The fried fish. Yeah. Let's see what else we got. But you're pretty damn good at cooking rice. A lot of people screw up rice. First of all, I don't know why, Those are plantains. Yeah, yeah, I know you'd want those too. For some reason, Americans don't clean their rice.

[00:11:47] JJ Johnson: 

Oh, come on, I don't get it either. You gotta wash your rice. How do you wash your rice?

[00:11:50] Josh Sharkey: 

I mean, so I worked for Floyd Cardoz, so I have like more, every time I touch rice I think about Floyd, and I'm rinsing it, I want to touch it with my hands, I want to see the water turn clear. 

[00:12:01] JJ Johnson: 

You work for Floyd, like we don't even need to talk about it, you wash rice.

[00:12:04] Josh Sharkey: 

But what do people get wrong usually when they cook rice? 

[00:12:06] JJ Johnson: 

Rice doubles in size. Most, the first step is you got to have the right pot. Most people put the, put rice in the small pot and then they wonder why the top is hard and the bottom is mushy. Make sure you get it with the sweet and sour sauce. Oh yeah.


The top is hard, the bottom is mushy, but you can't, that's the first step. Even before you wash the rice. That's good. Thank you. Then the, the washing of the rice. It's going to allow for that initial starch to come off, so the grains don't stick together. But you also wash your carrots and your mushrooms, right?


Rice is grown in water, it's aggregation, like you have to wash it. It's in a truck, it's milled, there's a lot of things, people are touching it. There might be some pebbles in there, you know? I think so many Americans are so used to boxed rice, that they're like, Oh my God, the spices are in there. Wait, am I going to wash the spices off?


I was like, no, we're talking about like cooking really good, proper rice. You don't shake it or stir it like pasta. That's what everybody else says. They open the top, they look at it. They're shaking it, they're stirring it. You can't do that either. 

[00:13:11] Josh Sharkey: 

You know, it's one thing to cook rice at home. I mean, maybe you've got a really dope Zojirushi, like, you know, rice cooker.


Or like, you know, even in a pot. You know, then you do the finger test. When you're in a fast casual spot, like FieldTrip, and you are opening more and more of these spots, and you have multiple types of rice. How are you cooking the rice? Everybody can't cook the rice. 

[00:13:30] JJ Johnson: I'm gonna grab a crab pocket. Never.

[00:13:31] Josh Sharkey: 

Can't do it, man. I can never pass up on one. By the way, we got extra food here if anybody wants. I just ordered, you know, a little mix of everything. Thanks for ordering. You know, Candidly, I haven't been yet, so I was like, I can't talk to you and not have eaten some of the food. So I got some food in here.


There's, it's the, I think it's the crispy fish, the the fried chicken, which I definitely wanna piece of. That's the pla plantains with the hot honey. That's the platanos. Yep. All right. I don't want to distract from the show, but we will eat some of that. But yeah, I mean, I'm using combi ovens. We're using for rice cookers.

[00:13:57] JJ Johnson: 

We use combi ovens. We use rice cookers. I think the best way to cook rice in a restaurant. is in a two inch hotel pan, two quarts of rice, use your finger trick, put it in the combi for 24 minutes. Mm hmm. For all your rice, you do that? Well, black rice, brown rice, yeah, all the rice. Black rice, brown rice, 33 minutes to 35 minutes, but you can't, that's the best way to cook it.


In some of the locations, due to volume, or timing, if they're starting to run out of rice, they're cooking it in rice cookers for backup. Mm hmm. Are these gas powered or like electric? No, just electric powered. Mm hmm. But yeah, we don't let every, we don't let everybody cook rice. 

[00:14:34] Josh Sharkey: 

Oh, it's like, uh, you gotta, like, graduate to rice.

[00:14:36] JJ Johnson: 

You gotta earn, you gotta earn to cook rice. So like you said everybody can't cook rice. Mm hmm. So if the rice is messed up, I know Somebody that wasn't cooking rice was cooking rice because you have to have patience to cook rice. You have to have patience It is something that you have to just let it do its own thing It's like a person that doesn't want to be bothered at times Yeah, if that's the best way to explain it.

[00:15:00] Josh Sharkey: 

Yep. So so as you're scaling again, like do you just have programs set up in the combi? 

[00:15:04] JJ Johnson: 

No, we come in we do training. I want to call us burger University But we do a little bit of rice training how to use a wok how to cook the rice We think about who we're hiring We're using key employees and inside to be training but it is a key component if you order rice from FieldTrip and it's F'd up, then what you going, you're not coming back, where most places like a Chipotle will overcook their rice because they're so scared that one, the consumer's not used to a firm textured rice and two, that the employees are going to undercook it.


So when, when I first launched FieldTrip, I used to cook rice like perfectly that had a bite to it and customers would complain. So we started cooking the rice a little bit longer. Because everybody's palate isn't adjusted, it's just like al dente pasta. Everybody can't handle al dente pasta because at home, how do they cook their pasta?


They cook it to smithereens. So rice, we try to cook it as perfectly as we can where we're giving the consumer a little bit of what they want and a lot of what we believe in. 

[00:16:03] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah, so what is that training program like for the rice? Is there like a, is there a FieldTrip rice manual? 

[00:16:11] JJ Johnson: 

There is a FieldTrip rice manual. There is a tidbit of what that Lisa Cash, Director of Operations, is big on training. She like, taught herself how to cook, so that she could also train people. Oh, wow, that's cool. You come into like a, you come in three days, in a unit, and you work on two different areas of rice, how to, about five different areas of rice.

[00:16:28] JJ Johnson: 

How to wash rice, how to measure rice, cook it, how to fluff it, how to fry rice. 

[00:16:37] Josh Sharkey: 

Most people also just don't fluff the rice.

[00:16:37] JJ Johnson: 

Yeah, we fluff and you salt. Yeah. There's no salt going in the water ahead of time. Oh, really? Never? No, never. 

[00:16:44] Josh Sharkey:

You know, I've always been like Why? Because I don't typically, if I'm doing, like, with certain rices, but then if I'm like, like, if I'm making coconut rice at home, like, I'll soak it overnight in coconut milk, and then I do it in the Zojirushi, however you pronounce that thing, and I always put salt in, but I've heard people say don't, you know, don't salt the rice beforehand, like, well, What's the deal?

[00:17:02] JJ Johnson: 

Oh, right. The, you want the grain to burst like popcorn and the salt locks up the brand and the germ. So it makes a, it take, makes the rice cook longer. So you could cook rice in what I say like 22 to 25 minutes, just regular. And then when you're fluffing it, you're adding the salt. Yeah. The grain is open.


It's gonna absorb all the flavor you give it at that point. And now, I'm not saying don't put spices at that time. Yeah. Put spice, if you're cooking with spices in the pot, put it in there, let it cook with it. But the salting part of it. Salt at the end. Alright. I'm trying out, let me know. Hit me in the DM, text me.

[00:17:35] Josh Sharkey: 

Alright. So, I mean, you know, you, you start with one, now you have three, you know, you come from, sort of the fine dining background, and now you're in, now you're doing some fast casual, like, what was the big surprise? Earned challenges from, you know, from scaling this thing. 

[00:17:49] JJ Johnson: 

Biggest surprise is consistency. How so? I think that when we think about full service restaurants, we think they're the greatest restaurants in the world. Restaurants that became multiple locations to get that consistency when they got to three was really hard. Cause like, you gotta think about it, you order, you're eating food today in Rockefeller Center FieldTrip, then you're in Harlem tomorrow, maybe you live in Harlem, you're eating dinner, and you're like, hold on, why is the flavor off, right?


Or you're taking your kids to Columbia University, then you go to Rock Center the next day. The consistency's gotta be great. And I mean, for me. And this is where it gets hard, right, because when you're talking about restaurants like McDonald's, who's ultimate, the most consistent restaurant in the world, but they're just opening a bag.


You can't take that away from them because somebody still has to fry the chicken nuggets to the perfect time, hold, hold them in the basket, put it in the box, put it in the bag, right? All these steps to, to get to the execution, I think the only thing that you'll get into McDonald's that would be inconsistent is the fries, either it'd be too salty or not salty enough, right?


So FieldTrip. Why next? When I look at a Chipotle, who changed Chipotle? McDonald's changed Chipotle? Train them. So like, that's our North Star when we're looking at stuff. They're what, 3,000? 3,000 restaurants? We're three? But we're I mean, when I look at them, I go sometimes in a Chipotle and just stand back and watch them.


How do they work the line? How do they get that? What does it look like? How's it packaged?

[00:19:17] Josh Sharkey: 

What are some of the things that you do to maintain consistency? 

[00:19:21] JJ Johnson: 

Uh, purchasing, from the, purchasing the same item. Making sure our broadliners has the same order guide for everybody, nobody can alter it. A consistency right now of a, a quarterly training with the team, which is really hard because it costs money. t's really hard for a small brand. 

[00:19:37] Josh Sharkey: 

Anything like the daily operation that you do to make sure that there's like checks and balances or QA? 

[00:19:42] JJ Johnson: 

We are getting into a daily check now. You know, like how long can something stay on the line for, like in our busier locations, we just introduced a hotbox to hold backup, making sure the team isn't putting too much in there because they're scared they're going to run out.


Right? Now, I'm not a big fan of that. I'm a big fan of batch cookery. Like, that's what FieldTrip is. It's a batch cookery brand. It's not a whole, four hour brand like a lot of other brands out there. So, that's where I would say we're, we, where I butt heads with what I created. Because as it grows, it starts to change and you have to start to put different things in place.


Some of those skill sets I have, some of those skill sets I don't have. 

[00:20:21] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah, yeah, I think that was probably the biggest curveball that I saw in like trying to scale, you know, these simpler concepts is the, some of the sacrifices that you just, you have to make so that. Enough customers can eat it in enough time.

[00:20:37] JJ Johnson: 

Yeah I mean, I'm also learning like some of these bigger brands are, they don't make anything. 

[00:20:41] Josh Sharkey: 

Well, that's a whole other, I mean, so, you know, that's interesting. That's like. It brings up like, so, last season, uh, you know, on the show, we were talking a lot about like, the difference between standardization and consistency.


And You know, Seamus Mullen and I were talking about it, and I think Marcus Glocker as well, just thinking about like, how do you create consistency without standardization? Because like, McDonald's is consistent, but it's completely standardized. You have exactly the same diameter every single time. The bun is exactly this, the fry is exactly this, and that's standardization, and that's That's fine if that's what it's a lot more expensive to do that consistency is like not just the consistency of What something looks like but like how it feels how it makes somebody feel the vibe the culture like that part is Harder 

[00:21:30] JJ Johnson: 

Like how do you like you definitely master that they make you feel happy 

[00:21:31] Josh Sharkey: 

Well, yeah, I mean, well, they tell us that they, it works. They created standardization that works for a certain sort of environment, you know, and that's, and I, again, that works. It's a lot more expensive to do that. But you know, you, is it per se, standardized? I mean, that's the thing. Is it? Well, yeah, it's standardized and I don't know if it's actually consistent.

[00:21:51] JJ Johnson: 

I can't say that. I've never, I, I haven't eaten there in a long time.

[00:21:52] Josh Sharkey: 

It's prob, I mean, yeah, it's pretty standardized. But what I'm curious about is like, I mean, you're a pretty soulful dude and you have a lot of inspiration that like goes into what. Is FieldTrip, right? So there's a vibe that you're going for.


There's a culture that you're going for. There's, you know, I imagine your team thinks a certain way about the brand. Do you think about how you maintain that over time? 

[00:22:16] JJ Johnson: 

Well, that's a trickle down effect. It's got to trickle from the top down. Right. You have to be constantly projecting what the brand is, because as you grow, a lot of people say it gets diluted.


it gets harder to project that it gets harder to tell people that because you don't touch them as much. You don't see them as much as you used to see the 10 people or 15 people at the location you were in. So I think you have to use technology to touch people. Some of it's standardization. A lot of it is training.


A lot of it is just touching employees. You know, utilizing your team to touch employees and just not about me, the founder or the chef anymore. It's about director of operations, director of catering, them being in the units, spreading the team that way to make sure the culture is alive, to make sure people are doing things the right way to keep them happy.


We're always talking about employees like we're always like, all right, we want people to be excited about the food. And sometimes I'm like, I don't really care if people are excited about the food. I want people just to put out the food the right way, right? So then you're in this tug and pull, right? But realistically, people should be excited about the food we're putting out.


If they have no experience in the food world and this is just a job for them, or they have a lot of experience in the food world, they should be excited about what we're cooking, how we're preparing it, who we're ordering it from, the storytelling. And we have a lot of employees like that, which I, I believe reason why the brand has been able to expand.


And we have a lot of employees that just come in, work and don't care anything about the food.

[00:23:50] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah. If you had to ask like any random employee at Fieldtrip, like, why does the company exist? What do you think they would say? 

[00:23:57] JJ Johnson: 

They'd probably say because of me. 

[00:23:58] Josh Sharkey: 

Well then, I mean, then why do you exist? 

[00:24:00] JJ Johnson: 

A lot of people work at Fieldtrip because of what I created. Like they see it like, Oh, this guy really works really hard. He really believes in this concept and he really wants us to live a better lifestyle. Like Fieldtrip is about people being able to grow in their communities. It's not really, yes, it's a rice bowl shop, but it's really about empowering people like Shay who lived in, you know, a place that wasn't safe for her to live, that she was able to grow and get her own apartment, you know, or it's about Kima who's trying to start her own hot sauce company.


So she has a place to put her feet down and maybe she sells us her hot sauce one day, or it's like Miles who worked at. Red Lobster for 22 years and they just blatantly laid her off and now she's working with us and she loves work. Like it's really about building the community and I think a lot of people know that I'm about building community or the inner community of FieldTrip and I constantly preach that to the team.


Like I'm constantly letting them know you're only staying in a position because you chose to stay in that role not because I want you to stay a porter for the rest of your life. 

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[00:25:47] Josh Sharkey: 

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[00:26:08] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah, that's awesome, man. I'm curious if like upward mobility is like baked into the company in any way. It was like, how do people grow into, you know, more roles?  

[00:26:17] JJ Johnson: 

So yeah, we have a system now where you can go from, uh, every day and pull it like every day, whatever your title is to a team lead. Then from a team lead, if a store opens up to manager and training, then from a manager and training into a store manager, we have employees that we want to push up, they tell us no.


They're not ready for it yet. I appreciate that, honestly, because a lot of time you do push employees up and then you get there and you're like, what? This person shouldn't be there and they're not ready mentally or personally. So That's great, but we're always pushing folks. We used to have a prep cook, Anna.


She could have ran a location, but the sad part about it is, she could write English, she could read English, but she couldn't speak English confidently. So I told her, I'll meet her halfway. You really want to be a manager? I'll pay for you to go to school. I'll pay for you to go learn English in a language school, right?


We paid for her to go learn for a whole year, paid for her to go do it. She got a little bit better, but then it became too mentally strenuous on her. And she wound up not wanting to do it. And it's sad because she had all the skill set, right? But would I be setting her up for success? Like how would she manage a team?


Um, how would she talk to customers? I'm like, you can just use Google translate, but realistically it's not effective, right? So you do hit a lot of roadblocks, especially in this industry with people that have really great skill sets. But there's something there that holds them back and we try to invest in them to let them know we want you to get there.


Even though we're a small company, we want you to get there, but we, but we need you also to commit to. 

[00:27:59] Josh Sharkey: 

You know, one of the things that I always find with like, you know, chefs like you that starts a fast casual brand, folks might come there because they know of your work. Right. And I remember, you know, back in the day when it's a restaurant called Bark and there'd be cooks.


Like there was one in particular, this guy, Albert Wynn, and he was just. Really fucking good, you know, like he was just a really good cook. Never cooked before in a restaurant He'd just gotten out of culinary school and he came and worked for us at a fast casual spot And I was like, you gotta go man. Yeah, you gotta go to end up going to David Chang's spot And I was like, this is great, man.


You're doing really well, but you know, like you're gonna go be a chef Do you ever come across that where you see someone 

[00:28:38] JJ Johnson: 

We have somebody that right now we have Patricia. Yeah, there's been with us for four years She's going to be a star one day. She's young, like 23 years old, but instead of like, just keeping her working like a line station, let's, um, let's empower her put in our management training program.


She winds up running a store. She, she ran Harlem store at one point, she opened up the Columbia store and really empower that and give her that skillset early on because she had, she has a desire to do it. She doesn't have the skills. So why not take somebody that really loves food, really wants to be there, really enjoys it, wants to work for the company and say, okay, I'm going to teach you how to do food costs.


I'm going to teach you how to order. I'm going to teach you how to manage people. Right. And really empower them to do it versus like. learning like I did from Alfredo. Like I got a sous chef job and I didn't know how to order at Jane and Alfredo taught me and he was a lead prep guy. He like would go in the walk in with me and be like, all right, come on, count.


Gotta count this stuff. What are you doing? You messed up the fucking order yesterday, man. Count this stuff and because nobody took the time to really train me I knew how to do inventory because I worked at a hotel called Skytop. The chef there I did inventory with so I put on my resume like I know how to do inventory So if you not do inventory, you know how to order.


I've never ordered a day in my life. when I was at Jane. You know how many times I was running around New York City getting stuff in that era?

[00:30:01] Josh Sharkey: 

Do you remember the guy that had the, the, who fucked up the order card? 

[00:30:06] JJ Johnson: Oh, yeah. Is he still around? 

[00:30:09] Josh Sharkey: 

I don't know, but I know. Is that business card? Like if you, if you messed up your order, he was, he was in the lower east side.


He's like an essex. I used him a couple of times. Yeah. Shout out to him if he's still around. All right. So we're gonna, like, we're talking a little bit about leadership in your team. 

[00:30:21] JJ Johnson: 

Leadership is important. I think as you, as a small merging brand startup. You need leadership. It costs. So you got to figure out who you want to pay and who you're gonna train.

[00:30:30] Josh Sharkey:

Yeah, and when we think about like your leadership style, so just to wind things up and I think you had kids I didn't know you had two twins.


Yeah, just insane I can't even like fathom what that's like, but like I know as a parent I've learned more in the last few years about how to be a better leader to my team because of how I interact with my kids. That I think I have in, you know, you know, patience, understanding, like, emotion, why people do the things that they do, how to, you know, you know, look at the problem and not the person. And I'm curious if it's the same for you.

[00:31:02] JJ Johnson: 

I look too much at the problem and not the person.

[00:31:04] Josh Sharkey: 

What do you take in from parenting that has made you a better leader? Or maybe not, maybe the opposite.

[00:31:09] JJ Johnson:  

Definitely patience. Definitely trying to, like, make, trying to understand the full picture. Like when you talk to a six year old, you're like, okay, so why did you do this?


And then they don't want to tell you and then it's like, okay. And then I'm being understanding, but I've been, I think I've always been an understanding person. Like I, I know everybody has personal shit in their life. Right. And I've been a firm believer that if your personal life is. somewhat established, your professional life will be good.


But if you don't have a good personal life, you're not going to be good in the workplace. 

[00:31:39] Josh Sharkey: 

You know, I, I think I really struggle with that, like, especially coming up as a line cook in New York, like, it's just so maniacally, like, just come in every day. Crush your station, the person next to you wants your job, you just like, everything, you work in a hundred hours a week, and we sort of discount the fact that, you know, absent of having things outside your life, that you can have, that you find joy in, it makes it actually really hard to be great at the other thing.


And, I think now about, like, my kids and if they said, Dad, I want to be a chef. You know, the things, what I would tell them. And I know what I would tell them, but what would you tell your kids? 

[00:32:16] JJ Johnson: 

I told my kids they want to be a chef. I probably would tell them the same thing my dad told me. All right, let's rock it. Let's do it. I probably would expose them to it probably a little bit earlier in life and let them know it's a gritty business. Like it's a working, it's a working class business. Like as much glitz and glamor as you see it on TV, at the end of the day, it's working class. That's why my mom didn't want me to do it.


It was like, we're working class folks. Why do you want to stay in this category? I just been able to figure out how to break through it a little bit, but it's still working class industry. I don't think it's ever going to become anything else. Like maybe one day it's not a working class industry, but I don't see it, you know, cause there's too many highs and low, many lows to lows to high.


So I would definitely tell my kids that like, it's working class. It means you're going to work. You're working every day. You're gonna be on your feet. You're using your hands. You're lifting heavy things and really letting them understand that. Because I really think, like, media has brainwashed a lot of folks on what the food industry really is.


And then when they really get in it, they don't understand it. Because it doesn't stop. 

[00:33:20] Josh Sharkey: 

I mean, I think making it clear that, yeah, whatever you see on TV, you know, there's, uh, Yeah, there's way more work. I mean, look, there's also like this whole inner influencer, like, you know, cooks. I don't know. I mean, that's, I don't, I don't know a lot about that world, but.


There are folks that never stepped in the kitchen in their life. 

[00:33:36] JJ Johnson: 

And yeah, I mean, a lot of people, I mean, the way my wife puts it now is like back in the day, models used to be the only people on covers of magazines. And then all of a sudden, celebrities started getting on the cover of magazines. And now everybody wants to use the word chef.


So you can't get mad about it. Like, you just, like, there's a lot of chefs around now. And I think everybody wants to use the word chef in our industry. People that worked really hard on it to grow and get that title. Or like, how can you, how dare you call yourself a chef? It's a tough one, man. You know, it's something that is much more than just cooking food.


It's being a leader, it's driving, it's cost, it's a lot, there's a lot of things impacted in that name.

[00:34:15] Josh Sharkey: 

I think they need like another word. They need to invent a new word. They need to invent a new word. Because all of them, I mean, there are, look, there are people on Instagram. TikTok, whatever that like they're entertaining, you know, and they've built a brand and that's awesome.

[00:34:29] Josh Sharkey: 

You know, kudos to you They're not a chef. They're no and look we would be haters if we're just like 

[00:34:34] JJ Johnson: 

Gordon Ramsay's calling eight year old kid chef 

[00:34:38] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah, I mean talking about Gordon. There's something to it. There's definitely like a value that there there should be another sort of like term for it, but I always find it's like the majority of those things that you see that they're making.


Like, you can't make that. That's not real food. You know, it looks really cool. And so I think that there's just a, there's a difference between the two. And anyway, it's a bit of a tangent. What I was getting at more is like, you know, I think we came up in similar, similar background of how we sort of, you know, we're cooking.


And like, I think about, You know, telling my kids if they want to be a chef, you know, there's a hundred hour weeks for a very long time to get really good like it, like there is with anything.

[00:35:14] JJ Johnson: 

I think also like the food industry is very similar to the finance industry, right? You're there early mornings, late nights, if you're trying to get to the top, right?


The difference between the finance industry and the chef industry is more zeros at the end.

[00:35:28] Josh Sharkey: 

Way more zeros. And I think a lot of people forget about that when they start. And I think. The, you know, the problem is, and it's maybe changed a bit now, I think the culture is different, but like, it was for a very long time, 100 percent of your time, energy, effort, thought was on the kitchen that you're in, and everything else is just, you're in this bubble, and there's a really big positive to that in some ways, but again, at the end of the day, You know, the end result of this is there's only a few things that you can do, you know, unless you go into sort of media and things like that.

[00:36:00] JJ Johnson: 

I think our era of cooking changed that, right? Like, hold on, let's give you at least two days off in a row. Yeah. We started to fight for those things. And now there's a little bit more than I think people are getting or respect, right? People are getting some PTO. 

[00:36:14] Josh Sharkey: 

Which they should, and I think that the downstream effect of that I think is really important that I think was lost with the last gen like our generation of cooking was when you don't have that time, it's not just that you don't have holidays off, it's not just that you don't have, like, time.


of a day off. It's that all you know is the kitchen. And so you don't know, you don't have time for music or like that, you know, and, and what ends up happening is one, you fast forward 12 years and you might be a really incredible. technical cook with very little perspective outside of what it's like to be a cook.

[00:36:51] JJ Johnson: 

I mean, I was like that for a really long time.

[00:36:52] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah. And what makes you great and what makes FieldTrip great, right? Is that you have a lot of other perspectives that you bring to it because you went to Ghana, because you went to, you know, other countries and visited, because you embraced your culture, because you love music and culture of Harlem, things like that.


All that is a huge part of what makes. FieldTrip. The technical part of it is there, right? But you have to have that stuff. And I think what I'm actually grateful for now is the industry is changing. And what I'm hopeful that even if my kids said they want to be a chef is different now is that people have the space to do that.


And you have to, you can't just be technically a really good cook. You have to figure out what else, you know, what else are you about? What else do you love? What else are you going to bring to that food? And I think that's why. FieldTrip is going to be a huge success because we got some bowls here. These are delicious, you know, and I'm sure it's all going to be fucking awesome.


But that's not enough. You know, people have to have a reason of why they want to come to work every day. Customers have to have a reason why they believe, you know, to eat there. And I think that.

[00:37:59] JJ Johnson: 

I think that's the hardest thing to crack, though, is like Danny Meyer's done that really well. I remember listening to him talk one time and saying, you know, I sell roasted chicken.


The guy who cross streets sells roasted chicken. Why are people coming to me? Because they know what organizations I support. They know all the things with the brand stands for. And I think that's the biggest thing is like building trust. Yeah. 

[00:38:22] Josh Sharkey: 

And that's hard. You have to have a vision. You 

can't, the vision can't be, I'm going to have the best chicken in the world.


No. You know, it has to be, there has to be a why as to why you're doing it. And if you have that and you believe in it, and it's something that other people can get behind, then you have something. And I think that there's a lot of, you know, a lot of like, I call them kind of like synthetic companies that like see a white space and like, we should have a salad concept.


We should have it. Chicken concept and we'll do this and this and you know, you can, if you understand economics, you know, economics of a business, you can probably scale that. And if you understand private equity, you could probably even get the funding to like, get that to a big number. But like, ultimately, it's not a really evergreen way to start a business or to grow a business because it's got no foundation.

[00:39:10] JJ Johnson: 

I think that's why we're different on, in the space. Like we started off in Harlem between 115, 116, Lenox. People weren't, aren't launching fast casuals in Harlem. Now. There's a lot of fast casuals in Harlem. Yeah, Just Salad's there. Chick fil A's there. Yeah. You know, Wingstop. I mean, people are opening up all the time or calling me or emailing me.


Hey, what do you think? I'm like, oh, you're interested in uptown? And it's the same thing, like our perspective in Rock Center. Like we're offering a cult, something cultural. Like there's Mexican, but after that, everything else is pretty much the same. So, you know, we are definitely bringing something to spaces that are very different than you're seeing other people bringing. Or brands that are opening. Yeah, 

[00:39:55] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah. Oh, and it's also like, you know, you have something when it's sparking in, you know, something similar from, from everyone else, like you open Harlem and everybody else starts coming. I did want to, uh, I think you actually mentioned this sometime ago, maybe you posted it or something, but this is kind of a random tangent, but.

[00:40:12] Josh Sharkey: 

Crunchy rice. You got pegao, you have concon, you have tutong, you have, you know, socarrat. Every culture has like a crunchy rice. And um, you know, Ghana has their thing, Korea has their thing, I mean everyone, other than America. I don't think we have one. Is that, is there some way you're like thinking of incorporating, you know, I mean you have a lot of rice at the restaurant.

[00:40:34] JJ Johnson: 

I've thought about it so many times, like how could we don't cook in that method to get that rice? But I did think about it, like, could we crisp it in a waffle iron? Could we do, you know, could we do some things? I've always thought about, like, how could we get crispy rice? We thought about doing, like, rice fries, like, we've thought about many different plays on it, but then it goes back to labor and this and that.


So, and adding another item, like, is this really gonna generate hype or making people come? So, but it is always on the top, always on the top of my mind. 

[00:41:04] Josh Sharkey: 

Waffle iron's a good idea. I mean, leftover rice, if you have, like, is all your rice just cooked separately, and then you add things to it, or do you have, like, a sofrito based thing that's like, you know, flavored rice?

[00:41:15] JJ Johnson: 

We have some things like, we have herbs that we add to our rice, we have a coconut milk kind of bomb that we put in the sticky rice. There are some type of sofrito mixes or umami sauces that get added to it that are house made. There's a lot of house made moments. Yeah. Or scratch cookery.

[00:41:32] Josh Sharkey: 

I mean, so, you know, thinking about that, like you worked at, so you, Jane, Cecil, Tribeca bunch of other spots.


So you come from that background, but. Do you find it's like hard to balance, I mean you already started talking about like the things you need to do as you start to grow, like to balance like the authentic thing you're trying to make with technique that you'd like to, you know, deploy from fine dining that would make it better but you know it might change the authenticity or like things that you have to do to scale it.


Do you find, is that a struggle continually or is it you kind of figured it out in the beginning and now you're just scaling it?

[00:42:08] JJ Johnson: 

Nah, we're still learning. We still learn every day. We still don't have our ideal kitchen. We're three, we're a five year old brand with three locations and a couple to come and close one.


And you know what I mean? Like there's a lot to take in. I think when I look at this all, I'm in this for the long haul, right? We'll get to the point where. Maybe year eight, we're open 20 locations, right? It's like, bing, bang, but right now it's just like, where's the right place? Where do we go next? Okay.


What makes the line more efficient? How do we maximize labor? Are these the right prices? Are this, is this the right vendors? You know what I mean? There's a lot to look to. Do we have, is this the right menu scheme or do we need to eliminate? There's a lot of things to look into it. I think that's what gets, when you go back to talking about scaling is like.


If you want to have infrastructure, you got to get money to have this infrastructure, right? So you're raising money, that money for infrastructure, that's just, you're just floating, right? Because you got to get to a certain amount of locations to pay for that. You can't do that early on. Yeah. From a business perspective, I probably try to ignite that too early and waste some money.


So you got, there's a tug in that pull. Why I think when I go back to Chipotle, why I was really smart, there were like eight locations and they went, got McDonald's and all that extra infrastructure, HR, marketing, supply chain, how much money, like, you know, that's a lot of money to raise just for that couple mil before you talk about building places.


I'm just trying to learn and every day just learning trying to figure out who FieldTrip is and where should it go Why I think when I look at inquiries of folks that hit me up like just everyday people that learn about the brand Especially like Rockefeller center. It's like FieldTrip is a place that's transit many cultures work walk through the doors. People are from places in, you know, places in New Jersey that I never, that now I want to say I never heard of, but you're like, you guys really want a FieldTrip?


And it's not like one person, you'll get like 10, 15 people. You're like, hold on, maybe I'm looking at this brand totally wrong. So you have to recalibrate. I think we'll throw a rock somewhere. Like we'll throw a rock, like, man, we'll probably do, I think I'll do two more in New York city. And then after that. I'm sailing somewhere else. 

[00:44:26] Josh Sharkey: 

Do you think about, like, what does five years from now look like? Yeah, 100%. You have to. So what does that look like for you? 

[00:44:31] JJ Johnson: 

Five years now, I'll be 10 years in. I hope I have 30 FieldTrips. Ten, five more years. 

[00:44:36] Josh Sharkey: What do you do outside when you're not, like, working on a FieldTrip?

[00:44:39] JJ Johnson: 

I'm working on, I got a cookbook out, The Simple Art of Rice. I'm still JJ, like I'm still always thinking of new concepts, figuring out how to take over the culinary world, the battery's fully charged and going.

[00:44:50] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah, do you have like, uh, I'm always curious, like I, I always find that It's a bad sign if I don't look back from at five years ago, and I'm not embarrassed with the output of like what I did.


I'm like, I always want to look back like, oh man, that's as good as I was able to, you know, to make that. That's what I was cooking. 

[00:45:11] JJ Johnson: 

Yeah. That's what I say, like, filter menu hasn't changed, but I'm always like, yo, the wok vegetables are trash, guys. Like the wok vegetables are, I don't like them anymore. We have to figure, I mean, I've been cooking wok, like some variation of a wok vegetable in my house.


Yeah. Probably like 50 variations to try to figure out the new flavor of what it is. I might be close, but like, I'm constantly like, there's no way we should say that the food we put out today was just as good as it was when we first opened. There's going to be items there that are rock stars that you're never going to change.


And there's going to be items there that we're like, okay, we need to figure out how to get better. Also, like for me, I'm a progressive guy. If I'm not progressing, something's wrong. I need to relook at this. 

[00:45:51] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah. I'm the same way. Like if I look back and I'm the same as I was. Even a year ago, I get freaked out. Do you have any like personal systems or anything you use to like audit how things are going for you? Not even just the company, just for you, like how things are going.

[00:46:06] JJ Johnson:  

I do like a year, like a year plan out myself. Like, okay, professionally, where would I like to, what would I like to do? Personally, what would I like to do?


And then look back six months, look back in a year, talk to key people in my life, like my wife or People that I'm close with, friends, people I work with. How do we get better? What do we do? And I think you just gotta, I think you just have to be real with yourself. Like are, like for me, I'm like, am I still a good person?


Has somebody like made me become mean or evil or act a certain way? But at the end of the day, like my mom's gonna constantly check me aunt Jeannie's always gonna check me, right? Like there's family in my life that I always could check in with or people that are my sister, like people are always going to say stuff and nobody's going to be like, Oh my God, your chef JJ owns this business.


And it won James Beard awards. Like we can't tell you anything. That's not how it rolls. And I think when I look at. But I consider like successful people in spaces, their families still really heavily around them or the day ones. And I think a lot of people forget about those people that have been rocking with them.


Some people you definitely outgrow, right, or they don't come along with you. But there are people that you need to, that know you better than maybe you know yourself, that you need to constantly talk to. And I kind of had that moment this year where I was like, I don't want to say, not talking to my family a lot, but so caught up in what's going on that I was forgetting to invite my family to events that I was doing, things I was partaking in.


And then I was like, well, which until aunt Crystal was like, Hey, I don't get to invite no one. I was like, what are you talking about? Like, well, you just did seven things and you didn't, I haven't heard from you. It's like, oh, you're right. Yeah. So it's really important. I think that's why I like Steph Curry is like level headed, LeBron, like these guys have their family, insular, close friends, insular around them.


And when you look at some other folks, you're like, how's that happening? It's like, well, who are, who's around them? Who are they talking to? Is that keeping them in this level head space? 

[00:48:00] Josh Sharkey: 

You have like mentors, people you look up to? 

[00:48:03] JJ Johnson:  

I do like a always looking for a mentor. I email Steve Ells all the time. He never responds back. Steve, come on, man. He never responds back. I know he's working on a new content and all, but. He never responds back. I mean, I look, try to look at people in spaces that potentially hope to be and try to get their knowledge. But yeah, I mean, Brian Ellis, who's a corporate chef of the Smith always checks in with me because I worked with him when I was at Jane, Dick Parsons, like X time, more to CEO, always if I need financial advice, my dad, like, you know, there's people that I'm always. Constantly trying to talk 

[00:48:35] Josh Sharkey: 

So important man.

[00:48:37] JJ Johnson:  

Just having people Mark Campbell who used to own Shark Bar was a very legendary spot So like, there's definitely some folks You have to have a mentor, it doesn't matter where you are in your career 

[00:48:44] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah, or at least advisors. People that are smarter than you are the thing that they I always find that it's like, life is just Your personal, like your health, your relationships, and your profession.

[00:48:55] Josh Sharkey: 

And it's like every year, I just look back like, how am I better professionally? What am I better at this year than last year professionally? How are my relationships better this year? And what, how am I, how have I improved health?

[00:49:06] JJ Johnson: 

That's great. I'm taking that with me. Hey, yeah. Health. 

[00:49:09] Josh Sharkey: 

Health is, yeah. Relationships, which is family and friends and profession. And I think people Did your grandfather tell you that when you were younger? No, no, but it's, you know, it's interesting because like, I think sometimes people forget about that spectrum and like, You just are focused on your friends and family and maybe your health.


You're just focused on your profession and your health. Or like one of the, one, two, three, you need all three, you know, and without them, you know, you can be really professionally successful. And then. Have nobody to talk to about and you know, you could be successful. What happens to a lot of people? Yeah, it's a struggle, but it's like, you know, every year you just look back like what, you know, How has this changed this year?


Those three things. I always look at that. But anyways, it's the holidays, man. I'm stoked that we got this in before the new year. Thank you. I got a little gift for you too.

[00:49:55] JJ Johnson: 

Oh, that's nice of you. Thank you very much. 

[00:49:56] Josh Sharkey: 

This is my mentor, Chef Grey Kunz, who passed away. Oh, Kunz. So we give these Kunz spoons out. Kunz was your mentor?


He was, yeah. You know, he ate at The Cecil. Oh really? 

[00:50:08] JJ Johnson: 

I've never seen this one. 

[00:50:10] Josh Sharkey: 

That's the deluxe. So I got you, well, everybody needs sharpies. I always need a sharpie. And I got you a meez bag and a shirt. 

[00:50:17] JJ Johnson: 

Thank you very much. Yeah, uh, Kunz came and ate at the Cecil. That was like one of the, probably the most epic moments.


He ate, came and ate at Cecil. Wolfgang Puck ate at Cecil. But yeah, yeah, that was one of the probably most epic moments. He came with like a table, uh, 10, and Dick Parsons used to eat at his restaurants because he was the CEO of Time Warner, Citibank, which I remember him coming in. He was like, Oh, you're on this restaurant now, I'm going to come and also write about this kid.

[00:50:41] JJ Johnson: 

I want to see what he's about. We chopped it up and uh, it was a real big honor. I felt like I took a picture with him that day, but I just can't find it. 

[00:50:49] Josh Sharkey: 

He was incredible, man. And, and, and just a Incredible measure of success, chef, because so many great chefs came from him. Floyd's the same. That was like, you know, 2020 was just an insane year.


Like we, you know, we lost. And I remember texting Floyd about it, like trying to plan a funeral if we could. And then COVID happened. And then literally three weeks later. Floyd way. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And Floyd was, you know, I mean, Floyd was an incredible mentor as well. That was just a, it's just an insane, 

[00:51:17] JJ Johnson: 

He put the work in for people to understand Indian food in America. Yeah. 

[00:51:20] Josh Sharkey: 

I mean, you wouldn't have no, any of these, nothing, you know, in days or so. 

[00:51:23] JJ Johnson: 

People all the time. Like if Floyd, all the praise he's seen for Indian food right now. Mm-Hmm. that give, you gotta give that back to Floyd. 

[00:51:31] Josh Sharkey: 

Yeah. You can't, by the way, I don't even know FieldTrip, the, like, you know, like the idea of white people having curries and things like that. Yeah, you know like they he opened up a lot of that a lot This the palette was very different, you know, I mean, it wasn't just him There's a lot but like 

what he's one of the main players. Yeah. 

[00:51:49] Josh Sharkey: 

Anyways, man, this is great. 

[00:51:51] JJ Johnson: I appreciate you having me I appreciate it.

[00:51:53] Josh Sharkey:  

Alright, that's a wrap. Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit That's G E T M E E Z dot com. Slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.

[00:52:21] Josh Sharkey:

Keep innovating. Don't settle. Make today a little bit better than yesterday. And remember, it's impossible for us to learn what we think we already know. See you next time.