Who's Who: Harold Chacon of White Apron Specialty Sandwiches
Harold’s favorite wine isn’t wine. Why? Because scotch, that’s why.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Guatemala, came to the States for college, and ended up staying.
Did you eat your veggies?
Yes. I was a pretty healthy eater. My mom was a great cook. I always remember eating whatever my mom cooked.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Both my parents were entrepreneurs. My mom ran a cafeteria and my father had a photography business. I was about 5-6 when I started seeing my parents go through their daily grind of running a business. I started seeing the ups and downs of owning a business, which made me comfortable with the idea. Through college and grad school, I’ve always worked in the food industry. It helped pay for college and graduate school. So, I’ve always had that background. My current business partner was laid off during the recession in 2001 and he wanted to start his own business. He knows retail investment and I had an operations background so we put our heads and skills together and started a restaurant.
What gets you up in the morning?
I get up to work out. Exercise helps me stay very motivated.
What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
I like my knives. They make my life easier.
What is your favorite ingredient?
I like to make sauces. I really like to work with shallots followed by garlic and onion. I like shallots because its similar to garlic and onion, except its not as overwhelming. It’s a beautiful thing.
What is your favorite wine?
Single malt scotch whiskey.
Are there any foods you don’t like working with?
I’m not a baker per se, because it’s hard to be really creative. So, working with those ingredients in that space is difficult.
What are you favorite restaurants in Washington DC?
I like going to the not-so-known places. I love kebabs shops for example. I like going to restaurants that have “soul”. That said, I like smaller more intimate places (i.e. the Red Hen, Zaytinya). Service is really important for me. If a restaurant has terrible service I wont go back.
Who in the food world do you most admire?
My mom is really great. She was my first mentor and really frugal. I learned most of my cooking from my mom. My mom taught me that one needs to care for food – to be meticulous. She taught me “labor of love.”
What do you love about your job?
I love creating things, and having a good team around me to do it. I like hospitality - serving people with good people. I enjoy building community within my team. All of these things motivate me.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Finding good people to create that community. Finding ways to lead your team in the right direction; maintaining that vision. It’s all about surrounding yourself with the right people. Finding talented people is difficult.
What would make your life easier in your restaurant?
What do you most appreciate about your sales reps?
I appreciate their patience and their flexibility and their responsiveness. If there is a problem fix it ASAP. I like that.
What do you wish they would do better?
I appreciate when sales reps listen to me and my needs as a restaurant owner.
What do vendors need to do in order to make your chef’s lives easier?
Quality of product and freshness are very important. I need to have freshness because it affects taste. Convenience and timeliness are important too.
What do you love about technology? What do you hate about technology?
I love the efficiency of technology. I hate the time that it takes to get a product working for me. Sometimes technology becomes so advanced that it’s overwhelming. Sometimes technology makes simple things complicated.
What do you wish people understood about your profession?
That it’s not always hospitable. It’s a difficult process. It’s a lot of work being a restaurant owner. The job is a profession like every other job, so it’s not as fun as people may think it is. We work hard in this industry.
Where do you see the food industry going in the future?
I think the industry is becoming more customer oriented. Customers have more of a voice now, so restaurants have to be careful with what they’re putting out there. For the past 10 years the industry has been very focused on health, because customers want to know what they’re eating. The farm to table movement is here to stay.
What is your goal in your profession?
I want to build a restaurant group that diversifies the industry. I want to create jobs, and just be happy in life.