Manfred Jachmich has been involved in the Houston restaurant industry for a very long time. He grew up in Koblenz, Germany, and worked as a pastry chef there and in Switzerland before emigrating to Houston in 1963. He earned a degree in economics and management from Houston Baptist University.
In 1972, Jachmich opened the original Ruggles Grill on Westheimer near Montrose, and managed it during its peak years before selling it. (It's since been bulldozed, ostensibly to make way for a second, long-delayed concept called FM 903 led by chef Ryan Hildebrand of Triniti.)
From the 1970s all the way into the current century, there were once Jachmich concepts all over town, and while most, such as Redwood Grill, River Oaks Grill and Café Moustache, are long gone, there's no denying his experience as a restaurateur.
Another Jachmich concept, Post Oak Grill, thrives and has expanded to multiple locations. In 2004, chef Leopoldo "Polo" Becerra and a partner bought out Jachmich in a friendly transaction. About that sale, Jachmich says, "At the time, I had a partner who wanted to retire. She asked me to buy her out, then 9/11 showed up. I thought it might have been a two- or three-month drop in business. It turned out to be a two-year drop. You have to make decisions on what to do next. I had an offer on the table. [Becerra] worked for me for 12 years and [after the buyout], he maintained food and improved service.
Recently, Jachmich returned to Houston's restaurant scene, acting as a consultant for Urban Kitchen, which just opened at 14008 Memorial in the Energy Corridor last year.
Both Urban Kitchen and the Galleria location of Post Oak Grill are about to be used as more than restaurants. During off-hours, they will also serve as schools for training servers.
Jachmich has started a school for training waitstaff called the International Waitstaff Academy. Considering his more than 50 years of experience in restaurants, headmaster seems like a role he's more than qualified for.
It's a 40-hour program that spans four weeks and costs $695. Students attend two hours a day, five days a week, which makes it fairly easy to fit in around existing work and college schedules. Both locations offer morning sessions from 8 to 10 a.m. and the Post Oak Grill location offers a 3 to 5 p.m. afternoon session as well.
During the course of training, students learn about restaurant equipment as well as how to properly set a table, appropriately greet guests and serve wine, among other things. Along the way, they also earn their TABC and Federation of Dining Room Professionals (FDRP) certificates.
Jachmich sees a big need for improving restaurant service in Houston. "We're lacking in technical skills. Do we know how to address a customer? Serve from left to right? Proper etiquette is missing from the scene in Houston. Many customers are forgiving and relaxed about it, but I'm often greeted with, 'How are you guys doing?' I'm not your guy. I'm not an 18- or 24-year-old. There needs to be a level of respect."
The $695 fee raises a question, though. Who pays? Young people, as well as those who are already working as servers, don't often have a lot of expendable cash. Restaurateurs who have been bitten in the past by the transient nature of employees might also be loath to make that investment in the new hires who need training the most.
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Jachmich sees his target market as parents and grandparents who are eager to get college-age kids into jobs so they can help support themselves, as well as non-college-bound young people who need to earn an income but are having problems landing a server position. "Restaurateurs want to see a résumé," says Jachmich. In lieu of that, a certification indicating professional training might at least help someone get his or her foot in the door.
With the openings of so many new restaurants in Houston over the past few years, many chefs and restaurateurs have had problems finding qualified staff. Jachmich says one restaurant owner has already called him. "I got a call from a friend who has six or seven restaurants and he's opening a new one in May. He said, 'I'm looking for 30 waiters. You have an incredible idea and I want to hire all of your students." That's a really affirmative notion of confidence in my book."
Advanced courses are planned as well for current servers who want to move up in the ranks to positions like maître d', sommelier and manager.
The first sessions start on March 2, and more information can be found at the International Waitstaff Academy website.