An Inspiration For Aspiring Chefs

Introducing Tim Frey

On a brisk autumn day, the automatic doors open frequently at St. Luke’s North, an outpatient testing center located in Bethlehem, PA. Nestled in a corner in the rear of the building is the Cherry Lane Café. The small café opened two years ago to meet the needs of both patients and staff at the center. Owner and chef Tim Frey operates the small cafe Monday through Friday, 8:00 am until 2:00 pm.

The Cherry Lane Café serves a variety of fresh sandwiches and soups along with a daily special at reasonable prices. On a typical day during the lunch hour, you will see a long line of customers at the café. Throughout the hustle of the day, you can observe Tim talking to each and every customer, and most he knows by name. I decided to interview Tim specifically because of his amazing way of dealing with his customers while selling his delicious food. He has an exuberant personality and a way of making you feel welcome and important when you are talking to him and he believes that this is the key to becoming a successful cook. Anyone looking into a culinary career could look up to Tim as an inspiration.

When I asked Tim what got him started in the food Industry he explained how his father worked in restaurants when he was little:

 “Sometimes he would bring me to work with him. I always thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to be like my dad and make people happy through my cooking. Of course, I was completely unaware of the long hours and hard work that went with it!”

 It was immediately clear to me that food has had a large impact in Tim’s life for as long as he can remember.  I asked him how long he has officially been working in the food industry and he responded with a smile on his face:

“I have been working in the food service industry for 7 years.  Although, my dad was a chef when I was growing up and my Italian family cooks non-stop for parties and get-togethers.” 

 I could see Tim’s passion as he explained that, “The environment of cooking and entertaining has been with me most of my life.”

 He may have officially been working in the industry for 7 years, but food has been a large part of his life since he was little. Because of this, Tim’s job is not just a job to him— it’s his life. He loves to cook good food.

The Logo for the Cherry Lane Café.

The Logo for the Cherry Lane Café.

Food At An Amazing Value

If you asked me to describe Tim’s menu at the Cherry Lane Café, I would probably not be able to describe it in just a few words. His food is always fresh, delicious, and ever changing. A new menu of specials is posted weekly on the Cherry Lane Café Facebook page.

The breakfast menu always consists of breakfast sandwiches that you must create yourself by choosing what you want on it: eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, cheese.

 I asked Tim to describe his complex lunch menu:

“We serve deli sandwiches, salads, and a different special and soup every day.”

 While the deli sandwiches and salads remain static, the specials can be anything from ham and mashed potatoes to chicken and cheese enchiladas, always just $4.99. Personally, one of the reasons I enjoy the Cherry Lane Café so much is how “homey” the food choices are. It is getting a tasty meal that feels home-cooked for just $4.99.

The Cherry Lane Cafe menu for October 21st-27th.

The Cherry Lane Cafe menu for October 21st-27th.

Customer Service At It’s Best

 It is clear his success is due in large part not to just his tasty food but to his excellent customer service skills.  He frequently asks customers for feedback on the food he serves.

He will even go as far as talking items of the menu that he deems sub-par saying, “if I serve food that is not tasty, customers won’t come back and that is the whole reason I am here.”

One time, Tim realized that one of his soup items did not taste like it usually does. He immediately took it off the menu for the day, and even when customers came up to ask for it he would not sell it to them. Observing Tim serving and cooking for his guests, you will always see a broad smile on his face, ready to make the customer’s day.

While I was talking to Tim, a St. Luke’s employee that regularly visits the Cherry Lane Café approached us and explained how great Tim is at what he does. She joked laughingly about how Tim will do anything and everything to make his customers happy.

 “I asked for a half of a bagel and three strips of bacon, and that’s what Tim gave me,” she said with laughter ringing in her voice.

Tim serves a regular customer who works at St. Luke's Hospital.

Tim serves a regular customer who works at St. Luke’s Hospital.

A Day In The Life Of Tim Frey

When I asked Tim to explain a typical day of his work, he became animated and began speaking automatically starting with the breakfast hour:

“Typically, I wake up around 6am and head to the café to start prepping for the day.  I get to work around 7 and work starts right away – making coffee, setting up my work stations, etc.  Customers start coming in at around 8am and order anything from a simple cup of coffee to breakfast sandwiches for a whole construction crew. Since I make all of the breakfasts to order, so most of the morning is tied up in cooking eggs and other short-order style things.  I have one or two people who come in to help me every day and they typically start prepping the soup and the lunch special for the day around 9am.”

Making his breakfast foods in front of his customers is important to Tim, as well as always having fresh ingredients.

Continuing on to the lunch portion of the day:

“At 11am I stop making breakfast and rearrange my cooking and serving area for lunch.  There is a brief lull in business during this time, which is nice because it gives me a chance to breath as well as a chance to get ready for lunch.  The lunch crowd shows up around 11:30 and I’m usually extremely busy until around 1:30. From 1:30 to 2:30 we are generally very slow, but there are still some stragglers who couldn’t get lunch earlier.  At this time, I clean up and break down my area and head back to the kitchen where I prep the special and the soup for the next day.  I also need to check my inventory to make sure I don’t need to order anything for the next day.  I am generally done working by 6pm.”

When I asked Tim what his favorite types of food to prepare are he delved into some of his familial background and how the Italian culture is deeply rooted in his cooking:

“My favorite foods to prepare are traditional Italian meals that are somewhat Americanized.  Both of my grandmothers are Italian immigrants and when they got to America they had very little money and very large family, so they needed to figure out ways to make the foods they were used to cooking back home with the ingredients that were available to them in their new home.  This resulted in a wide array of fantastic dishes that are very simple at their core, but have elegance and a taste that comes along with the hard work and ingenuity that led to their creation. “

Tim preparing his food for the day.

Tim preparing his food for the day.

Advice For Aspiring Chefs

 As someone successful in the culinary field determined to achieve excellence, Tim can be considered a role model for anyone looking to create a career in food. He was happy to give advice to anyone looking into a job in the culinary industry today:

“I would highly recommend getting a job in the busiest restaurant in your town, preferably not a chain.  If you are looking to become a chef, it would be wise to get a job in the back of the house.  Even if you have to start as a dishwasher, it will be worth your time just to be immersed in the environment.  I find that a large number of people who want to get into the restaurant business have a very unrealistic idea of what it takes to be successful.  It is extremely hard work and insanely irregular hours.  I don’t think I had a single holiday off for 6 years until I opened my own place.”

 It is obvious that Tim follows this advice in his own life. Despite hardships and stress, as long as you love what you do, it will all become worth it in the end.

Customers wait in line for their food at the Cherry Lane Café.

Customers wait in line for their food at the Cherry Lane Café.

Looking To The Future

Tim is an amazing example of a man who has a lot of aspirations for his life.

I could tell from the moment that I met him that Tim was a determined individual. He told me he had plans for the future to further his career, and I asked him to elaborate on them:

“My plan is to bring my existing business to a point where it can run itself without me having to be there 100% of the time.  From there, I want to open more and more locations with the possibility of having a main, full-sized restaurant as my home base.  At the end of the day, my plan is to continue doing what I love and being known as the best in my field.”

 

He concluded the interview with a last piece of advice to future cooks, “Even though it is hard work and the stress can be high, if cooking and entertaining is your passion, there is no better industry to make your way in.” 

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