Local Texas Spirit with Jack Gilmore
For some people, being charitable is about giving back. For Jack Gilmore, the chef and owner of Jack Allen’s Kitchen and Salt Traders Coastal Cooking, it’s a mission. While he tackles the hunger of his customers with his farm-to-table menu, his bigger plan is to end hunger worldwide. We sat down to talk to Jack about his passions, food and giving back.
fA: What’s the story behind Jack Allen's Kitchen?
Jack: I started out as a busboy, got thrown into the kitchen at age 16, and I was hooked within two years. I moved to Austin shortly after that, and I had the cooking bug. I got sucked into the corporate world of running restaurants and wanted to get out. In 2009, my partner, Tom Kamm, and I said, "Let's open a restaurant."
We wanted it to be farm to table, but not in a cliché way—in a true way. I went to the farmer’s market with my son, a renowned chef, and I became very connected with farmers and vendors. That was when spirits, beer, and wine in Texas just exploded, and we were right on the cusp of it.
fA: How do you ensure that it is truly farm-to-table?
Jack: It's kind of one of those situations where you've got to be loyal to everybody. Not just your guests, but to your vendors. Vendors mean a lot to us. Loyalty in this business means a lot.
Then, it’s about managing the seasons in Austin or Central Texas. We take advantage of every season that we can. You can't get fresh cauliflower in the middle of summer. You just take advantage of it.
foundingAustin: How did you come up with the name Jack Allen’s Kitchen?
Jack: One of the hardest things to do is to name your restaurant or business. We were starting in a great building in Oak Hill. And we’d have to grow the brand with a good name. We had a brainstorm session and one of the partners said, "Hell, you're the chef. Let's call it after you." I go, "Jack Gilmore Kitchen doesn't sound right.” My middle name is Allen so it became Jack Allen's Kitchen. I like the word kitchen because it was all about fresh, sustainable food. It conveyed that we were working with farmers and fishermen and it's like mama's kitchen. Jack Allen's Kitchen stuck.
fA: How do you ensure the satisfaction of your customers?
Jack: There are a lot of internet-based tools for surveying nowadays. My favorite survey is walking through this restaurant every day and night, and talking to people. That's my survey. I don't need somebody to go online and push ten if they're satisfied, push one if they were unsatisfied. What do you do with that?
If I walk up and somebody says, "My steak was overcooked." I'll go right to the kitchen and say, "Steak was overcooked at table 12." Or if they tell me, "This was the best soup on the planet that I've ever tasted," I'll go right to the chef and tell him, "That soup is badass. Keep rocking and rolling."
fA: What does the next five years look like for you?
Jack: We're doing a Jack Allen's in Shoal Creek and we opened Salt Traders Coastal Cooking in Round Rock. It's a seafood-forward restaurant. I grew up on the coast and I understand seafood. I understand the restaurant business and we're trying to put it all together. That’s definitely the next phase.
fA: How has your lifestyle changed since you became an entrepreneur?
Jack: My wife and I have a better life. I'm finding out the older you get, the less you can work. Being a chef is a lot like being an athlete. It's physical. You're on your feet 12 to 14 hours a day and your knees start giving out. Your elbows start giving out. Your shoulders start giving out and you kind of have to take a break a little bit.
I wake up every day caring about 455 people that work for me. I mean that's what gets me up in the morning. That's what puts me to sleep at night. I care about them and their families.
fA: Charity and giving back is a big piece of what you do, can you share about that?
Jack: We're all about giving back. Between our staff and our vendors, our guests and our charity events, it means a lot to me. It's the right thing to do. We’re a neighborhood joint. Everybody's got a problem. Everybody's got an issue. I don't do it for the valor, credit, or press. I don't do it for any other reason than they need my help and I'm going to help them. You would be amazed how many texts or calls or emails that I get or Jack Allen's gets every day for help.
The Lone Star Paralysis Foundation actually auctions me off at football player Doug English's house. He and I got connected about 10 years ago and we started doing the chef auction and it’s generated a lot of support.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society means a lot to us, too. We do a fishing tournament every year in September or October down south in Corpus Christi. Last year I met a lot of good people.
The other thing is I'm very involved with the Central Texas Food Bank. My son and I, we're doing everything we can to put hunger away. I want to put the food bank out of business.
I'm tired of hearing that kids go home and they don't have anything to eat. I'm tired of hearing that they wake up in the morning and they have nothing to eat before they go to school.