David Turk is a veteran of the catering game, born and raised in Westchester County, NY. David has spent his life with one specific philosophy and that is to make sure the customer is happy.
David is co-owner of Indiana Market & Catering, and owner and CEO of David Turk Consulting. We sat down and discussed what it takes to be successful in catering and consulting.
How did you get into the food service industry?
I was at a college and didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. Worked for my dad for a year in the garment center, which was awful, dreadful. I decided after a year I just didn’t have the stomach for that kind of work. So, I just went on a little bit of a soul-searching mission. We had the luxury back in those days in New York City where you could actually not work for a little while and have it not kill you. So you know I discovered just that and that my heart was in food and beverage. I thought restaurants were going to be my future. So I went back to school, I went to culinary school. Back then the only game in town was City Tech out in Brooklyn.
So while I was taking part time classes in the Hospitality department there and working in restaurants, a woman with whom I had been going to school approached me and said hey, you know, what do you think about starting up our own little business? In order to get some much-needed experience, we both began working together at the Silver Palate, assisting with the production of its first book, as well as going to school together. So we both said yes, let’s model our business after the Silver Palate, the tiny little take-out shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Simultaneously to school and restaurant work, I had had this small catering business going on at the time. Around 1980, I had done what any self-respecting New Yorker did at the time – I had set up an illegal business out of my home, primarily catering for my one client, which was Rolling Stone Magazine. And they were very kind to me for many years. I did a lot of catering for them, cooking primarily for the executives. I started working for other media and record companies and that was the beginning of my career, eventually leading my partner and I to open Indiana Market in 1985 in the East Village.
What created that your interest in consulting?
I can’t really tell you there was one thing, I think what happened is that I was searching as I said, and I identified this idea that I wanted to be in restaurants. I thought it was about food, I thought my interest had to do with preparing beautiful food. In hindsight, I think what really happened was I loved being in this business that catered to people. It took me a few years to understand that what was interesting to me was the people part of it not so much the food and beverage, even though the food and beverage have great interest to me.
How did David Turk Consulting come to be?
It was like so many other things in life, it was somewhat of an accident, I just sort of fell into the catering aspect of the hospitality industry. It started as restaurants but I found my way, quite by accident, into catering. While in the catering industry, I met a man, a very well-known then and now even in death. His name was Mike Roman. Mike Roman was the founder of Catersource, which is perhaps the most prominent cater centric educational and networking organization out there. I must have taken one of his seminars when it came through New York. He was based in Chicago. And he took a liking to what I was doing. He loved our store and he started to ask me and a bunch of others to become part of the Catersource team and go around the country and educate and consult for other caterers around the country.
We were basically his acolytes. And that really sparked my interest in the dissemination of that which I had learned. That’s how it started and eventually that led to teaching at the Institute of Culinary Education where I believe I’m the only guy in New York who actually teaches the business of catering. And from the educational part of it came the consulting, people started to ask me if I could help them with their businesses specifically. So the teaching led to the consulting, it was really informal at the time. It’s only in the last couple of years, as I realized that I couldn’t cater forever that I really chose to start focusing more and more of my time on the educational consulting and teaching components of the business.
How long has David Turk Consulting been around?
Well, the website has only been up for two years. I’d been promoting myself as a consultant for maybe 5 years. But it’s only really now in the last year and a half or so that I said it’s time for me to get serious about this and my desire to help people. There are two disparate types of businesses that I can help. And one is the Mom and Pop, the really small organizations and the other are the larger organizations that are large enough to need my help, but small enough that they don’t have their own in-house technology or infrastructure to support what it is they need.
For instance, I’m not going be a good match for a large organization like a Marriott or a Hyatt, but I can help these mid-size organizations that might have four to six units. For instance I can help the small catering businesses that are just getting started so I can make sure they avoid a lot of the pitfalls that I fell into. You’ve got the people who are really just starting out and then the people who are on the other end of the spectrum, for me at least, are these mid-size operations that might have 50 to 100 employees. It’s all about understanding other people’s communication styles. And how can I be most effective at getting them to see how I can help them. That’s the best sales tool I have is adhering to a platinum rule. Communicating with them in such a way that they can hear it in the way they want to hear it.
To learn more about David’s consulting business, visit his website.