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Fame and Fortune Rarely Come Without Sweat

As silly as that may be, it’s not surprising. America is obsessed with stardom. An old-fashioned work ethic is slowly being eroded by the desire for instant fame. Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

Be that as it may, there are plenty of examples of people in your industry who worked their asses off each day with little thought of fame and fortune. Surprisingly, these are the people who are more likely to achieve a sliver of both because the prize, in their eyes, is a job well done. An excellent performance does have its rewards.

Such is the case with two examples right in my backyard. This magazine is located in Ohio, hardly the epicenter of cool and star power. Yet there are two industry stars here, and their success was built upon a strong work ethic. One has recently acquired a big chunk of fame, while the other recently acquired an impressive fortune.

The first is Michael Symon, the chef/owner of Lola in downtown Cleveland. He and wife Liz have been toiling for years to put Cleveland on the culinary map. Michael, a 1997 RH Rising Star, recently became The Next Iron Chef after a grueling, multi-week cooking competition on The Food Network.

The invite to compete against some of the country’s best chefs came because Symon has lived, breathed and excelled at his craft from the day he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He proved that even when one is not toiling in a top-tier city, the word eventually gets out that there’s someone special who deserves attention. The national stage is now his.

Meanwhile, there’s a growing number of kids who graduate from culinary schools and end up leaving this industry dismayed by the relatively low wages and hard work. Just as well. Those who excel do so because they they can’t see themselves doing anything else. A quest for fame has little to do with it.

The other person who hit his stride is Cameron Mitchell, the operator of an eponymous restaurant company out of Columbus, OH. He has a stable of 33 beautifully run restaurants and has become an employer of choice for treating his employees with dignity. It’s why he won our Richard Melman Concepts of Tomorrow Award two years ago.

Last month, Ruth’s Chris Steak House Inc. announced it would purchase two of Mitchell’s concepts— Mitchell’s Fish Market (21 units) and Cameron’s Steakhouse (3 units)—for about $94 million. The deal includes a consulting agreement with Mitchell.

This was no lottery win. Mitchell’s success was built, like Symon’s, from years of sweat and a strong desire to excel. The financial rewards were honorably earned. The truth is, most of us will never achieve huge levels of fame or fortune. So, what does that leave you with? The satisfaction of knowing that you’re good at what you do and you’re appreciated by customers and employees for it. Isn’t that enough?

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