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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Careers and Crushes

August 1, 2018

Some people know at an early age what they want to do with their professional life and career. The first job I can remember being interested in was around the time I was six-years old. The year was 1967, and I wanted to be an advertising executive.

An advertising executive might be a strange career choice for a kindergartener, but I had a huge crush on Elizabeth Montgomery and her character, Samantha Stevens, on the television show “Bewitched.” Her husband (the first Darren, not the second Darren) was an advertising executive, and— in addition to being married to a smoking hot witch— made interesting and creative pitches to business clients about how to help sell their products. That intrigued me, even at an early age.

Other kids my age wanted to be firemen and cowboys. Some wanted to be astronauts. Those who wanted to be astronauts were probably fans of the show “I Dream of Jeanie.” In that show, Barbara Eden played a genie who lived in a bottle at an astronaut’s house. Jeanie was a looker, too. Though I always came down on the Samantha side of the Samantha vs Jeanie argument. I also preferred Mary Ann over Ginger. Though I never could make up my mind between Laurie Partridge and Marsha Brady, as I had enormous crushes on both of them.

In the fourth grade, our teacher, Mrs. Smith (still one of my top-three teachers of all time) asked everyone to stand up in front of the class and tell everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. I don’t remember what career I offered up— though it was probably during the time I wanted to be the lead singer of a rock band— but I remember Stanley Harris stating that he wanted to be a “United States Senator,” when he grew up. Everyone in Mrs. Smith’s fourth grade class looked puzzled. None of us knew what a senator was. Strangely enough, Stanley went on to become the chief legal counsel for a United States senator. Not too bad. I never became the lead singer in a rock band. I also never became an ad executive, and the last time I checked, I am not married to a witch (though my wife is smoking hot).

I became this strange combination of restaurateur/chef/author/columnist/travel guide/publisher/tv producer/tv host master-of-none-type guy. Restaurateur is the only thing I set out to do. I think it’s probably what I do best. At 19-years old I knew I wanted to open a restaurant. That’s it. That’s all I cared about. I set my sights on that goal, and seven years later, we opened our first restaurant, the Purple Parrot. I never thought past that first concept. That’s all I was interested in. I had several goals I wanted to achieve (none of them included making a lot of money). I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to be able to wear shorts and t-shirts to work every day. I never wanted to EVER wear a coat and tie. I wanted to make my own schedule and hours, and I wanted to have fun.

All of these secondary and ancillary careers have just “happened.” I’ve been open to opportunities and have been in the right place at the right time more times than not. I have also received help from dozens of people over the years in dozens of situations.

Many of the secondary occupations happened as a result of the other ancillary functions. I never set out to become a chef. It just happened out of necessity. It was the 1980s and French cuisine was still considered the pinnacle of all restaurant cuisine, so I began to teach myself the classics out of the “Larousse Gastronomique”. I started with the French mother sauces and I progressed from there. I spent the first four years of my restaurant career working 90 hours a week cooking in the kitchen. I spent the next four years working 60 hours a week behind the line. I loved every minute of it. To me, it wasn’t work. I was doing what I loved to do and getting paid for it.

Eventually, the cooks and chefs at our restaurants began to pass me by. I would get behind the line and it would slow the entire process down. They were faster and more skilled than I. That is a good thing. I moved into recipe development, which I still have a hand in today.

Some might say my career has devolved over the years. A little over two years ago we opened a burger joint. Last week we opened a breakfast-lunch joint with a small-batch donut shop. I have gone from French mother sauces to tater tots, and now to potato-yeast glazed donuts.

Even though I’m still clocking in at 60 hours a week, I’m having a blast. The French mother sauces are still being made at the Parrot and I get to eat a free donut every once in a while. I still have small crushes on Samantha Stevens, Laurie Partridge and Marsha Brady. My crushes eventually moved from television to rock and roll as Stevie Nicks became my main crush from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s.

All of those original “achievements” have been realized. I have been my own boss for over 30 years. I wear shorts, t-shirts, and Converse almost every day. I only wear a tie when someone is wed or dead. I make my own hours (they are long, but that’s the way I like it), and— even though the work is brutal on occasion— I have a ton of fun.

I am blessed, and I am grateful.


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