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Robert St. John

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

The Best Job Ever

February 28, 2024

There are many emotions associated with parenthood. Joy and amusement come to mind immediately. The early responsibilities of parenting can bring worry and guilt. There can be irritation and disappointment as well. The unique thing about being a parent is that sometimes one can feel several of those emotions— contradicting as they may be— at once.

There are two schools of thought on love. Some consider it an emotion and others a feeling. All I know is that my love for my children is bottomless and broad, and unlike any other sentiment I have known.

Today I will focus on the parental emotion I am most in touch with at this moment— pride.

God blessed me with two children. My daughter was born first. I dreamed of being a father for years. It wasn’t until my 36th birthday that the dream came true. I thought I knew how I would feel when I became a dad, but I had no clue as to the depth of the love I would experience. When they put that baby girl in my arms the first time it was like a large box— that had been dormant somewhere deep inside my heart— opened wide and I realized that I had more capacity to love another being that I ever could have imagined.

My daughter was close to perfect from day one. Many will consider that a statement filled with fatherly bias, but it’s true. At two years old she was like a small adult. She rarely got in trouble and grew into the daughter every father dreams of, filled with sensitivity, love, and compassion, with a significant moral center and ethical compass. Those traits only amplified in adulthood, and I am as proud of her as I could be of any living, breathing thing.

She is a career woman and a very talented interior designer with excellent taste, great communication skills, and the innate ability to connect with clients’ wishes. She continually makes me proud in so many ways.

My son came into this world almost four years to the day after his sister arrived. They looked alike (some mistook them for twins during certain stages of their childhood) though they were complete opposites when it came to personality profiles. He was an overly spirited ball of energy and lighthearted mischievousness, and often in trouble but the problems were never too deep or serious. He was frequently the humorous foil to her earnestness.

At 14 years old he came to me and stated that he wanted to go into the restaurant business. I wrote it off as a childhood whim— the restaurant industry is too brutal and unforgiving for someone who is not 100% passionate and committed— but as the years progressed, he never wavered.

At 16, I sat him down and said, “If this is the career you truly want to pursue, and if you want to come work in our company, this is what you will need to do: Go to college and get a four-year degree in business with a minor in accounting. Then go to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After two years of culinary school, you will go work for other people in the industry for two years. At the end of that eight-year period, you can come back and work in our company, but you are going to start at the bottom. It won’t matter what your education was or what your experience is, you will start at the bottom and the degree to which you rise through the ranks will be 100% dependent on you, and not me.”

He is all-in.

The plan is one that I wish I would have been able to undertake. I did it all backwards. Had I gained a better foundation and made mistakes on other people’s dimes I could have saved myself a lot of grief and been a more effective leader and restaurateur from the start.

He’s currently five and a half years into the plan. He has two remaining semesters of culinary school before he graduates in December. Then he’ll go to Chicago to work for a friend’s restaurant group before coming home.

Back to pride.

My son is currently doing his externship at Emeril’s in New Orleans. He’s loving every minute of it and learning a lot. It’s an environment and culture where the entire team has one common goal of excellence in all endeavors. In my opinion, the newly re-envisioned Emeril’s is the finest restaurant in the southeast, and it would be hard for anyone who has dined there since the reopening in November to disagree.

Not only is my son fortunate enough to be staging in a world-class kitchen, he’s also being mentored by two, young, top-notch chefs, one of whom has taken over the reins from his father and is killing it, daily. Familiar territory, that.

The friend group my wife and I spend most of our leisure time with consists of four couples. This past weekend the eight of us reserved a Saturday evening table at Emeril’s. All of them were there when both kids were born and have been there all the way through their childhoods. It was a unique experience for all of us to be dining in such an outstanding restaurant while my son was cooking in the kitchen, especially a kitchen of that caliber. I was so proud.

The love that one has for their children is an innate feeling with a depth unlike any other. A father’s pride works the same. It’s a deeper feeling than the everyday pride I experience in my work or daily life. If fatherly pride was a fuel, it would be a clean-burning super-charged rocket fuel that burns blue-hot and is strong enough that one pride-filled event involving one’s child can power a lifetime of positive memories.

The official bio our marketing team created for my website lists several job titles under my photo, restaurateur, author, producer, travel host, columnist, philanthropist, and serial entrepreneur, but the most important, most fun— and most pride-filled— job title I’ll ever have is “Dad.”

Onward.

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