Former chef-owner of the Hawthorn Grill leaves culinary career behind for new venture

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

When Candace Rinke made the gut-wrenching decision in June 2017 to shut down the Kettering restaurant she had founded seven years earlier as the Hawthorn Grill, she sent a heartfelt message of thanks to her customers.

“For the last seven years, I have poured my heart and soul into this business, many times at the expense of my health, mental well-being, and family,” Rinke wrote.  “I have experienced great joy, sorrow, frustration, excitement and pride while cooking for you these last seven years, but alas, this chapter of my life must now come to a close.”

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Rinke kept her word. After years of working in restaurants, starting in the Detroit area, then launching her own personal chef business out of her home after moving to the Dayton area in 2005, Rinke has traded in her chef's whites for a business suit. Her career transition complete, Rinke is now a Realtor with Keller Williams Community Partners real estate agency in Miamisburg.

Rinke tells us about the transition.

What do you miss most about running your own restaurant and the food-service industry, and what do you miss least about it?

I think the thing I miss most, besides the food, of course, is the adrenaline rush that comes from running a commercial kitchen. There used to be an amazing amount of stress and excitement around the general nature of our little made-from-scratch world. The routine of ordering, receiving, organizing, planning, prepping, cooking, plating, expediting, and then table visits was something I thrived on.

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For many years, I ran the lunch AND dinner line which meant I would get to the restaurant at around 8 in the morning, prep and serve lunch, plan dinner specials, prep and serve dinner and then do the ordering for the next day, many nights not leaving until 9:00 or 10:00. Day after day, year after year…my husband would always comment on how it amazed him that I could repeat the ‘grind’ day in and day out without ceasing. But the truth is, even though I would be exhausted as I made my way out of the kitchen and into the dining room, the happy diners and the words of appreciation rejuvenated and invigorated me.

I loved the teaching aspect of what I did. Showing someone how to clarify butter; chop an onion or deglaze a pan gave me so much satisfaction. Watching someone taste a dish they made with my direction and good, solid cooking techniques was endlessly enjoyable. Seeing my students go on to open, run or lead other kitchens, while at the time of his or her departure was always painful, makes me proud to this day.

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I also miss my friends. I know there are many who would say I did a lot of things wrong, but for the employees and guests who were exceedingly loyal, we became what I would consider friends. I miss seeing them every day, wholeheartedly.

As for the negatives, some of the same things I loved were the things I hated. So many times, things at the restaurant (in life, really) were a blessing and a curse. There were always employees that thought I had unreasonably high expectations. If something wasn’t great, we weren’t going to serve it and when we had to throw food away, I was furious. It was my product wasted, my name on the line. I’m sure some would say I was a tyrant. Maybe that is true. I was just passionate about wanting to serve beautiful food and expected everyone in the restaurant to feel the same. If you didn’t, I didn’t have much patience for you.

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As for the guests I loved and considered friends, there were also many that caused me constant anguish. Complaints that things were too expensive, took too long, or weren’t what they expected were comments that cut me to the quick. I held on to every negative review for far too long. And there were always guests that wouldn’t be satisfied no matter what. I could make the bill for an entire table disappear and the party would leave the restaurant and promptly put 1-star reviews on every platform in the digital world. As an independent chef that put my heart and soul into every dish, it was almost unbearable to see those unpleasant words in black and white.

What are some of the reasons you chose this new profession, and why is it a good fit for you? 

I remember guests asking me if I watched the food network at home. But the reality was that while all my regulars were watching “Chopped” and “The Next Food Network Star,” I was watching HGTV and obsessing about what color to paint my dining room walls or which flowers would look best in my front porch planters. My husband suggested it as an alternative to the restaurant business and I could see some definite parallels between the two careers.

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Real estate requires a great ability to negotiate, the ability to be diligent, take the initiative and the need to follow up. It requires the same sort of daily ‘grind’ that I was tied to at the restaurant. Last summer, I was offered a position at a local restaurant and spent a great deal of time weighing my options and whether I wanted to be back in that industry. While the idea of returning to the kitchen environment was enticing, I decided that having more flexibility was a better option for my family. In the seven years I owned the Hawthorn Grill, I missed countless family times — vacations, graduations, weekend getaways, family meals, holidays.

Don’t misunderstand; it was my own fault, really. I loved being there and chose that over almost everything else in my life. I loved developing the menus; chopping, prepping and cooking every day; and spending time with the staff as we experienced the crescendo of working the line on busy nights. However, as my son turned 11 I realized I don’t have many more years of having him home, of him wanting me to get him from the bus stop or go on his field trips. And I wasn’t willing to make any more of those types of sacrifices.

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So I truly appreciate the flexibility of this new career. I love being able to help families find homes to make their own memories. And I love being able to be home for dinner each night even if I must leave again to go on an evening appointment. That flexibility makes this new career choice a perfect fit for my family.

How did operating a restaurant and catering business prepare you for this next step? 

In some ways I feel like owning a restaurant prepared me for this new career. I know about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and needing to “make hay while the sun shines.” I understand the challenges of employees and customers, and how important one’s reputation is. I understand that you need to lead by example and never give up, even when you feel like you’ve failed, and all you want to do is stick your head in the sand in the hopes that the world will just go away. In some ways, I feel like if I had been in the real estate industry first, my restaurant would have been more successful and maybe even stood the test of time in Dayton.

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At Keller Williams Realty, we say that our main job is to lead-generate. Our secondary job is to sell houses. In retrospect, my main goal at the restaurant should have been to lead-generate. In actuality, I believe it should be any business owner’s main objective. I thought that if I just made really good food, people would come. The reality ended up being a bit different.

In the long run, I got to live my dream, even if only for a short while. Most people can’t say that, and no one can ever take it away from me. Now, I am on this new path, I’m excited for the future, and I’m looking forward to helping Daytonians buy, sell and invest in our fair city. God’s path for me wasn’t easy, or expected. But I know now that I am right where I belong.

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