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In their own words: Thomas A. Sadler

Chief concept officer: Hurricane Brand Holdings

Back story: When Tom Sadler graduated from the CIA in 1985 he wanted his own place. But after following that path for a decade—working his way up through Boston and Florida restaurants—he abruptly changed plans and moved into product development in food manufacturing. Sadler, 43, joined start up manufacturer Fontina Foods (later bought out by Cargill). Then last year he moved into his third career phase, joining the full-service growth chain—19 units, 20 on the way—Hurricane Grill and Wings based in Stuart, Florida.

Chief concept officer: Hurricane Brand Holdings

Back story: When Tom Sadler graduated from the CIA in 1985 he wanted his own place. But after following that path for a decade—working his way up through Boston and Florida restaurants—he abruptly changed plans and moved into product development in food manufacturing. Sadler, 43, joined start up manufacturer Fontina Foods (later bought out by Cargill). Then last year he moved into his third career phase, joining the full-service growth chain—19 units, 20 on the way—Hurricane Grill and Wings based in Stuart, Florida.

I think humans by nature don’t like change. I seem to, not thrive in the change, but thrive in the quest to make something better.

I think you can make a fairly broad statement that chefs take their craft personally. Someone tastes something or looks at something and doesn’t get it, a chef takes a defensive stance, rather than asking the person to really articulate why they don’t like it. That’s been an evolution for me from a chef. Being on the manufacturing side can be quite humbling when you think you’re creating what you think is a great sauce for another chef who is putting it on his menu. They may come back and say, “That’s not what I expected, do it over.” You have to check your ego.

I think you can become too consumer sensitive. Some restaurant groups take the middle of the road for fear of stepping out on the edge of one side or the other. You don’t want to offend customers. If you can’t sell something at a high enough rate, if only 20 percent [of customers] say it’s great, they drop it. They end up without signature items that people can’t get anywhere else. Biggest part of our brand is flavor. We have over 40 different sauces that we use that are our signature sauces, our recipes. We don’t necessarily worry that some sauces don’t sell as well. Customers come in all the time and crave that particular sauce.

One of my pet peeves with regard to where I eat, it’s doing too much with food, it’s over complicating the meal, taking the simplicity out of what could have been a great meal.

This was with Fontina Foods, it was early in my career there. I had probably not grasped the entire process of producing a sauce from conception through production. I had created a garlic butter—roasted garlic, parsley and onions—this restaurant was using in a seafood dish, adding the butter to wine. The flavor profile was great, color great, worked great. I was all excited. All that mattered was they loved it and wanted to move forward. We got to production. Produced fifty thousand pounds. Shipping was good. Everything was good. Until about a week later. The product stopped functioning. There were some functional starches in the product that helped when it was put in wine, helped to stabilize it. What I didn’t realize was the enzyme in onions, the naturally occurring enzyme, completely broke down starch over time. Not only had I pissed off the customer, but I had my own company to deal with. It was a learning experience.

I’ve been a career-driven person my whole life. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s times when I look back on parts of my life and there’s nothing memorable about those years.

Being a father is wonderful. My son is about to turn two [in late July]. It puts life in perspective. It’s a lot of clichés, but it’s made me focus on what’s important, and forget about what I once thought was important.

I wish I would have sought out a hobby. Food has been my life and my hobby at home. When you’re surrounded by it 24-7, you need another outlet. Like most chefs, I thrive on that creative process, but there are situations where it doesn’t always enable you to use your creativity the way you want. Whether art or music or writing, there are things I’ve dabbled in but haven’t been disciplined enough about it.

If I could have dinner with anybody I think that I would most like to have dinner with my son and my father, who passed away prior to my son being born. The meal: steamed blue crabs, corn, sliced Maryland tomatoes and cold beer. Milk for my son. That way my dad could show my son how to use the little wooden mallets and a butter knife to get the good meat out of the claws.        

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