Who would have thought that a part time job to pay the bills would turn into a career? Nate Shaw, Sous Chef, and Alexa Tipton, Event Coordinator for Webster’s Prime located inside of the Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites, are amazed that 8 years later they have had the opportunity to progress their jobs into the careers that they have now.
Nate, originally from Flint, MI, first came to Kalamazoo to go to film school. When his plans changed, he ended up in the Radisson Banquet kitchen washing dishes during the night shift under his Supervisor, Max Winkle.
“What started as a dishwashing job progressed into a passion for cooking. It has always been something I had enjoyed and loved, but didn’t realize it was something I had a desire for doing professionally until I had Max Winkle’s help,” said Shaw.
It was this same partnership of passion and mentoring that continued to move Nate up in the company. Soon after, he followed Max over to Webster’s Prime, and while he eventually left, it was another mentor that made the most impact on Nate’s career, Stefan Johnson, Executive Chef/GM.
“Once Stefan came into the picture is really when my career changed,” shared Shaw.
Alexa Tipton had a similar experience. “When I moved to Kalamazoo, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I was here for a couple years working at Texas Roadhouse, and got to a point in my life where I wanted a change. So I came downtown and was serving at Webster’s Prime for about 2 years before Stefan joined the team. This is when everything changed for me. He showed me that there was more opportunity here. I was on the cusp of leaving and moving on when one day we sat down and had some coffee and started talking.”
From there, they began to talk about the Event Coordinator position that was open, and about 2 weeks later Tipton started running the show. After about a year and a half, she agreed to help out in Old Burdick’s Bar & Grill as a Supervisor as well as Zazio’s restaurant. However, after meeting Nate and having the opportunity of working together since 2010, they realized they missed the drive and passion that was there when working together.
As Nate shared, “There’s a selfless investment that this company has in us. Most places would have run from a couple wanting to work in the same place. But the support we’ve received here has been amazing. We both did our jobs sufficiently, but we were starting to lose our passion being separated in different restaurants. That in return makes us so much more invested here. I’ve never felt anything like that in my life, and I don’t know that we could ever find it again.”
Since both returning to Webster’s Prime, their lives and experiences have grown even more. After getting married in December 2014, they used their honeymoon to attend the Italian Culinary Institute for a 4 month, fully-immersive program, The Master’s Program of Italian Culinary Haute Cuisine.
Alexa explained, “Nate was enrolled in the program and they offered a spousal enrollment opportunity. I decided to enroll and go through the whole program and graduated with Nate, and it was such a fun experience.”
Nate ended up graduating first in the class and Alexa went on to receive certification in another program, passing the Introductory Sommelier Course and Examination. She also plans to take the Certified Sommelier Exam in early 2017. This will give Alexa the opportunity to lead classes and wine dinners.
“It’s great in furthering my knowledge of perfecting our wine list and always keeping us up to date on trends. You also get to drink a lot of wine, so if you’re looking for a new hobby, I suggest that,” shared Alexa.
The future is looking bright for these two. They’re happy to be a part of Greenleaf Hospitality Group’s thriving restaurant. Not one to shy away from her affection for GHG, Alexa explains, “I think this is the type of place where if you’re willing to put in the passion, the effort, and the time and care in this company, the possibilities are endless.”
Tipton went on to share, “We talk about it all the time; we grew up here. Kalamazoo is a place that is continuously growing and you are seeing all these new small breweries and businesses pop up. When I started working here, I was 20 years old and my life was totally different. I went from a kid to an adult here. I’m so grateful for Greenleaf because if I would not have started working here, I do not know where I would be right now. I would not know Nate and my life would be completely different and not as great as it is now!”
Nate has similar feelings about the company, “Being able to go to Italy for 4 months to learn and better ourselves, and give us the chance to do that and bring back what we’ve learned is amazing. Italy was a wonderful experience and we learned so much, but Kalamazoo is where our home is; it’s where our heart is. It’s where we bought our first home, where we got married, and none of that would have happened without Greenleaf and all the support we received throughout the way!”
“Once I realized that I loved food, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Greenleaf helped me find that. A career found me, and so I jumped in and swam. There’s no looking back.”