Compass Trailblazers Making History Now: Keith Williams, Executive Chef, FLIK Hospitality

When Keith Williams left his home country of Jamaica, he was looking for new opportunities. What he didn’t know was that the first job he landed in the U.S. would lead to a 27-year career in the food and hospitality industry. Read his story to learn how he’s “paying it forward” by creating new opportunities for others and blazing a path with love and happiness.

How did you get your start as a chef?

I came to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1991. In 1994, I got a job through a temporary agency as a dishwasher with FLIK Hospitality Group, a Compass Group business that celebrates real food and genuine people. The temporary position was supposed to be for only one week, but Douglass Patton, the executive chef at the time, and Rick Russo, the food services director, saw something in me, and they hired me full-time. They gave me the opportunity to move into a grill cook position and they trained me at the deli and salad bar before promoting me to sous chef. All of this happened in less than two years, because they believed in me and kept providing me with opportunities to learn and grow.

When they offered me a position as executive chef, I honestly didn’t believe I was ready. It was such a big leap, so I declined – multiple times. But Doug and Rick reminded me I worked hard for it, and they encouraged me to see the opportunity as the key to further growth. I trusted their guidance, so I finally accepted the position. I owe it all to Doug and Rick. They were great mentors then and continue to mentor me today.

How do you mentor others?

I mentor others by giving them opportunities to grow and helping them along the way, just like my mentors did for me. One of my former catering directors is now an executive chef at her own account. She showed an interest in wanting to be a cook, so I hired her in the kitchen and from there she became a sous chef. She was doing so well that she decided to go to culinary school, and while she was in school, she interned with me. It was great to see her grow, and it put a smile on my face to be able to help her. I saw her a few weeks ago and she was thanking me for everything, but I told her to thank herself because she’s the one who did it.

What motivates you?

I’m motivated by life and the opportunity to wake up each day. That’s not guaranteed, and I don’t take it for granted. We’re all blessed to wake up each morning and to have a chance to do what makes us happy and, most importantly, to make others happy. That’s one thing about my job that I love – putting smiles on people’s faces and making them happy with the food we serve. It’s a big motivator and something that I take pride in.

What words do you live by?

To lead with love and happiness. That’s my motto and that’s what gets me through the day. When I work with my team and I interact with our client and guests, love and happiness is what I keep in mind. You never know what a person is going through, and you never know how your interaction with them can change the course of their day, or even their life. It’s important to always be kind. Something as little and basic as that can be a real game changer for people.

What is your best piece of advice for others?

Do what you’re passionate about. If you do that, you’ll never feel like you’re working. Do your job well. Strive to meet your goals. Bring smiles to the faces of the people you work with and those you serve, and everything else will all come together.

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