Jimmy Bernat, exec chef of Jimmy's Urban Bar & Grill, on chewing, spitting and Go Fast
This is part one of my interview with Jimmy Bernat, exec chef of Jimmy's Urban Bar & Grill; part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
Jimmy Bernat began working -- and cooking -- in a professional kitchen long before the rest of us could make a proper peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He was all of six when he first started wielding knives, using them to devein shrimp at the long-gone Chowder House in Lakewood, a seafood restaurant that his family owned. "I grew up in a family of restaurateurs and have pretty much spent most of my life in the kitchen," says Bernat, now the executive chef of Jimmy's Urban Bar & Grill, which recently opened in LoDo.
Born in Chicago and raised in Littleton, Bernat murdered his first lobster at nine, and while he admits that he was a "little freaked out by the screams and shrieks," it was also the "norm" at a joint that ballyhooed fresh-water lobster tanks, long before seafood shacks began the gimmick of shoving those pay-a-dollar-to-catch-a-lobster-with-a-fake-claw pseudo-aquariums into their dining rooms. The Chowder House never played that game.
Bernat continued to work in the family businesses, including Urban Bliss Cafe, a defunct restaurant in Broomfield, and Chi-Town Grill, a restaurant in Arvada that's also closed, until he took a sabbatical to go to college and play around with computer technology. But after he graduated with a degree in business management from Arapahoe Community College, he went straight back into the kitchen, line-cooking at Angie's, an Italian restaurant in Littleton. After just under a year, he exited for a management opportunity at another Littleton joint, which served shaved ice and New Orleans-style grub. And then he bought it...at just twenty years old. "One of my projects for college was to create a business plan detailing a business that I wanted to open -- and my plan was to purchase this place and turn it into Chicago Jim's, a Chicago-style Italian place, and the idea became a reality when I actually bought it," he explains.
It survived for four years, but Bernat confesses that it should have been shuttered long before that: "I made just about every single mistake that a business owner can make: not keeping books, hiring bad employees, and working too many hours and not delegating -- and while I got some good reviews, suffice it to say I didn't know what the hell I was doing." To add insult to injury, he continues, "How completely stupid is it that I come from a family of restaurateurs and refused to ask for their help?"
He learned the hard way, and nowadmits that he asks for their help all the time, including now that he's at Jimmy's Urban Bar & Grill, which he owns with his parents. Together, they also operate Urban Chefs, a catering company in Stapleton. But it's the restaurant that fuels his passion -- and he pushed hard to open it. "My mom is a commercial real-estate agent who specializes in buying and selling restaurants, so I went to her and asked if I could see the space, and she told me it was a complete waste of time because I didn't have the money," he recalls. In response, "I sold a bunch of things that I owned, worked my ass off putting together a business plan, found an investor, and opened a contemporary American restaurant with my own spins that serves great food -- and I have the belly to prove it."