We had the good fortune of connecting with Bill Bracken and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bill, as a parent, what do you feel is the most meaningful thing you’ve done for them?
Besides loving their mother, hand’s Down, Bracken’s Kitchen: When I redirected my life from chasing fame and fortune as a successful and semi celebrity chef to feeding the less fortunate I never realize the impact it would have on my children, my youngest especially. He has been ringside since day one watching as we not only build a business but build a nonprofit business who’s sole purpose is to help others. I lived the first part of my life for me and my own success and have chosen to spend the second part of my life committed to others. I would like to think that this has and will continue to have a lasting impact on all my kids so show them that there is so much more to life then self. To find complete contentment and happiness by living a life of service to others.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work. sets you apart from others?
What set’s me apart from others you ask? That’s hard to answer as I do not feel I am any different or more special than the almost 8 billion people who live on this planet. I do think however that I was blessed to be able to be put in a position to use my talent and skills in a meaningful way. Yes as a chef I had a successful career in luxury hospitality. I enjoyed 25 years of climbing the ladder to the top as the Executive Chef of one of the best hotels in the world with a restaurant that was decorated and celebrated. Easy it was not, nothing that’s good in life comes easy. The best things in life have to be worked and fought hard for. We work hard to raise our kids well, build and maintain a strong loving marriage and we really have to work hard and humble ourselves when we work in service to others. It was challenging enough to endure the demands and challenges of A-List celebrities and the rich and famous during my 25 plus years in luxury hospitality but that was just preparing me for what was to come. To move from cooking for the top 1% of our population to the bottom 10% was a move that I really wasn’t prepared for, but when you’re called you’re called. As I think back on the past 7 years of building Bracken’s Kitchen it is my stubborn inability to give up and my unending passion and desire that I pour into all I do that got me through the darkest nights. And there were some dark ones. I just cannot fully explain what it is like personally to go from cooking for and working around so much wealth and prestige to feeding people who don’t know where their next meal will come from. While so very hard to make that adjustment it came with so much personal satisfaction and a deep sense of worth. As Dr. King once said “Life’s most urgent and persistent question is, “What are you doing for others?” Truer words were never spoken and until a person truly dives into and commits to caring for others you just cannot understand that. The one thing that stands out above all the rest is love. At the root of all we do is a deep love for our brothers and sisters and our desire to serve them and make their life better. As long as we hold onto love we can overcome all obstacles and move forward. Of course a strong business plan and the skills to execute are important but if you don’t look to the interest of others first it will all eventually crumble.
Since the outbreak of covid Bracken’s Kitchen pivoted and ramped up the production and have since prepared/distributed over 1.2 million meals. That doubled our original goal for the entire year. We are on pace to distribute well over 1.5 million meals this year and completely squash our original plans. We have been able to accomplish this in part on the strength of our recovered food program. Since March 16th we have recovered and repurposed over 200 Tons of food that would have otherwise gone to waste. To accomplish this we hired 16 employees who had lost their jobs when the pandemic broke. It was the only way we can create this many tasty and nutritious meals made from scratch in our 9,000 sq. ft. kitchen.
As a result of our work over the past 4 months, and the reality that the need will only increase in the weeks and months ahead, we have moved from a temporary emergency response to a long term sustained response. With this latest pivot we have evaluated and reviewed our team of temporary employees and moved many of them to full time status with our organization. Equally we have recruited and hired additional employees to replace those who returned to their jobs previous to the outbreak of Covid. While we experienced a tremendous amount of growth in a short period of time, ultimately this pandemic just pushed us to get to where we wanted to be much quicker.
Looking ahead at the long term economic impact this crisis is having on those who were already struggling from paycheck to paycheck we have made adjustments. We are now striving to prepare and distribute over 1.5 million meals before years end. Equally, we will continue to work with our many new partners and be a conduit for the Farm to Food Box program to bring even more, much needed, food items to our struggling friends.
With a new food truck sitting in our back lot, we look forward to the time when it is safe to roll the streets again with both our trucks and connect with people in a more meaningful way over a hot, tasty and nutritious meal. After all there is no better way to get to know a person than breaking bread with them. Life happens when we gather around the dinner table.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Oh, this is a fun question. Living in Orange County but having spent many years in LA. I think it would take more than a week. Starting in my own back yard, Surf City USA, aka Huntington Beach is a must. From main street on a Saturday night to all the cool new food options right on the beach it is a must. From Sea Salt at Bolsa Chica State beach to Pacific City there is so much fun. You can head straight up PCH to Seal Beach and find another very cool main street where you don’t want to miss Crema Cafe for some of the most amazing Chocolate Pretzel Croissants you will ever have. But before you leave the OC you will want to hit up one of Amar Santana’s restaurants, Vaca, Hall Global Eatery or Broadway where you will find some of the best food in the OC along with Dean Kim’s amazing bread from OC Baking. Take a break from food for a minute, you wont want to miss the Lyon Air Museum next to John Wayne airport, a Duffy Boat ride in Newport Harbor or the tide pools in Laguna. On your way to LA you will want to detour through little Saigon and experience the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional Vietnamese market. I recommend Broddard for some of the best Vietnamese food around. And that’s just the OC. When it comes to LA, there a lot of well known places that everyone loves to see, the tourist attractions. And some always deliver. Venice beach and the Santa Monica pier are musts as well as a view of the Hollywood sign from a variety of places. Don’t forget that drive up PCH to Malibu where you can experience the quintessential endless summer days. While LA has some of the best restaurants in the country, Melisse, Providence, Trois Mec, AOC and many more are not to be missed. But there are other, how shall we say, less fancy food places you don’t want to miss. Pinks Hotdog’s is an absolute must when in LA, along with a visit to the Original Farmers Market and all of its food options. Then there’s Philippe’s home of the original French Dip. Nothing fancy, nothing crazy expensive but a must have when in town. You’ve been to downtown to Philippe’s and La Brea to Pinks, don’t miss the tar pits and then if your visit allows the time you have to see how the other side lives. Beverly Hills is worth a visit. From driving up the Palm Tree lined Beverly Drive to the Pink Palace to walking down Rodeo Drive and stopping into the Beverly Wilshire this is worth your time. Needless to say we haven’t even gotten into so many of the ethnic communities or over the hill into the valley. Maybe we need more than a week.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I wouldn’t be sitting here sharing my story right now without so, so many amazing people who have come alongside me on my journey. First and foremost is God, who has directed me to this path and provided for me every step of the way. A very close second is my amazing wife Molly who has stood beside me as I transitioned to feeding movie stars and celebrities in 5 Star & 5 Diamond Hotels to feeding the less fortunate in far less luxurious settings. My entire family had to make sacrifices along this journey but none as much as Molly and there is not doubt that I could not have done it without her. Of course I must also shout out our amazing team at Bracken’s Kitchen who puts in the hard work. The leadership team of Cat Richards, Jerry Babcock, Mike Owens, Charlie Negrette and Kris Kirk are the ones who make it all work. And finally there is countless people, families and companies who have chosen to make a social investment in Bracken’s Kitchen by way of their time, talent and treasure. We work very hard to be responsible stewards of the resources provided us and I hope we have not disappointed.
Stone Harbor Media Ralph Palumbo