Back Brentwood Baptist welcomes new Executive Chef and Food Services Director
September 14th, 2011
Long gone are the days of Wednesday Night Fellowship Suppers at most Southern Baptist churches across the nation, but not at Brentwood Baptist. In fact, the ministry and service of providing a quality meal has grown exponentially within the walls of this church.
In 1988, Brent Holladay joined the staff as the part-time Food Services Director—planning menus, cooking each week, and serving a host of members.
Lisa Francisco, Business Manager, said, "Brent had a kitchen that wasn't any bigger than a small office. At the old location, we only did Wednesday Night Dinners. But, at this location, the number of events that use food is much larger—from trustee dinners to senior adult dinners."
Just last month in August, after 23 years of faithful service, Brent retired from his position, passing the baton on to someone new.
"He was involved in helping us plan out our cafe a few years ago—helping us envision what it would look like and the equipment we'd need," Lisa said. "We're grateful to Brent because he got us ready for the next steps."
Years ago, while Brent was saving the day at the Bill Wilson dedication, feeding 500 people with no electricity, Suzanne Loving was finishing up her degrees in communications and mortuary science at Old Dominion University in Virginia with no idea she'd be filling his shoes one day.
Originally from Portsmouth, Virginia, Suzanne grew up working in a funeral home, her family's business of 47 years. But she didn't feel like that was God's plan for her life.
During the summers, her family temporarily let her leave her post at the funeral home to work Lifeway's Fuge Camp in the summer. During one M-Fuge in Philadelphia, working as the video producer, her life was changed.
"We worked with boys who had special needs. I got to see ministry and service together," she said, "And I knew God was calling me away from my home in Virginia to go and do some other kind of service. I didn't know what it was though."
As an only child and heir to the family business, she made a deal with her family: she'd go through training to take over the family business before she made any decisions to move on.
"Because of that, I'm now a licensed funeral director in the state of Virginia. But I learned customer service through that whole experience and how to deal with people," she said.
On a return road trip from Oklahoma, Suzanne and another friend decided to stop off in Nashville to visit a fellow Fuger. In a matter of hours, with a little coaxing from her friends, Suzanne decided to make Nashville her new home, locating an apartment and signing her name on the dotted line.
Two weeks later, she drove 14 hours from her home to a city she barely knew, without a job or any idea what God wanted her to do.
"I got a part-time job at Williams Sonoma," she said. "I thought I might get a discount. And I thought it would be fun to play with the kitchen gadgets and maybe learn something in the process."
She was educated faster than she expected when asked to roast a turkey during a cooktop demo.
"I didn't know what I was doing or how to cook," she said. "My mom wasn't a good cook growing up, but she made a mean Hamburger Helper. And every once in a while I'd bake with my grandma. I had to Google 'How to Roast a Turkey' just 10 minutes before the demo. Fake it 'til you make it—that was my motto."
She was a natural, roasting 45 more turkeys through the Thanksgiving holiday season.
"I stood at a cooktop all day, talking to all the housewives about how to use the products and the best ways to roast a turkey," she said. "It was fun. The days went by fast. I enjoyed putting things together and seeing a result. I enjoyed talking to people. So I decided to give culinary school a try."
At a time when Food Network was gaining popularity and with two college degrees already under her belt, a then 23-year-old Suzanne enrolled at the Art Institute in Nashville and was immediately admitted.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done," she said. "You had to line up at 6:00 a.m. every morning in your full uniform for your chef instructor to inspect you. Then it was 8-9 hours in the kitchen—working on projects, perfecting recipes, creating menus, working with budgets, buying products, and managing cost control."
During her two-year culinary education, Suzanne worked two jobs. The first was cutting the fat off of meat in a now-defunct, Cool Springs-based prep kitchen. After that short stint, she moved on to a soda-shop-restaurant-combo called Diana's Sweet Shop in downtown Nashville.
"I started there as a cook, making sandwiches, soups, and salads," she said. "About the time I was finished with culinary school, a kitchen manager position opened up and I took it. Within 4-5 months, I went from cook to General Manager."
Her knowledge of the food industry only expanded over her one-and-a-half-year career there. But her time quickly came to an end when she looked back over an 8-day span and realized she'd just worked 108 hours in that short amount of time. The job had consumed her.
That's when she met Michael Bolling with Southern Foodservice Management, a company already in talks with Brentwood Baptist about the next steps.
Lisa Francisco said, "We saw there was a need to have more than what we'd had in the past. Opening the cafe brought that awareness. We knew we needed someone full-time. We researched and found this food service vendor and we're the first church they've worked with."
Michael introduced Suzanne to the new partnership by meeting her in the Connection Cafe. Then and there, she was asked the be the new Food Services Director, managing all food-related things inside the church, the catering to outside groups using the church, the Cafe, and Wednesday Night Supper.
On August 1, Suzanne joined the staff and immediately began making improvements.
Pre-packaged, pre-cooked food items are now extinct in the cafe. Specials are created daily and food is made fresh each morning. Sandwich and coffee prices have dropped. Burgers are more impressive. Pasta and fruit cups are always on hand. And new menus are on their way up.
"When I got here, there were three lonely muffins sitting in the pastry case," she said. "Now, there are bagels, scones, muffins, danishes, homemade biscotti, and parfaits every morning. And we serve breakfast sandwiches on Sundays."
Suzanne manages 10 employees who work behind the counter, most of whom are high school students with first-time jobs from our own Student Ministry. And she brought in a friend from culinary school, a pastry chef, who was previously teaching cooking classes.
Practicing customer service in her family's business, seeing what ministry and service looks like at Fuge camps, and understanding the intricate details of the food industry, Suzanne feels likes she's come full circle. And, now, she's exactly where God wants her to be.
"This is my ministry," she said. "I've had great feedback from everyone and lots of support. Working with the ministries and members, I now have a job that's purposeful. I'm most excited about what I can do, the opportunities that are coming our way, and the people I get to meet and work with."
Story by Kaylan Christopher, Staff Writer