The chaotic restaurant scene was right out of a Hallmark movie. A crazy busy night at Outback Steakhouse. The frustrated night manager is one staffperson short in the kitchen. The kid waiting tables is sent back to the kitchen to help.
Kid crushed it!
“Hey kid, you should do this for a living,” he was told.
A few years and a lot of kitchens later that same kid, Justin Turner, finds himself about to, in his words, “… curate one of the most delicious and wonderful culinary and hospitality ecosystems in Houston.”
- Justin Turner to headJustin Turner to headnew hospitality group -
Turner is director of culinary hospitality, a newly created role within Gastropub Productions, an inventive restaurant and hospitality group. Gastropub is charged with the intriguing task of creating fun places for Lake Houston residents to eat and play at Generation Park, McCord Development’s master-planned business and lifestyle destination.
“It is wonderful what they are building for the future,” said Turner, referring to Ryan McCord, president of McCord Development, a Houston-based real estate company that is developing Generation Park at Beltway 8 and West Lake Houston Parkway. “Ryan and his McCord team have a great vision. I truly am a believer in Ryan and his methodical approach to real estate development and life in general. I am so fortunate to be a part of it.”
Turner’s job at Gastropub is to create hospitality and restaurant concepts that focus on “… putting out the most delicious food while curating an amazing experience through service and hospitality. We are creating an ecosystem for people to work, play, dine and unwind ,” he said.
There may be no other person quite like Turner with the ability to create that amazing experience that McCord is looking for. He is a Chicago native, a graduate of what he terms “the School of Hard Knocks,” receiving his culinary training on the job with a plethora of great mentors: Mike McMath, Erling Jensen, Justin Young, Jimmy Gentry and Joseph Carey, all culinary artists in their own right.
Turner also was inspired by “The Soul of a Chef,” a book about professional cooking by Michael Ruhlman, who enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and writes about something Turner is passionate about, the point where cooking becomes an art form.
After his Outback Steakhouse experience, Turner, who was living in Memphis by this time, decided to seek out the best restaurant to work for in Memphis and ended up peeling potatoes and cleaning shrimp just to get his foot in the door.
Turner was soon recognized for his cuisine creativity and eventually had the opportunity to work under the renowned Mississippi-based chef Miles McMath as chef de cuisine and later sous chef and pastry chef. He was executive chef for the Chicago Bears and for former Houston Rocket Shane Battier.
Turner became a household name and a Houston icon – and got to show off his true cuisine creativity when he created Bernie’s Burger Bus, dishing up memorable burgers made with a true chef’s mentality and served up in a big yellow school bus.
COVID-19 has been especially harsh to the culinary and hospitality industry and, with his experience creating Bernie’s, Turner is well positioned to alter his culinary concepts for Generation Park.
“Our industry has been trending toward takeout and delivery and that has always been a focus of innovation for Gastropub Productions,” he said. “I’ve always implemented great sanitation practices pre-COVID in anything that I have ever done and plan on keeping it that way through this time and after.”
Cooking is Turner’s passion. He said that when he is not working, “… I like to cook for my family.” As for that work/life balance that so many in Turner’s position find elusive, ‘It is all a matter of perspective – and having a fantastic wife and a blended family of three children who are willing to put up with it all.”
One of Turner’s greatest stresses about the culinary business is that restaurants are moneymakers.
“A misconception is that we make money hand over fist,” Turner said. “The most unfortunate side of our business is the quality that people demand does not meet the amount of money they’re willing to spend. As restauranteurs, we are aware of that and do our best to find a common ground. We strive to match up the quality of food that is wanted and the price people are willing to pay.”
One of the positives are the compliments that a good cook receives.
“I was a part of a couple’s first date,” Turner said, “and they ended up marrying each other.”
Now Turner is planning to prepare memorable meals for more first-daters at Generation Park.
“The sky is the limit,” he said. “We have 4,200 acres of development and we have just begun. We’ve got a lot planned and I can’t wait to share it with Lake Houston.”
Not bad for a guy who got his start at age 16 flippin’ burgers and staying true to himself and his dream. He persisted in the business he loves and now is bringing his unique culinary skills to Generation Park. Turner is about to create Redemption Square’s first brick-and-mortar culinary concept.
Friend Generation Park on Facebook and follow its evolution as one of Houston’s fastest growing economic and residential centers at generationpark.com.