I always wish I had a mentor of some sort. Someone with good leadership qualities who could show me how to create a harmonious work environment without letting myself get thrown under the bus by my employees. I will be perfectly honest here, in all my years of restaurant experience, the only thing I banked from my previous bosses was how I didn’t want to act.

In 2010, a kind of miracle occurred. I entered a writing contest through Dawn Professional on a whim. The prize was $20,000 in restaurant make-over supplies, a consultation with Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef fame, and a trip to the NRA show in Chicago.

Two months later, I found out I had won.

The time in between entering and winning had been a trying one at the bar. We had bought all our equipment “as is” as the building had been foreclosed on, and it seemed like once a week, something major (and costly) would break. From the first time we fired up the air conditioner, to the beer cooler that needed habitually serviced, we were running out of resources. Mentally, I was at a breaking point that turned me into “one of those bosses I never wanted to be.”

Obviously, the financial help was crucial. As was the mini vacation to Chicago where I got to rub elbows with others who are successful in my industry, and get inspired by the amazing tapas at Mercat a la Planxa, plus it was the first time I had two days off in a row since we opened, so getting out and seeing things helped snap me back into a human.

When it came time for my visit with Spike, he made the trip to Jordan’s, looked through my menu, checked out my kitchen, dazzled my staff with his near celebrity status, and did something for me that was worth more than any money in the world. He told me we were doing a great job, and we were doing it right. Sure, he gave me some tips on how to improve some little details to make our place more efficient and profitable, but the thing I took away the most was that Jordan’s wasn’t going anywhere.

My leadership style might have needed a good tweaking, but hearing you are on the right path from someone admired in your industry, a mentor dare I say… It feels like your stars start aligning and the inspiration to move forward in a positive fashion burns bright.

I still lead with my “don’t be like that guy” philosophy, and supplement with every educational opportunity I can get my hands on. I encourage my staff to not only be leaders in our workplace, but to follow their own dreams, too. I make sure that education is a priority to them, but also do my best to make their job feel like a fulfilling career with as much responsibility as they are willing to undertake.

My only hope is that the day they move on down the road to do their own thing, their style isn’t “don’t be like Martha,” but instead they are comfortable enough to pick up the phone and shoot ideas off of me when things fall apart. Because they will, and we all need a safety net and a good friend to help us glue the pieces back together sometimes.