5 Questions With Josh Zolin of Windy City Equipment

As a podcaster, author, father and former stuntman, Windy City Equipment’s CEO has stories to tell.

JoshZolin2
Josh Zolin

1. You worked as a Hollywood stuntman for a few years. How has that experience helped in your foodservice career?

I learned early on that to get jobs in the stunt business, I had to really put myself out there. You can’t just rely on your network. I would go to where movies were being shot and find a way to get myself in front of the coordinator and introduce myself. In the movie industry that’s referred to as hustle, and I bring that same hustle to my work at Windy City. I didn’t really think anything from my previous career would be transferrable, but the tenacity it took to win a job in the stunt world has been key to growing our business.

2. What wisdom can you impart on the merits of on-the-job training?

For one, I experienced it myself. When I left the film industry to come work with my dad in 2008, he taught me everything I know, from the ground up. When you look back in history, it’s always been the norm in trades like this to have apprenticeships. Today, it’s a great way to address the worker shortage and bring new people into the business. I feel that a mentor/mentee relationship is a great way to transfer knowledge and develop talent. At our company, all new technicians go through an apprenticeship, working side by side with a project manager. Through job shadowing, you learn much more than how to fix equipment; you also learn how to interact with the customer and many other soft skills.

3. What is one of the more innovative things you’ve done since being CEO?

Publishing my book, “Blue Is the New White,” was a pretty big accomplishment for me. I didn’t start out to be a writer, I just kind of fell into it. When we started to grow our business, I really started to see what a great job foodservice technician is, with good pay and benefits. I thought back on my own high school years and no one, not even me, was really looking at foodservice equipment as a career. I decided to do some research and write about a path to success that’s often overlooked, with the goal of making a reference for kids to use as a way to succeed. Somewhat inadvertently it has become good for the business. The book, and its companion podcast, bring Windy City recognition and allowed us to rise up as a thought leader in the industry.

4. As the father of two girls, have you given thought on how to bring more women into what feels like a male-dominated foodservice equipment and supplies industry?

Yes, it’s something I talk with my girls about all the time. They’re still young, but I want them to be aware of the opportunities available to them. I find in conversations with others in the industry when we talk about the skills gap, we’re often leaving 50 percent of the population on the table. I think it’s a matter of shifting the mindset. Just like with my girls, it’s about talking about opportunities, and highlighting stories of others. A good number of guests on my podcast have been women in the industry, which has been a great way to explore these issues.

5. What is your favorite foodservice equipment and why?

I have to go with the deck oven. I love the simplicity of it, and the product it puts out. I think what makes it great is the stones inside season over time, so the more you use it, the better the end product tastes.

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