Yolklore’s Brandon Summit Seizes Moments for Hospitality

click to enlarge Brandon Summit of Yolklore provides hospitality to his guests in even the quickest of interactions. - ANDY PAULISSEN

  • ANDY PAULISSEN
  • Brandon Summit of Yolklore provides hospitality to his guests in even the quickest of interactions.

As early as age eight, Brandon Summit was drawn to cooking and serving people — not simply for the artistry of the craft, but mainly because he was motivated by hospitality.

“Even at a young age, I enjoyed cooking quite a bit, and I have a very hospitable nature,” Summit says. “When friends would come over, I’d make food and drinks, and I’d make breakfast for my family. Because of that, when I graduated high school, I went to culinary school at L’Ecole Culinaire, then worked at a few restaurants around town and eventually for Kaldi’s and Honolulu Coffee Company. The passion was for food as an artistic expression, but the driver is really my natural inclination for hospitality.”

As the new general manager at the daytime eatery Yolklore (8958 Watson Road, Crestwood; 314-270-8538), Summit is still motivated by the love of service, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the notion of hospitality. In place of long, face-to-face interactions, the industry has become much more transactional, with the opportunities for providing great customer service fewer and shorter than pre-pandemic.

However, Summit is embracing the challenge, drawing upon a decade-plus career in the industry working for Kaldi’s that began shortly after he graduated culinary school. At the coffee chain’s Columbia location, Summit realized that his passion for the industry went beyond cooking on a line to managing the operations of a store. He got the opportunity to do that for eight years, running the Columbia store before moving to Hawaii to work for the company’s Honolulu Coffee Company brand. He managed fifteen stores and embraced every moment of balancing his work responsibilities with living in paradise.

After coming home to St. Louis, Summit continued on with Kaldi’s until this March, when the COVID-19 outbreak came to the area in full force. Like many food and beverage outlets, the coffee chain struggled to adapt to the changes brought on by the virus. As a result, Summit was furloughed and needed to figure out his next steps.

“The [COVID-19 situation] is not ideal for them, and unfortunately, they had to let go a fair number of their managers and just keep on some of their core leadership team,” Summit says. “As part of that, I was furloughed. I totally understand the reasons for it, and it was completely amicable.”

Fortunately for Summit, Yolklore was in need of someone with his skills right at the time he was furloughed from Kaldi’s. Unlike many of its peers in the industry, the Crestwood restaurant is as well positioned as it can be for the changes caused by the new COVID-19 reality. It’s fast-casual, drive-thru model has made it safe and accessible to guests who want to dine out but are concerned about doing so in a dining room.

As such, the restaurant is looking to expand and needed someone with Summit’s know-how to help it grow. He’s relishing that opportunity.

“At our first face-to-face meeting, we hit it off and were speaking the same language,” Summit says of his interactions with owners John and Mary Bogacki. “It was the perfect time for them to have someone with experience come along. I’ve ran multiple locations and can see very clearly where they are going and have the experience to help them build that momentum. It was a wonderful stroke of luck for everyone involved.”

As Summit helps the Bogacki’s grow Yolklore, he is cognizant of the challenges they face when it comes to creating value for their guests when traditional ways of providing hospitality have gone out the window. He sees big changes coming for the industry as things become much more automated and there is less face time with guests. However, as Summit sees it, it’s not the end of service but rather an opportunity to change how things are done and make each moment more meaningful.

“There is diminished interaction, distance and separation because of being on other side of the door or window, and there is no face-to-face,” Summit says. “It changes the interaction, but it’s still just as rewarding. The focus is now on making sure that even that brief instance is as fulfilling as possible — a very sincere, genuine interaction is important if the only chance I have to engage them is the 90 seconds of payment and handoff. We’ve always been passionate about providing excellent service; that was always the goal, but now it’s really a much more micro focus, and it becomes clear how much that has been a goal of mine all along.”

Summit took a break from Yolklore to share his thoughts on what it’s like to work in the industry during such challenging times and what gives him hope in this moment of crisis.

What is one thing you make sure you do every day to maintain a sense of normalcy?
I make sure to spend time outside. A good dose of sunlight can really make a difference in staying positive and energized.    

What have you been stress-eating/drinking lately?
Honestly, I have retuned to some nostalgic childhood cereals as breakfast or midnight snacks. You really can’t beat sugary marshmallow cereal every now and again.    

Once you feel comfortable going back out and about, what’s the first thing you’ll do?
I would love to go see a movie with friends and family.

What do you think the biggest change to the hospitality industry will be once people are allowed to return to normal activity levels?
I think that many people will have a new appreciation for the people behind the counter. The thing about small luxuries is that they are easily taken for granted. I think that this time where people have had limited access to their favorite spots has already changed the level of appreciation people are showing for the service we provide.    

What is one thing that gives you hope during this crisis?
How much people have come together as families and communities to support one another.

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.  
                                                                 

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