Jason has worked in the people business for as long as he can remember. The moment his parents told him he could not work in the restaurant industry was the moment he knew he would do nothing else. His mother and stepfather, who had immigrated from Korea and China respectively, worked together, cocktail waitress and bartender, at a number of historic restaurants and nightclubs in the late 60s until opening their own Irish pub in Andersonville.
It was above that Irish pub that Jason grew up, cleaning the bar for five bucks. He would pretend to be a bartender, pretend to be a short order cook, pretend to be a waiter. His parents’ desire for their son to look outside the restaurant industry only increased his fascination with the field. “I lived this whole fantasy life,” Jason remembered. “And the only thing that’s different between fantasy and reality is action.”
Jason went to college, by which time his parents had sold the bar, turning their attention to a fine art gallery on Michigan Avenue. Yet, not far from their gallery and unbeknownst to them, Jason was working at a restaurant.
While cooking has and always will be a passion, Jason quickly found his way to front-of-house, never looking back. “Everyone is born with a gift, and my gift is people. Being a maître d’, being a manager, being on the floor, making people feel good, making people feel special,” Jason said of his skillset. “I’m a people pleaser.”
Really the most amazing thing I felt from the minute I walked through the front door was the amount of care and hospitality and love.”
Jason credits his parents with teaching him the essence of hospitality. It’s something, a quality, he’s become finely attuned to and something he immediately picked up on during his throat cancer treatment.
“Not service, but hospitality. Service is what happens to you and hospitality is what happens for you,” Jason explained. “I think the one thing that makes the biggest difference for patients at Northwestern Medicine, whether they know it or not, is the level of hospitality they receive. Obviously the facilities are so modern and the accommodations so accommodating, but really the most amazing thing I felt from the get-go was the amount of care and hospitality and love. I felt taken care of from the minute I walked in.”
Another invaluable source of care was his girlfriend, who quit her job and moved in with Jason to help him cope with the changes. She was his rock, his hope, his foundation and his inspiration throughout his recovery.