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German Native New Manager at Le Jeune Chef

“You can prepare the finest meal, but, if it isn’t presented by the right person, you lose touch with your customer right away. Ambience and atmosphere are good, but what is more important is friendly, comfortable service.”

Peter Hellermann, the new general manager at Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Le Jeune Chef Restaurant, believes hospitality is the key ingredient to restaurant success.

“When people go out to dine, they want to feel comfortable,” he cites. “We should make them feel welcome, like they’re in their own home.”

Hospitality is something Hellermann should know about. With a career that spans more than forty years and several countries including Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Bermuda, and the United States, this restaurant professional has developed a keen knack for cordiality.

Raised in Bigge, a small town in Germany’s Rhineland/Westphalia region, he whiled away childhood hours at the Hotel & Restaurant Hellermann, the establishment operated by his family for several generations. Thus, Hellermann always has known the joy derived from making guests comfortable.

As a young man, he apprenticed at the established resort, Gasthof Schutte, in Oberkirchen, and graduated from the Hotel & Restaurant Administration School in Dortmund. He then set out to learn his trade, landing positions at restaurants in Dusseldorf, Germany; Wengen, Switzerland; Paris, France; and London, England, to name a few of the European locales. Hellermann also logged a short stint at a beach club in Bermuda.

He sees no difference in what customers in other countries expect from their dining experiences. “What everyone expects is basically the same – cleanliness, openness, friendliness, and prompt, good service. There is no distinction between one country or another,” he says.

In 1964, he came to the U.S., first working at the exclusive Tower Suite in New York City and later at establishments in Stowe, Vermont, and Fort Worth, Texas. In 1968, Hellermann landed in the Denver, Colorado, area where he managed country club restaurants and also owned and operated two continental restaurants over the course of his thirty years there. In January, he accepted the general manager post at Le Jeune Chef.

Why would he leave the place where he has lived and worked for more than thirty years to come to Williamsport?

“What intrigued me was the culinary arts school, that there was a restaurant and I could work with young people interested in entering the industry,” Hellermann explains. “I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to pass on the knowledge I have collected over the years. Maybe the students will benefit from it and maybe I will benefit from them, too.”

His visit to Penn College was the final, deciding factor. “I was amazed at the campus and Le Jeune Chef. It is all very impressive.”

As is typical for any new manager, Hellermann says he sees “certain things I’d like to improve” about Le Jeune Chef, however, “it’s a quality restaurant as it is.”

The restaurateur says he would like to focus on “running operations very smoothly” and on “bringing our customers nice service, friendliness, and great food and wine.”

“I am sure business will continue to increase, not because I’m here, not because of my guidance, but I hope I will add to the experience already being provided by all our great culinary instructors and excellent chefs. I’m just one of the spokes in the wheel.”

Hellermann revels in “the uniqueness” of Le Jeune Chef, which is the presence of students training to enter the industry.

What ingredients do these students, themselves, need to succeed in the hotel/restaurant industry?

“They have to be very enthused, people-oriented, and service-minded,” he comments. “It’s rewarding, but the rewards don’t come from nothing. You have to work hard, but you will get the benefits.”

He says he also wants students to realize that “sales today is oriented on personality,” and so they must be willing to be friendly and remain calm.

While many point to high stress in the hospitality career field, Hellermann is a firm believer in the maxim: Never let them see you sweat. As well, he believes there should be no stress if the logistics of operations are handled in advance by management.

“There is stress only if you have a restaurant or operation that isn’t organized,” Hellermann comments. “It is management’s job to make sure things run smoothly. And, if your staff is very well trained and know how to behave, customers should never see them stressed. Stress comes from unsureness, from a person who is in need of training. I’m glad we can have a school here to give that training.”

As the field itself is diverse, so too are the many changes that continue to come its way, most notably in cuisine, Hellermann points out.

“There are always many changes in cooking. People move all over world, vacationing, traveling, and they bring ideas back home. A lot of American cuisine is adopted. The American public is open to all kinds of foods and wines.”

To succeed fully in the industry, he says one must always keep up on these changes and be willing to experiment with the latest ingredients from fresh herbs to exotic mushrooms and fruits.

For Hellermann, “modern or Californian-American cuisine” is his preference, including “plain, grilled entrees, fresh veggies, and lots of salads ? an emphasis on freshness, light sauces, and the combining of new ingredients.”

All of these changes and adaptations create an exciting and diverse industry, he notes, adding that Penn College hospitality graduates can go in many directions and create their own paths.

“Students will go on from here and continue to learn by traveling in different countries and working in different restaurants and hotels. When you experience differences in life, it all stays with you. It’s not like reading a book. When you experience it on your own, it stays with you forever,” he states. “Thirty, 40 years ago, I did a dinner and I can remember the ingredients and the people I served.”

While many his age might be musing about retirement, Hellermann scoffs at the idea. “I love what I’m doing. It keeps me going,” he asserts. “If you like what you’re doing, you get stamina from that.”

Since he gave up downhill skiing a number of years ago, he isn’t necessarily missing the Colorado mountains. However, he and his wife left behind their four children and four grandchildren to move to Pennsylvania.

Still, Hellermann is excited about his new opportunity at Penn College.

With a warm grin, he confides, “I was always a bit adventurous.”

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