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Says Who? - Charlie Souhrada, CFSP, director, member services, NAFEM

Charlie Souhrada has been an integral part of the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers for more than 20 years. He is responsible for NAFEM’s industry relations activities, research and education, and manages several volunteer committees, including the NAFEM/CFESA Liaison Committee, NAFEM/FCSI Liaison Committee, Market Studies Committee, Technical Liaison Committee and the NAFEM Data Protocol Subcommittee. Souhrada started working for NAFEM in 1990, earned ServSafe® certification in 2004 and CFSP (Certified Foodservice Professional) certification in 2006.

sayswho_background Charlie Souhrada

FE&S: What was your first job in foodservice?

Charlie Souhrada: I got my first, after-tax paycheck working as a dishwasher for $2.20 an hour at The Pump Handle Inn, a seedy seafood joint in Rockford, Ill. I ran a cranky old door-type machine that I swear had been in continuous operation since opening day in 1964. The dish room was hot, humid and cramped. Crusty pots, pans and plates were always stacked nice and high and discarded lobster claws often fell off the scrap table onto the floor where they made a sick, cracking sound under foot. That was 35 years ago and The Pump Handle Inn is long gone, but I can still remember the crunchy sound of crustacean parts and that damp, bone-tired feeling at the end of the day. It sounds crazy, but I felt right at home and I loved it!

FE&S: When traveling for business, what is one of your favorite pastimes?

Charlie Souhrada: I like to get out and see what makes a community unique. If I don’t, I feel that I’ve missed a real opportunity. Maybe that place has an unusual park, a pretty riverfront or a busy city center with unusual architecture. Sometimes ripping a page from Guy Fieri’s playbook and sampling a signature dish from a local diner is all you need to feel that you’ve been someplace special and worth remembering.

FE&S: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in the foodservice industry?

Charlie Souhrada: The basic principles of food preparation, service and storage don’t change all that much. What does change is how we approach those principles and look for new ways to meet consumer needs when and where they need them.

FE&S: Who in the foodservice industry do you admire most?

Charlie Souhrada: A couple of years ago, during a conference hosted by the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates (ACFSA), I had the opportunity to hear Major Jim Beach of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office speak about the challenge of providing foodservice before, during and after Hurricane Katrina. He spoke about the challenges of protecting the kitchen and the food stored in a warehouse while the catastrophic storm was bearing down. He also talked about how the sheriff’s office made sure the inmates had food to eat while they were stationed on a highway bridge after the storm had passed. In our day-to-day work, it’s easy to think about foodservice as a business. Every once in a while, it’s good to have everyday heroes, like the professionals at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, remind us that foodservice is essential for life.

FE&S: Any interesting hobbies?

Charlie Souhrada: My office has two large bulletin boards crammed with a collection of buttons and pins from political candidates and promotional campaigns dating back to the mid-’60s. The collection began early in my career when friends and co-workers started bringing me buttons to add to those that I had pinned to the cloth walls of my cubicle. On the back of each button, I write the contributor’s name, donation date and a little about the circumstance of the donation. The contributor then becomes part of the collection — like a personal timeline. The collection keeps growing and it’s become a popular stop for first-time visitors to NAFEM headquarters.

FE&S: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Charlie Souhrada: My grandfather told me two things that I try not to forget: 1) we never stop learning and 2) everyone — from the CEO to the guy sweeping floors — knows something you don’t. It was his way of encouraging me to never be satisfied and to take the time to stop, listen, ask questions and remember that everyone has interesting stories to share.

FE&S: If I were just starting out in the foodservice industry, what advice would you give me?

Charlie Souhrada: Never lose your sense of curiosity.

FE&S: Finish this sentence: Nobody knows I...

Charlie Souhrada: ...can’t seem to tie my shoes in the conventional way no matter how hard I try!

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