Jeff Mair had great aspirations to be a chef way back in high school and entered the foodservice industry like many others do, at the bottom rung of the ladder as a busboy in his hometown in Texas.
After finishing high school and working in a few more local restaurants, Mair left Texas to attend Johnson & Wales at its Charleston, S.C., campus. After his first year of culinary school, he had the opportunity to apprentice under Chef Louis Osteen, a James Beard award winner in 2004 for Best Chef: Southeast, and decided to finish his education in the kitchen.
Returning home to Texas, Jeff worked with notable Dallas chefs at the forefront of southwestern cuisine and continued to broaden his foodservice knowledge. He eventually weaved his way back to Charleston. “I was the chef at Carolina’s when I met Ed Berlin,” says Mair. “He asked me if I’d be interested in changing my role in the restaurant industry. Berlin’s was looking to expand and Ed knew my experience in the restaurant industry would be an asset to the dealership.”
Mair joined Berlin’s Restaurant Supply in January 2001 as outside sales rep and hasn’t looked back.
FE&S: How do your years as a chef help you work with operator customers?
JM: I have a definite understanding of a chef’s goals, frustrations and urgency. I’ve worked in restaurants where we’ve done 50 covers to 1,000 covers as well as for large corporate chains, hotels and catering companies. I know what it takes to produce quality products and operate on a budget.
FE&S: How do you approach researching the proper piece of equipment for a specific application?
JM: I educate myself constantly by looking for products to meet my customers’ needs. This pushed me to get my Certified Foodservice Professional certification in 2013. I’ve taken customers to the National Restaurant Association and NAFEM shows, walking the floor with them to experience equipment firsthand. Berlin’s demo kitchen allows me to work side by side with the customer to understand their needs.
FE&S: You’ve gotten more into the design side of things over the years. What drew you to it?
JM: I have received design support from the beginning at Berlin’s. I have had the privilege to work on several projects from the ground up with some of Charleston’s best chefs and owners and thrive on the challenges of bringing a project to fruition. I have also had the opportunity to work with several highly sought after consultants.
FE&S: Describe how the culinary scene in Charleston has evolved in recent years?
JM: There’s been a huge evolution in the food scene here over the last 15 years, with great chefs in the South getting deserved notoriety. Notable chefs from other major metropolitan areas are coming to Charleston. We went from a small town with four to five good restaurants and now have a laundry list to choose from. I attribute that to our beautiful location and the local community. We are the hidden gem of South Carolina.
FE&S: Are you still a chef at heart?
JM: Yes, absolutely. I still cook all the family meals for the holidays and enjoy cooking at home. My wife and I owned a small restaurant at one time, so I still understand that sense of urgency. To create something beautiful and teach others will always be at my core. I will always be a chef.