When he graduated from Portland State University in 1996 with a degree in administration in justice, Vincent Chhim’s plan was to go to law school. Instead, he sold insurance and worked at a Walgreens before partnering with his brother in a Portland, Ore., restaurant offering Southeast Asian cuisine. Even though Chhim had no formal chef training, his mother’s tutelage in the kitchen ended up serving him well. So well, in fact, that the brothers eventually opened up a second restaurant location in Beaverton. Chhim also taught cooking classes for small groups.

The restaurant journey eventually led to Chhim taking six months off to re-evaluate his career. During this time, he was recruited by Tom Rose, owner of Rose’s Equipment, to sell equipment for his dealership. Three months later, Chhim joined the company. That was 15 years ago and he has never looked back.

His book of business consists of mostly independents, though Chhim does also work with some schools, hospitals and other segments.

FE&S: Describe your approach to helping operators develop a new kitchen design and equipment package for their dream idea or new restaurant.

VC: First and foremost, when we intercept new customers, we start with their menu. From there we go to picking out equipment and see what’s appropriate. When designing a kitchen, our goal is to make it as efficient as possible. Nowadays, people are working with small spaces, so it’s all about designing a kitchen that’s efficient with equipment that offers innovation to do multiple tasks. With today’s technology and innovation, there’s a lot of equipment that can be used for multiple purposes, depending on what the customer wants to achieve.

FE&S: What steps do you take to make sure operators don’t rush the all-important design process and
subsequently make mistakes?

VC: Not overspending is important, so we’re very careful with the budget. Customers can come to us with a dream machine, but it may not make sense as a new operator. We want to sell quality but don’t want to push customers to regret their purchase. For this reason, we’re careful in selecting equipment to ensure that they’re getting quality pieces without breaking the bank.

FE&S: How has the restaurant industry changed since your time as an operator?

VC: I’ve seen a lot of Millennials who are interested in opening up a restaurant. In the good old days, the way we communicated with these folks was with a price catalog. Now we have computers and cell phones. It’s been a great help to text or use an iPad, too. We can do business much more efficiently now due to the way we communicate with customers. Technology has been a tremendous force.

FE&S: What’s the most important lesson you learned as an operator that shapes the way you work with your customers?

VC: On the customer service side of it, responding to their needs is important, as well as having the right solutions. Where we thrive in our industry is when customers have a problem, we need solutions right away. As a brick-and-mortar business, we have the advantage to help, whether to provide a loaner piece of equipment or another solution while they’re waiting for their broken machine to be serviced.