With lines on her résumé ranging from executive chef and restaurant owner to guest star on Food Network, Lindsey Noto King’s career has run the gamut of food and beverage industry roles. The Birmingham native has made a name for herself around the South as an expert and is now primarily focused on her roles as a culinary specialist at Sysco and co-founder of Croux, a staffing platform designed to connect restaurants with the best hospitality talent in the area. After all, Lindsey has worked just about every possible station in a restaurant setting — who could be better positioned to understand the needs of the local restaurant scene? We caught up with Lindsey to get her advice on making an impact in the industry, learn what inspires her, and snag her recommendations for the best spots around Birmingham!
Give us the highlights on your career trajectory — from when you first discovered that you wanted to become a chef to today.
Deep down, I always knew I wanted to be a restaurateur, but that was a very naive childhood dream that eventually became a not-so-glamorous reality. Like most chefs or restaurant owners, I worked my way up through the ranks, filling any and all positions I could get. Those hours worked and experience gained eventually landed me in Panama City as the Assistant General Manager of a restaurant group with five concepts under one roof. I watched their “fine dining” concept go through one underqualified male chef after the next. Having confidence in my skills and ability to “fake it ’til I make it,” I threw my name in the hat for the executive chef role. This title positioned me as someone in the community who “knew how to cook and knew what she was doing,” which posed the opportunity for me to own my first restaurant.
While one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, it was also one of the hardest — to be successful in your restaurant’s infancy, you have to be married to the business, be willing to be broke as hell, have zero social life, wear all the hats, and hope that is enough to make it. Sadly, I was forced to walk away from the business. (A bit of advice to any aspiring entrepreneur — hire a lawyer and put EVERYTHING IN WRITING!)
With my tail between my legs, I came back to Birmingham and landed a job with Brandon Cain at Roots & Revelry as Chef de Cuisine, then his Director of Catering for Saw’s BBQ and Post Office Pies. There, I connected with the folks at Sysco, made the move to the corporate world, and the rest is history.
Tell us about the mission of Croux.
Big picture: We aim to be a space that connects people with flexible work opportunities while also giving businesses in the hospitality space the peace of mind of knowing that their staffing needs are handled by top-tier talent. Our team is made up of industry veterans who know how hard it is to manage a business when you’re operating with a slim, unpredictable crew, in addition to the need for improved quality of life for the workers within our industry. So, supporting those needs is our top priority.
Birmingham is known around the South as a serious foodie town. What do you find to be unique about the industry in this area?
Birmingham has one of the most organically grown communities of restaurateurs in the Southeast. You won’t find, specifically in downtown Birmingham, a lot of businesses that aren’t owned or operated by someone who has come up in the restaurant industry in our backyard — like Bernie Smith (Bamboo), Ben Smith (The Electric), Jesus Mendez (Unos Tacos), Mudd Townley (Neon Moon), and Marco Butturini (Lé Fresca), who have spent years learning the ropes in Birmingham before launching their own brands.
It’s a beautiful thing when you see these talents investing in our community rather than taking their skills and ideas to other already-established “foodie towns.”
Your résumé is PACKED! What advice would you offer someone who is just starting out and looking to make a big impact in the culinary field?
Never say no to an opportunity — even if it’s outside your comfort zone, doesn’t make you any money, or maybe adds more to your plate than you think you can handle. DO IT. Every “yes” I’ve said to a new experience or chance to help or get involved has led me to new opportunities, new connections, and more people in my corner who will vouch for me when the time comes.
Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
I’m headed to Italy next week, which has inspired me to do a lot of reading on Italian cooking styles, which I have found to be vastly different depending on what region you’re in. But I have found one commonality between them all, and that is simplicity — just a few fresh, regional, quality ingredients that tell a story, which is, in my opinion, the root of all good food. So, I’ve started reevaluating my approach to cooking and looking at it from a purist lens. No fuss, no crazy new-wave cooking techniques. Just simple, well-executed dishes.
What are your favorite places to eat, shop, and play in Birmingham?
If they would let me, I would establish residency at the bar at Lé Fresca. From the staff to the food to the atmosphere, it begs one to come in, pull up a seat, and never leave.
I also love piddling around downtown Homewood, especially now that they are an entertainment district. I’ll start with bottomless brunch and mimosas at Soho Standard (the best brunch in B’ham), then stroll down to Fab’rik (where you can enjoy a complimentary adult beverage while you shop), hit up some of the shops and boutiques, or grab a coffee at O’Henry’s. It’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Never say no.” I recently had a conversation with a B’ham catering veteran of over 30 years who told me that at the beginning of the life of his business, he had to say yes to the clients who “only had $8 a head” budgeted for a luncheon. This was not profitable for him, but by saying yes, he earned their business and their trust. Over time, that $8 budget turned into $12 and then $20, and eventually, his relationship with that customer afforded him the house of his dreams and a successful business.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a business owner?
Time management and work-life balance. I think that is probably one of the greatest challenges for most successful business owners. Your business is your baby, and you want to give everything you have to ensure its success, but that sometimes comes with great sacrifice. Finding that balance is difficult but doable.
Most memorable meal in Birmingham: On my seventh birthday, my grandparents took me to Chez Fonfon. First time eating escargot. I will never forget this.
Favorite vacation spot: My in-laws’ house on Lake Logan Martin
Book(s) on your bedside table: The Flavor Bible
Your go-to gift to give: The Flavor Bible. Everyone who cooks — home cook or professional — should own a copy of this book.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, name three things you can’t live without: Coffee, live music, and tequila.
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