Food Service Veterans: Columbus-Area Restaurant Workers Lean on Military Experience

An executive corporate chef, a restaurateur and a food truck owner talk about how the skills they learned serving their country help them today.

Jill Moorhead
Stephani McIntyre, owner of Chilljoy Frozen Treatery, inside her dessert truck

For Stephani McIntyre, military service allowed her to fulfill her dream to travel. For James Howell, the Army was a way out of the inner city. Brian Hinshaw joined the National Guard to pay for his education. We asked the three veterans—a food truck operator, a barbecue restaurant owner and an executive corporate chef—to reflect on their time in the military, and how the skills they learned prepared them for a very different type of service.

A Widened Horizon

Stephani McIntyre, owner of the new frozen dessert truck Chilljoy Frozen Treatery, grew up in Obetz in a low-income family with five kids. “College wasn’t an option for me,” she says, “and I didn’t want to take on debt. Having cultural experiences is part of who I am, and the Army allowed me to travel and experience life beyond Columbus and the Midwest.”

One of those places was Hawaii, where she served in the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. McIntyre worked in communications, installing radios, running wires and teaching classes for her entire company. Her experience in Hawaii had a direct impact on her business today. It was in Oahu that she discovered Hawaiian-style shave ice, which is the mainstay of her offerings at Chilljoy. “It’s not a sno-cone,” she says about Hawaiian shave ice. “It’s very smooth, and every bite has flavor.”

McIntyre served from 1997 to 2001, separating right before 9/11. She returned to Columbus and worked for Nationwide before getting a business degree from Ohio State University, with the goal of owning her own business.

Her military experience taught her to communicate clearly, to lead others and to come up with creative solutions for efficiency. “Twenty years after service, and after starting this business, I realize it comes down to the core soft skills and business skills that I didn’t realize I’d acquired,” she says. She equates the supportive community of the food truck industry in Columbus to that of the military. “That camaraderie is something you just don’t get a lot of in corporate life,” she says.

Her time in the military also taught her perseverance. “When things get really hard, I remember that in service we had to deal with some hard [stuff]. I leverage that experience to get through tough times,” McIntyre says.

Transferable Skills

James Howell, owner of B&K Smokehouse on the East Side, served in the Army from 1986 to 2003 and started out as an infantry soldier, the first line in any combat. His service took him across the globe, with assignments in countries such as Panama, Honduras, Germany, South Korea and various locations in the U.S.

James Howell, owner of B&K Smokehouse, behind the counter of his East Side restaurant

Howell grew up in Lincoln Park on the South End of Columbus and enlisted at the age of 24 because he needed a change. “I was running around as an inner-city kid, and I woke up one day and said, ‘I’m leaving,’” he remembers. He had planned to join the military out of high school but delayed because his buddies couldn’t pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. He didn’t want to go alone.

During his 17 years of service, Howell took on many roles, something that prepared him for civilian life. “Every two or three years, you move from one assignment to another and start to develop different skill sets,” he says. Howell thrived on the progression plan in the military. “You start off as a private,” he says, “but at the end of your career, you can be something bigger.” (Howell rose to the ranking of staff sergeant before obtaining a medical discharge.) For him, failure was never an option. “Your only limitations are those that you put on yourself,” he explains.

Ten years ago, Howell quit his job at Ohio State as a building maintenance supervisor to start barbecue restaurant B&K Smokehouse, which specializes in hickory-smoked turkey ribs. He realized that he didn’t feel valued working for anyone else. He says OSU did not have clear steps forward for his career, so he created his own. “When you go to work in the civilian sector, people don’t realize what your skills are,” he says.

Howell firmly believes that the skills learned in the U.S. armed forces easily transfer to civilian life. “You have all that stuff—that intestinal fortitude—that works on the outside. Compared to the military, this is easy. When you go to work in the morning, you know you’re coming home in the evening. In the military, when the flag goes up, you don’t know where you’ll be at the end of the day. You’re getting off a plane, and you’re in Bosnia or Honduras. Here, you do your 10 hours, and you go home.”

Leadership Abounds

Brian Hinshaw at the James Beard House in 2018

Chef Brian Hinshaw joined Cameron Mitchell Restaurants 23 years ago as an executive sous chef at Mitchell’s Ocean Club. He says his military service imbued him with skills that he’s used every day since. In his role as senior vice president of food and beverage and executive corporate chef, Hinshaw now oversees test kitchens, menu changes and new concepts in development.

Hinshaw, who grew up in Lewis Center, joined the National Guard in 1982 to pay for his education. He chose specialty training as a cook and took a role feeding the MASH unit of first responders while getting his degree at the Columbus Technical Institute (renamed Columbus State Community College in 1985). At the institute, he apprenticed under master chef Hartmut Handke.

The discipline gleaned from drills helped with Hinshaw’s culinary apprenticeship. “In the military, there’s only one way to do something, and it’s the Army way. And that’s how master chefs work,” Hinshaw says. “For instance, to master something like salmon, you butcher 50 cases of whole salmon until you’re operating on instinct, and it’s perfect. In the military, it’s the same. They drill you to death. They want you to have instincts in a life-or-death situation.”

Hinshaw’s military service also taught him to communicate clearly. “The military doesn’t operate in gray,” he says. As a result, when he leads his team of corporate chefs for 63 restaurants, he aims to give clear expectations and goals; he compares the teamwork element of the military to that of the kitchen.

“The military taught me how to be positive,” Hinshaw says. “The positive mental attitude a U.S. soldier has is pretty impressive. If you’re sent in, you’re going to do it, and you’ll do it exactly as you’re trained.” As such, Hinshaw brings the high bar set by the military into his role at CMR but also seeks to make his team feel like they’re part of something bigger. “In the military, [your superiors] want you to win, in any situation they put you into. Everyone wants to be on a winning team.”

This story is from the July 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.