posted on by Jackie Bebenroth

Q+A with Chef Ben’s mom, Linda Bebenroth

In celebration of Chef Ben Bebenroth‘s birthday last week, we talked to the lady that raised him to be the chef he is today…and helped him find footing (and funding) in the restaurant business.  Linda Bebenroth, Ben’s mom and a Spice investor, has tolerated years of very questionable behavior with the goal of someday seeing her son succeed.

Ben and his family, circa 199?

Ben and his family, before chef coats were cool.

Q: What would you say were some of the most important values that you tried to instill in Ben?

A: Well, just a sense of family most importantly. When I was home with the kids when they were babies, I made all their baby food from scratch. This was 30 some years ago, before it was the thing to do. We drove to Amish country to buy all our flour and spices. So, for Dave [Ben’s dad] and I, it’s very rewarding to see Ben cooking healthy, wholesome foods. He’s raising his children like he was raised. There’s no greater compliment to a parent to see that happen.

Chef Ben, showing the kids how to scale a fish.

Chef Ben, showing the kids how to scale a fish.

Q: What made you want to invest in Spice?  What was it about Spice that told you it was going to be a successful venture?

A: When you have a child, no matter what they want to pursue, you want them to be successful. So it wasn’t a tough decision. It was a tremendous opportunity to see a business built from the ground up. It was simply, “Let’s do this.”

Two very generous parents.

Two very generous parents.

Q: Does Ben still come to you for advice?

A: His board of directors gives him great guidance, but he often asks for our advice and he listens. He also talks to his other investors all the time. He asks for opinions from his team at staff meetings…he’s always looking for improvements, even when things may seem perfect.

A perfectionist plate up.

A perfectionist plate up.

Q: Who was the cook in the family before Ben?  He had to get it from somewhere, right?

A: Everybody. Certainly me. From beyond my generation – Dave’s mom and my mom were amazing cooks.  Everything was always made from scratch.

Sunday brunch at Ben's mom's.

Sunday brunch at Ben’s mom’s.

You know the story about the garlic right? Dave’s dad would grow this amazing garlic every year. So after he passed, Ben took some of the garlic and now he grows it every year in his front yard. It’s the next generation that’s perpetuated all these years.

Ben's grandpa's garlic, going in the ground.

Grandpa Boom’s garlic, going in the ground.

Q: How else does your family contribute to the family business?

A: Well, my mom made all the aprons with fabric we bought in Amish country. Dave and I painted for three months inside the restaurant before it opened, Dave’s brother is an electrician, my brother is a plumber…they’ve all volunteered so much time to fixing things, and they’re still on call. I can’t stress it enough that the restaurant truly is a family effort.

This apron brought to you by Ben's 90-year old Grandma.

This apron brought to you by Ben’s 90-year old Grandma.

Beyond the benefits to his own family, Ben has always believed in the potential of the neighborhood – a community broader than himself. All the businesses support each other and that’s a really exciting thing for us. We’re so glad that we’re there. It’s another layer of family.

Learning the fundamentals from mom.

Learning the fundamentals from mom.

Editor’s note: Watch Ben make his family’s legendary pop-over-pancake recipe on WKYC’s Live on Lakeside.

Special thanks to Nancy Patton Bishop for conducting and transcribing this interview.

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