Here is a story of strong family values, faith and food that will make your mouth water just thinking about it. No dining tour of Kingsport can ever be considered complete until you have eaten at Chef’s Pizzeria! The food is awesome, but the story behind the restaurant as part of Kingsport’s history over the past three decades leads to one guy, Stephen LaHair.
If you haven’t heard of Stephen, quite frankly your head is in the sand. He is a very involved community member and has carried on the long-standing tradition of great local food through Chef’s. If you haven’t met Stephen or his family take time to read his story and let it inspire you.
BRIAN: First of all, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk with me. Let’s start at the beginning for folks who may not know you. Will you talk about where you grew up and how those younger years impacted who you are today?
STEPHEN: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about myself and Chefs. I was born and raised in a small town in central Massachusetts. I was the middle of three children. My parents divorced when I was five and my mother worked very hard to raise us with strong values and to provide for us. This has always been a strong motivation for me to be a good husband and father to my children. It also taught me that through hard work and perseverance you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to.
BRIAN: I know this region and the people here are very near and dear to your heart because you are very involved in this community. What is it about this place and these people that make them make them so special to you?
STEPHEN: Kinsport has so many wonderful things that are unique like Bays Mountain, the Symphony of the Mountains, the river, a carousel and our downtown that continues to see revitalization.
But the one thing that I do love most about our area is the people.
My wife, Trida and I moved to the Tri-Cities in our early twenties. We were welcomed with open arms. We’ve made lifelong friends since moving here and were adopted into the Phillips family. This is our home, both of my daughters where born and raised here. This is were we have created so many incredible memories.
We are very fortunate to live in a place where people still genuinely care about the well-being others. A place that always seems to have an abundance of volunteers with a “can do” attitude.
BRIAN: One of the things I love best about living here is the focus on family life. How important is family to you and how in the world do you find time to balance a busy professional life with quality family time?
STEPHEN: I am proud to say that Chefs is closed on Sundays and on all major holidays so that all of our staff can spend quality time with their families. We try to make it a priority that our staff has the opportunity not to miss out on the special moments in life with their families.
My family is probably one of the main reasons I try so hard every day.
I will have to admit that initially when we were first growing our business it was very difficult to find a good balance. We have been blessed over the years to have added some incredible people to our staff. Some have been with us for over twenty years. These are the people that we owe our success to.
When you own a small business your family is typically part of the everyday workings of that business, it is part of your life 24/7. My wife and I have been married for twenty six years and we have worked together at Chefs for the last eighteen years (this might drive some couples crazy but we love it). Both of my daughters have worked in the restaurant since before they could see over the counter. It would often amaze people when a little seven year old, standing on a milk crate so they could reach the cash drawer and could make change before we had the computer system. I would tend to think that it has had some influence on who they are and who they will become.
As I stated earlier we have a great team that affords us the luxury of not having to be at restaurant constantly so that we can enjoy family time and also time to volunteer in our community.
BRIAN: Our faith is another foundational element for folks in this region. How does your faith affect your daily approach to business and community?
STEPHEN: I am a Christian and God has blessed me in so many ways. First for forgiving me for my sins and for loving me so much that he sent his son to die on the cross for me, then for giving me an amazing wife and family, for giving us a successful business and an incredible place to call home. I really don’t know what else a man could ask for.
I would hope that directly or indirectly I might in some way help someone come to know how much Jesus loves them – be it personally or through some effort of our business. Our faith teaches that salvation cannot be earned, but rather comes through His grace. I do not know what the future holds for me but I trust that God has a plan.
BRIAN: I am not holding this one back, I absolutely love eating at Chef’s Pizzeria! Tell folks how you got started in the business and how they can find out more about what you offer.
STEPHEN: It is hard to believe that at the age of thirteen I started folding pizza boxes as an after school job and here I am thirty two years later still folding pizza boxes. After moving to the Tri-Cities in 1993 I was given the opportunity to work for Dennis and Bobbie Phillips and in 2000 we purchased Chef’s Pizzeria from them.
Chef’s opened its doors in downtown Kingsport in 1991 as Pizza Chef and has been serving incredible food and memories to the Tri-Cities for over 26 years.