Chef Gordon Ramsay is famous for entering terrible restaurant situations and engaging the staff with no-nonsense wisdom and attitude, forcing them to deal with their issues, inspiring them to work hard to make things right.
For Chantel Hernandez, the opposite is true: things are right in the restaurant, where she’s working hard to make the rest of her life right.
As a child, she’d dreamed of being an actress or a chef, but when she started watching Ramsay on TV, she discovered a role that combined the best of both. And now she finds herself in an environment that values the qualities her chef hero espouses: good food, cleanliness, and doing things with excellence, the same values that are bringing her joy and direction as she seeks to build her career.
At three months old, she was adopted into a Hispanic-Dominican family, by an elderly couple whose youngest grown child was already forty years old. Born to Black parents, but speaking Spanish as her first language, and adopted by older adults, Chantel began asking questions. Curiosity led her to Google, where she typed in, “What age do women stop having children?”
The answers led to more questions, and those answers led to an identity crisis that fueled a rebellion. “I didn’t find out until sixth grade that I was adopted, and I really struggled from that point on with ‘who am I?’ I started to be a punk, coming home late, refusing to eat…I began rebelling and dropping my extracurricular activities.”
Frustrated by the constant conflict, her parents sought to correct her attitude by placing her in a rehab house for teenagers on drugs…even though she didn’t do drugs. The strict but caring environment impacted her, and she came back calmer, returning to school. She joined the film club and was even elected student body president.
As a junior in high school, Chantel entered into a serious relationship with a guy that looked younger but wasn’t, and they formed a toxic co-dependency. He turned obsessive and manipulative, and bad patterns re-emerged in her behavior as he sought to control her. She fought with her parents, choosing him over them, and they asked Chantel to leave their home. She left, and then quit attending school.
The relationship lasted almost four years, causing a rift with her family that still impacts her today. She isn’t on speaking terms with them right now, but cherishes their role in her life, and wants to reconcile once she’s established herself on her own.
The worst moments in the relationship came from contracting salmonella from a meal she didn’t cook. It developed into gastritis and she lost almost forty pounds in about two weeks, and to this day can’t have have anything spicy or intense to eat.
Once again her curiosity led to on-line researching, and she improved her mental health through self-study and applying practices she learned. A recurring theme in her research was the idea of finding a relational support network, and she realized she didn’t have one.
Chantel took the first big step in finding those healthy connections by separating from the poisonous relationship. “My whole energy and vibe changed when I broke up with that guy, I let my guard down.”
Looking for a better job, she received an email from WorkforceOne that she meant to swipe and delete, but it accidentally opened.
It was an invitation to a group audition with Chick-fil-A Fulton Street.
“I went and fell in love with everything and the way it was crafted. I was hired in December, but was willing to wait until March. I loved the way uniforms were handed out, the way we were spoken about, the way the leaders shared the story and dream. I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Here there’s a purpose, they care about you, they pour into you. Other candidates were saying, ‘this is gonna change, they’re not gonna care about us.’”
It didn’t take long for Chantel to find proof at 144 Fulton Street that the doubters were wrong.
“But it was true, CFA became a family to me, they cared about me and asked me about me, they become the support network I needed. I was able to kick the depression and move forward.”
Chantel is working hard to pay down debt from dealing with the gastritis, and still fights bouts of bitterness and depression, but she’s landed into the middle of a relational support network that lifts her up.
“Chick-fil-A makes me feel like I matter. Everybody always checks on me. Elma always tells me that she’s tough on me because she sees the Chantel I can’t see. When I was going through a difficult time, everyone jumped up and helped me…like EVERYONE… various Team Members brought me food, offered me money, or a place to stay. A director gave me financial advice…and others checked on my mental health. I've never felt so united and loved in my life.”
Her mental health has turned a huge corner, and she’s accepting who she is, learning how to process negative emotions and growing in forgiveness. “I’m focusing more on living than trying to make everything perfect…I’m so much more self-aware now, where I used to be blind to it. I’m open to criticism and feedback because I want to get better.”
She’s also inspired to develop through the Team Member Journey, to go as far as she can within the business, and is completing the steps to advance to the next level…and even says “my pleasure” outside of work. Her main goals are to finish graduation, own a NYC-based restaurant, and “have a billion dogs.”
What else do you think others should know about Chick-fil-A?
“Chick-fil-A is a warm, accepting environment, for everyone. I’m a very diverse person and I’ve found it to be nothing but welcoming. A cordial, amazing place where people want to come to…they feel special, because we care.”
And as her hero Chef Ramsay already knows, doing things right starts with caring.