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What's cooking?

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What's Cooking?

By Brian Hudgins

Oklahoma restaurateur Marc Dunham learned his work ethic early in life

Marc Dunham’s restaurant education started with piles of dishes. He later trained as a chef in Austin and New York City, and earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and foods in 2007 from Texas State University. The owner/president of Dunham Hospitality Group, Dunham oversees two Oklahoma City restaurants — Nashbird and Iguana Mexican Grill. Two new Oklahoma locations of Nashbird, a hot chicken restaurant, are scheduled to open in Edmond (spring 2020) and Norman. 

How did your family influence your interest in food and restaurants? 

My mom worked three jobs the entire time I was growing up. Her willingness to get out there and hustle certainly was a big influence on me. My grandmother probably had more impact on cooking. My grandmother was also a business owner and landlord. Back before a lot of women had the opportunity to get loans and start businesses, my grandmother did that on her own. 

What was your introduction to working in restaurants?

I got a job washing dishes at a German food restaurant in New Braunfels when I was 12 years old. It was out of necessity. I grew up in the business and the moment I figured out that the harder I worked as a busser and a waiter, the more tips I got — that just kind of incentivized me. 

How did you build on that initial experience and take the next steps? 

When I really made my decision to become a chef, I was working for Pappasitos in Austin. I had been cooking for a while. It was that time frame around 1995-1996 that I decided to pursue being a full-time chef. 

What did you learn from seeing the restaurant atmosphere and general business atmosphere in San Marcos and Austin?

Being there and meeting other people certainly had an impact on where I thought I could be in my career and my ability to be creative and dream about something. Seeing Austin grow so rapidly, there are real possibilities to be around something bigger. Oklahoma City is not near the point where Austin was in the mid to late ’90s, but we are growing. You can have dreams, but if there is not some growth around you, it’s not going to happen. 

What are some of the main lessons you learned at Texas State? 

The two biggest people who made an impact were Dr. Sylvia Crixell and Dr. BJ Friedman in Nutrition and Foods. My degree is in nutrition, so I have a deep passion about the scientific part along with the creative side of food. Something that really solidified at Texas State was the rigorous approach to science and nutrition and being diligent in fact seeking and truth seeking. That really helped in business. That is an integral part of day-to-day cooking and how I look at business. That approach, which really firmed up under those two ladies, has helped me tremendously.

We often hear about the closure rate or failure rate of restaurants. Are new restaurant owners sometimes unprepared for what needs to be done on the flip side when they have success? 

A lot of people go into the restaurant business underprepared and there really is no good road map from a book-learning perspective. You really just have to get in there and figure it out. It takes a certain type of person to deal with all the ambiguity. It’s a barrage of minute-by-minute decisions that affect your business. The restaurant business is manufacturing, but it’s also retail. You also have a lot of employees and what you are manufacturing is perishable. You have to manufacture a perishable, sellable item in front of a customer who is going to give you immediate feedback all day, 365 days a year. You are not sheltered or insulated from anything. You get the criticism in real time. 

“You can have dreams, but if there is not some growth around you, it’s not going to happen.”