Alvin (AJ) Hyman, 34
Executive Chef at Sweetwater Cuisine, Virginia Beach
Founder and Executive Director of The Full Circle Project; Member of The Daniel’s Grace Charitable Foundation
How do you define success?
Success is measured by your work ethic. If you can create an environment among your coworkers that breeds success, then you and your business will reap the benefits. Success is measured by time; where you go and those you meet along the way. It originates with a solid foundation and a plan for the future; only then can you rate your progress.
What person or experience has made the biggest impact on your life?
Chef Bobby Huber and John Bergstresser. When I was old enough for a work permit, I swept the parking lot of Bobbywood after school. Bobby saw my efforts, and soon I was washing dishes and working pantry. I was like a sponge, soaking up all the knowledge Bobby could teach me. I continue to use these many skills throughout my life. This plays a big part in my giving back spirit with The Full Circle Project.
John Bergstresser was a mechanic at a gas station where my mother worked. I begged John to work at the station so I could learn the art of mechanics. It was John that formed my skill set along with his giving heart. With the mentoring of these two individuals, I have always wanted to give back as they did for me.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
First and foremost, being a father to my son. Anyone can be a parent, but it takes great patience and focus to guide our children into the next generation.
This founding year of The Full Circle Project. To see my life’s dream come to fruition and know that I am making a difference in the lives of children. I have a strong passion to give back to the community in hopes that the younger generation will have the opportunity to see and do things they may never otherwise experience in their current living situation. I never say “goodbye” to the students. I want to always be a part of their lives and be available to mentor them, encouraging them individually to excel in whatever they choose.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received from a colleague or manager?
I am humbled in that I create culinary excellence so our customers can shine when hosting a catered event. Many have complimented me along the way, but I see it as professionalism. I have heard many times how Chef Bobby Huber would be proud of me. I have heard, my “food is art” and I “think outside the box.” One of our very successful top clients that built his business from the ground up has told me, “You remind me of myself,” and that was inspiring for me.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An architect. To see the art of building on paper become a reality in a physical structure. In some aspects, what you build in your mind and can transpose onto a plate is also art … to see the finished product and know people love what you create is a pretty rewarding feeling.
Name a book that has inspired you professionally.
The book of life! To learn by doing is to write your own story and work through the book of trust and confidence. To find among all the distractions that fill your day the people that believe in you and that you can learn and grow from throughout your life.
What is your best time management hack?
My best time management skill is to work in the quiet of my mind in the middle of the night where there are no distractions.
Is there anything that you would change about your generation as a whole? If so, what?
Many of the people in my generation lack drive and purpose or self worth. I would like to see a better work ethic and more passion to excel.
What do you think is Coastal Virginia’s biggest challenge?
The Hampton Roads area is home to over 150,000 Department of Defense active duty and civilian personnel that are always on the move. With such a transient economy it’s important for us to stay current and keep things new and fresh for appetites accustomed to local culinary tastes, as well as flavors from all over the country.
How can Coastal Virginia better retain its younger population?
By offering job security. Good paying jobs for both college and high school young adults combined.
What’s something that gives you hope for the future?
The Full Circle Project and knowing that each one of the young students that are a part of this foundation can think of me as their mentor and see all the opportunities available to them as adults.
From his nomination:
“Alvin has set the bar high for his own sense of excellence. From the young age of 14 he was in the kitchen learning. He has worked 20 years perfecting his culinary skills and has dedicated his life to the industry, with strong feelings of how to give back to the community and specifically to the young children of Norfolk, where he was born and raised. He reaches out to the young, as founder of The Full Circle Project and to the sick and healing with The Daniel’s Grace Charitable Foundation. He fills his bucket by creating exquisite culinary masterpieces with an extraordinary level of perfection, loyalty, drive and commitment to his work and his foundation, as well as the communities associated with these.”
—Sue McKechnie, director of marketing/coworker at Sweetwater Cuisine