By Lisa Maguire
From college buddies to culinary greats, HAC Members, Chef Robbie Jester & Chef Tim Bolt have taken Delaware cuisine by storm.
The Culinary Institute of America is one of the most highly regarded campuses for aspiring chefs. While attending the institute, Delaware native, Robbie Jester, met his long-time friend and now business partner, Chef Tim Bolt. After graduating, the pair accepted internships in Wilmington, with Robbie at Dupont Country Club and Tim at Hotel DuPont. Tim was offered a position at Deep Blue as Sous Chef after his internship, and Robbie a position as Sous Chef for Toscana in Wilmington.
The pair fell a bit out of touch as their careers grew. Tim accepted a position with Big Fish Restaurant Group, moving through the ranks, and Robbie similarly grew within High Five Hospitality.
In 2015 and 2016, while Head Chef at Stone Balloon in Newark, Robbie, who is no stranger to a good challenge, applied to be on Top Chef. He’d attended a few casting calls – some were promising, others he knew almost from the moment he walked in that it was a bust. With his last casting call, he had high hopes of being selected after a stellar performance and interview. While the cast was full for Top Chef, Robbie was pleasantly surprised to get a call inviting him to participate in Guy’s Grocery Games, hosted by Guy Fieri, and he excitedly accepted. He filmed the Thanksgiving-themed episode for the show in February, and, just about the time he got home from filming, he was invited to participate on Beat Bobby Flay.
Fifteen days later, Robbie was in New York “in a nicer hotel than I ever could have imagined staying in” (courtesy of the show, of course) and began filming Beat Bobby Flay at 6:15 am. His dad had been very ill at the time, but his mom was able to attend. “The way the studio is set up, even though you have participants there who are for you, and participants there who are for Bobby, most people just cheer for whomever they’re closest to,” Robbie remembers. His mom, who was in the audience, had the chance to interact with Bobby and the judges throughout filming. Their chatter caught the attention of the rest of the crowd. “By the end of it all, the entire audience had flipped on him, and they were all cheering me on. It was awesome,” Robbie laughs. “Bobby even made a joke at one point about how he should have brought his mom on the show!”
“So here I am, it’s February, months until these shows air. I’ve been on Guy’s Grocery Games, I’ve beat Bobby Flay, I can’t tell anyone, and I get a call to do redemption on Guy’s Grocery Games! It was crazy,” Robbie remembers. “So I go on Guy’s Grocery Games, and I’m in the parking lot of the studio when Guy pulls up next to me, and without missing a beat, he gets out of his car, greets me by name, and asks me how my dad was doing.” Though Robbie had known of Guy’s compassion, he was blown away by the interaction. “He’s a real, down-to-earth kind of guy who is constantly giving back to the community. Tons of charity work, tons of fundraising, and he doesn’t seek attention for any of it. He’s truly an inspiration – a huge part of how we operate our restaurants and give back is inspired by Guy.”
Once the shows finally aired, Robbie could publicly celebrate his successes. He used his local platform to raise awareness for different causes and events and eventually became the Culinary Director for High Five Hospitality.
In 2015, Robbie and Tim rekindled their friendship, and they found that they were often chatting about how difficult it was to find healthy food that was also delicious. This is a difficult challenge for the layperson, but when you’re trying to satisfy 5-star palettes, it’s a whole different ballgame! They’d seen several meal delivery services in other areas of the country that seemed to have promising reach and success. And so, over a couple of beers at Redfire Grille, Robbie and Tim wrote their business plan down on a cocktail napkin, and Full Circle Food was born.
Robbie and Tim wrote their business plan down on a cocktail napkin, and Full Circle Food was born.
They built everything from the ground up – the website, the ordering system, and the menu. One of the most important things was to make sure they weren’t just doing ground beef and rice – they didn’t want this to be your average bodybuilder’s diet. It was critical to them to include whole muscle proteins, local ingredients, and of course, gourmet components for a truly healthy and delicious meal. What began as a part-time dream out of Tim’s home kitchen is now part of a full-scale operation with hundreds of subscribers. Each week, their customers login to their portals, choose from that week’s selection of freshly prepared meals, and receive doorstep delivery the following Monday.
Robbie and Tim’s second brand, Great Big Jerk, a new Jamaican-inspired restaurant in Landenberg, is now open Thursday-Sunday. Great Big Jerk features several classic Jamaican-favorite entrees and sides available for takeout, delivery, and catering.
Now a team of 25, Robbie says they couldn’t have done any of it without their crew. “A lot of places are struggling to hire right now, and we’re just so fortunate.” Robbie shares, “Our company culture is critical to our success, and we can’t even take full credit for the culture. Our team is amazing. They all believe in our mission, believe in what we do, and treat the business as their own. We owe so much to our team and can’t say enough good things about them.”
With the right people, the right talents, and an appetite for success, the duo plans to return to Newark in October, this time with their sights set on wood-fired pizza. They recently acquired The Wood Fired Pizza Shop on Cleveland Avenue and plan to run it for a few months before rebranding the restaurant and bringing their award-winning and proven touch to the décor, the atmosphere, and most importantly, the menu.