When James Berg starts a seminar, he usually asks a simple question.
It goes something like this: Did your parents consult you before having you?
Berg said there are some chuckles, then something clicks, and someone raises their hand: “No.”
We don’t have a choice. We were all born without being asked if we want to be born. We’re all on Earth because of random coincidences.
And when you start to look at life that way, it begins to make more sense, and it helps make it just a little bit easier.
Berg said to fully understand life you have to reach an inner calmness, a serenity within and it can help you fully understand why good and bad things happen.
Happiness isn’t a way of life; it’s a state of being. You can’t always be happy, but if you reach an inner calmness, you can begin to understand the ways things happen.
Berg is the managing partner of three of Grand Rapids’ finest restaurants — Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well and Grove. But he’s also a leadership coach and consultant.
He cited his readings during our conversation, noting that a person has more than 3,000 different thoughts a day. Even crazier, and supports the happiness isn’t a way of life, is that a person has more than 33 billion emotional synapses in their life.
Berg said things don’t happen for a reason. It’s all random, but that people who act and live positively will attract positive things.
“There’s a reason if someone says they only date losers,” he said, relating it simply. “They are a loser.”
In that same vein, he spoke about karma, in that good things will happen to people who are looking for it and act like it. Bad things happen to those who are negative and look for the downside in everything.
So life is about the experience you cultivate and the people you surround yourself with; and the more positive you are, the better life you’ll end up having.
What has helped Berg’s restaurants attain notoriety and two straight Restaurant of the Year designations from Grand Rapids Magazine is a system called Servent Leadership.
In short, Servent Leadership is a philosophy that everyone is equal and an organization builds on the leadership from bottom up. Those within put priority on the needs of others.
This also goes with Berg’s belief that everyone on Earth is equal, is just how you use opportunities in front of you.
And Essence Restaurant Group has taken opportunities and put together a great reputation.
West Michigan doesn’t have a rich food tradition; certainly not a big city feel in terms of restaurants. But Essence has brought some of that to Grand Rapids.
Grove is a restaurant you might find in New York or Chicago. A small plate, chef-driven playground. When The Green Well opened in 2007, it was one of five or six designated “gastro pubs” in the country. Now there are thousands nationwide.
“You can go to our website, you can steal our concept, our menu, our recipes,” Berg said. “But you can’t steal our culture.”
That culture is something Essence works hard to cultivate. They like to be profitable, but they find that the customers experience and making them happy is the more important part of their job.
Berg said one of the main jobs is to help create a strong local food system and culture. And they are one of the leaders in the farm-to-fork and buy local movements.
“Building transparency into food; just knowing where your food comes from is huge,” he said. “We want to create a safe environment for people. How many lives can we change? What’s the impact we can have?”
It’s all about taking care of the people around you. Often people believe things happen from the top. But the world is a better place when you focus small.
Supporting the local economy, which in turn helps the state, which helps the country, which helps the world, is how it really works. It’s applies to the environment as well. Take care of the people and places around you, and you and the world will be a better place for it.