We all want to be successful. That’s why we’re at SCAD. And to be happy and successful doing what we love to do. But what if what we originally thought was going to fulfill us doesn’t? Did we fail or is there more beyond the horizon?
Jamie Durrence sits casually on one of the three chairs in his office located in the heart of Savannah. His arm draped behind him, he smiles at me with the whitest teeth I have seen on either human or animal alike.
His office is tidy, even though he is in the midst of preparing for a huge meeting for the next day. He confidently crosses his legs and adjusts his gray V-neck while my eyes drift to the Grace Award displayed behind us.
A SCAD Alum, Durrence graduated in 2004 with a B.F.A. in Fashion. He was born in a small town in Georgia and now owns his own business with his business partner, Daniel-Reed Hospitality, and is now the first restaurateur outside of Atlanta to win the Grace Award – an award given by the Georgia Restaurant Association** to recognize and honor hospitality and foodservice professionals for excellence in their fields – for Restaurateur of the Year 2016.
But to get to that, we have to go back in time to discuss the SCAD legend who infamously stalked Andre Leon Talley and secured a five-minute, informal meeting with him.
Resulting in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as he was contacted by Carolina Herrera’s office the next morning, offering Durrence to come to New York City and work for Herrera as an intern. A dream job for any fashion student to stumble upon.
Especially when that internship turned into a separate internship with Liz Claiborne and Ellen Tracy, leading to a full-time position as a Product Designer for their company. But after living and working in the city for a little over a year and a half, Durrence decided to leave his life and his job behind and head back to Savannah.
“I loved New York, but I’m a country boy at heart. The one thing that I didn’t love about fashion and what I was doing was that it did not feel complete to me,” said Durrence. “If I was doing my own line or my own thing it would have been a different story,” he added, “I prefer working for myself.”
And so he did. In 2009, Durrence started his own business after managing Bistro Savannah for a year. “I always thought that I would put restaurants behind me,” Durrence said when asked if this is where he saw himself after leaving SCAD and his job as a server as a student.
“But I couldn’t really see an end in Manhattan. I knew that if I came back to Savannah with all the skills I had learned there, I would have been able to start my own business, much sooner than I would have in New York City.”
This might be shocking to a lot of SCAD students. The idea of leaving an incredible opportunity to work with such hard hitters in the city that never sleeps. The dream that most of us have every night before we fall asleep, only to wake up back in Savannah to continue to work hard to achieve that dream. Durrence just left it.
“When I went to New York City, there’s a mentality that a lot of younger people have and they have a hard time leaving because they don’t feel like they’ve accomplished everything they wanted to accomplish.
I went there with the mindset that ‘I’m going to do this for now, if it works out perfectly, great. But I’m not going to push myself to become a person that feels like they have to stay because they have to prove something to someone.’”
Which brings up the questions: what if we don’t like our dream job? Is it over for us? Did we waste four years of college on something we don’t even want to do? Durrence offers this advice: “I think that being in school, you are kind of doing your own thing. I think what students really need to be realistic about is that once they leave the school environment, it’s not about them anymore. They’ll be working for the employer who has their own vision. And they have to be able to be okay with that for a long period of time.”
So it comes down to personality. And if we’re willing to put ourselves into another person’s vision before we create our own. Some of us will be fine with that, others won’t, but that doesn’t mean that we have failed ourselves. We’re all here to achieve our dreams, but that doesn’t mean that dreams won’t change.
The fashion major from that small town worked closely with Carolina Herrera. He leaped through hurdles and dodged a few bullets and found himself back in Georgia, not with his head hung low but high. And now he sits as his own boss, his legs still crossed, his teeth still white, in charge of three separate restaurants in Savannah, his sparkling award sitting behind him.
“My advice, of course, is for anybody to follow their dreams and to really be open to anything and just work really hard. It’s how it works,” said Durrence.
**Jamie Durrence is a current Board Member of the Georgia Restaurant Association