NEW JERSEY -- When Ken Ventre left the Air Force, he bounced around the restaurant industry for a while before learning about American Heroes Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant owned and operated by veterans.
"In the Air Force, it's service before self, excellence in all you do," Ventre said. "We have core values and I apply that everyday to what I do."
Ventre started by slicing sandwiches in the pit and quickly moved up the corporate ladder. Now, he's director of operations for the company.
"I probably got a lot farther in this job than I would anywhere else just because of the fact of my veteran history, my dedication and what I bring to the table," he said.
The mission was handed down by owner Ed Danberry, who traces his family's military service back to the Revolutionary War.
The restaurant has three locations in North Jersey as well as locations in Pennsylvania and California.
It prides itself on a few core values, including honoring heroes and embracing the community, which is why everyday veterans receive 20 percent off their meals, first responders get a 10 percent discount and those who lost a family member in war, also known as Gold Star Families, always eat free.
"That's something simply that our founder wanted to do because it's the right thing to do," Ventre said.
The restaurant also includes a rotating wall of fame that profiles a different veteran each month.
President Ray Olsen said it's a small token of appreciation that's key to the companies core values.
"I do think that bringing the awareness to the community and giving them the respect and the credit for what they do is also a key attribute of what we're doing," Olsen said.
The food, much like the service, is first class. Fresh meats are smoked for 12 hours each day. If they run out, they close until the next day.
"We don't settle for mediocrity here," Ventre said.AlertMe