JGL’s Roots – A Tribute to Our Founder
Most people who meet me and learn what I do for a living ask “how did you get into this”? My answer is in a very circular (yet organic) way. It all started with my dad James Gates Lawler (yes – JGL… I know – not very creative). Jim worked for two of the “big three” in his career and was instrumental in developing cultural business for Restaurant Associates in the 1970’s and 80’s. As a teenager I used to love going into Manhattan and eating at all the great restaurants he had access to. In 1983, he ventured out on his own and started JGL Management Services. Although his first clients were city clubs, he quickly decided to adjust course and started working with museums and performing arts centers. A lifelong cultural aficionado, Jim had a unique understanding of both the cultural institution guest experience and the way in which food service providers viewed these accounts. Jim and my mother Barbara were always going to museums, symphonies, and operas; as his business flourished, I would hear about the food service experience as often as the cultural experience. He started his business in an era when many museum directors still did not understand the value of visitor food service; to his great frustration many a client still wanted to relegate their eateries to the basement or some other out of the way location.
I worked in restaurants all through high school and college and loved the business. I graduated from college, went through a restaurant management training program, and after several years managing restaurants reluctantly decided the lifestyle did not suit my needs. Although my dad and I had talked about working together, it seemed unlikely as I exited the restaurant business and moved on to publishing. I loved my magazine publishing career; I rose to General Manager of several national publications and got my MBA from NYU along the way. A funny thing happened though – after the birth of my second child I was visiting my dad and offered to help him with some financial projections for one of his clients. After a few months of doing this, I think a lightbulb went off for both of us. He needed help because his business was growing, I was looking for a new challenge, still loved the food service business, no longer wanted to commute into NYC from Princeton, and voila – we found a way to work together!
Along the way Jim taught me everything he knew. He was patient and always so generous with his time and experience. I use my maiden name professionally, so over the years I have run into many people who say “Lawler”? are you related to Jim Lawler? I heard many great stories about Jim over the years. He was so well respected and admired in the community and I always loved hearing stories about the early days of the business.
I had the good fortune to work with my dad from 1998 until 2010 when he retired. After he retired, we still spoke frequently about industry matters, and he loved following the growth of the business. He was always the first person to respond to our email blasts! He was thrilled when my son Connor started interning for JGL; Connor has been a full-time employee since October of 2019.
Jim died peacefully in his sleep on August 12, 2021. I miss him daily but know how proud he was of the business JGL has grown into and more importantly how his legacy has allowed his daughter, grandson, and five other employees to work daily in a profession and business that is incredibly rewarding on so many levels.