The View from the Kitchen

Last week, I attended an event sponsored by the New York Times here in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center. Kim Severson, who recently won a Pultizer for her reporting on sexual harassment and the restaurant industry along with a team of writers, interviewed a panel of Bay Area based women chefs about the state of the restaurant industry in California. Reem Assil,  Dominique Crenn and Tanya Holland are three well respected restaurateurs/chefs who currently own and operate businesses here in the Bay Area.

Several themes emerged from the conversation. Of course, sexual harassment was central to the conversation. But something else came up which made a light bulb go off for me.  Tanya mentioned how difficult it is for her to find investors. Even with all her experience and visibility, her commitment to her community, she has struggled with this.

What is this about? Prior to this moment, why is that men have managed to attract investment despite their track records with settling out of court for sexual harassment claims, while women have so much struggle with this? And does being a woman of color play into this? Or the community that she serves?

Two things come to mind here for me.

One, the investors who bankroll the Mario Batalis of the world are not interested in the kind of business that Tanya is committed to. They want a ROI and they need to understand the attraction of the business. Dominique had had less trouble raising capital because she has a fine dining establishment. Rich folks get that. They want the kind of visibility that being an investor in her restaurants bring. Tanya’s food is for all of us, not just a group of people who can afford $400/person dinner. So it takes a certain kind of investor to see it’s value for themselves.

Two, I believe to raise capital for her businesses, and businesses like hers, it may require  restaurant owners like Tanya to think of different ponds to fish in. Just like Dominique Crenn can go to investors who can afford to eat at her restaurants, maybe we can create a pond of people who invest in restaurants like Tanya’s. Not for the profit they are looking to make, but the communities they are trying to build. Like a capital fund for community based businesses. Like a BIG capital fund.

Real estate developers, are you listening? Let’s dig a pond…

 

 

What’s the purpose..

This is the very first blogpost I did when I started my blog, but I wanted to post it again. To represence why I am doing this and what I believe is important…

 

A little over a year ago, I was taking a little nap when my phone rang. The area code was Upstate New York, which only mildly concerned me, as my daughter goes to college up there, so I decided to answer it even though I had no idea who was on the other end.

“Hello, B?” the woman’s voice, kind of high pitched New York accent reminded me of Estelle Harris, the actress who played George Constanza’s mother on Seinfeld.

“Yes?”

“This is Nadine, DJ’s sister in New York. I’ve been trying to reach you through facebook, but I wasn’t getting anywhere so I thought I’d call. How are you, B? and how’s your husband?”

“We’re ok.” I said,” How are you, Nadine?  It’s been a long time.”

“I wanted to let  you know that Davy passed away a few months ago. You and your husband were so good to him. Thank you so much for taking such good care of him.”

It had been nearly five years since my husband and I closed our rotisserie restaurant in a successful food center in San Francisco, five extremely hard years from which we only recently began to fully recover. N’s brother, he liked to be called DJ, had been a regular customer of ours, and when I say “regular”, I mean every single day.

I remember DJ’s first visit to our shop. We must have been open just a few weeks and we served kind of expensive roasted meats and side dishes. The food was sold by weight, so I put some items on plate for him and weighed it out. I could see the struggle on his face as he asked me to put some food back…From that day on, whatever DJ ordered was $5. A plate full of food and maybe some chicken soup. We called it the “DJ special” and every single day we fed him, and sat with him at our tables outside, while he told us about his most recent ailment, or ordeal at the VA. He must have been in his 70s then. He would show up with his baggy flak jacket, his sweat pants and bright green hightops, floppy hat and sunglasses because whatever medication he was taking made his eyes sensitive to light. Every day we were open, DJ came for lunch. If we were going to be closed for any reason, we’d pack up a bag full of food for for him to have the next day (very rarely did we close…holidays like Christmas mostly.) Like me, DJ was a member of the Tribe and we’d talk holiday food together…Whenever he wasn’t feeling good, I would tell him I’d say a healing prayer for him at synagogue. He pulled me aside one day to tell me how much that meant to him.

Hearing Nadine’s news, I was heartbroken. The day we closed the restaurant for good, a December day in 2008, was the last time I’d seen DJ. I had always thought we’d see him again, maybe if we’d opened another place. But I had lost my stomach for risk, and 2009 was a terrible time to try to raise money. News of DJ’s passing made me feel like I had failed all over again.

About six months later after N’s call, I was talking to someone who lives in Bernal Heights about my client who opened a restaurant down the street from her. I had begun doing bookkeeping and restaurant consulting on a freelance basis after I closed my place, and I loved working with chef/owners like Tony and Jonathan. “They are a great addition to the neighborhood,” she said. Like a family that had just moved in next door.

While I was still doing some client work, I met a woman who needed help with her operations. She couldn’t keep going the way she was…something had to change and she didn’t even know where to start. One thing was certain for her, she had come to feel that she owed it to the community around her to stay open, and the only way to do that was for her to be successful.

Of all the reasons people open restaurants, to be unsuccessful is NOT one of them. Everyone wants to succeed, but if you’ve spent your career learning your craft and developing your passion, you may have missed the part about running the business. In fact, maybe you’ve hired someone to do that part but you need to understand it yourself.

Red Truck is the place to find that information. In this space, I’ll cover in simple terms, what are financials, why you need a POS and which one to choose, how to be an employer. Mostly I want to hear from you about the challenges that face you as a restaurant owner. I’ve faced just about every single one, and if I haven’t, I know someone who has and I’ll be inviting them to guest blog here too. I’ve worked with start-ups, pop-ups, well-established businesses. While buying the services of a consultant can be expensive, I have designed my blog to be an inexpensive way to get crucial information to establish a strong foundation. You owe it to the community that you serve to be a success.

St. Helena, Ca – July 8, 2018

My husband and I came into the cool of the restaurant from the heat of a Napa Valley afternoon, searching for a cool cocktail and a little snack to tide us over. I hadn’t been in this particular space since it’s new incarnation as The Charter Oak Restaurant but it was unmistakably the same space with a new vibe. This is to me, the quintessential Napa Valley restaurant with outdoor seating on the patio outside, grape vines everywhere, a brick structure with high high ceilings and a long wide bar that faced out to the patio. I used to sit and nurse my daughter on that patio while sipping a glass of beer.

I never miss an opportunity to talk with servers and bartenders. This was no exception. We usually identify ourselves as long-time restaurant folks, as my husband is still a chef and I love to write about restaurant finance and human resources.

This restaurant tacks on a service charge instead of requesting a discretionary tip. I think I’ve written about this in the past, and I have yet to hear from anyone on the finance side about how it is effecting the bottom line, or labor costs, or employee turn over. That is my next step.

But listening to Zach, I asked if this policy deterred him from taking the position there. After all it occurred to me that there are lots of other restaurants in the Valley that don’t have this policy and he could be making money in tips. “No,” he replied, “I knew I wanted to work here because of their bar program.” A professional restaurant staff…that builds retention. A well-treated staff, everyone believing that they are making a contribution and they see the results.

I had another conversation with a restaurateur this week. And her concern was how, with rising costs all around, particularly real estate and labor, could she still provide her customers with a great value at the prices she was charging. Would she have to raise her prices, or provide less service? What are the trade-offs that are  being discussed – reduced service models, or higher prices?

It almost feels like the income inequality that we are seeing in our economy is playing out in the way restaurants are redefining themselves…

Food & Beverage Innovators? How about Game Changers?

The San Francisco Bay Area is a hot-bed for all things food, including food & beverage start-ups. It is the combination of the commitment to great food, good health, and access to lots of venture capital that nurtures this.

Many of the new food and beverage start ups claim they are values- and mission-driven. They have admirable intentions to improve health, help the environment, or improve the quality of life for the exploited. I was curious about whether a company can maintain these lofty goals while answering to investors. Does the push to make money and justify yourself to investors affect the decisions you make as a food entrepreneur? These food and beverage entrepreneurs raise large sums of cash through VC. Often these are investors who are more interested in exit strategies than the overall mission which birthed the business.

I attended a forum of food and beverage entrepreneurs the other day, hoping to find an answer. And I discovered something.

The forum was set up as a panel discussion with five leaders in the food and beverage industry. Small “start-ups”, all of which were “value and mission driven” and they all spoke about what motivated them to start their businesses. Caryl Levine of Lotus Foods is committed to helping small farmers in Asia produce rice using water-saving techniques. Dr. Neil Renninger of Ripple Foods is committed to promoting the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. David Lacy’s company Smashmallow produces healthy indulgences! Blair Cornish of Harmless Harvest talked about the company’s commitment to supporting “fair to life” practices for the farmers that supply their coconut water. Bentley Hall of Good Eggs talked about how the company curates their offerings based on strict criteria of transparency among other things. Good Eggs also has a reputation of being a great place to work, where their values and their culture are synchronistic.

Then in the course of the discussion, one of the panelists mentioned that their company was trying to negotiate with Walmart to carry their product. It was in the context of how Walmart wanted the wholesale price to be insanely low.

Something in me snapped.

I just envisioned a Walmart cashier, scanning the $5 box of coconut water, made in Thailand in a certified “fair for life” coconut farm, while she has to get food stamps because her full time job at Walmart doesn’t pay her enough to make ends meet.

Walmart is, and this is fact, a company that is constantly being sued for illegal labor practices. Gender and sexual discrimination in hiring and labor. I could go on, but I imagine if you are reading this, you get my drift.

To me, this isn’t a whole lot different than the restaurant who touts itself as “farm to fork”, as a better way to eat, but still pays its servers tipped minimum wage and managers are harassing women in the kitchen. To me, this defies a value-driven mission statement.

Personally, I do not patronize restaurants that I KNOW have unfair labor practices. I don’t care if they have three Michelin stars (I don’t know if they exist, but I wouldn’t go to them if I knew). So I don’t shop at Walmart. Yes, they do employ alot of people, but why can’t they just treat people with dignity? Is that too much to ask?

What would happen if Coca-Cola decided it wouldn’t sell to companies like Walmart until they treated employees with respect? Would Walmart shift? Could it be possible to create a #MeToo movement that would cause this shift?

( A little plug for Good Eggs here: If grocery stores could all be run like Good Eggs, maybe the world would be a better place, just saying…)

So that’s my question: If the #MeToo movement can have the wide-spread impact on attention to harassment, if Dick’s Sporting Goods can say they refuse to sell guns in their stores, why can’t food producers refuse to sell to companies with unethical business practices? What kind of change could that cause in the way large companies  are run…

 

 

Empty Storefronts

I live in a small town outside of a big town. Whenever I tell people I live in Alameda, they say, “I love Alameda, it’s so cute!” This five-mile long island that sits along the southern edge of Oakland, is separated from 2018 by three bridges and two tunnels. Coming upon Alameda feels a little like the 1950’s, which may be why people think it’s so “cute”. It was once home to a Naval Air Station and half the island still has homes that look like barracks. On the other half of the island there are old Victorians, a neighborhood called “The Gold Coast” because of the beautiful front lawns and the old mansions. It is a bit idyllic.

I live on the East End, close to the older homes away from the Naval Base. Park Street is our main shopping stroll. Lately, I’ve noticed so many empty storefronts. It’s alarming to me. The restaurant next door to the movie theater, down the block another that has been empty since we moved here four years ago. The old shoe store on the corner closed. A huge space where a Mexican restaurant used to be sits vacant. I can count at least one vacant shop on each side on every block.

There is some good news. We have a few outposts of some really great local businesses. We have a Burma Superstar (originally in SF on Clement), The Star (an extension of the Little Star brand), our very own Scolari’s (with an outpost at Alameda Pt). We’re getting a Cholita Linda (from the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, they better open soon!!)

I once owned a restaurant with my husband in the Ferry Building in SF. In those days, the Ferry Building was just opening up, and the mission of the folks who developed the list of tenants was to have a good representation of small artisan businesses from the Bay Area. Slowly, over the course of the last fifteen years, the tenants of the Ferry Building still represent local businesses. However, for most of the them, the Ferry Building outpost is only a small segment of their business. Many of them have big money behind them.

Which is to say merely this: Entrepreneurs who create small businesses must at some point partner up with bigger businesses to scale and  compete. As long as a small business keeps it’s focus, and maintains some independence, it can benefit those investors as well as the communities they serve.

For me, I never thought I would think that way. However, my community comes first, and empty storefronts don’t serve the community..

San Diego, February 2018

It has been nearly a year since I last posted. Not for lack of anything to say. Just because there has been so much to say and I don’t know where to start.

This weekend, I went to a conference in San Diego for a program I’m enrolled in, the Team, Management, and Leadership Program through Landmark Worldwide. The conference completed on Sunday afternoon around happy hour, so we all headed over to the bar for some drinks. Afterwards on my way back to my room to get ready for dinner, I stopped a couple sitting at the fire pits facing the Marina and asked to bum a cigarette. And thus began a deeply inspiring conversation with two remarkable and open young people with a passion for the restaurant industry.

Over this past year, I have become increasingly determined to see transformation in the restaurant industry. From the issues around unfair wages, to immigration, to sexual harassment and racism I have become more concerned with how to go “behind the kitchen door” to talk openly and candidly about what could be possible for employees and employers and even customers if we were to address these issues head on. While the rest of the world is having this discussion, how would our industry look if we could join that discussion?

K. and D. work for a major restaurant franchise in Dallas and both were so generous and open about sharing their thoughts on what it has been like for them in their professions. A  few things became really clear: 1) they both love the restaurant industry and wouldn’t want to do anything else. They have found their calling and love what they do. 2) They are committed to the development of the teams they work with. 3) They were inspired to see changes AND some things still work.

We talked about the closeness of teams of restaurant workers and how that can lead to inappropriate behavior being misinterpreted. We talked about tipped workers and what motivates them. We talked about how some changes in structure (eliminating tips) may not achieve the goal of transforming culture, but just result in the most skilled servers leaving for higher wage jobs. We talked about how the public doesn’t have the perspective that restaurant workers can be professionals, that it isn’t a career, but a job.

I don’t know how long we talked, the time just flew by. We covered so much, these strangers and me, and I am so grateful for their deeply thoughtful opinions. As I begin to tackle these issues and look at workable solutions, I find myself really hungry for such engaged conversations. My intention is to transform this space from  blog to a forum for active engagement and thought leadership.

Please join me and keep reading>

In 2017….

I haven’t found myself here for the past few months, but I have thought about writing nearly everyday. 2017 has come in with a BANG, and it has been almost impossible for me to tear myself away from the daily barrage of shocking news, from the Muslim travel ban to ICE raids to Supreme Court nominees. I feel like that guy in the video I saw on FB who wakes up every morning as normal, reaches for his phone and reads something that permanently fixes his face in a look of distress, not too different than the Edvard Munch screamer.

It has been hard to think of anything else, and yet for me, it has also been paralyzing. There are so many things I want to address, to take action on, but how to begin?

The night of the election, I was attending the Tuesday night session of the Communication Course at Landmark Worldwide. My friend was finishing the course and, as is the custom, she had invited me to come and see what I could find valuable. (As background I will say that I completed all the Landmark Curriculum for Living coursework in 2003, and have created my world from that work. So I’m in.) I remember walking home through the streets of downtown San Francisco to the BART station, passing bars with TVs on, and nearly breaking down as I saw our country slowly making a choice that I could not accept, that I could not fathom. I saw, in my mind, as I walked through the night, that all that we had accomplished as a nation in terms of enlightened leadership, was about to be a memory.

In the ensuing months, I kept hoping that this was just a bad dream. I think alot of people felt that way. That we would wake up one morning and the nightmare would be over. But January 20 happened. I still can’t put the words “President” and “Trump” together. It really feels, for someone who has any sense of history and the ideals this country is built on, like the Twilight Zone.

After that night in November, I began to ask myself, who are the people, the Americans, who voted for this man? What was so important to them that they could forego what is so essential to what makes us Americans in exchange for what this man was offering? Did these voters understand that obsessive fear has the effect of closing a society? And this man pandered at every move to the fear.

Out of this, my Pie Project was born. For now, that’s what I’m calling it. Other names I’ve come up with are “Language as Pie”…I like that one alot. Let me explain:

Years ago, a friend was road-tripping across the country from California to his home in Boston, and he sent me a picture of some fabulous pie he was eating in Memphis, confessing that he couldn’t eat just one piece, it was so fabulous. As a former pastry chef, and lover of pie, I thought at that moment, how fun it would be traveling from city to town around this country, eating different pie.  After all, I once saw Paris by traveling from chocolatier to chocolatier and trying chocolate.

So why not take this opportunity to travel now, eating pie and hearing stories. To hear what people are thinking, to hear their stories, to hear what we have in common, and not what we have that separates us.

The project was born, to plan a listening project around pie. Because pie is common language, interpreted differently, with stories and feelings surrounding it. It is friendly, a starting point for the conversation, a good place to come back to.

In an interview with the New York Times, Barak Obama spoke about the importance of books for telling stories and that his community organizing began with a desire to hear people’s stories: “The thing that brings people together to share the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issues, it’s that they have shared the same stories….If you learn how to listen to people’s stories and can find out what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts.”

This project is in the planning stages, but I intend to make my first trip this summer, or late summer. I’m going to be doing some practice meetings here in the Bay Area (shout out to Lakeisha, who suggested that!) and I will write about them, most likely on another site.

For now,  I will continue to write about things that inspire me! Up next, ROC United has created a program called  Sanctuary Restaurants and what we need to do in the restaurant industry to take action…

 

Leadership

I began working in kitchens when I was 25 years old. I was living in New York City. Having given up life in a office to pursue a career as a pastry chef, I took a position in an executive dining room run by a major hospitality corporation. I felt lucky to get the job; they said they’d train me. The last guy in the job jumped the turnstiles on his way to work, got arrested and never showed up again. Just don’t get arrested, they said.

Before that time, I had never worked in an environment  where men somehow felt it was acceptable to comment on a woman’s looks, or what she might be like in bed. My value as an employee had never been questioned before based on my sex.  I had never worked in a place where people made sexual comments openly to co-workers. The food business was new to me and I wanted to belong. It didn’t matter to me much at the time; I felt like I had to be part of the club so I accepted it as the culture in this new career I had chosen. I played along.  It was 1987.

I moved back to my home in the Bay Area shortly after that, and landed a job in a different sort of environment, a big hotel where all the pastry cooks were women and the pastry chef was a man. He was respectful of all of us, intent on training us well and as a result well liked. I liked working for him, he led the pastry department and was a good role model. It was a professional shop.

The hotel was unionized which meant that when business ebbed, the ones with the least seniority were cut so I ended up moving to Southern California to work. I found a position in a hotel as a pastry cook. The hotel had no pastry chef because for a long time they had been bringing pastry in from outside. The chef decided to hire me, kind of as a favor to his friend in San Francisco. He figured he could stick me in a corner of one of the hotel’s restaurant kitchens and let me do my thing. I had no direct supervision and no mentors.

This chef already had a reputation. It was rumored that he was let go from a huge position with major hotel chain after being charged with sexual harassment.

I took my job seriously and did the best I could without any guidance. I liked making my cake recipes and introducing my own cookies. Every Sunday the hotel had a brunch buffet and I took great pride in producing all the pastries and cakes for the table.

The “pastry department” kept all its production in refrigerators accessible to all the restaurant staff and often, when I arrived in the morning, I would find the shelves of the reach-in in disarray.  If I spent Saturday preparing for the brunch, I would come in Sunday morning  to find at least half of everything eaten by the wait staff and line cooks from the restaurant. I would bring this to the chef’s attention and he ignored me.

The chef had assigned a young man to work with me, someone who no one in the main kitchen liked, and who had worked many stations before being banished to pastry.  He took immense joy in continuously baiting me, making lewd remarks and gestures, spending most of his time fooling around and telling me my pastries sucked. I told the chef about the sexual remarks; his advice was to “ignore him.” It was 1989.

I also have stories of chefs that would never tolerate that type of behavior in their kitchens. One could tell immediately the effect those leaders had on the culture. After having worked in Europe for a short time, I came back with my husband to the states where we both found positions in a hotel. The executive chef was a dog; his comments even made the male cooks cringe. As a result, some of the other men in the kitchen took this as carte blanche to make comments of their own. One day, after hearing something particularly disgusting (way worse than “pussy grabbing”), I blew up. I didn’t go to HR but I should have. I was furious. I heard rumors that the chef was going to find a way to “get rid” of me.

Within the next few months, I left but that chef left soon afterwards. My husband took over as executive chef and immediately, the tone became professional. That kind of talk was unacceptable and I think everyone was relieved.

These experiences articulate a basic tenet of leadership :  As a leader, if you model a certain behavior, that behavior becomes acceptable in the culture. People may be sexist or racist, but if they are surrounded by a culture in which that behavior is frowned upon, they will not act upon their prejudices. If bad behavior is exhibited in the leadership, it becomes sanctioned.

Sexist and racist behavior has been sanctioned in our industry longer than in any other. It is time to take it out of the shadows and take leadership in transforming our culture to one of safety for all. We can take the high road.

 

 

 

 

 

If not now, when?

The Food + Entrepreneurship Conference opened yesterday in San Francisco at The Village on Market Street. The conference is hosted by La Cocina, the local food-business incubator is in its second year and yesterday’s events were well attended. The outcome of the election last week was on everyone’s mind, and so the discussions took on an urgency. I think if the elections had gone the other way, the tone would have been one of possibility. Now the mountain may be harder to climb.

I attended the breakout sessions that addressed activism in the food business because I’ve been deeply curious about how to run a small food business with an eye to social justice. I ran my own businesses with the intention of taking care of my employees, my community and the environment. I look around and see so many businesses answering that same call and I want to learn how they do it profitably. I mean the nuts-and-bolts of it. What do their balance sheets/income statements look like?

I will write more about what I learned and what inspired me about the day, but one moment really stood out for me.

After lunch, I listened in on a panel discussion let by La Cocina’s Leticia Landa called “Activist Owner: Can you Fight Social Issues & Run a Good Food Business?”. The speakers were Cristina Martinez from South Philly Barbacoa, Anthony Myint (The Perennial) and Shakirah Simley (Bi-Rite Businesses). One common thread the messages: Begin with an intention to fight social issues, plan your business culture and profitability around that, and all else will follow. Cristina who spoke through an interpreter, said she has created community through her food and her employees, paying them better than most restaurants in Philadelphia, and so drawing loyal talent to her kitchen.  Shakirah and Anthony both spoke to providing living wages to workers, providing training and support, and giving back to community.

All day, I had been thinking about how we need to extend this conversation across the country, and how California needs to share this message to other states. A young woman raised her hand to ask a question. She was from Foodlab Detroit(I think, that was the name…definitely Detroit). She explained how hard it is to encourage her clients, new food entrepreneurs, to do all these things that one needs to do to be responsible business owners. it felt like she was saying,”This is all fine and good for you folks but that’s just too much to ask of someone who is trying to build something for themselves.” She was passionate. I, for my part, have always wondered as a white, middle-class woman, where do I get off telling business owners that they should rethink profitability? This is hard enough to make money without having to think about activism.. So am I trying to impose my own vision of the way things should be without being realistic about the hardships of being a food-entrepreneur?

Look, I understand what it is to be a food industry worker and a food entrepreneur. I know that this is an industry which lags far behind in doing the right thing by its employees. Living wages, sexism, racism. All issues screaming for reform in our industry.

We need to begin.  We, of all the folks,  know what it’s like to struggle on minimum wage, to work without health insurance, to endure sexual harassment and hostile work environments. We are the ones who know this. That is why we have to be be the ones to CHANGE this. It has to start from us.

We should want to take care of each other and set an example for entrepreneurs everywhere. Our work is to nurture in every way.

As the Jewish prophet Hillel the Elder said, ” If not us, who? If not now, when?”

 

 

 

Community

 

On Saturday afternoon, I was invited to a lunch and book signing at Insalata’s, a restaurant in San Anselmo, for Marcus Samuelsson’s new book, The Red Rooster Cookbook.  The book is a compilation of recipes and stories from his restaurant in New York, in Harlem.  The lunch was a promotion to highlight some of the dishes in the book and Marcus Samuelsson has always been a favorite of mine on the Food Network. I had always thought he seemed like a likable bloke. Besides he is Swedish (by way of Ethiopia), and having lived and worked in Stockholm for two years, I thought I might wow him with my slick Swedish slangy greeting, “Tjena!”

Well, I didn’t get the chance even though I was seated three chairs away at his table. It was loud and there was much going on…but I did get to see a picture of his new baby boy, whose face graces his lockscreen, as his phone was passed around. A proud papa.

Heidi Krahling’s crew produced a great meal starting with the Bloody Rooster (the garnish looked like a cockscomb!), then Bird Funk and Chicken Liver Butter (poor man’s pate), Obama’s Short Ribs (named for a very famous guest), Brown Butter Biscuits (I had two) and finishing with Red Velvet Cake. Much of the meal was served family style, apropos as community is what this is all about. Shout out to Heidi’s amazing crew for a service well done!

Chef Marcus stood up to talk about his motivation for creating a restaurant in Harlem, the neighborhood where he lives. A restaurant should be a meeting place for community, and Harlem is a community of rich cultures, food and music, hustle and swing. Not always pretty but real. Through these pages, I can take a walk uptown, hear the salsa beat coming from one doorway,  samba on the next block,  swing on the next. I can make friends with the ladies on the stoop in the summer heat, turn away from the hustlers on the corner, feel the whoosh of hot air coming up from the subway. I want to go there.

Building community is more that just the creation of a space for community to happen. The Red Rooster employs nearly two thirds of its staff from the neighborhood. He understands that he has been embraced by the community as he has embraced it. The business that he’s created enriches the people involved with it. It is a reciprocal relationship and both parties understand that. If his business didn’t exist, there would be a hole that would be hard to fill.

If I could ask one question of him, it would be this: how are you able to articulate so perfectly the idea of community within the walls of your business? It is a courageous endeavor. Marcus’s business has consequence to the people it touches , whether they work for him or they come to enjoy his food. Like parenthood,  being successful and staying relevant to community is a burdensome challenge, but one that can bring great joy.

Lycka til, Marcus!