Amanda Cohen, Joel Webber, Amanda discussed on Bloomberg Businessweek


Issue of the magazine about the popular vegetable only eatery dirt candy It also very pleased to have the restaurant's owner and chef Amanda Cohen with us as well So Josh let's kick it off with you How did you discover dirt candy and why did you write this piece I'm just curious about the pitch to Joel Webber Your technology Exactly Well I'm a technology editor but also in New Yorker and I was really interested as the pandemic looked like it was waning this spring to see how restaurants would after all they had been through kind of get back on track I'm a vegetarian so dirt candy was very much on my radar screen and I was also interested in talking to Amanda about her experiences because she's been out in the forefront talking about labor issues in the industry And kind of pushing the business model in various ways And so I thought that she'd have some really interesting things to say about reshaping a restaurant at this interesting time and also I could go there and get to eat some good food Was this really just about getting some really great meals Let's bring a mandate I thought a good place to start would be when we first when we first started talking you were just coming out of what seemed to be one stage and into the next one And over the last couple of months it seems like things worked out maybe surprisingly well for you in certain ways And I'm wondering if you could talk about just the factors that went into where you find yourself now and how things ended up being maybe better than expected and also continue to be a challenge Yeah I mean I had no idea that this is where I was going to end up I started I don't know part 5 my pandemic experience With the idea that we have to change the restaurant We weren't going to survive And we weren't we were surviving pre-pandemic but always on the egg and I started made a promise to myself and my staff that we were going to start trying to figure out how to actually run the restaurant like a business and not like a passion project That was always teetering on the edge and we changed how we paid our staff We changed our pricing We changed the culture The restaurant And in a huge surprise I think that all of us we are still here And we are actually doing really well It's the first time in my 13 years of running this restaurant that I actually feel like I'm running a business The changes that you've made they're not the conventional ones that we see with a lot of restaurants that have survived and thrived during the pandemic It's not like you went all in on delivery or everyone's eating outside right These are changes that aren't conventional I think we went against the wisdom and breathe their prices and we really started double down on changing how we involved our staff and the restaurant and how we paid them and for a restaurant my size We now offer health insurance and all kinds of extra fun benefits like extra chickpeas and extra holidays and because of that unlike most restaurants we don't see this labor shortage in the restaurants that we aren't having a problem getting staffed And we're also not going to having a problem getting customers which is probably the biggest surprise of all of that customers have really embraced these changes Well that's interesting too And I'm curious what was the kind of feedback you were getting from your workers from your customers in terms of helping you shape the way to move forward during this pandemic Well I think what we realized during the last year and a half 18 months is that customers actually liked us but also they really wanted to support restaurants And the last year everybody learns a lot more about restaurants There were tons of articles and news pieces and you saw like chefs and restaurants on the news constantly talking about what it meant to run a restaurant and how much it costs And I think somewhat that fourth wall of restaurants got broken down a little and so customers were I think customers sort of for the first time really wanted to spend their money somewhere where it can do it can make a difference And it's not just about the food but they were there to really support the people who worked in the restaurant and the people who ran the restaurant and pre-pandemic we were often called overpriced We're an expensive vegetarian restaurant And now we're called expensive And to me that's a huge difference of how gaffer looking at us And they want to spend that money at our restaurant We are busier than we have ever been Amanda you said that you haven't had trouble with the labor shortages we've heard about throughout the restaurant industry and beyond I was interested in when you said obviously you laid off basically your entire staff at the beginning of the pandemic And then came back to all of them and said you know we're going to offer you a lot more money We're going to offer you the chance to buy into health insurance But it wasn't actually them who came back to staff the restaurant right Basically your previous staff just kind of disappeared to the winds Can you talk about that a little bit So I was fortunate enough to keep my managers on And if I hadn't been able to keep them on I think we would have closed because I couldn't have really reopened this restaurant from scratch But everybody $29 who I laid off they did sort of decide to either lead the restaurant industry or a lot of them moved home They were quite young We've always had a pretty young staff and this time around we did hire again very young almost green workers but who were really interested in working at a place that didn't feel just like a dog that felt that they could contribute something more than just their labor too And that is their voice and how we run the restaurant Your experience is changing your thinking about what really makes a profitable restaurant maybe for the future Do we have to readjust our thinking about what works really in the restaurant industry I think we do I think the restaurants are going to survive We all have to sort of start contributing a lot more to them They can't be looking at these disposable places That are always going to be there Because we learned throughout the pandemic they're not And so many restaurants close So many people lost their life savings with their restaurants And the only way that this industry can go forward And pre-pandemic we talked about it as an industry certainly restaurants did But it wasn't really It was very disjointed And the pandemic really brought restaurants together And I think everybody sort of rethinking what it means to run a restaurant how to be more financially stable for everybody And that's a two way conversation or maybe a three way conversation between you your employees and your customers because.

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