Amanda Cohen, Joel Webber, New Yorker discussed on Bloomberg Businessweek


Got a feature in this week's issue of the magazine about the popular vegetable only eatery dirt candy It was 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 The technology editor 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 Because it 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 creed pandemics but always on the edge 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 of 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 throughout 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 for 6 days and extra holidays and because of that unlike most restaurants we don't see this labor shortage in the restaurant 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 like 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 new pieces and you saw like chefs and restaurants on the news constantly talking about what it meant for in a restaurant and how much of cost and I think from what 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 gas are 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 we're going to offer you a lot more money We're going to offer you the chance.

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