0 comments on “Pasta La Vista, Winter! Hello, Spring!”

Pasta La Vista, Winter! Hello, Spring!

Spring is here and we couldn’t be happier to (finally) be going green! We were so inspired by the change of seasons that we decided to create a light and healthy pasta dish with Banza Chickpea Pasta that’s perfect room temp for an afternoon picnic or heated up for an evening dinner! Not only does the Banza pasta have more protein, more fiber and less carbs than regular pasta, it tastes just as good without the guilt!

This dish is an easy way to indulge after a long day of work and incorporates the spring veggies that we’ve been missing. Plus, it only takes about 30 minutes from prep to plate and there’s nothing we love more than a quick and simple yet delicious meal! Happy spring-ing 🙂

Our “Spring-ing into the Season” Pasta

Recipe serves 3-4

You’ll Need:

1 box Banza Chickpea Pasta

3 bulbs spring onion, chopped

3/4 cup peas

1/2 bunch asparagus, chopped

1/2 cup arugula

1 cup creme fraiche

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 package crimini OR baby portobello mushrooms, sliced

3 tablespoons chives, chopped

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

3 tablespoons olive oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1 lemon

salt

pepper

First you’ll bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the asparagus by cooking it for 1 minute then removing it from the boiling water and adding it to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Using the same pot of boiling water, cook the Banza Chickpea Pasta (according to the cooking instructions on the box) and once cooked, set aside. Save about 1 and 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid from the pot to mix in later.

Next you’ll heat the olive oil in a large pot or skillet. Once warm, add in the chopped spring onions and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then add in the sliced mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Next add in garlic and cook for 1 minute before adding in salt and pepper. It should be about a teaspoon of both salt and pepper but add a little at a time to combine with the onions, mushrooms and garlic.

Then you’ll add in the creme fraiche, 1 cup of the cooking liquid that you set aside earlier and the lemon zest. Bring to a simmer and mix well. Add in the cooked pasta and the other 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Cook for 2-3 minutes making sure that all of the pasta is coated. Add more cooking liquid as needed. Finally, add your peas, asparagus, lemon juice and salt and pepper (to your taste) and mix well. Plate pasta and garnish with arugula, toasted pine nuts and chives. 

Pro tip: Serve your pasta with grilled chicken or steak as your protein! There’s nothing better on a warm spring night than a light and tasty meal!

 

0 comments on “Arthur Palacio, CO at Dos Toros West Village: Part 2”

Arthur Palacio, CO at Dos Toros West Village: Part 2

This is Arthur Palacio, the Coach Operator (CO) at Dos Toros West Village. Arthur was raised in College Point, Queens and says that being in a Colombian family, food was always a part of his lifestyle growing up. His mom, grandma and dad cook every day and although he’s never had formal culinary training, he’s always felt that food was a part of his identity. He started working in the food industry during college at a bagel shop/bakery in Florida and continued to grow his cooking skills after college when he lived in Miami. When he moved back to New York, he worked as a server in a catering hall and then as a parking attendant when his friend, who was working at the first Dos Toros location in Union Square, told him there was an opening in the store and that he should apply to be a part of this new company. Arthur was attracted to Dos Toros because they focus on hiring people with good personalities rather than kitchen skills and he felt like this was a company that he could grow with. In 2011, two years after they opened their first location, Arthur started working at Dos Toros as a crew member and little by little worked his way up to Coach Operator, the highest position in their store. Not only has Dos Toros allowed Arthur to create his own path in the food industry, the opportunity that he was given to become a leader now motivates him to help create the same opportunities for other men and women.

Arthur says that the culture at Dos Toros is different from other restaurants because Leo and Oliver have created a fun but focused work environment since the company began. They don’t take any shortcuts with their food or their team and are known for teaching by example. Every so often they can even be found in one of their restaurants, working alongside their employees. They care so much about their business that they take the time to teach their employees to do things the right way and expect their Coach Operators to do the same. Even creating the title of Coach Operator, Arthur points out, makes them stand out from their competitors with what they expect from their team. Rather than a General Manager who only oversees operations, a Coach Operator works side by side with every member of their team every day, coaching them through changes going on in the store, teaching them about ingredients and making sure that they’re following the correct procedures, all while operating the store. It was this commitment to their employees that made Arthur interested in working for Dos Toros and what’s kept him at the company for the past eight years. After starting as a crew member, he got his kitchen certification and his line certification before getting certified as a coach. From there he decided to become an assistant manager (you can also become a kitchen assistant manager if you want to focus more on kitchen operations), a CO in training and then, finally, a CO for the entire store. The CO training process can take anywhere from six months to a year, depending on the person, but Arthur was committed to finishing his training because he knew from the day that he started that he wanted to grow with the company. He didn’t see any growth in the jobs he was doing before Dos Toros and saw potential in Leo and Oliver’s mission to bring California taqueria-style food to New York.

Dos Toros Line

As a CO, Arthur tries to make it fun to come to work, rather than being “the boss” whose telling his employees what to do. He recognizes that they all have a job to do when they get to the store every day but that you can still make the environment fun and inviting while getting the work done. He sees the CO position as not only being a coach, but also being a teacher and an adviser, so he works alongside his coworkers on the line or in the kitchen every day to motivate and inspire them with his commitment to the job. He trains his employees to understand and exude their three core values: respect (of each other, the food and the customers), genuine warmth (creating a positive experience for customers and each other) and uncompromising expertise (follow every procedure, no shortcuts) and tries to be an example of each of them, despite any difficulties that may arise. He creates personal connections with each employee and takes pride in hiring and training new employees who he feels are friendly and have a good attitude. Arthur wanted to become a leader at Dos Toros to give other people the opportunity to build their own career paths. He found that a lot of high school students or men and women working straight out of high school have difficulty finding a job because they don’t have any experience. Arthur looks to hire these people that like cooking or are interested in food and teach them the steps to take in order to succeed in the food industry. Even if they don’t want to work in food for the rest of their life, he tries to give them a chance to find a new path and make it fun for them to be part of the team. For Arthur, helping the staff grow in their career is the most rewarding part of the job. From asking him if they can get their line certification to actually achieving that first step and continuing from there, as a leader and a coach, there’s nothing more satisfying to him than watching them start that process and seeing it through.

The training process for new employees really encourages career growth, which is something that Arthur loves about Dos Toros. It’s a seven day training where they learn each process for the front of house and for the back of house and then work side by side with Arthur and his managers to master each process and get certified in different stations. However, before that process begins Arthur will sit down with the new hire on the first day to figure out if they have kitchen experience/are interested in working in the kitchen or want to work on the line, so that they can focus their role once they’ve completed their training. They have online training as a tool for new employees to use where they watch videos about each process and then get hands-on experience doing them. For Arthur personally, Dos Toros has improved his culinary skills, teaching him knife skills like chopping and cutting as well as how to butcher meat. For him, the training process shows how much Leo and Oliver care for their team because they want to teach you these skills, they don’t expect you to have them. They only want employees who are willing to work hard and are happy to create relationships with their coworkers and their customers.

Arthur admits that coming into the store with a good attitude every day is the most challenging part of his job. As with any job, you can’t let your personal life interfere with your work but especially so when you’re interacting with other people (coworkers and customers) on a continuous basis. As human beings, everyone has tough times that they go through and has personal things going on that other people don’t know about so “putting that on the shelf” until you get home can be difficult. But for Arthur, making sure that he has a good energy every day to transmit to the other employees is key and his ability to have a smile on his face no matter what, or at least pretend that he’s happy, is one trait that, as a CO, he hopes he’s able to pass on to his fellow mangers and employees. A lot of his staff are young and they’ll often come to him for advice, so he enjoys that his role allows them to see him as a peer and that he’s able to problem solve with them. If he senses that something is off with one of his coworkers, he or one of his managers will pull him or her aside to make sure that everything is okay and will change their position for the day if needed. He loves that Dos Toros has created an inviting environment where every employee can be open and really feels like he or she is part of a larger team, working towards a common goal. As for his advice for others looking to get into the food industry, he encourages anyone and everyone to come work for Dos Toros. Even if you don’t have any experience in food, he says “just do it and don’t be scared”. Especially at Dos Toros, they teach you everything that you need to know and once you understand the process behind the work, it’s pretty amazing and rewarding.

 

Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

 

 

0 comments on “Celebrating Earth Day as a Team!”

Celebrating Earth Day as a Team!

Last year we wrote an article about the small changes that you can make at the office (or at home) to protect the Earth. This year we’re focused on advocating for actions that your office can take as a team to improve the Earth together! Whether you’re doing this on Earth Day (Monday, April 22nd) or any day in April, it’s important to take part in this global movement to preserve our planet and prevent the destruction of our plant and wildlife populations. Encourage your team to make an impact by organizing a company-wide event, even if it’s only for a few hours!

Below we’ve listed ideas of activities that your office can do to celebrate Earth Day. Although it may seem insignificant, doing a small act of green with your colleagues can make a much larger impact. And not only is it rewarding to give back to the planet we live on, you have another reason to celebrate with your coworkers! Email us at letseat@foodtoeat.com to order some custom Earth Day treats for you and your team to enjoy after helping to protect our planet!

1. Plant a tree. Planting trees is one of the easiest ways to fight climate change. Not only does it add beauty to the environment, trees absorb CO2 and other harmful gases and release more oxygen into the atmosphere. They also provide a habitat for birds and other animals.

2. Clean up a local park or beach. All this activity requires is gloves, garbage bags and free time! Choose a park or beach close to your office and spend an hour or two picking up trash that may be cluttering the area. Cleaning up parks and beaches helps to improve air and water quality and keeps animals from getting injured or killed by items such as plastic bags, string, cigarette butts and glass.

3. Schedule an outdoor activity. The best way to increase appreciation for the environment is to get outdoors! Book group workout in Central Park or plan a hike for your team at a nearby mountain. Being around nature will remind employees why it’s so important to take care of our planet and continue acts of green all year round.

4. Host a meat-less lunch! Can’t get out of the office? Organize a team lunch with vegetarian or vegan menu items only! According to the Earth Day Network, the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gases. Limiting your meat consumption, even one day a year, can help lower the amount of greenhouse gases emitted each year.

 

Resources:
https://business.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-celebrate-earth-day–cms-30959
https://www.earthday.org/take-action/
https://projects.ncsu.edu/project/treesofstrength/benefits.htm
https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/10-ways-celebrate-earth-day7.htm
https://inhabitat.com/10-awesome-eco-activities-to-do-this-earth-day/
https://education.seattlepi.com/littering-affect-environment-6802.html
0 comments on “Leo Kremer, Co-CEO of Dos Toros: Part 1”

Leo Kremer, Co-CEO of Dos Toros: Part 1

This is Leo Kremer (pictured left) and his brother, Oliver Kremer (pictured right), the founders and co-CEOs of Dos Toros. Although this fast casual taqueria now boasts 20 locations between New York and Chicago, Leo insists that because they didn’t know much coming into the food industry, they’ve kept their “beginner’s mindset” over the years, which has allowed them to see Dos Toros as a constantly evolving business, even as it’s success has grown. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, the brothers got really interested in burritos because they were delicious, affordable and available everywhere. It wasn’t until years later that they became aware that this wasn’t the case in other parts of the country and started digging into this idea. They began asking friends who lived in New York what options were available to them and did some scouting themselves. The more they looked, the more they realized that there was no really high-quality, California-style Mexican food outside of California. And although they had no experience in the food industry, it seemed like a really big opportunity for someone to take advantage of the market. Being that they were expert consumers when it came to burritos, they decided to create a business that appealed to their core customer: themselves. Since Dos Toros’ beginning to their present day operations, Leo and Oliver have continued to keep things really simple and really focused, uncompromising in their expertise and concentrated on being the best supplier of San Fransciso-style taqueria food, from their recipes to their service to the tightness of their burrito roll.

Leo says that he and Oliver were outsiders in the food industry when they decided to start Dos Toros (named for himself and Oliver, “the two bulls”) at the end of 2008 and officially opened their first location in October 2009. Leo was just transitioning out of his career as a musician (he had played for a few rock bands, including Third Eye Blind), which he says was awesome but ultimately didn’t fulfill all of his professional passions, and Oliver was right out of college. Both brothers were unsure of their next step and decided to pursue the burrito business idea that they had been talking about for years. They had always had a good relationship and always had the idea that they would try to start a business together but Leo says that it was the timing, their passion for burritos and the opportunity that presented itself that made it the perfect combination of factors to jump in with both feet. He doesn’t believe that either of them would’ve had the courage to do it on their own so they took a chance on it together and moved to NYC. They decided on a fast casual concept because it was similar to the taquerias in the Bay Area that they visited growing up where you order at the counter and sit down or leave. And also knowing that they didn’t know anything about food service, they didn’t want to overreach and add more complexity to the business than they could manage. Since they always thought of themselves as their main consumers, most of the restaurant design came from their own personal taste and aesthetic sensibility, which Leo says they got from their mom. Their mom is a visual artist so she’s very conscious of paying attention to how things look and feel around you, so they already had a vision in mind for their brand when they were opening their first location. They wanted to create a cool and inviting space that they would want to spend time in, in a neighborhood that they might find themselves in, so the location scouting and design process was very introspective. However, they did take a lot of other people’s opinions into consideration, showing friends and family locations that they were thinking about and design layouts and the logo that they were playing with, which was really helpful in getting to the final decisions that were made. But they knew that the core of the business would focus on the food and doing it really well. So whenever they could go simpler, they went simpler so that they could focus more on quality. 

They began reverse engineering recipes to create their menu, incorporating flavors that they grew up eating and visiting every taqueria that they could find to make notes about who had the best rice, beans, tortillas, hot sauce, etc. They spent countless hours taste testing different ingredients and understanding what they wanted each ingredient to do in the burrito before making a final decision. In some cases they were able to get the recipes pretty far just with their own testing and finding recipes and tweaking them but they did work with a couple of different chefs that they found before finding one chef in particular on Craigslist who played a big role in helping them develop their recipes. He helped them make sure that the recipes could scale up the right way and be repeatable for when they were cooking in large batches. He also helped them understand what equipment they would need to cook the food and what that cooking process would need to be since the professional equipment allows you to create heat really fast. However, Leo says that they continue to tweak recipes and introduce new items (like their habanero hot sauce and the farro, their whole-grain alternative to rice) because it’s the details that add up to the big differences. They constantly try to get feedback from customers on what they can improve or what’s bugging people the most that they can fix. But no matter what, they always focus on keeping their ingredients and menu items simple. They believe that doing a few things the best way possible is what makes them a cut above their competitors.

In the same way that they’re focused on simplicity from a recipe perspective, Leo and Oliver focus on simplicity from a team perspective as well. From training to on-boarding to career advancement, they want to make every process as straightforward and accessible to every employee as possible, because they believe that people are the key to success in business. Every employee in every store is cross trained across every different part of the restaurant. Not only does this make employees more flexible with their skills, it also keep things fun and interesting because they’re able to do different tasks and jobs throughout the day, which keeps it from getting boring or frustrating. Also, Leo says, it doesn’t seem fair to have one person stuck washing dishes all day and not interacting with customers. Leo admits that they’re getting better at training employees and helping them get on a career path without making employees have to guess about how they can grow from their current positions. They’ve started offering formal certification opportunities for employees to learn new skills, get certified on them, get a raise and get promoted. They also have a whole video training site that they use for employees to practice their skills. Each store has a CO (coach operator) rather than a GM (general manager) whose responsible for hiring new team members, training them and promoting them. They call them COs because they believe that coaching is the key piece of leadership and they empower their employees to train and coach their coworkers in a positive way, rather than from a power standpoint. The COs are then assisted by the distract manager, who oversees multiple locations and works one on one with the CO in a collaborative way when and if more complex issues arise that the CO needs help handling. Leo and Oliver are very focused on their team and creating a positive work experience because they realize that beyond the recipes and the store locations and the designs, it’s all about the people on your team and inspiring them and making them excited to be a part of the business. Employees that are happy at work and excited about what they do will only transfer that joy and excitement to customers, which creates a real relationship between the employee and the guest.

For Leo, the most rewarding and the most challenging part of the business is the people. It’s so rewarding for him to see an employee whose so good at their job and inspiring to other team members grow with the company. “Promoting people who really deserve those promotions is the best feeling you can get, I think”, he says. And then also seeing a guest whose a really excited about the food, who comes back a few times a week, who your staff really enjoys seeing and who enjoys seeing them is so rewarding as well. Building themselves into someone’s life and having people use words like “love” when they’re talking about their product or their staff is very meaningful to him. However, it’s also a challenge for Leo to push for excellence but be realistic. Every time he walks into one of their locations, it’s hard for him not to notice every little thing that’s wrong and want to fix it immediately. But communicating that to the team in the proper way and getting them to focus on these little things without seeming unappreciative of everyone’s hard work is a difficult line to walk. As a business owner, it’s hard for him to navigate that balance, especially as they grow and things are being communicated down a chain of command, rather than directly from him to the team. As a leader, he’s constantly working on that balance to make sure that things are being communicated properly but that he’s still leaving room for empowerment and improvisation among his employees. He and Oliver were both concerned that as the business grew, it would become too corporate or reduce their authenticity. Alternatively, they’ve found that their growth has actually increased the strength of their culture. Their food has also gotten better (creating better recipes, using better equipment, sourcing better ingredients) and they’ve only gotten better as leaders. As the business continues to grow, these are all factors that they hope they can preserve.

Identifying what’s right for you and your business is pivotal to Leo and he urges other entrepreneurs to stay true to their passion and their mission when starting a business. However, he advises, it’s not enough to be skilled or passionate, you need to have really identified a need that’s not being met or not being done to the level that you think it could be done. If you only have a desire to be your own boss, that can often get you into trouble. You need to make sure that there’s a case for the business that you’re getting started and that you have a clear plan to meet that need. If you keep a focus on your core customer and make sure everything you do goes back to solving a problem for that customer, then the growth will happen naturally. As for the future of Dos Toros, Leo says they’re really excited for the growth that they’re seeing and the best part about it is the opportunities that it creates for their team members to grow as well. They’re hoping to keep growing at a sustainable rate in their current markets and organically expand into new markets nearby. Right now they’re interested in areas like Philly, DC, Boston, Nashville, Austin, Charlotte, Miami and Dallas but there are so many cool places where they think Dos Toros would be a good fit. The most important thing to them is that they succeed wherever they go, so they’re focused on getting it right with their location choices and going at the right pace for them.

Interested in learning more about Dos Toros?! Check out our blog next week to read the second part of our #IMadeYourFood feature where we will be highlighting one of their longest tenured COs!

 

Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

 

 

0 comments on “April Events You Should Be Celebrating… with Food.”

April Events You Should Be Celebrating… with Food.

Unfortunately spring hasn’t sprung so we’re still waiting to celebrate the change of seasons with some fresh fruit and veggies and a glass of sangria (talk to us in a few weeks). But winter is coming. And so is baseball season and the last round of March Madness. And in order to prepare for these exciting April events, we’re breaking down not only what you should be celebrating but also the appropriate foods to celebrate with. Because you’ll need something to chew on during those anxiety-ridden moments other than your nails!

Final Four: The final games of March Madness will be this Saturday, April 6th before the NCAA National Championship game on Monday, April 8th. And regardless of who you have in your bracket, making sure that your snacks are on point for your watch party is a must. Below are our picks for the best food from each team’s home state and how you can re-create them for game day snacking!

Game of Thrones Premiere: The eighth and final season of GOT premieres on Sunday, April 14th and we have zero chill (pun intended). As we prepare to watch the living and the dead battle it out, there’s nothing better than taking a food-filled trip down memory lane with dishes that highlight all of the craziest moments from this iconic show. Because who doesn’t want to kill, bake and serve Walder Frey’s sons to him like Arya?!

Baseball: Baseball season has already started, with both New York teams having their home opener games within the last two weeks. And though most people think hot dogs and peanuts when they think of baseball, the options have gotten much more diverse in the last few years. So if you’re catching the game IRL, these are our go-to foods at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

Yankee Stadium:

  • Lobel’s Steak Sandwich
  • Bareburger’s Avocado Bites
  • Big Mozz’s Mozz Sticks
  • Mighty Quinn’s MQRib Sandwich

Citi Field:

  • Fuku Fried Chicken Sandwich
  • Emmy Squared Colony pizza
  • Shake Shack’s ShackBurger
  • Mister Softee Waffle Cone

Want to replicate these items at home? Here are the best recipes to make you feel like you’re at the ballgame… even when you’re sitting on your couch.

 

 

0 comments on “Jeremy Merrin, Founder & CEO of Havana Central”

Jeremy Merrin, Founder & CEO of Havana Central

This is Jeremy Merrin, the founder and CEO of Havana Central, a Cuban restaurant known for it’s large portions, live music and killer mojitos. A native New Yorker, Jeremy was working in e-commerce and looking for a career change when he decided to make a list of things that he was interested in pursuing and the idea for Havana Central, he says, “just took hold”. Even though he doesn’t come from a food background (in fact no one in his family had ever been in the food industry), he thought this idea presented the biggest opportunity and it was the one he was most excited about. The idea was inspired by a popular Latino restaurant that he lived next to called The Caridad. He started talking to a friend about the food and realized that, outside of Mexican food, there were very little full-service, high-quality restaurants serving the Hispanic market. So he started doing some research into the industry, interviewing Latino and Hispanic people as well as diners in general and eating at every Latin restaurants in the tri-state area to figure out what they were doing well and what could be improved. Through his analysis it became clear to him that there was an audience for this food and although there were a good amount of mom and pop restaurants in NYC, there weren’t any reputable, full-service concepts. So Jeremy decided to create a restaurant whose atmosphere is so immersed in the smells, sounds and tastes of Cuban culture that visiting it makes you feel like you’re taking a wonderful mini-vacation in Havana, Cuba.

Once Jeremy had identified this gap in the market, he started looking at what items were available to them, i.e. traditional Cuban dishes. He realized that since most dishes required relatively inexpensive ingredients, it would allow them to sell and deliver large platters of really good food for reasonable prices, which he thought was key for the economy in 2001. He hired a hospitality, restaurant and retail consultant, Arlene Spiegel, to help create a clear brand for the business and to get it up and running. They hired a food engineer, who helped them come up with the initial recipes for the menu but the real significant base of what they have on their current menu was created by Stanley Licairac, the first person that Jeremy hired to be a part of his team at Havana Central. Stanley was the executive chef at Havana Central for 11 years and was very talented with recipe creation, so most of their dishes are still ones that he put together. But it took about ten or eleven months of menu creation and business preparation before Jeremy was able to open their first location in 2002. And it would be a few years before he was able to fully transition Havana Central into the full-service operation that he knew it could be. 

For the first Havana Central location, Jeremy had purchased a little deli on 17th Street off of Union Square and converted it into a small restaurant with only counter service in about six weeks. The line was out the door the first day that they opened and business was so consistent that within the first three months, they were able to start doing dinner service. Dinner service very quickly became successful as well because they were selling a lot of alcohol from the small bar that they had added to the space. Jeremy realized that a lot of people were coming to the restaurant to drink and as that became a bigger factor, he began to pivot away from his initial plan of counter service. He had always wanted a full-service restaurant but their alcohol sales were so substantial that it made the bar and full-service dining more important than ever before and gave him the ability to transition from a fast- casual restaurant to a full-scale service. They reconstructed the bar in the front of the restaurant and closed off the counter at dinnertime for dinner service, eventually getting rid of the counter completely and making the entire space a full-service operation. As they continued to grow, Jeremy realized that the smaller space was no longer fitting into their capabilities, as they had become a much larger scale restaurant. And although Jeremy admits that their first location was really used as a laboratory, all of that experimenting allowed them to clearly determine what their concept was, upscale the food and to get a good handle on their operations. So by the time their 10 year lease had ended at the 17th Street location, they had already opened two 200+ person locations in Times Square (in 2005) and on the Upper West Side (in 2007).

Havana Central

Jeremy now has four Havana Central locations: Times Square, Yonkers, Long Island and New Jersey (the Upper West Side location is now closed) and at each restaurant he tries to create a family atmosphere, both in the restaurant and on the corporate side, especially because a lot of his employees have been there for 10+ years. So all of the employees are very friendly with one another and most of them have developed a group friendship where they go out together or hang out outside of work. He tries to create a collaborative environment and make sure that there’s no sense of “me against you” so that in the restaurant the back of house is working equally as well with the front of house as they are within themselves. At their core they’re a team and one can’t function properly without the other so he always promotes that belief at both at the restaurant and at their corporate office. For Jeremy, the people he works with are the best part of the job. They’re good people who he enjoys being around. However, the people is also the most difficult part of the job for him, because people are a factor that he can’t control. He can control food, labor and food costs (the basic financial variables) but he can’t control personalities, emotions and personal lives, which are much more complex. Also, there are so many different factors to consider with employees: finding the right people, making sure that they’re keeping customers happy, making sure they’re doing the right thing at the right time and making sure that they’re in positions where they can succeed. Figuring out the balance with your employees is a never ending process and an area that Jeremy is always trying to improve upon.

Although they’ve opened locations pretty consistently over the last 17 years, Jeremy would like to speed up the process. He says that Havana Central is constantly in an state of improvement and he’s always looking for ways to grow and expand the business. Outside of fear of failure, which he admits is a big motivator for him, he really enjoys what he does for a living and still very clearly envisions what the future of Havana Central could be. There are other restaurants that have already done what he wants to do with Havana Central but since the Latin market is still somewhat untapped, there is a huge market available to them and those possibilities really excite him to get to the next level. In the future he hopes to expand Havana Central across the U.S. and make it like the “Latin PF Chang’s” or the “Latin Cheesecake Factory”. But for the moment, he’s happy building the Havana Central brand, making sure that every part of every restaurant that he operates is reminiscent of Havana, Cuba and makes the customer feel as if they’re sitting in a night club or restaurant there, even if they’re only taking a lunch break.

 

Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

 

0 comments on “What Is CBD and Why Is It In My Food?”

What Is CBD and Why Is It In My Food?

No matter what field you’re in, no one can ignore the topic of CBD as it continues to make it’s way into mainstream culture. Every day a new product is being created that incorporates it’s pain-relieving chemicals to alleviate muscle pain or it’s soothing properties to combat insomnia; there’s even CBD oil for animals now.  CBD is a growing industry that only promises to get bigger since the signing of the Farm Bill in December 2018. This bill makes it legal to produce hemp, which contains levels of CBD. And although there’s still concerns as to how it will be regulated, CBD is already on the market. In order to educate ourselves about CBD, we decided to do some research into what this substance actually is and why it’s become so popular in the NY food scene.

What is CBD?

CBD (or cannabidiol) is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in the resinous flower of cannabis. It’s a safe, non-addictive substance that’s known for it’s therapeutic properties and unlike THC, which is also found in cannabis, it doesn’t make an individual feel intoxicated or “high”. THC is psychoactive while CBD’s properties create a feeling of relaxation and calm because it affects the receptors in the body and brain in a different way. CBD oil is created by extracting CBD from cannabis and then diluting it with a “carrier oil” such as coconut, or more commonly, hemp seed oil. 

What are the Benefits?

Although scientific research is still being done to determine if CBD can provide a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals, it has been shown to provide relief for a myriad of conditions but most notably for chronic pain, anxiety, depression and inflammation. Some studies even show that it can help reduce symptoms related to cancer and cancer treatments. But aside from the medical benefits, CBD and CBD oil have started to be sold at  health food markets and gas stations or incorporated into products at spas, cosmetic companies and even coffee shops and restaurants. So why add it to food? It’s a careful way to administer CBD and it allows the consumer to avoid inhaling through a vapor pen and irritating the lungs. When CBD is combined with food, it allows the substance to be released slowly, over long periods of time, while the food is digesting, allowing for a longer period of relaxation. Also, because most food has a specific serving size, there is a specific dose of CBD being added to food that you can measure. As opposed to inhaling CBD, which makes it difficult to measure how much CBD you’re getting each time, having it added to your food or drink makes it clear how much you’re putting into your body and allows you to understand how much you need to consume to achieve your desired result of calm or pain management.

The Jury’s Still Out.

Despite all of the noteworthy, positives effects of CBD oil, the consensus on whether or not it truly impacts the body is still unclear. Last year the FDA approved a CBD medication called Epidiolex for the treatment of certain types of pediatric epilepsy. And according to the drug exclusion rule, this means that “once a substance is the active ingredient of an approved drug, food containing that substance cannot be shipped in interstate commerce”.  So technically CBD cannot be added to any food or beverage. However, since CBD has never been proven to cause harm to an individual, the ban on CBD has never been enforced. The FDA has made minimal efforts to stop the commerce of CBD, which means that it now lives in a gray area where CBD products are created and sold but technically contain a Schedule 1 drug (listed as illegal because they have high abuse potential, no medical use, and severe safety concerns). But because studies are still being done on CBD, there’s no evidence that points to if it’s a severe safety concern or a therapeutic remedy. Many healthcare professionals, and even advocates for CBD, advise caution when taking the substance because, as of right now, there’s no way to concretely measure dosage, how it should be administered or how it will interact with other drugs. But due to what we know about the chemical nature of CBD, advocates hope that soon it will be re-classified and proven to provide only clear benefits, both medically and commercially.

 

Resources:
Picture courtesy of Blank Slate Coffee and Kitchen
https://www.projectcbd.org/cbd-101/what-is-cbd
https://www.health.com/pain/what-is-cbd 
https://objectiveintent.blog/2018/09/19/cannabis-and-the-often-overlooked-drug-exclusion-rule/#more-1124
https://www.philly.com/business/weed/cbd-legal-cannabis-weavers-way-fda-lietzan-health-food-fuel-kombucha-ice-cream-20190326.html
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cbd-oil-benefits
https://www.green-flower.com/articles/550/cbd-edibles
https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/26/success/cbd-entrepreneurs/index.html
0 comments on “Bari Musacchio, Owner of Baz Bagel and Restaurant”

Bari Musacchio, Owner of Baz Bagel and Restaurant

This is Bari Musacchio, the owner of Baz Bagel and Restaurant. A sociology major in college, she says that the fact that she got into the hospitality industry was “totally random” since no one in her Jewish/Italian family was in food. But when her dad told her that she needed to get a job in order to live in his Manhattan apartment during summer break and that he had hooked her up with a job at Ceci Cela Patisserie, she obliged. She started working at the counter and enjoyed it so much that she continued working there, even when she had graduated college and could only work there one day a week since she had a full-time job. When she first started working at the French pastry shop, she says she didn’t really realize why she kept going back. She just knew that she loved learning people’s names and coffee orders, meeting different customers from the neighborhood and being able to walk anywhere and have to stop and say “hi” to someone she knew. In retrospect, she sees that it was during this time that she got “bitten by the food industry bug” because she loved the neighborhood feeling that the business provided. It’s the same atmosphere that she strives to provide in her cafe, which she describes as having a “Cheers vibe”. Everything from the restaurant’s design to the food to the music was deliberately chosen to make Baz Bagel a neighborhood place where every person feels comfortable and stopping in is just part of a customer’s routine.

It wasn’t until she started doing the accounting for the wholesale business at Ceci Cela Patisserie that Bari recognized that she could turn her love for the food industry into a professional career. She had always been very academic and liked being in a job where she was actively learning and continued to feel challenged. She enrolled in the French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Center) because she felt that if she was going to commit to a career in food, she wanted to learn every aspect of the business. There she learned the basics of cooking and baking before becoming deeply interested in Italian food and wine (which she reveals is still a special passion of hers) and deciding to go to culinary school in Italy. She came back to New York for a few years after she finished her culinary courses, but later returned to Italy and worked there for a year because she loved the view of the culinary arts in Europe, “it was a whole different type of education”, she says. After returning from Italy the second time, she opened Rubirosa as the General Manager and worked there for about five years, helping to build it from the ground up. During this time, she kept noticing that there were no bagel shops on the Lower East Side, an area that she had lived and worked in for many years. Since she had grown up on Long Island, bagels were a huge part of her daily diet and she found herself traveling to the Upper West Side every weekend to get “good bagels” with her dad, which was a routine they had. She also kept remembering how often customers would come into Ceci Cela and ask if they had bagels and she would think “someone has to open a bagel place around here” because there was no routine available to their community. So in 2014, she started imagining spots in the area where she could open a bagel place and when a space opened up across the street from her apartment she decided to just take a look at it, thinking “maybe my bagel fantasy will come true”. Immediately when she walked in, she was able to envision how it could all work and decided to go for it.

Her family helped her in putting up the money to buy the restaurant but coming off of the success of Rubirosa, where they saw her work like it was her own place, they knew this endeavor was something she was extremely passionate about. Seeing the whole operation work is still one of the most rewarding parts of the business for Bari. She compares it to synchronized swimming, where everyone is moving on their own but working as a whole to create something masterful. The space she’s in has a 120 year old history. Originally an Italian deli and then a multitude of other things, it was an Italian restaurant for 10 years and then briefly a juice bar before Bari took it over. Her neighbor, Anna, used to work there as a girl when her family ran it as a luncheonette, which she showed Bari pictures of on the night that Baz opened, one of which now hangs on a wall in the restaurant. The space has been a part of the community for generations, which makes it even more special for Bari that she can continue adding to it’s history. Unfortunately the owners before her ripped out all of the original counters and fixtures so they had to bring back in the lunch counter and re-design everything. But she felt that bringing back touches of the original decor made the space even more charming and inviting. She was inspired by her trips to Florida to give it the luncheonette/diner feel rather than a grab-n-go bagel store because in Florida it’s normal to sit down, have some coffee and eat your bagel or breakfast sandwich at a table without rushing out. So she decided to create a Jewish diner that centered around bagels, even though grab-n-go may be faster and more efficient in New York. She loved the idea of sitting at a table and hanging out with friends while enjoying a delicious bagel and she wanted to create a place where she would want to hang out every day.

There’s a lot of nostalgia sprinkled throughout the restaurant, from the design to the menu to the packaging. All of the decorations in the restaurant are things that influenced Bari growing up, specifically musicians like Barbara Streisand, Carly Simon and Carole King, which were always playing around her house. Bari’s grandmother grew up on the Lower East Side and went to high school with Barbara Streisand so there was always a connection to her and the empowering message that she stood for. Bari wanted to tie these childhood influences (the influences of her grandmother’s generation) into the menu, so she took some recipes from her grandmother when creating it. Her grandmother has a recipe box full of recipe cards that she and her friends from temple wrote down and put together so she was a able to get a lot of authentic recipes for items like latkes, chicken soup, matzoh balls and matzoh brei. However, for the bagels, Bari created her own recipe. She did a lot of research into bagels (eating many different kinds) to see what she liked or disliked about them and even worked at a bagel shop in New Jersey for free in order to learn how to make them. Once she knew the process, she hired bakers to start making them and then tweaked the recipe to incorporate different elements that she liked from certain bagels until she found the perfect balance. With their packaging, Bari tries to keep the personality of the restaurant and bring it into corporate offices for catering or delivery orders. Catering is usually a side operation for other businesses but for her it’s become just as important as the retail business because every time she caters, she introduces her product to 100 people that haven’t seen it yet. She puts different images on their coffee boxes: one of her grandmother, one of Barbara Streisand, one of her cousin, Gary, in a pink suit for his prom, just to make it fun. She tries to find the joy in simple things and uses her packaging to make an impression and to keep a smile on people’s faces.

For Bari, the most rewarding part of the business is seeing people laughing in the restaurant every day and having a good time. It was really important to her that she create a space where you could “take a date, a baby or your grandmother” and each person would feel like there was something there for them. Which is why she’s not concerned with finding a niche or carving out a space for her restaurant in the food industry. She just wants to be “the neighborhood hang”, which she is, as evidenced by the customers that come into her restaurant seven days a week. She loves that she’s seen kids grow up in her store and takes pride in the fact that when a customer comes in, they’re able to forget about whatever’s going on outside the restaurant. But even though Baz Bagel is an established restaurant in the neighborhood, she admits that there’s an obstacle every single day. Which is why her advice to other entrepreneurs in the food industry is to keep with it, saying “as long as you’re prepared to deal with the challenges and control everything else that’s controllable, you’re gonna be fine”. Perseverance is the key to success for Bari, whose dad and sister both run their own businesses. She believes that the drive to succeed is in her DNA and her dad has taught her that running a business is a game of both “putting your head down and working hard” and “lifting your head up and selling”. So when so many things are going wrong and she wants to quit, she just keeps pushing through it, believing it will work out, which it always does.

As for the future of Baz, Bari says she’s enjoyed expanding “out the backdoor” with their catering and wholesales businesses rather than opening many doors with other locations. She enjoys the charm of having one location but there is demand for them to expand so she’s in the process of figuring out what that looks like. One thing that is clear to her is that whatever expansion they do end up doing, she wants to make sure that it doesn’t effect their flagship store, which is the heart and soul of her business. It’s the place that made her believe that her vision was possible and even today, after five years in business, Bari continues to say that she can’t put her finger on what it is that makes her restaurant so unique. But just like her first job at Ceci Cela, which made her fall in love with food, Baz Bagel and Restaurant is a place where there’s a constant friendly, community feeling and as Bari puts it, “something just feels special about this place”.

 

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0 comments on “Feeding Your Team with Purpose Attracts Talent and Improves Office Culture”

Feeding Your Team with Purpose Attracts Talent and Improves Office Culture

In January 2019, Managed by Q, a workplace management platform, released their 2019 Workplace Trends Report, which focuses on the belief that a human-centered office is the new trend on the rise in the corporate world. According to their research and their experience working with companies across the U.S., the growth of responsive, interactive technology and the ascension of the “millennial” generation into the workforce and subsequently into leadership roles, has created a corporate landscape where employees are demanding more from their employers than ever before. 

Millennials have been cited for creating a more interactive approach to work and their personal lives, coining the term “work-life balance” to explain the integration of the two. This new approach has caused millennials (as well as employees of every generation) to place a high value on community and purpose-driven work, which they’re actively seeking from the companies that they work for. Due to this shift in motivation within the workplace, in their report Managed by Q identified five trends that they believe companies must adopt “to effectively attract and retain top talent”. They are: the technological evolution of human-centered workplace design; the rise of co-working and the focus on workplace hospitality; flexible workplace policies; culture is essential for employee recruitment and retention; and diversity and inclusion are fundamental business practices. However, we believe that most important of these trends is the cultivation of office culture, which is where Managed by Q specifically referenced our company. Because at FoodtoEat, our concierge catering service helps to improve office culture in three specific ways.

Managed by Q’s research shows that today “individuals seek to cultivate a greater connection to one another”, which is why we advocate for team meals in every office. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, team meals help to foster a sense of community within the office. They bring together individuals from every department and allow them to discuss common interests, examine operations for areas of improvement and interact with and learn from individuals with differing opinions and beliefs. This exchange of ideas improves team work and invites creative solutions to issues that the company may be facing. Rather than being a “perk” that looms overhead, hinting that it could be taken away at any moment, building team meals into the fabric of office life encourages a collaborative environment where co-workers rely on one another for help and reinforces the idea that perfection isn’t realistic. Mistakes help employees learn and grow and allow them to think outside the box when problem-solving or finding ways to prevent future mistakes. 

Being that employees are the most valuable asset in a company, corporate catering is also a way to recognize and reward them. Celebrating holidays, birthdays and personal and professional milestones is a way for companies to show that they understand an individual’s value and are appreciative of it. Showing appreciation for someone’s work or personal achievement is a simple yet effective way to demonstrate that, as an employer, you are invested in their happiness and honor these moments as well. Whether it’s ordering their favorite dessert or sitting down for lunch together, creating that time during the day to make an employee feel seen and respected is key to showing your commitment to them as a part of your team. That recognition increases productivity because it incentivizes employees to continue to invest their time, energy and passion into the work that they do. As Managed by Q found, “employees want to feel like work gives them a personal purpose” and purpose can only continue to be a motivating factor when it is identified and applauded.

More than the connection created through team meals or the recognition of individuals in the workplace, our mission to work with immigrant, women and minority-run food businesses throughout NYC is what sets us apart from other catering services. Employees in the corporate environment want “an opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves” and by working with our service, they’re able to directly impact their local food community. Employees are looking for companies that not only appreciate them but also have a set of values as a company that guide their decision-making and positively impact the larger public. Because of the union of work and life that employees have become accustomed to, they want to be a part of a company that connects with their personal ethics and lifestyle choices. More and more, employers are being asked about how they’re creating a cycle of social good in their communities and being held to a higher standard by their employees. Working with our company, not only does an employer reward their own employees, they also send a clear message on what they value as a brand, which attracts individuals that agree with that message and creates a strong culture of like-minded people working towards a common purpose.

 

0 comments on “Kamola Akhmedova, Owner of Afandi Asian Grill”

Kamola Akhmedova, Owner of Afandi Asian Grill

This is Kamola Akhmedova, the owner of Afandi Asian Grill. Afandi is a title shortened from Nasreddin Afandi, the name of a fictional character whose story of being a traveler on the Silk Road is very popular in Kamola’s native country of Uzbekistan. Kamola moved to New York in 2013 after meeting her fiance at The MET during a business trip for her parents manufacturing company. The company, which specializes in the manufacturing of ice cream and frozen foods, was looking to expand it’s product line and Kamola was meeting with clients in New York. Her husband, who is also originally from Uzbekistan, overheard her talking on the phone and struck up a conversation with her. Five months later, after dating long distance, they decided to get married and Kamola moved back to New York permanently. She says it was one of the biggest decisions she’s ever made because she had been a part of her parents company for most of her life and wasn’t sure what she would do for work in New York. But soon after getting married she got pregnant and she spent the next two years raising her son and continuing to work remotely for her parents. In 2015 her husband decided to open his own shipping company and she began helping with the business, doing the bookkeeping and running operations. However, after a while, Kamola started getting interested in the food industry again, since she had worked in it for most of her life. She began thinking about how much she loved Uzbek food but it was all so heavy and greasy; there was no modern Uzbek food that would appeal to the market in New York. So she decided to open her own fast casual restaurant that would focus on a new version of Uzbek food but still would be able to educate New Yorkers about her culture.

Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia so it has influences from both the Silk Road/the Western part of China and the Soviet Union, which makes both their culture and their food a very unique combination. Their breakfast food is most similar to the Soviet Union countries (pierogies, cheese pancakes, blintzes) but most of their traditional lunch and dinner dishes (Uzbek pilaf (plov), dumplings (manti) and noodle dishes (norin or lagman)) come from Western China and are very meat-heavy, containing either lamb or beef. Originally when she began pursuing a career in the food industry, Kamola did research into manufacturing, thinking that she could create a manufacturing business around Uzbek food. But she quickly realized that it would be too hard to replicate her parents’ operation without experience in the U.S. Her parents had been working in the manufacturing industry for years, first mass manufacturing ice cream and then expanding into frozen foods when she was 14, the same time that Kamola began working for them. She had started learning English in high school and since her parents don’t speak English, she would help them schedule meetings with their partners abroad. She attended an Australian university in Uzbekistan and continued her English classes, taking a bigger role in the company and travelling with her parents to international expos and conferences to help translate. Although her schedule was extremely full with work and school, she says she didn’t mind it because she was always passionate about being in business. She didn’t know exactly what field she would pursue but always knew she would get into some area of business and be a business owner.

Since Kamola had been surrounded by food from an early age and knew manufacturing wasn’t a viable option, she began thinking about the restaurant/cafe business because it was a smaller part of the food industry and a (seemingly) easier operation to run. She started doing research into food trends in New York and found that vegetarian and vegan options were very popular. She thought there could be a way to make Uzbek food lighter and healthier with vegan and vegetarians options; an “every day meal” that would attract recurring customers rather than a heavy experience that they splurged on every once in a while. However, although she knew how to cook and had business experience, she didn’t have any experience in the restaurant industry, so she spent the next year learning. She wanted to do her research into the business and decrease her risks as much as possible so she started going into different restaurants in Uzbekistan and asking chefs for help. She worked with these chefs to deeply understand and learn their recipes and then she made them every day until she learned how to create every dish. Then she started working backwards seeing where she could substitute ingredients for lighter, healthier and/or veggie-friendly options. She spent six months in Uzbekistan and six months in New York learning and working on the menu before deciding if she could even open a restaurant. But her research paid off. She constructed a simple menu that included some main, authentic Uzbek dishes as well as the vegan and vegetarian options that she had created. Once that was complete, she made a business plan and started looking for restaurant spaces in the East Village since it’s a traditionally Ukrainian area that customers are drawn to. She ended up finding a small space with a kitchen on 1st Avenue and her restaurant opened in September 2018. It’s one of the first Uzbek restaurants in Manhattan.

Afandi Store

Since her business has only been open for about six months, Kamola says there’s still a lot to be done to get more customers into the restaurant. She admits that it’s been difficult to gain interest from customers because it’s something new but she tries to explain the cuisine to every single customer that comes in so that he/she understands the influences that make it unique. She’s incorporated a lot of the Uzbek culture into the store design (statue of Afandi, Uzbek paintings, cups and bowls) but also tries to show the creation of her modern Uzbek food by depicting the meshing of New York City and Uzbekistan with the image of two American women wearing Uzbek hats. She’s also very aware of the impact of social media on food businesses and is trying to do more on Instagram and Facebook so that their audience will get to know her business and the mission behind it. She’s been inviting influencers to come to the restaurant and try the food for free in exchange for a social media post and even created a “green wall” to make the restaurant more picturesque for social media. However, as difficult as it’s been for Kamola to get her business to stand out in a saturated market, she says that the most difficult part of being a woman-owned business is being able to balance your family and your business. It feels like there’s never enough time in the day for her to manage both aspects of her life and that gets really tough. Her son is her biggest motivation to make the business successful but even when she’s thinking about the business throughout the day, she’s always thinking about her son. Although she really enjoys her job, she has to work to support her family and it’s always challenging trying to figure out how to balance everything. It frustrates her as a business owner and mother that there’s not one clear solution but she hopes that over time she can find a routine that works for her.

Kamola’s immediate plans for Afandi Asian Grill include expanding their menu to incorporate more food from other Soviet Union countries and starting to offer brunch on the weekends. But long-term she plans to open another restaurant that’s smaller with only counter service and grab-n-go food. She’d like to open a small manufacturing facility in Brooklyn where all of the Uzbek food would be cooked and then transported to these small restaurants that would eventually expand throughout the city. However, this operation requires more financing so she plans to do more research into the logistics to see what would be feasible in New York. She’s started going to more networking events and meet-ups to make connections and learn from people who have been successful in the food industry. Understanding how other women have grown their businesses and garnering their advice is very important to her. Kamola relies heavily on her research and being a new business owner, it’s one of her two pieces of advice for female entrepreneurs looking to get into the food industry: do as much research as possible and then get as much experience as possible. She doesn’t regret her path into the restaurant business but looking back she wishes that she knew more about restaurants and how many things you have to handle as a business owner before jumping in. She says if she had realized, she definitely would’ve worked in a restaurant to get more experience first, even if she had to work for free. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what cuisine you’re cooking, real life experience in a kitchen is more important than anything else.

 

Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!