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Carlos Barrera Duarte, Executive Chef at Hey Hey Canteen

This is Carlos Barrera Duarte, the executive chef at Hey Hey Canteen. Carlos grew up in Mexico City, Mexico and talked about going to culinary school and becoming a chef since he was 5 years old. He says that growing up in his house, everything revolved around food. Whether it was a special occasion, a sad occasion or anything in between, you could find his family gravitating towards the kitchen, where his mom and dad cooked on a daily basis. Carlos found cooking interesting and it became a source of comfort for him, especially as he got older and sitting in classroom became more and more difficult. He was restless in school but cooking gave him a process to focus on and he enjoyed it because he was good at it. He began spending his summers working at a bakery and then a sushi restaurant and then at 15, he started taking some kitchen classes. When he got older, Carlos says that he tried to enroll in culinary arts school a few times but once he had experience in the industry, he realized that most chefs never went to school so he would question why he was spending the money and talk himself out of it. But his dad saw the value in school and convinced him to pursue his degree, so Carlos ended up enrolling in a four year culinary arts program at a small school in Mexico. After he finished school, he wasn’t sure what to do with his degree so he lived on a vineyard in Mexico for three months learning how to make wine before moving to Spain and working at restaurants in San Sebastian, Barcelona and Madrid. After a few years, Carlos moved back to Mexico but he didn’t feel that there were enough opportunities in the food and beverage industry there for him to be successful. So he decided to emigrate to the U.S., where he believed he could start fresh and challenge himself. However, after almost giving up a few times, he says he feels lucky to be where he is today and that he owes his success to the people who have helped him along the way.

In 2012, Carlos got a work visa and moved to Chicago where some of his family was living. But once he got to Chicago, things got complicated because he spoke no English and didn’t have any connections in the food industry in the U.S. He ended up taking a job at McDonald’s and then worked in a factory folding boxes. After a few months, he started thinking about returning to Mexico and going to work for his dad, but then he got a call from a childhood friend of his mom’s who lived in the U.S. Although they had never met before, he told Carlos that he was a doctor in South Dakota and that he could help him get a job in the food industry there. Carlos didn’t have enough money for the flight so the doctor emailed him a plane ticket for the next day. Carlos had no option. He didn’t want to give up on his dream and move back to Mexico so he moved to South Dakota. Right when he got there, Carlos says the doctor became like his second dad. He got Carlos a job at a restaurant in Rapid City and let Carlos live with him for a year until he could afford his own apartment. Although no one could communicate with him because he still spoke very little English, he started off as a prep cook at the restaurant and within six months was promoted to head chef. He spent two years in South Dakota, helping the owner run his two restaurants, until the owner decided to close for renovations. It was supposed to be four weeks but it ended up taking two months and during his time off Carlos decided to go to New York to visit some friends from culinary school.

Carlos says that he fell in love with New York when he came to visit. It had so much more diversity than the cities he had been living in that it felt like home. When he returned to South Dakota, the doctor pushed him to move to New York permanently but Carlos didn’t feel ready. He had no savings and no plan for what he was going to do once he got there but the doctor insisted and ended up buying him a plane ticket for the following week. Carlos moved to New York in January 2015 and again, had no connections. All of his friends from culinary school had moved back to Mexico and he had nowhere to live so he started staying in a hostel. He tried to search for jobs but couldn’t find any and he began getting depressed and feeling very lonely. The move started feeling like too much for him and although he wanted to work in food, he didn’t feel he could be a chef in a place like New York. He stopped looking for jobs and slowly began running out of money. Finally his dad made him a deal: he gave him money to live in New York for one more month and said if he didn’t have a job by the end of the month, he had to move back to Mexico. As he was nearing the end of the month, he met his girlfriend on a dating app and it motivated him to stay in New York. He started looking for jobs again and got an interview at 2 Duck Goose, a Chinese restaurant in Gowanus, and ended up getting the job as a line cook. On his first day of work, there were a lot of different events going on in the city so his hostel got booked up and he didn’t have anywhere to stay. So Kay, the owner of 2 Duck Goose, let him stay in the restaurant and shower at her apartment. Carlos says that’s the moment he knew that he wanted to work with Kay, because she didn’t even know him and offered to help. He says that she’s supported him since day one.

Carlos & Team from Hey hey canteen

Similar to his time in Rapid City, Carlos started from the bottom at 2 Duck Goose and after six months, there was some changes to the staff and he was promoted to sous chef. Now that he was finally in a position at a restaurant he was happy with, he decided to take some time off and go back to Mexico with his girlfriend so that he could show her his country. While he was on vacation, Kay emailed him that the concept wasn’t doing well and that they were going to have to close the business. When he got back to New York, Carlos already had ideas for a new concept that he wanted to start with Kay because he enjoyed working with her. They met and started brainstorming and both had similar ideas of wanting to create a healthy menu with Asian flavors that was accessible for everyone. They wanted to continue to provide delicious food to their customers but at a lower price point, so they decided to make it a fast casual restaurant. Together they spent six months coming up with the concept for Hey Hey Canteen- creating the menu, working on dishes and coming up with the branding. It was a whole new experience for Carlos because he had never been involved in the opening of a restaurant before. But since he had created the concept with Kay, he became the executive chef on the project and says that Kay gave him the support and the freedom to figure out what worked. He says that they changed the menu a lot before it could get to where it is now. In fact, the Caesar salad is the only dish they kept on the menu from the beginning and everything else is new. They try to work with seasonal ingredients to keep everything fresh but also keep the dishes simple and cook them in the right way, using the right techniques to make sure that the taste is correct. They also try to stay very detail-oriented to stand out from their competitors because there are so many health-focused bowl/salad places in New York that they have to be unique to differentiate themselves. One of the key ways that they do this is with their homemade dressings, which they make from scratch each day. Carlos says that focusing on the details is very important to him because the care that they put into their food is evident to their customers.

The most rewarding part of working at Hey Hey Canteen, Carlos says, is his team. He believes that the team they have now is pretty solid, especially since in most kitchens they’re always rotating people in and out. Every one of them came into the new concept that he and Kay created so they’re always bringing in new ideas for a dish or feedback on how an item can be improved. Because they’re such a small team (only ten people), they have the confidence to be honest with one another but they also support each other when things are happening outside of work. So having a team he can rely on is huge for him. He knows everyone that he works with is very responsible and they all trust each other to get their job done. He doesn’t feel it’s helpful to be on top of people telling them what to do but it’s also taken them years to find the right people that are committed to the concept and have the same goal of making the restaurant succeed. Everyone on their team has been together for at least a year and everyone brings their own strengths to the menu. Now that they have found those people, it makes work much easier because they’ve created a positive environment where people enjoy coming to work. Carlos has worked with most of theses people for a few years at this point and he says that he “definitely considers these people my family”. They’re a diverse group and since they’re all immigrants from different parts of the world (Mexico, Tibet, Nepal, Hong Kong), they’re all so close because most of them don’t have families here to rely on, they’re each other’s family. He personally tries to keep in touch with everyone every day and know what’s going on with them both inside and outside of work. He feels close to his team because he feels like he knows what’s happening in their lives the same way they know what’s happening in his. And it’s nice to know that someone is looking out for you, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed in such a stressful environment like the kitchen.

Carlos believes he’s “super chill” as a chef because he doesn’t believe in yelling at people and creating more stress in a high-stress environment. He says that he’s seen those strict chefs who run very strict kitchens and always promised himself that when he started running his own kitchen, he wouldn’t make the same mistakes that he thinks these chefs made. And his advice for other cooks or chefs just starting out in the industry is to not think there’s only one way to work as a chef because there’s definitely no one set way to do things. He believes that it’s important to care for the people you work with and to create a relationship where there’s respect on both sides so that you know that the people who work below you care for your problems the same way you care about theirs. If you treat people like machines rather than human beings, they’re not going to be invested in the job and eventually they’ll leave. Carlos and his team have a close relationship so they’re all invested in Hey Hey Canteen, which Carlos calls “his baby”. It’s been three years since they re-opened their Gowanus location as Hey Hey Canteen and now they’re focused on trying to gain more exposure in Manhattan with their new location at Turnstyle Market. Moving forward, Carlos says he’s excited to expand their menu offerings and open more locations so that customers can enjoy Hey Hey Canteen as much as he’s enjoyed creating it.

 

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FoodtoEat’s Favorites: Places to Dine in NYC During the Summer

If you’re like the FoodtoEat team, the warmer weather and sunshine has you dying to be outside all. day. long. Living in New York, it always seems like winter lasts six months and summer lasts two weeks so we try our best to take advantage of every sunny day. Whether that means going for a quick walk during lunchtime or lounging in the park after work, we really try to soak in all of the benefits of the summer months. And one of the best benefits is going out to eat, which also happens to be our favorite pastime!

We don’t know what it is about the summer but the longer days seem to make it more socially acceptable to eat out for every meal and the beautiful weather is an easy way to justify why our wallets are getting much, much lighter. But, as we all sadly know, summer is a fleeting season so we’ll continue to enjoy wining and dining ourselves while we can. And we hope that you’ll join us!

Below we’ve listed our top recommendations for summer spots to enjoy a meal with friends or coworkers in NYC. These restaurants always have an amazing atmosphere and even more delicious food that will keep you coming back again and again. So check them out and start planning your visit. And make sure to tag us with your favorite dish @foodtoeat!

Tracey’s Pick: Brooklyn Crab (Red Hook, Brooklyn). Although the restaurant itself isn’t super fancy, you won’t find fresher seafood than Brooklyn Crab. It’s a large place with indoor and outdoor seating, games and great views of the New York Harbor. The vibe of the restaurant is very laid back and casual so if you’re looking to relax with a group of friends, it’s a great spot to check out. But get there early- it tends to get crowded early on the weekends in the summer!

Jaimie’s Pick: Boulton & Watt (East Village, Manhattan). This American gastropub has something for everyone with it’s wide mix of dishes, from kale and quinoa salad to mahi mahi fish tacos. It’s known as a big neighborhood hangout where you can find people drinking a beer and watching the game as well as sitting in a corner eating brunch and sipping on some unique cocktails. The best thing about this restaurant is their large windows, which cover three of their four walls, bringing in a lot of natural sunlight and (hopefully) a breeze when they’re opened up during the summer. 

Ciara’s Pick: Beebe’s (Boro Hotel in Long Island City). Located in the lobby of the Boro Hotel, Beebe’s is a must if you’re looking for consistently delicious food in Long Island City. Known for their “old school” thin crust pies and homemade pasta, this restaurant has a great balance of your favorite dishes in a modern setting with floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor seating. The best part about Beebe’s is that it serves as the hotel’s main restaurant, so if there aren’t any tables available, you can always head up to their rooftop bar while you wait and enjoy some amazing views of Manhattan.

Deepti’s Pick: Supper (East Village, Manhattan). Although most people recommend rooftop eateries during the summer, the food at Supper is too tasty not to visit all year round. This authentic Italian restaurant is known for it’s super fresh ingredients and handmade pasta that makes each dish more flavorful than the next. It’s a smaller space but the ability to watch the chefs work their magic from multiple angles in the restaurant is what makes this place so unique. (Plus they do have a handful of tables outside the restaurant if you’re lucky enough to get them!)

 

 

0 comments on “Corey Samuels, Co-Owner of Kashkaval Garden and Leisa Arndt, General Manager of Kashkaval Garden”

Corey Samuels, Co-Owner of Kashkaval Garden and Leisa Arndt, General Manager of Kashkaval Garden

This is Corey Samuels, the co-owner of Kashkaval Garden, and Leisa Arndt, the general manager. Corey and his business partner, Daniel Assaf, have been friends since they were 13 years old and both moved from Montreal, Canada to New York in the late 90’s after finishing university. After working in New York for a few years, Corey and Daniel began looking for a passion project to focus on outside of work. But apart from being avid customers of restaurants and gourmet food stores, they had no knowledge of the food industry or food service (Corey is a software engineer and Daniel is a gemologist) until they met an older gentleman they now fondly refer to as the “cheese man”. He owned a cheese shop in their Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood and they became friendly with him from frequently visiting his store. It was during this time that they realized that there were no bars or restaurants in the area that focused on serving wine and small plates (cheese, Mediterranean tapas, etc) and started speaking with him about this concept. They thought that it was a unique idea and something that they themselves would like as customers. The “cheese man” agreed and offered them another storefront location that he owned in Hell’s Kitchen to open the operation with him. In 2004, they opened Kashkaval Cheese Market and Wine Bar, which acted as a gourmet deli in front, where they sold their tapas and cheeses to go, and in the back had a wine and fondue room with a long bar and waiter service. And although Kashkaval has changed over the years to focus more on their Mediterranean influences, it has remained a staple in the Hell’s Kitchen community for the last 15 years due to their high-quality food and their ability to understand their customer and create a cozy, inviting environment that customers continue to want to return to.

When they opened their market and wine bar in 2004, Corey says that there was nothing like the concept in their neighborhood and that the idea of a “wine bar” had just started making it’s way into New York’s food scene and becoming popular. They knew it would be risky getting into the food business but were hoping that other consumers, like themselves, would enjoy a new way to eat out. It did take a couple of years for the idea to catch on but once it did, it became very popular and allowed them to expand to a second location two doors down. They opened Kashkaval Garden, a more elevated dining experience, in 2013 and operated both locations for about a year before losing the lease in their original space and consolidating everything into their new location. They decided to get rid of the market aspect of the business because it didn’t make sense in the new space and to focus their menu on more healthy, flavorful, Mediterranean-inspired dishes. They added some new items to the menu but unfortunately, due to spacing issues, had cut back on their cheeses and tapas. Corey admits that he does miss the market from the original location because he loved the local feel that it gave him to see neighborhood residents coming in and out of the shop throughout the day and he was also very proud of the large variety of cheeses that they would stock (40 or 50 different types), sourced both internationally and domestically. But they made it a point during their transition from market to restaurant to keep their cheese and tapas programs, although limited, on the menu as well as their fondue, which remains a popular item. They also were able to incorporate the intimate feeling of their back wine and fondue room with a back dining room in their new space, which took them three years to construct and opened in 2016. It was originally the backyard of the building but Corey and Daniel hired an architect to build the room from scratch because they wanted a room that was more cozy and hidden and they love the “wow” factor that customers get when they see the room for the first time. Although they weren’t able to stay in both locations, they made sure to keep aspects of the market and wine bar that they loved so that they never lose their neighborhood feeling.

Wall at Kashkaval

Corey believes that the most unique thing about Kashkaval Garden is their ability to use healthy ingredients to consistently create an authentic and flavorful meal. They classify themselves as a Mediterranean restaurant but try to be really creative with what they offer and use a lot of spices that aren’t “typical” for Mediterranean food but make sense for the dish. Since Corey and Daniel don’t have any background in food, the recipes on their menu were created by two chefs who have worked with them over the years. The first chef, who created most of their recipes, is originally from Turkey and doesn’t have any formal culinary training. He was taught how to cook by his mother and grandmother so he created a lot of authentic, homemade recipes, which Corey attributes their unique flavor and spice to. Their second chef was also their first general manager, who came from a culinary background and had a more modern approach to their dishes. Their menu today is a combination of both chefs: the authenticity and earthiness from Turkey and the presentation skills and level of service expected from New York. And the creativity that both contributed to the menu works well for them. Of course they do seasonal changes and they’re open to adding to the menu if they go out and see a dish that they like. They’ll create it for their team then try it out as a special and see what the customer feedback is before adding it to the menu. They want their dishes to be filling but not make people feel heavy so they always challenge themselves to use the healthiest ingredients possible, bending towards organic and sustainable items. In order to stay on top of food trends, they do a lot of research on what’s popular and what the best things are to be offering health-wise. Focusing on healthier, yet tasty, options was always something that was important to them, especially when opening Kashkaval Garden. But in the last two years, Corey says that they’ve been challenging themselves even more so to find better quality ingredients for their dishes as well as packaging for delivery orders to reduce plastic waste, which is a personal value that Corey and Daniel both feel strongly about.

Corey and Daniel both still work full-time so they really rely on their managers to run the show at the restaurant. They’re usually there at night and on the weekends so Leisa, their general manager, takes care of operations on a daily basis. She has a background in management and hospitality was something that she got into during school but stuck with over the years because she loves it. She’s been working in the food industry for 10 years and met Corey and Daniel at a bar that she was working at at the time before moving over to work at Kashkaval Garden once it opened. She worked at the restaurant on and off for five years before taking over the general manager position this past fall. Now, as a leader at the restaurant, Leisa says that she stays motivated because every day is a new day and since she’s been in the industry for so long, she’s able to deal with issues that come up and let things roll off her back pretty easily. Not only does this allow her to keep a positive work environment, it also allows her to motivate her team by being a resource for them and making sure that the the staff has both the physical things that they need and the knowledge that they need to carry out their jobs. She believes that fostering a positive work environment means showing everyone how their contribution matters and how each person works together to create success because they’re working as a cohesive team rather than individuals. Creating this environment among employees helps to provide a positive experience for the guest and makes it easier for each person to do their job knowing that they’re all working towards the same goal and what they do has a direct impact on their coworkers. For both Leisa and Corey, one of the most rewarding parts of the business is the team that they work with. Although it’s generally a continual challenge for vendors to find good employees, they have really great people on their team and they love working with them because they’re good people that work really hard. For Leisa, it’s nice coming to work every day because they’re like a little family and even when the restaurant is packed and things get crazy, they still have fun with each other.

Corey believes that food is love. So if he can have a team that enjoys coming to work, produces good food and shares that food/love with customers who arrive happy and leave happy, then he’s done his job as a business owner. He works to cultivate a positive environment for both staff and clients because he believes that positive energy extends to the customers and back to the staff. So it’s all about creating positive energy to be circulating throughout your entire restaurant so that people feel comfortable at all times. For Corey, a positive review, either in person or online, is the best reward that he can get for the work he’s put into his business. However, he warns others who are looking to get into the food industry to be prepared because there’s a lot you don’t know and there’s a lot that you need to learn, which will only happen over time as the experiences comes up. In those situations, he advises to learn from your mistakes so that when it happens again (because it will) you’re better able to deal with it. Leisa’s advice to others looking to work in management, like her, is to develop a thick skin for the issues that will arise and if you want to succeed, be ready to put your whole soul into what you’re doing- don’t show up just to show up.

 

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0 comments on ““Un-Rolling” Our Way to Memorial Day….”

“Un-Rolling” Our Way to Memorial Day….

It’s almost Memorial Day Weekend and we can’t wait to get out in the sun and enjoy the “official” beginning of summer! Although Memorial Day usually entails a lot of grilling (hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, etc), these items can get repetitive and for a lot of New Yorkers, Memorial Day often means being stuck in the city without access to a key part of the MDW meal creation: the grill! So we decided to change it up this year and kick off summer in a different way: with our un-stuffed egg roll!

It’s all of the ingredients that you love in an egg roll, without the roll! Not only is it a much healthier option (we see you working on that summer bod), it’s something that you can prepare in any apartment in under 30 minutes, giving you more time to enjoy that beautiful summer weather. Check out this simple and delicious recipe below and join us in celebrating MDW differently this year!

Un-stuffed Egg Roll 

Recipe serves 4

You’ll Need:

6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 cup shredded napa or green cabbage

1 cup shredded carrots

1 large zucchini (cut into 1 inch thick sticks)

1 lb ground turkey

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

3 bulbs of scallions, chopped

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

olive oil

black pepper

First whisk garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce and hoisin sauce in a small bowl and set aside. Next you’ll add olive oil to a large skillet and heat on medium-high. Once hot, add in the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes. Then you’ll in the ground turkey and black pepper (to your taste) and cook until browned and cooked through.

Once the turkey is cooked through, stir in your carrots, zucchini, cabbage and 1/2 of the chopped scallions. Stir fry for about 2 minutes. Next drizzle your soy sauce/garlic/ginger mixture into the skillet and continue to stir fry for another 3-4 minutes or until all of your vegetables are crisp-tender. Once crisp-tender, plate and serve! If desired, sprinkle your leftover chopped scallions on top for an eye-catching presentation!

Pro tip: Spice up this “un-stuffed egg roll” with some delicious homemade hot mustard. All you need is ground mustard and water! Add 1/4 of the dry ground mustard to a bowl and 1/4 cup of water to a bowl and whisk. If you want it to be a little thicker, add more mustard and if you want it to be more watery, add more water. Drizzle on top of your dish or serve on the side for dipping! Either way you’ll be making this recipe again and again.

 

0 comments on “Armando Litiatco and Ahmet Kiranbay, Co-Owners of F.O.B. and Shindig”

Armando Litiatco and Ahmet Kiranbay, Co-Owners of F.O.B. and Shindig

This is Armando Litiatco and Ahmet Kiranbay, the co-owners of F.O.B. and Shindig. Armando is a classically trained chef who grew up in San Francisco in a food-focused Filipino family while Ahmet is originally from Ankara, Turkey and worked as an accountant before emigrating to the U.S. in 2006. And despite the fact that they’re from different countries where they grew up in much different environments, have different religions and different cultures, they believe that they were brought together by their love of food. The two met in San Francisco 13 years ago and have been working together ever since. Armando was working as a chef at Google when he met Ahmet and convinced him that they would make the perfect team to cater Google’s holiday party for 200 people. He told him, “You understand the numbers and I understand the food. Let’s help each other and do it together.” Within a week they had opened a catering company and secured the job at Google. And since that time, it’s always been that same dynamic: Armando in the kitchen and Ahmet managing the front of house operations and accounting. But now with their newest ventures, F.O.B. (their restaurant) and Shindig (their catering company), they’ve been working together to introduce New Yorkers to a cuisine that’s very close to both of their hearts: Filipino BBQ. Not only are they trying to educate customers about Filipino culture through their delicious food, they strive to create an environment in their restaurant that make customers feel like they’re eating at home.

Armando was raised around food. His father was a chef and wanted him to become a chef as well so he started working in the industry at a very young age. His first job was washing dishes at McDonald’s and his experience grew from there. He worked as a busboy, a server, a baker, a bartender- every job that you can do in any type of food establishment, he did. Until one day, he approached the chef at the restaurant that he was working at at the time and asked if he could work in the kitchen with him since he was always cooking at home for friends and family. The chef encouraged him to go to the California Culinary Academy (CCA) so that he could get proper culinary training rather than trying to learn it over years in the kitchen. So Armando applied, was accepted and went to culinary school for 2 years before starting his career as a chef in San Francisco. Ahmet’s path was little different. He had no experience in food before coming to the U.S. other than his appreciation for food, which came from his sophisticated palate. He was actually sent to the U.S. by his accounting firm in Turkey to learn English because he had told his boss that he was beginning to feel burnt out in his position. So they sent him to a language school in the U.S. for 2-3 months to help him clear his mind. It was during this time that he met Armando in San Francisco and decided to stay in the U.S. Ahmet says that he felt bad at the time and knew it was a huge risk to take, but he had gotten sick of only looking at numbers and talking to banks and was ready to make a change. And although their first event at Google really threw him into the industry and he initially felt uncomfortable, he felt it was something he could see himself doing long-term as a way to challenge himself and grow as an individual.

After growing their business in San Francisco to cater weddings, art gallery openings and corporate parties in Silicon Valley, Armando and Ahmet decided to move to Miami after visiting the city for vacation. They loved the lifestyle there (the weather, the beach) and it was easier to make a living because it was cheaper than San Francisco at the time. There they ran a variety of Asian fusion restaurants with Armando as the chef and Ahmet managing, and during their days off they would barbecue on the beach. Their favorite food to cook became Filipino BBQ, especially because most of the food was on skewers so it was easy to cook and eat as they sat in the sand. It was during their time in Miami that they started thinking about opening their own place and came up with the concept for F.O.B., drawing inspiration from their beach barbecues. They spent two years playing with menu items, perfecting recipes and finalizing the idea before they started looking at spaces to open the restaurant. They checked out Miami first and got a few offers but it didn’t feel right. There weren’t many distinct restaurants in Miami (a lot of places were doing a fusion of Asian cuisines) so they were concerned that they concept wouldn’t work there. They wanted to be somewhere with a little more diversity in it’s food community, where people were more open-minded and where they could focus on doing one cuisine really well. So they flew to New York and immediately it felt like that’s where they needed to be. Not only did it fit what they were looking for for F.O.B, they realized that they missed the city life that they had in San Francisco and were tired of the constant sunshine in Miami. Once they had settled on New York, they traveled back and forth for months looking for the right spot. Manhattan seemed too upscale and corporate but they liked the neighborhood vibe in Brooklyn where they felt like you could find more mom-and-pop places like theirs. One day in August 2016 they happened to be walking by a space in Carroll Gardens and noticed it had “for rent” sign out in front. They got in touch with the owner to see it and right when they walked in, they knew it was their place. They opened F.O.B. three months later in November 2016.

FOB Restaurant

Because Armando and Ahmet had a tight budget, they were looking for a space that was easy to open and were lucky enough to find a restaurant that didn’t need too many changes. They only needed to clean and paint and didn’t need any renovations, which allowed them to focus on making the space their own and embodying the homey, laid-back, comfortable culture that they wanted customers to notice right when they walked in. The design is very much a “beach town” feel, inspired by their time in Miami, combined with their home-style cooking. Many customers tell them it feels like they’re in their grandmother’s house, which Armando says is exactly the point. They want it to feel like you’re coming into a home when you enter their restaurant and that there’s no pressure to do anything except enjoy yourself. They decorated the space with bright colors, mismatched China plates on the walls and macrame plants, incorporating a lot of different styles that seem to work, just like at grandma’s house. Like their food, they wanted the restaurant’s environment to be very approachable and relaxed for customers, which has also extended into the working culture of their staff. Because they only have a small crew of 6 people, they try to make it more of a team atmosphere rather than “us” and “them”. Their management style, even in San Francisco and Miami, has always been very inclusive and focuses on leading by example, because they never want their employees to feel a separation between their work and the work of “the boss”. They believe that everyone is building the business together so they trust their employees to be as invested in the work as they are and want them to feel empowered in their roles.

Armando and Ahmet believe that continuing to learn- about food, about the restaurant industry and about your own business- is the best way for a chef or an entrepreneur to succeed in such a tough industry. They see it as a disservice when people work in food for a couple of years and want to open a restaurant right away. They believe that you need to learn as much as you can, either managing restaurants or spending time in the kitchen, before jumping into it. So that when you do open your own place, it won’t be such a huge shift that you’re not used to. Instead, you’ll know what to expect. Learning every part of your own business is another key ingredient to success for them. They suggest working every role in your restaurant, from dishwasher to salad station to server, so that you have firsthand knowledge of that job and what it entails. And so that you can answer any customer’s question regarding what happens at any step of their meal creation. This principle is, again, reflected in their staff and how they’re trained. Every employee goes through every station in training so that they’re aware of what’s going on in every role and can interact with customers confidently. They believe that you can’t explain something to a customer when you don’t understand it yourself so their method of cross-training gives all of their employees a solid knowledge of each person’s role on their team. And going back to leading by example, they encourage their employees to get comfortable doing other jobs, so their cooks will answer the phone and take reservations and Armando will wash dishes if someone is out. Not only is it a good way for them to learn, it also prepares their employees to own their own business in the future.

The toughest part of the restaurant business for Armando and Ahmet is how physically taxing it is to be on your feet and running around all day. Being a restaurant owner is a exhausting, especially when you’re working in the restaurant as well as coordinating catering orders and doing the deliveries. But being able to see a concept that you’ve worked so hard to develop come to life and be successful is the most gratifying feeling. And being able to educate people who have never tried Filipino food before on the food itself and the culture of it and watching them taste the food for the first time and love it, is amazing to see. Armando says that he loves knowing that NYC is so diverse and because of that, so many different people from so many different backgrounds are trying his food and being exposed to Filipino food. As business owners, both Armando and Ahmet aim to give off the same happiness that the Filipino people are known for and extend that happiness so that their customers feel it too. Even though the people in The Philippines may not be the richest in the world, they’re always smiling and enjoying themselves. Armando and Ahmet hope that they can infuse that happiness and their passion for Filipino food into the dishes that they create so that their customers always feels comfortable and at home.

 

Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

 

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Our Q&A with Georgene Huang, the Co-Founder and CEO of Fairygodboss

Ladies, if you haven’t already heard of Fairygodboss, we’re about to introduce you to your new favorite career community, designed for women by women. Fairygodboss was founded by Georgene Huang and Romy Newman, two women who recognize that it’s not always easy being a woman in the workplace and understand the value of deep career research. So they created a platform where women can post anonymous job reviews, find jobs at companies that have forward-thinking policies, discuss topics like salaries, work-life balance and motherhood and get advice from other women. Fairygodboss helps women answer the questions that are hard to ask and strives to create a world where women feel empowered to take control of their careers.

We were given the opportunity to talk with Fairygodboss co-founder and CEO, Georgene Huang, about her career, how she identified the need for a business like Fairygodboss and what she sees as the biggest challenge facing woman-owned businesses today. To say we were inspired by her outlook on work, life and motherhood would be an understatement. Check out our full conversation with this amazing female entrepreneur below!

Tell us about your background. How do you think your childhood shaped your career path? I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and I interned in Silicon Valley at startups. My father is an entrepreneur and I think because I was constantly surrounded by so much innovation, it made me excited at the idea of building something from the ground up. I moved to NYC when I finished law school and have spent most of my career in New York.

Walk us through your career pre-Fairygodboss. What was your first job and how did you transition into the jobs following? I studied Economics at Cornell University and after graduating from Stanford University, I started practicing law. In a few months, I realized that my passion didn’t lie in that area and I moved into investing roles on Wall Street at a few different firms. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, I started working at Bloomberg Ventures where I was in charge of helping to incubate and grow a few different businesses from the ground up. After that I ran the enterprise business at Dow Jones.

Where did you come up with the idea for Fairygodboss? The idea for Fairygodboss came to me after what I describe as a “very bad day” at work. On that day, I was suddenly fired from my executive role at a major company as part of a management shakeup. At the time, I was two months pregnant and hadn’t told anyone yet. So I was in this position of looking for a job and going on interviews — and feeling quite pressured to hide my pregnancy. While interviewing, I wanted to ask certain questions around benefits and policies like maternity leave and work-life balance — but feared being judged as less than fully committed to my career if I asked. I also wanted to hear directly from other women about their experiences and how they overcame similar challenges. So I turned to the internet for answers and was surprised by the lack of information I found, which is why we’ve formed the Fairygodboss Community. Today, FGB offers free resources as the only crowdsourced database of parental leave benefits and free, anonymous company reviews by women. Members can ask for or offer advice on a daily, interactive Fairygodboss feed.  

Why do you think Fairygodboss, as a platform, is necessary for women in today’s corporate landscape? When I was looking for a job while I was pregnant, I couldn’t ask important questions without feeling like I would face bias, assumptions and judgment. I also felt incredibly alone in my experience and wanted to talk to other women who’d become mothers and also had big careers, to get their advice. By creating more transparency about how women are treated in the workplace and connecting women with each other, I hope women can find more support and success.

Do you have a favorite Fairygodboss “success story”? This past March we closed on a $10 million Series A investment, co-led by GSV Accelerate and Signal Peak Ventures. While raising money isn’t the goal of our business, it is external validation of the strong product, business and team we have built.

How has Fairygodboss changed since it started in 2015 to now? When we first started it was literally me and my co-founder, Romy Newman, working by ourselves in our apartments (and a lot of cafes!). Now, we are a team of 50 and are continuing to grow. Today, millions of women turn to Fairygodboss for a sense of community and to connect with other women. We’re obsessed with improving the workplace and believe the No. 1 way to do that is through transparency and women collaborating with each other. Our product has evolved so much as well. Fairygodboss started with only free, anonymous reviews, but now we produce career-focused editorial content, publish data and research, and recently we’ve launched a daily feed which is the centerpiece of how our community interacts with each other. We’ve also launched virtual career fairs to help job-seekers connect directly with recruiters at employers who are trying to hire more women.

What’s an initiative that you’re working on now at Fairygodboss that you’re really passionate about? Why? The daily feed we’re building is really exciting. We see women chiming in about all kinds of things, ranging from how to manage career change to difficult situations at work, or the best tips and tricks when it comes to managing their family responsibilities and workloads. There’s so much variety and diversity of viewpoints and genuinely fascinating looks into the inner worlds of so many women. The supportive community we’re building is very unique and I am really passionate about nurturing it.

What’s the biggest challenge of being a woman-owned business? I think owning a business is hard, regardless of your gender, but I think one uphill battle that women face is around getting VC funding. Recent data has shown that female founders only received 2.2% of venture funding in 2018 so if you’re starting a company whose products or services cater to women, you have to spend more time thinking about how to convince a potential investor (who is typically an older, white male) that you are solving a real and important problem. Imagine if you were starting a lipstick company, for example. While men understand what lipstick is and that many women wear it, it’s not solving a problem that they have experienced firsthand. Therefore, the whole premise of your business is foreign to them.

What motivates you as a business owner and a female entrepreneur? Knowing that we’re building something bigger than any one of us!

As a founder, what are some things you think about as a leader/actions you take to motivate your team? I believe it’s important to make sure everyone’s voice is heard so I make sure to take time every week to have one-on-one meetings with my direct reports. Creating clear lines of communication and ensuring that everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinions has helped to create a more collaborative and engaging workplace culture at Fairygodboss. I also really believe in leading by example. I believe that I work very hard but I also do so flexibly when possible, and I realize the importance of modeling behavior.

There’s a lot of conversation today around “work life balance”. Do you believe there’s such a thing and if so, how do you maintain yours? While there’s no formula that works for everyone, for me the key is ruthless prioritization and being present in whatever I’m doing. To help make sure I’m giving my full attention to the tasks at hand, I really rely on my calendar and build in time for not just meetings, but things like deep thinking, working out, and of course, having my evening to spend with my family (then, it’s back to work before going to bed!).

What do you think is the toughest part of being a working mom that men and women without kids may not think about? I like to think about it in terms of being a “working parent” because it shouldn’t just be a mother’s responsibility to take care of the child and a lot of companies are coming to that realization as well. I don’t think people without kids always understand how raising children can be a full-time job. This is true even with help from family or a nanny, so having a flexible job can be really important. If a sitter has to cancel or a child gets sick, it will make the parents lives much easier if they have the ability to work from home or take a day off.

As a mother, what impact do you hope that being a CEO of a company has on your kids as they grow? I hope they see that work can be meaningful, consuming and fulfilling. I don’t expect them to be exactly like me and I respect the fact that they may have very strong non-career interests. I love my work so I hope from my example that they know they shouldn’t settle for a job they don’t love.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten from another woman? The best advice I have ever gotten from a woman, happens to be from my co-founder, Romy Newman. She says “Seek out rejection. Seek out failure.” I love that because it’s so contrarian and what I take from it is the fact that growth requires putting yourself out there and there is nothing better than growth.

What’s been the most surprising part of running your own business? I’ve learned that my job changes every year or so (if not more than that). What I had to do in order to be successful in year 1 is not the same thing I should do to be successful in year 3, and so forth. That’s what makes startup life so challenging. In order to succeed over the long run, you really have to adapt very rapidly to the new situation and new role you play.

 

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Matthew Lief, Co-Owner of Landhaus

This is Matthew Lief, the co-owner of Landhaus, a new American concept that combines the diverse backgrounds of Matthew and his business partners, Maria Dela Cruz and Michael Felix. Matthew grew up in New York City while Maria emigrated from the Philippines to Los Angeles when she was 12 years old, which is also where Michael grew up, raised by a Mexican father and a half Mexican/half Korean mother. So, Matthew says, they all have their own “food memories” and preferences that they bring together to play a part in the food that they create. “I would say it’s truly American food in that way”, says Matthew, because they’re three people with very different backgrounds that are looking to blend their tastes into seasonal comfort food. However, they’re also very respectful of the foundations of cuisine, which is why most of their dishes are simple items which they elevate to make in the best way that they see possible. Their unofficial slogan is “great food made by great people”, which is what Matthew says that he wants their customers to be reminded of when they think of Landhaus. The focus of their business is to keep food delicious yet uncomplicated by using the best ingredients available to them, creating amazing food and providing an enjoyable experience to their clients. Because at the end of the day, they believe that it’s all about delicious food.

As far back as he can remember, Matthew has always had a connection to food. He recalls his parents allowing him and his brother to cook dinner for them when they were 8 or 9 years old, or maybe even younger. He says that his parents cooked a lot at home and were really good about letting him and his brother play around in the kitchen, which is why he thinks he got sucked into food and hospitality from an early age. However, it was a case of mistaken identity that first started Matthew’s culinary training. He was doing community service, working at a charity event in high school, when he met the chef of a restaurant in Soho who approached him and asked when he was coming to his kitchen. Although Matthew is certain that the chef thought he was someone else, Matthew took advantage of the random opportunity and showed up at the kitchen the next week and started working. The chef took Matthew under his wing and allowed him to be his apprentice, teaching him all kinds of kitchen skills as he worked there throughout high school. After high school, Matthew’s family moved to Maine, where his parents opened a restaurant that served a mix of American food: lobster rolls, clam chowder, burgers, pasta, etc. And although Matthew says that looking back now, growing up with his parents restaurant was a special thing to be a part of, at the time he saw the lifestyle of restaurant work and wasn’t sure if it was for him. He wanted to do something different. So after he graduated college, he moved to South Africa and worked on an urban farming project at his brother’s non-profit. There he grew fruits and vegetable to be used in the kitchens to feed children that were orphaned or had HIV, but he kept finding himself cooking. Although he had tried to get away from the lifestyle that he didn’t think he wanted, it didn’t work. So he decided to get back into it. He moved to France and apprenticed there for a year before moving back to the U.S. and starting to work in restaurants again.

It was while he was working in different restaurants throughout NYC that Matthew met Michael and Maria. They were all sous chefs at Le Caprice, a restaurant in The Pierre Hotel in Central Park, and immediately hit it off. They discussed starting a food truck together but it never really took off and Matthew ended up moving to another restaurant in Little Italy. One day in 2011 he met up with a friend from college, Jacob, who told him about Smorgasburg, a new outdoor food market that was opening in Brooklyn. Jacob was working as a meat cutter at a farm in the Catskills at the time and they came up with the idea to make high-quality BLTs and sell them at Smorgasburg. So Matthew quit his job at the restaurant and began working in landscaping during the week so that they could be a part of Smorgasburg on the weekends. Although it was tough in the beginning because Matthew was doing most of the event prep himself (Jacob was still working upstate during the week and sending the meat to Matthew), eventually they were able to add a lamb burger and bacon on a stick to their menu and their business started growing. They started doing the markets in Prospect Park and DUMBO twice on the weekends and twice during the week and their bacon on a stick was becoming more popular than the BLTs. However, the coordination started becoming too much for Jacob and he ended up relocating further upstate. So Matthew reached out to Michael and Maria to see if they were interested in running the business with him and they agreed to come on board. They started doing concessions and even more events and eventually were able to rent out the back kitchen area of a bar in Brooklyn called The Woods, where they would sell food to customers at the bar. However, they soon realized that although their items were great for event-goers, they needed to create a more substantial menu for delivery/catering purposes and began creating a menu with modern, seasonal, comfort foods that could appeal to a larger audience.

Matthew says that they started creating their delivery/catering menu by working backwards. At an event or at their space at The Woods, customers were able to eat the food right when it came out. But for catering, they needed to factor in travel time, meal time (if the client would be eating right when the food got there or 30 minutes later), food temperature, etc. So they began trying to build recipes for dishes that would travel well and hold heat but that would also be delicious, interesting and exciting for clients in an office that are looking forward to their lunch. Matthew admits that it was difficult to create the recipes because he, Maria and Michael have different ideas about how things should taste, but they were able to come to a consensus on the items because they always went back to their focus on delicious food. Since they’re very close friends, no one ever got too serious about the menu and even today, if they’re adding on new items, they always concentrate on what the most flavorful option is, as long as they’re able to present it nicely. Even though they’re classified as “comfort food” they also wanted to keep things fresh and healthy at the same time. Which is also why, when building the menu, they put an emphasis on sourcing their ingredients as locally as possible. They source as much as they can directly from local farms and when they can’t, they go through retailers whose mission they connect with or who have really good guidelines about sustainability. For Matthew in particular, he’s always been interested in organic agriculture and urban farming sustainability, which makes it more enticing for him to get ingredients from local places. Not only does he believe that sustainable agriculture is the way forward for society on a larger level, to him food is more delicious when he knows it came from someone who truly cared about it. It increases his own enjoyment when buying this food and feeding it to others. For him, supporting other locals businesses makes his job even more fun and rewarding.

However, the most rewarding part of the business for Matthew is simply feeding people. He says that cooking and food is all he really thinks about on a daily basis: how to transform an ingredient or product into something delicious that highlights that item specifically or how he can improve a recipe to make the dish in the best way possible. His culinary training has allowed him to think about food in many different ways and it’s something he can really dive into. And once they have that perfect recipe set, seeing the gratification in a customer whose trying your food for the first time is awesome for him to see. Festivals and events are especially rewarding for him because there’s so many logistics that go into planning it: getting the equipment there, setting it up, making sure that they have enough food, cooking the food- it’s all very hard to coordinate. But when he’s in that moment where everything is set up and the food is flying out and everything is working, it’s very satisfying to know that you met the challenge and that people are enjoying the food. Creating a good experience for people is very important to him because he believes that not all parts of life are as easy or as enjoyable as a good meal in good company. So being able to facilitate that for others and allowing them to enjoy those simple moments is extremely rewarding.

The Landhaus team now works out of their own kitchen at Berg’n, a beer hall and event space in Brooklyn. And as tough as it is to run a business in NYC, Matthew believes that being a part of the food industry is worthwhile because of the support network that you create. Without that network, he admits, it would be so much harder to run your own business. In the food industry, you’re able to meet so many people that you can ask for advice and learn from and for him it’s awesome to have that resource. It reminds him that he’s not alone and that other people are going through the same challenges that he is or that he may have gone through already. Which is why he advises others looking to get into the food industry to be willing to ask questions and learn from other food businesses, even if they have a similar concept. He believes that everyone has their own lane and there’s enough of a market that all vendors can profit from. His other piece of advice is to try out the food industry before you jump into it, because it’s difficult financially and there are easier ways to make a living. If you don’t have passion for the business and you don’t enjoying feeding people as he does, it’s never going to work.

 

Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

 

 

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Last Minute Mother’s Day Gifts for the Mom in Your Life!

This Sunday, May 12th, is Mother’s Day and if you’re like most people you probably didn’t realize that we’re already in the second week of May (when did that happen?!) or you’ve thought about a few gift ideas but haven’t quiiiiite gotten around to purchasing one. Well it’s time to get down to business because you only have a few days left and you don’t want to be the person that shows up empty-handed on Mother’s Day!

In order to help you narrow down your search (and be realistic about what gifts you can pick up before Sunday) we’ve compiled a list of suggestions that are our favorite go-to’s on Mother’s Day. Not only are all of these gifts things you can get within a limited time frame, they can fit into any budget because they’re all items that can be as inexpensive or as pricey as you make them. But let’s be honest, moms are superheros, so don’t you want to splurge a little?! Whatever way you choose to celebrate, the most important thing is that you choose a gift specific to the interests or passions of the mom that you’re honoring on this important day and, above all, let her know how much she’s loved.

Personalized Cupcakes: Nothing says “I love you” like a cupcake that literally says “I love you” or “Thanks Mom” or a cute message that only mom will understand. Personalized cupcakes or cookies add that extra little touch that elevates a dessert and makes it a little more special. Of course if you’d rather not customize your food, picking up her favorite dessert or a new treat that you know she’s been wanting to try is always a good way to mark a celebration! 

Gift Certificate for a Manicure/Pedicure or a Day at the Spa: TREAT YO MOM! There’s nothing that women love more than not paying for beauty treatments, especially ones that they wouldn’t buy for themselves. So skip ordering takeout for the next few days and save up some money to put towards a gift card for a manicure/pedicure at her favorite nail salon or a facial at the spa. When it comes to Mother’s Day gifts, allowing mom to relax and pamper herself is a great way to show her that you appreciate everything that she does for you and that you want her to spend some time taking care of herself.

Mother Day's Spots

Jewelry: Jewelry is always a solid gift option, as long as you know her taste (if not, make sure to get a gift receipt!). And it’s another way that you can get something that she normally wouldn’t get for herself. However, there are many options with jewelry- earrings, bracelet, watch, necklace, ring- so it’s important that you err on the side of caution and pick something that you know she would wear. If you’re not sure, try consulting with friends or family for their opinion. But if all else fails: always keep it simple.

Try an Experience: If you don’t think she’s interested in material items, gift an experience! This can be anything from a concert to a workout class to brunch to a trip to a museum. As long as you know that it’s something that she would enjoy doing, an experience can be a great way to spend quality time with your loved one or allow her to do something on her own.

Flowers: Although flowers may seem like a small gift compared to some of the other ones that we’ve suggested, don’t underestimate the power that flowers have to brighten someone’s day. Something as simple as a bouquet of her favorite flowers can be an extremely thoughtful gift that she’ll appreciate.

 

0 comments on “Leslie Polizzotto, Co-Founder and Co-Owner of The Doughnut Project”

Leslie Polizzotto, Co-Founder and Co-Owner of The Doughnut Project

This is Leslie Polizzotto, the co-founder and co-owner of The Doughnut Project, a self-proclaimed “mad science meets culinary venture”. Although Leslie says that she was never interested in cooking (and still doesn’t cook), she’s always loved the art of dining and doughnuts even more so. So when the opportunity to open a doughnut shop was presented to her by her future business partner, Troy Neal, she decided to go for it. Formerly working as an attorney, Leslie had just moved to New York from California but her law firm didn’t have enough work to bring her on at the time so she decided to work with Troy to turn the doughnut shop dream into a reality. They began meeting twice a week at a cafe to write their business plan and started raising capital from friends and family as well as outside investors. And even though neither of them were chefs nor had owned their own business before, they sold people on their belief that doughnuts, like a meal, should be a balance of flavors that are inspired by real food and cocktails. This differentiating factor allowed them to raise the money that they needed and they were able to open their flagship store in the West Village in October 2015. However, the business has grown and continued to be successful due to Leslie and Troy’s commitment to creating an atmosphere in their stores where everything from the music to the art on the walls is part of a larger, unforgettable experience that centers around their unique doughnuts.

Leslie grew up in Virginia and North Carolina and says that her home was very “traditional” when it came to food. It wasn’t until she was older, when she was working as a lawyer, that she really got into food through watching Food Network and The Cooking Channel. She went to work at a construction management company straight out of high school where she worked in every position from a file clerk to a tax accountant to an HR manager. Her husband lived in California and worked for the same company and they met at a business meeting in New York and then dated bi-coastal for two years. After two years, Leslie decided to move to California and they got married. But because she had always felt that she had missed out on going to college in order to work and wanted to get her degree, she enrolled in Santa Monica Community College. After deciding that she wanted to major in art history, she transferred to UCLA and then went on to law school because she wanted to become a lawyer for the arts. She graduated from law school in 2008 and due to the economic conditions at the time, the only job that she was able to get was doing litigation at a law firm. She admits that it wasn’t exactly her chosen path but she was lucky to get a job at all and actually enjoyed what she was doing. But after a few years she began getting frustrated by the monotony of her career. She felt she was doing the same thing every day: driving to work, parking, going to her office and working for 10 or 12 hours and then driving home. She started watching food shows to relax but began learning a lot about food and getting really interested in different cuisines. Despite her newfound passion, even Los Angeles had begun feeling “one dimensional” to her and she felt like she was living in a bubble. 

What Leslie did enjoy were her frequent trips to New York. She would travel with her husband, who’s in real estate, to visit his client in New York five or six times a year and she loved the diversity of the city and that there was always something new and interesting happening. She also loved that she could go to the restaurants of the chefs that she saw on TV and would schedule as many reservations as she could fit in during her stay. It was during one of these trips that she met Troy at Eataly. Leslie and her husband loved to go to Eataly and sit at the bar and over time she became friends with Troy, who was the bartender there. Troy mentioned that he wanted to open a doughnut shop and that he had been practicing making doughnuts at his apartment and once Leslie showed him her camera roll full of pictures that she had taken of doughnuts and said how happy they made her, they bonded over their mutual love. Eventually Leslie decided to make a change and move to New York and take the bar exam so that she could practice at her law firm’s office in New York. But since they weren’t able to start her right away, she began trying to figure out which of her passions she would pursue in the mean time: art or food. She had unfortunately lost contact with Troy due to a misspelled email address so she decided to do some art consulting. Then one day she was walking by a restaurant in Midtown and saw Troy working through the window. She ran inside and immediately began asking him about the doughnut business. He said that he was still practicing but he wanted to do it and Leslie convinced him to let her help get the plan in motion. Looking back Leslie says that were so dumb and naive because they were both making good money at their jobs and had no idea how hard it is to start a business. But they went in with blind faith and jumped in with both feet.

The Doughnut Project Store

Leslie says that her husband encouraged her to make the switch into the food industry. Even though she enjoyed what she was doing as an attorney, it wasn’t fun. She wanted to do something that made her happy and thought “why not do something that makes other people happy as well?” Working with Troy felt like the right fit for her and once she and Troy made that decision, they were going to do whatever it took to make the business work. However, they struggled in the beginning. Their renovations took six months instead of three so they opened two months already in the hole. They had no money for advertising or marketing so opening their doors on that first day Leslie says was “very scary”, especially because there was so much pressure on them to deliver for their investors. They had two employees helping them make the doughnuts and run the front of house and although they had some customers coming in, they were only scraping by. In January 2016, they were invited to compete in Doughnut Fest in Brooklyn against ten other doughnut shops and ended up winning, which was a huge boost to morale because it got their name out there and it also gave them $3,000 to invest back in the business. But their big break came a month later in February 2016 when they released the Everything Doughnut and Leslie says their lives “changed overnight”. They felt like they might be pushing the envelope with this doughnut because although they had always had unique ingredients, this doughnut had a touch of garlic in it and they weren’t sure how customers would receive it. Leslie had invited some Instagram influencers to taste test it and Mike Chau, the father of foodbabyny, took one of the Everything Doughnuts and took a picture of his son’s face in the hole of the doughnut and posted it on Instagram. Shortly after Gothamist called for an interview about the doughnut and within an hour the story had been posted online. Within 24 hours, they had calls from NBC News, The Wall Street Journal, The Chew, etc. asking for interviews and a line of people out the door waiting to try the Everything Doughnut.

Overnight Leslie and Troy had a new customer base and a new demand that they had to meet. They had been creating the doughnuts with a stand up KitchenAid Mixer so new equipment had to be brought in. They also had to change their recipes in order to make larger quantities of doughnuts, which Leslie says they figured out through trial and error. Troy and their doughnut maker had to test batches and keep tweaking it until they got it right. The success of the Everything Doughnut also added a new layer of complexity to their operations by creating benchmark that their other doughnuts would be measured against. They now had an expectation to consistently generate delicious and creative products, so they started doing collaborations with alcohol and food brands. They created a restaurant series where they worked with chefs on doughnuts inspired by some of their dishes. They created seasonal flavors and came out with their “weekend flavor”, which is only available Friday-Sunday every weekend then goes away forever. Leslie says this aspect of the business is an ongoing creative process and they always have new collaborations going on, which allows them to create unique recipes for the glazes and toppings, which is challenging but also fun. Especially since the recipe for the dough is very, very rigid so they always have to be careful when they’re baking to make sure that exact amount of each ingredient is going in. But they’re glad that food and beverage has become such a huge part of the business since that’s what they pulled most of their inspiration for their doughnuts from. Troy was a bartender so he had the cocktail experience and Leslie is a huge foodie that has been to restaurants throughout NYC, so she had the food knowledge to understand what ingredients taste best with each other. They use seeds, spices, salt, meats, cheese, vegetables; all different types of real food to make sure there’s a good mix of sweet, salty, spicy and savory. Even if they have to have a staple item like a chocolate doughnut on their menu, they try to put a unique twist on it so that it’s different from what everyone else is making. The excitement around the recipe creation is what keeps people coming back for more.

More than just the unique flavors of their doughnuts, Leslie hopes that customers who visit their stores (they opened their second location near Central Park in January 2018) remember the entire experience, as that has always been a vision that she and Troy shared for the business. They want people to feel happy when they walk in, whether that’s from being greeted by an employee or recognizing the music that’s playing or watching the movie on their TV. They tailor their music to the customers in the store to create the ambiance they think that they would enjoy and relate to. They also have merchandise that they sell (tshirts, socks, hats) so that people can wear their brand and promote them but also as a way for someone to have a tangible takeaway from their visit. They don’t want their doughnuts or their stores to be forgettable, which is also why the design of the stores isn’t stark white or earthy tones. Everyone else has the “white tile, clean look” so they decided to flip it on it’s head and do a “rough”, New York graffiti style that attracts customers outside and entices them to come in and check it out. They also added chandeliers, marble counter tops and gilded frames around their street art to bring in the lowbrow, highbrow concept of taking a “street food” like a doughnut and elevating it to a sophisticated meal. It ties back into the doughnuts themselves- that you can take something as simple as a doughnut and make it fancy.

Leslie says that it’s funny that they do so many different collaborations with their doughnuts and “projects” with corporate custom orders because the name of the business was originally supposed to be Doughnut Bar. But another company in San Diego had already taken that name and they were advised to choose something different in order to expand their brand. However, she feels like it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy because now the name works really well for what they do. However, she finds that the most challenging part of the business is not being in control of every project that’s going on within the company. When she practiced law, it was only her in control of her own success but now she has to delegate and trust Troy and her employees to make sure that the business is running as it needs to. She has to depend on a lot of people, which is difficult for her to do sometimes. She says it’s a good thing that it’s impossible for her to do every aspect of the business because she would if she could, it’s just in her nature. But she’s working on realizing when it’s time to take a step back and trust the system that you’ve put in place. One the flip side, the most rewarding part of the business for her is the people, both her team and the customers. Getting to meet new people and establish relationships with local customers as well as people from all over the world who come into the shop to get their product is something she loves about being an owner of a local food business. One of their biggest supporters is a man from Germany whose been to their shop five times and buys all of their merchandise, which she says is amazing to know that your business has that big of a reach. Because she used to work in an office where she would shut her door and read and write by herself for 10 hours a day, for Leslie there’s nothing better than being in a environment where every day is different and there’s a new challenge to solve. 

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Taking Care of Your Mental Health at Work

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and whether you’re one of the millions of Americans living with a mental illness or not, it’s important to keep your mind healthy, especially at work. Not only does the average American spend more than 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime, the office can often be a stressful and sometimes overwhelming environment that impacts us emotionally, physically and mentally. When stress is left unchecked it can lead to strained relationships, lower productivity and lack of concentration as well as bigger issues such as anxiety and depression.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults every year. Depression, although considered less common, affects about 7% of the population every year, but nearly half of the people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and depression are treatable diseases yet many of those suffering do not receive treatment. Although self-care is something that women and men usually do during their free time, it’s important to practice self-care in the workplace as the line between work and personal life continues to blur. The office is where the majority of our days are spent and it’s important to make sure that your mental and physical health are your main priorities. Below we’ve some compiled a few simple practices that you can add into your routine to take care of yourself at the office. It’s important that this month especially, we take the time to check in with ourselves, listen to our bodies and begin to take steps toward improving our mental health with actions that we can continue all year long. 

Meditate. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress, control anxiety, lengthen your attention span and promote emotional health. Because it’s a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts, it allows you to ignore things that are out of your control and concentrate on things that you can control, like your breathing and your senses. Meditating doesn’t have to be something that you’re doing to reach a level of enlightenment and it doesn’t have to be an hour of your day. It can be as quick as 3-5 minutes and there are plenty of free guided meditation apps that you can download that walk you through exactly what you need to do. And the best part about meditation is that you can do it anywhere: at your desk, in a conference room, on the subway, even in the bathroom! Meditation is one of the best ways to increase your mental strength and stay in touch with your body.

Exercise. Although most offices don’t come with a gym, more companies are recognizing the importance of physically and mentally healthy employees and are adding gym memberships and discounts for workout classes to their benefits package. If you’re not sure if this is something your company offers, inquire with HR, and if they don’t offer it, start the conversation as to why that is and how that can be changed. Not only does regular exercise allow your body to release endorphins, which improves your mood and reduces anxiety, it also boosts energy and brainpower, which helps you think more clearly. If exercising is something that you need as part of your daily routine, speak to your boss about moving around your hours to attend a class in the morning or extending your lunch break to go during the day. Or organize a weekly group workout (yoga, running, hiking) right at the end of the day so that you can exercise as a team. You’d be surprised how receptive most offices are to incorporating exercise as long as your work is still getting done.

Brighten up your space. A small but easy way to create a positive environment at work is to make your space your own by surrounding yourself with things that bring you joy. Decorate with pictures of friends and family or signs with quotes that you love or inspirational phrases that you want to live by. Plug in an essential oil diffuser or light a candle if fragrances keep you calm or buy a plant to add some beauty to your desk and improve your air quality. Whatever it is that you need to personalize your cubicle or office, go ahead and do it. The more comfortable you are at work, the more relaxed and receptive you’ll be to handle anything that comes your way.

Take some time to yourself. It’s difficult to step away from your desk when your work isn’t finished and tasks are continuing to pile up. But it’s actually more beneficial for you and your productivity to take some time to yourself away from your work space. Schedule a 30 minute lunch break for the same time each day so that you know that time is dedicated to you. Or if your schedule is constantly changing, make time to take breaks throughout the day. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, get up and go for a walk or grab a cup of coffee and sit by yourself while you drink it. Even if you’re only getting away from your desk for 5-10 minutes, doing something for yourself that allows you to take a deep breath and re-focus will give your mind a much needed rest. And allowing yourself to take these breaks will keep you feeling in control during chaotic days.

Talk to someone. If you’re constantly feeling anxious, tired, overwhelmed or depressed, don’t be embarrassed to voice your concerns to someone you trust (a friend, an HR professional or a mentor) and ask for help. Not only will it help to talk about how you’re feeling, they can assist you in finding a mental health professional that can provide you with tools to cope with your feelings or prescribe the appropriate medication, if needed.

 

Resources:
https://www.businessinsider.com/disturbing-facts-about-your-job-2011-2
https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-take-care-of-your-mental-health-at-work-according-to-experts-9108794
https://www.learnhowtobecome.org/career-resource-center/mental-health-at-work/
https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#section1
http://www.ulifeline.org/articles/433-benefits-of-exercise