Today was my first group meeting with the staff. In the absence of an Employee Rules and Regulations Manual, which I vowed we would be crafting together in the coming weeks, we discussed the kind of organization I wanted to work in. It was an organization not merely focused on making money (even though that is the raison d’etre of every for-profit organization) but one that would contribute social value. All businesses necessarily spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve the bottom line- or just making it there. And like most businesses in the service industry, restaurants are circumscribed by fluctuating costs, unpredictable revenue streams and narrow profit margins. These real concerns give proprietors little time to think about what is happening out there in the world and, more importantly, how they may be impacting people and the environment by what they serve (and how they serve it). It took me a long time to realize this in my career, but I have come to learn that long-term partnerships with socially-responsible organizations are recipes to future success.
There are so many ways in which stakeholders (ie. suppliers, customers) interact with your restaurant, and often they bring more to the table than you had bargained for. For instance, all great restaurants offer great coffee (or tea), but coffee can be produced in ways that is detrimental to the environment and poorly affect the quality of life in coffee-producing communities around the world. Most restaurateurs seldom thought about this- until only very recently.
I was introduced to Adam Pesce of by the diva of coffee herself, Cindy Shum, who writes the popular blog, . He dropped by to see me today and his message about making the world a cleaner and better place while ensuring that his own business was sustainable, spoke to me. I chose Reunion Island Coffee for two important reasons. Firstly, I think that their coffee is great and that the blend that Adam will be crafting will please my customers. Secondly, they are leaders in corporate responsibility. They are the largest coffee roaster in Canada to be ; they have a proven track record on sustainability efforts and programs in areas around the world that are most in need of it; they help to conserve biodiversity and promote the rights of workers and families in affected communities through . The kind of stuff that gets me excited and proud to be carrying their coffee in my restaurant. Through them, I feel like I am contributing something of value beyond mere food and service for the purposes of profit. This connection to a larger community, even if it feels a bit philosophical at times in the anxious day-to-day running of a restaurant, motivates my staff to sell their product. Everyone benefits.
At a recent sushi-making class I conducted, I met Nancy Chen, a neutriceutical company rep by day and chair of this year’s conference by passion. When she told me about the mission of the organization she volunteers for, it got my adrenaline pumping. SIPO is all about helping under-priviledged youth become leaders within their own communities. I understood this, having grown up in Toronto’s Jane-Finch projects during my youth. Although I didn’t know it then, I had wished for an organization like that for someone like me. She mentioned that they were going to celebrate the work of their hard-working volunteers (70 or so) in the coming weeks and asked if my restaurant might be able to contribute a “snack” at the event. I told her that I would do what I could. Her colleagues, Maria Juzwin and Daniel Akong, took the time after their full-time day jobs to come see me today to discuss their food needs for the night. It moved me to hear these young professionals speak so eloquently about why it was so important for them to lend a helping hand to the youth in our immediate communities who needed it the most. The promised website and newsletter “presence” aside, I felt there was something of real value to be gained from partnering with an organization like theirs. Afterwards, when I broached the plan with my newly-hired catering manager, he seemed a bit surprised by the amount of food we would be ”donating” to the event. That conversation lead to a discussion about how long-term growth is the modus operandi of any company, especially for a small one like ours. And that, like all great relationships, it is about the “give” now with the hope that the “take” will come in due time.
With all the stresses of opening up a restaurant in such a short time, I was reminded again today that there are folks out there, like Adam and Nancy and Maria and Daniel, who have given deep thought to contributing in ways that add value, above and beyond personal net worth. Gotta love it!