The Copenhagen restaurant Noma has consistently topped lists of best restaurants in the world. People fly in from all over the globe to pay $500 per person for the hyperlocal tasting menus dreamed up by chef/owner Rene Redzepi. But a couple months ago, Redzepi announced the restaurant will close next year because it had become unsustainable, “financially and emotionally.” The announcement came as many high end chefs have spoken out about how hard the business has become, and others have shined a light on the industry’s use of unpaid interns. So is it possible to run a high end restaurant that turns a profit and treats people fairly? And is there a point in trying – or should these places just disappear? Adam Platt, former restaurant critic for New York Magazine, and Vivian Howard, owner of the restaurant Chef & the Farmer in North Carolina, weigh in on the challenges for fine dining and the labor practices in high-end kitchens.
The Sporkful production team includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Tracey Samuelson, and Jared O'Connell.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Brain Wreck" by Black Label Productions
- "False Alarm" by Hayley Briasco
- "Hennepin" by Black Label Productions
- "Clean" by JT Bates
- "Mud Pile" by Black Label Productions
- "Make Up Your Mind" by Tim Moyo
- "Marimba Feels Good" by Black Label Productions
- "Sidewalk Chalk" by Hayley Briasco
Photo courtesy of cyclonebill/flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Color adjusted.
Adam Platt: It's, very beautiful, surrounded by gardens. You walk down this walkway, you're greeted by wholesome servers from all over the world. And they welcome you as if you are, not just observers in a theatrical event, but really participants.
Dan Pashman: This is Adam Platt. For over 20 years, he was a restaurant critic at New York Magazine. And in the summer of 2019, he went to the Copenhagen restaurant Noma, which often tops lists of the best restaurants in the world.
Adam Platt: Everybody's full of life and everybody's beautiful and the wine is delicious. And the the guests seem to be handpicked, so you have this idea that you're one of the faithful, and you get swept up in it, and it's a great experience.
Dan Pashman: Adam isn’t someone who normally gets swept up in restaurants. He actually brought me out to eat with him once years ago, because restaurant critics need to come with a group so they can order lots of items without attracting suspicion. I watched as he sampled one dish after another, furrowed his brow, then shared his displeasure. It was always: “meh”, blah”, “ordinary”. He’s clearly hard to impress. And Adam was prepared to scoff at Noma when he arrived. But being there, he couldn’t help but enjoy himself.
Adam Platt: Copenhagen, especially in the summertime, is a hugely seductive, wonderful place. It really is a stage set. One of the pleasures of Noma when I was there was the localness of it.
Dan Pashman: One of the things on the menu when you were there was some sort of a savory tart with mold on it?
Adam Platt: Yes.
Dan Pashman: They grow the mold to go on the food.
Adam Platt: Yes. Yes. A lot of mold.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it's not for foodies, it's for eaters. I'm Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people.
Dan Pashman: The chef Rene Redzepi opened Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2003. He became known for using ingredients that are not just local to the area, but that he actually foraged himself, like seaweed, wild berries, and moss. He served insects, reindeer hearts, fish heads, and the bill would often run to more than $500 a person. He pioneered a style that would be copied by chefs around the world, and he got a lot of media attention for it.
Dan Pashman: Noma has been named number 1 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants List five times, most recently in 2021. That same year, it won 3 Michelin stars, the highest rating. But around the same time it got that rating, high end restaurants started to come under scrutiny for abusive conditions, and the use of unpaid interns. Separately from that, many top chefs started speaking out about just how difficult it had become to keep their restaurants afloat. Covid had exacerbated issues that were building for a long time.
Dan Pashman: There was also a shift in the culture: Instead of portraying fancy chefs as cool, shows and movies like The Bear and The Menu made them look ridiculous. In January, Rene Redzepi announced that he’d be closing Noma in 2024, saying it had become unsustainable. He told the New York Times, "Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn't work."
Dan Pashman: Many called it the end of an era for fine dining overall. And food writers at major outlets, places that had written glowing reviews of Noma years earlier, were now taking a different tone. Genevieve Yam wrote a story in Bon Appetit headlined, "Fine Dining Is Going Out of Fashion, and as an Ex-Chef, I’m Relieved." NYTimes restaurant critic Pete Wells wrote, "At this point, expensive restaurants have gotten so much bad press that I know people who wish that whole end of the restaurant business would disappear.”
Dan Pashman: So is it possible to run a high end restaurant that turns a profit and treats people fairly? And is there a point in trying — or should these places just disappear?
Adam Platt: Thing is, it was an experience, right? I mean, you've come long ways. You're a pilgrim. It's all new.
Dan Pashman: Here again is restaurant critic Adam Platt. Now, as you might have guessed, I haven’t been to Noma. So I wanted to hear more about what it was like to eat there, why for years everyone said it was so great, and what’s changing now.
Adam Platt: It's really designed to be part art, part theater. I think when I wrote about it, I described these Noma heads, like they're much like the Dead Heads, like The Grateful Dead. I'm not gonna say it's a cult-like experience, but there are people who go again and again.
Dan Pashman: I never went to Noma. I haven't been to very many of these places, just a handful in my life. One of the things that would stress me out if I ever was gonna go to Noma would be how — what to eat during the day in the lead up to the meal.
Adam Platt: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And when a meal is that momentous. There's so much stakes attached to it.
Adam Platt: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: I wouldn't want to walk in absolutely, like, fall down starving.
Adam Platt: No, that'd be a bad idea.
Dan Pashman: Right? Cause then you just don't feel great. You have two sips of alcohol and you're ready to puke.
Adam Platt: Sure. Yeah. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. But obviously, of course, you don't want to go in there with only half a tank to fill.
Adam Platt: The Noma heads will have a routine. During that time, there was always a shawarma place that you went to afterwards.
Dan Pashman: These people are going to Noma dropping whatever it is, 500 bucks a head or more.
Adam Platt: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And then they go out for a shawarma?
Adam Platt: I heard that. I didn't do it. I heard it. It is a vegetarian menu ...
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Adam Platt: And with mold tarts, I mean, is what it is.
Dan Pashman: When Adam went, the restaurant was doing an all vegetarian menu which included a dish of flowers marinated in pollen, shaped to look like a butterfly. There was a berry and tomato soup with barbecued thyme, and, yes, that savory tart with fuzzy white mold.
Adam Platt: The bread's really good, I recall.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Adam Platt: I think the butter is delicious. Like the booze — the wine is delicious. It's like, I mean, if you're worried about getting fed, these restaurants are not necessarily a place for you.
Dan Pashman: I mean, I don't know that I've heard of a more searing indictment.
Adam Platt: I’m not indicting anything.
Dan Pashman: I'm indicting it.
Adam Platt: Go ahead.
Dan Pashman: The fact that after you're done, you have to go out for shawarma?
Adam Platt: That’s what it is. You know? It's what it is. It's tweezer food.
Dan Pashman: Tweezer food. Little dishes that are so fussy to assemble, the chefs use actual tweezers. But some people love that food. They rave about it. Millionaires take their private jets there. The wait list can grow to over a thousand names.
Dan Pashman: When Adam was there, the waiter told him that butterfly made of flowers took ten to twelve minutes to prepare, and they were making 120 of those a day. That’s more than 22 hours of work every day, to make just one of the many courses served. According to Rene Redzepi, even charging 500 bucks a head, it doesn’t add up.
Dan Pashman: And also, Adam sees Rene, and chefs at that level, going through what a lot of people went through over the past two years — burnout.
Adam Platt: It's just exhausting. And like covid exhausted his generation of chefs. Everybody knows it's a brutal, exhausting business and people have — you know, you can only do it for so long.
Dan Pashman: You know what he ought to add to the menu, if it's too expensive to make all these butterflies? He should start serving shawarma.
Adam Platt: You know what? I shouldn't have told you that.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Vivian Howard: I would call that extremist fine dining. I think our understanding of what fine dining is kind of mixed up.
Dan Pashman: This is Vivian Howard, She hosted the award-winning PBS show A Cook's Life. And for 15 years, she ran a fine dining restaurant in Eastern North Carolina called Chef & the Farmer. The average bill there was about 60 dollars a person, but like Noma, it focused on seasonal, local ingredients. And also like Noma, people traveled to eat there.
Dan Pashman: And like Noma, it struggled to be sustainable. Last year, Vivian had to close Chef & the Farmer.
Vivian Howard: For years I've just read this writing on the wall and, you know, why is this so hard? How have I taken two of the most joyful things humans can do, which is cook for people and provide them hospitality, and how have I made it such a miserable life? Not just for myself, but for everyone that I, engage with in the restaurant business.
Dan Pashman: The restaurant closed temporarily during covid, but that wasn’t the primary reason they shut down for good. It was more about the day to day pressures that many restaurants face when trying to keep up in the world of fine dining.
Vivian Howard: Restaurants like mine, restaurants that are cuisine focused, service-driven restaurants that are largely only open for dinner service are like, doctors' offices where there are doctors and nurses and lab techs and front desk people and janitors there working in the office getting paid all day long, but they can only see patients for four hours of that 10 to 12-hour workday. The output of labor and cost does not match the revenue coming in. It’s so miserable in large part because we do have that short window to bring in revenue. So we have to jam people in. It's a high stress situation. Every night is an emergency, but, you know, we're not saving lives.
Dan Pashman: How much of this is new? There were high end restaurants 50, 75 years ago that were the toast of the town all over the place. And look, the restaurant business was never easy. I've never heard anyone say that it was, but did something change or was it always this hard and people just didn't talk about it before?
Vivian Howard: So, you know, I challenge you when you say that, you know, 50, 75 years ago, there were restaurants like this all over the place. I think largely you would've found them in hotels. I have two restaurants in a hotel. And you know, that's one reason that I can see the difference between a restaurant like Chef & the Farmer that's only open for dinner versus a restaurant in a hotel that is running on all cylinders and making use of its equipment basically 24 hours a day. Because in a hotel, you know, you have in-room dining, you have banquets, you have breakfast, you have, you know, all the things. So it is working efficiently. And if you look back to the high-end restaurants and the, you know, sixties, seventies, eighties, many of them were in hotels. So they had that greater infrastructure to support the high-end food and to support the labor it took to do it.
Dan Pashman: Part of what changed in that time is sort of the ascent of foodie culture, food media, food TV, and then followed by social media and followed by food tourism. Food as status, which it always was, but even more so now.
Vivian Howard: Food as theater.
Dan Pashman: Right, all of these things. Partly because of foodie culture, partly because we're working more, we go out to eat a lot more, and a lot more restaurants per capita have opened in the last 30 or 40 years. You're making me wonder, like maybe part of the problem is that there are too many restaurants.
Vivian Howard: 100%. We have been sitting on a restaurant bubble for I would say, close to a decade. I've been waiting for it to burst. And part of the issue is that people like me, people who, you know, build a reputation, get accolades in this fine dining scenario, realized like, oh gosh, now I have to make money to keep this engine going, so I'm gonna open a burger joint, a pizza joint, a taco joint. But they're not joints. They're kind of high end because I am Vivian Howard. Right?
Vivian Howard: So, you know where you would have one restaurant per restaurant tour, now you have six.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Vivian Howard: And it's contagious. It feels like, okay, I'm at this level and this is what he's doing and this is what she's doing. And like, okay, so I need to do this. So, yeah, we — I totally agree with you. We have been on a bubble of sorts for some time and it's bursting.
Dan Pashman: It’s true that a lot of restaurateurs have moved to fast casual concepts, where they can serve a lot of people quickly. That format is easier to easier to replicate, so they can grow revenue by opening more locations. But still, I want to understand why it’s so hard for fine dining restaurants to make money, even at their higher prices. I asked Vivian to walk me through one of her dishes at Chef & the Farmer.
Dan Pashman: The Anson mills flatbread: flatbread with Looking Glass Creamery feta, garden pea shoots, and smoked acorn squash. This is listed as a share plate. So it's like finger food appetizer, I'm imagining. Now, according to this menu from 2020, you're charging $14 for it. But what would you say this would cost today?
Vivian Howard: Today, I would argue, I would charge $21 for it.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Vivian Howard: And I'd probably have to argue with someone about that. But ...
Dan Pashman: Right, right. So walk me through the process. Let's break down this dish. Because I think that average diners, and myself included, don’t really fully understand why a flatbread would cost $21.
Vivian Howard: That flat bread, we do a three day ferment. Someone on our pastry team is working to start that flat bread three days before we serve it. You have the Looking Glass Creamery feta, which is a North Carolina cheese that has to be sourced from a different purveyor than the purveyor that you get the flour and the yeast to make the flatbread. There's someone that does receives deliveries all day in a restaurant like this. It's not a low skilled person. This is the person that is responsible for making sure that the fish looks good when it comes in.
Dan Pashman: That same person makes sure that the garden pea shoots, all 15 pounds of them, come in, and are up to standard
Vivian Howard: Then the prep cook washes the pea shoots, then goes through and cleans every single pea shoot because there's a piece that has to be discarded. Then another farmer brings in the acorn squash. They have to be washed, cut in half, cut out the seeds. All of this is going into compost, which then has to be dealt with. Okay?
Dan Pashman: That's another job.
Vivian Howard: Another job. We fire up our smoker, and then we smoke the acorn squash. Then we let those cool, then we scoop that out, and then someone makes a smooth sauce with it that likely has aromatics that have been poached in olive oil with herbs. Once all those ingredients are in place on the lawn, you know, 30 minutes before service, we fire a flat bread to make sure that the dough rises and it works properly. Taste the flat bread, talk about the flatbread with the staff, and then sell that flat bread.
Dan Pashman: And what percentage of the people in today's dining world who eat that flatbread, do you think appreciate how much work went into it?
Vivian Howard: Maybe —what is the percentage of people that work in restaurant kitchens?
Dan Pashman: That, plus 1%.
Vivian Howard: Yeah, exactly.
Vivian Howard: I mean, it's even hard for me to appreciate it when I'm eating in other people's restaurants because our job as chefs is to bedazzle you. We want the experience to be magical and memorable and joyous.
Dan Pashman: Oh my God, I would be so upset if I worked so hard on something and someone just shoved it in their face and barely noticed.
Vivian Howard: Well, that's why we are not in the dining room. That's why you can't — we don't see.
Vivian Howard: One time, I was pregnant with twins and I was working the line and someone complained about something. And I demanded that I go out in the dining room and the whole staff is like, "Oh, no, no, please don't!" And I went out and I — my hands were shaking so bad and I was so angry. I never was allowed to go back out.
Dan Pashman: What was the person upset about and what did you say?
Vivian Howard: I think it was that it was not cooked properly. This was 12 years ago and I was enraged and probably blacked out from it.
Vivian Howard: So I have no idea. But they complained.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Vivian Howard: And I responded.
Dan Pashman: Do you remember what you said?
Vivian Howard: I remember standing there and watching my hands shake as I berated them.
Dan Pashman: Oh my God, that must be like every chef's dream though to do that at least once in your life.
Vivian Howard: Yeah. Well, I mean, I still remember — I think about it when I'm like, you know, having little moments where I wanna have a fit.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Vivian Howard: I think about how that felt and it was good.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Coming up, I talk to Vivian and Adam about whether it’s fair for restaurants that charge hundreds of dollars for a meal to not pay some of the people making the food. And then I ask them if fine dining should exist at all. That’s coming up, stick around
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful. I'm Dan Pashman. Hey, I got a question for you: Do you have a conflict in your home kitchen? A grievance about groceries? Is there a food dispute you have with a friend or loved ones that’s tearing your world apart? Or maybe it just annoys you a little? If you answered yes to any of those questions, I want to hear from you. We're going to be recording some call-in shows, and I would love to have you call in, so some friends and I can help you work through these issues. Send me an email at email@example.com, and we just might feature you in an upcoming show. Again, that's firstname.lastname@example.org. Look forward to hearing from you. Thanks!
Dan Pashman: Okay, back to the show, and I want to note that we reached out to Noma chef Rene Redzepi, but he declined to talk to us. We were told that he was too busy working on an upcoming pop-up in Kyoto.
Dan Pashman: Anyway, one of the big criticisms about Noma is the fact that the restaurant has relied on unpaid interns for years. According to the New York Times, this could be 20 to 30 people working full time, sometimes 16 hour days, for free. After a lot of criticism, Noma finally began paying interns back in October. But this has been common practice in fine dining restaurants for decades.
Dan Pashman: The chef Rob Anderson wrote in The Atlantic, "The truth is that the kind of high-end dining Noma exemplifies is abusive, disingenuous, and unethical. Chefs know it but continue to imitate Redzepi. The food media know it but continue to celebrate his kind of food. Wealthy diners know it but continue to book tables en masse — if not at Noma, then at comparable destination restaurants around the world."
Dan Pashman: I asked Adam Platt for his take on that quote.
Adam Platt: Well, I would argue with that at my peril, but I would also say, ain't nobody forcing anybody to work at Noma. They're not doing anything that they're not doing of their own free will. They can all quit anytime they want. I mean, if you've worked at Noma for a certain amount of time and you've soaked up that atmosphere and you've put it on your resume, you may not be getting paid for it, but it's worth a lot. Okay? And this is the same for a lot of other restaurants here. It's always been the way. Whether it's fair system, the answer's probably not Whether it's unethical, I don't know. So I'm not defending it, I'm just saying it's a tough environment and they should earn a fair wage.
Dan Pashman: The way Adam sees it, if you’re concerned about exploitation in restaurant kitchens, unpaid internships at fancy restaurants shouldn’t be at the top of your list.
Adam Platt: There are a lot of more brutal practices in everyday kitchens that people should be paying attention to. They're savage environments, which take advantage of people and are petri dishes for bullying and inequities of all kinds. They have been for a long time.
Dan Pashman: Vivian Howard started her career as an unpaid intern, at WD-50 in New York, which was a buzzy, molecular gastronomy restaurant owned by the chef Wylie Dufresne. So Vivian knows firsthand what that experience is like.
Vivian Howard: You know, there was a period of time where the feeling, I thought at least, and this was like 2002, 2003 and beyond, where in order to get my foot in the door at a top kitchen, which is what I was really fixated on, I had to work for free. Everybody did. No matter if you had gone to culinary school or whatever, everybody had some free labor under their belt in that setting. With the rise of Noma in particular, it became, you know, the norm to travel around and get like a few months at certain places in the world under your belt. And that became your resume. You know, what's interesting is that over the years I've gotten many resumes from people whose track has been this. And for me it's always been off-putting rather than like a gold feather in your cap. I'm more interested in someone who's looking like they wanna stay somewhere and looking for someone who is not about checking off boxes. The free labor thing I think represents — at this point, represents a certain type of restaurant that is a resume builder or has been a perceived resume builder for a certain type of aspiring chef.
Dan Pashman: Vivian says that she pays everyone who works in her kitchen, including interns. Considering that she went through this system, and is now on the other side as a restaurant owner, I was curious if she thought that these unpaid internships, also known as stages, are fair.
Vivian Howard: I don't have a problem with that, if that's your choice. No one's forcing anybody to go and stage at Noma. If someone wants to have Noma on their resume and they choose not to get paid for it, then I don't have a problem with that. It's not necessarily free labor because they're getting something that they want, that they've sought out, and that they feel is valuable. Maybe it's not dollars.
Dan Pashman: But if, if someone like Rene Redzepi is making presumably a nice — a very nice living, the reports are unclear exactly how much he's made in his 20 years running the world's number one restaurant, but by all accounts I've seen he's doing just fine. Is there something sort of unethical about him making a lot of money while not paying almost half his staff?
Vivian Howard: No, I don't think so. Honestly, I think that if you were to really look at the ways that Rene Redzepi has made money, it's probably not from the price tag of the restaurant. It's probably from sponsorships and other media deals and that sort of thing. And I can tell that he's a really hard worker. And do I think that that model of "free labor" in extremist fine dining restaurants, do I think it's sustainable? I don't necessarily, but I don't think that it's Rene's fault that it's happening by any means.
Dan Pashman: Of course, one big issue with these unpaid internships is not just about how people are treated, but who gets to be an intern. Who can afford to fly to a different city and work for free for weeks or months, and who can’t? Many of these former interns go on to open their own restaurants, and of course, they tend to hire people they’ve crossed paths with in their travels, so it really affects who gets to work in fine dining kitchens and who doesn’t.
Dan Pashman: Structural issues like these are part of the reason we’re seeing stories about whether fine dining should exist at all. But it’s not the only reason. As I said, there’s also been a cultural shift away from fine dining, especially for a younger generation interested in food. Adam Platt says two years ago, he had an extra spot at a table at Eleven Madison Park, one of the fanciest restaurants in the country. He asked if anyone in the office at New York Magazine wanted to go with him. This would be a free meal at one of the best known fine dining destinations around. He said once upon a time, this would be an offer that his foodie co-workers would have fought over. But now, no one wanted to go. He finally got his colleague Rachel Sugar to go with him. They sat down for the multi-course, all plant based menu, with dishes like heirloom-tomato tea infused with lemon and thyme, and pine-nut puree and green-tomato relish with coriander. And they both agreed it was incredibly delicious. But then the bill came, and with drinks, the total was about $900.
Adam Platt: And she was like, "Are you kidding me? This is actually unethical." And she was just mortified. She felt it, like as a practice of vegetarian, as a vegan, she felt that this obscured the natural joy of that genre and of the enjoyment of vegetables. But what was interesting was me the big, you know, the giant beef feeding, you know, fatso was like, sort of defending this restaurant. And she was like, "Are you kidding? Are you kidding me? That's what we're getting for that?", and that's, that's how that much of that generation thinks about it.
Dan Pashman: What exactly did she think was unethical?
Adam Platt: It's just too expensive. Just the money. This generation of people who'd grown up in the city eating very good food all over the place are just not interested in it. They're not interested in the latest fashion. In fact, they don't think it's fashionable. It's not fashionable. I mean, you're interviewing a dinosaur here, by the way. So you know ...
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Adam Platt: Let's just get my credentials on the table.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dan Pashman: If fine dining restaurants like Eleven Madison Park disappeared tomorrow, Adam's feeling is that much of the generation after him wouldn't miss it too much. Chef Vivian Howard sees the same attitude among diners.
Vivian Howard: Yeah. Like why have fine dining at all when you could just have fast casual and counter service?
Dan Pashman: But Vivian see a lot of value in high-end restaurants. She feels like these can be places full of creativity and innovation and art.
Vivian Howard: A lot of us are dialed in on quality and craftsmanship and food that is interesting and tastes great. And I think that is what the fine dining experience does. And so I think in order for us to continue to have people that are producing things on a small level, and that's not just like mass produced, we have to have these intimate experiences in dining rooms. We need the fine dining stage.
Dan Pashman: It's culture for the pleasure of experiencing culture. It's like any art form, you know? Like we don't need paintings on the wall or great sculptures or beautiful bridges. Like why not just build every bridge to be the most basic, cheapest, most functional thing to get you from the mainland to the island? Well, because like looking at a beautiful bridge makes life more enjoyable. I think what you're basically saying is, like, there's a place for these kinds of restaurants, cause there's a place for interesting culture that moves ideas forward and that provides pleasure to people.
Vivian Howard: Yeah, 100%. And just because we're pointing out like, okay, parts of this model do not work. There are parts of it that work for many of us all the time. Like I don't want fine dining to go away cause I love sitting in dining rooms and being on the other side of it.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Vivian Howard: So it is like, how can we just be smarter and continue to do that? I hate that everybody's like, is fine dining dead. Like, why does everything have to be dead?
Vivian Howard: Why can't it just be like evolving and, you know, why can't we just try to fix it? I don't know.
Dan Pashman: Vivian is still hoping to reopen Chef & the Farmer. She’s just looking for ways to make it more sustainable. And she may be on to something. She’s currently using the restaurant's kitchen to prepare high-quality meals she sells from ten refrigerated vending machines placed around Eastern North Carolina and the Raleigh-Durham area. The meals are things like breakfast casserole, roast chicken roulade, and monkey bread. Each meal serves four and costs 25 to 85 dollars. The fridges can be moved to higher traffic areas, and they’re open 24 hours a day, which means they’re always able to generate revenue.
Vivian Howard: With the fridges, what I'm doing is I'm growing my revenue significantly without expanding my footprint. My goal for when we reopen is to have Chef & the Farmer still provide a luxurious experience. One that I think, reigns true in 2023, but we're only gonna do that three nights a week.
Dan Pashman: So some of her staff will work nights, but not every night, and the rest of her staff can work daytime hours, making meals for the fridges, which solves another problem restaurateurs like Vivian face. You train someone, they get really good at their job, but as they get a little older, they don’t want to work nights and weekends anymore. They often leave the industry. Now Vivian can offer them more daytime hours. And to use her doctor's office metaphor, she can see patients all day.
Vivian Howard: I'm looking at it differently in that the restaurant is going to exist to support the people that work in it, rather than me trying gain enough profit so that I can open another restaurant. I would like for us to gain enough profit so that everyone in the restaurant can continue to lead better lives.
Dan Pashman: Adam Platt said that it's a thing that like, sometimes after people eat at Noma, they're still hungry. They have to go out and get shwarma or something. When Chef & the Farmer reopens, if I come to eat there, am I gonna have to go out for shawarma after?
Vivian Howard: Well, Dan, you would never be able to go out for Shwarma in rural eastern North Carolina, so I hope not.
Dan Pashman: Anything, whatever.
Vivian Howard: No, no. Abso —
Dan Pashman: Am I going to have to go out for barbecue after?
Vivian Howard: Absolutely not. People leave there and basically have to roll out the door.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Vivian Howard: So I've never once heard of anyone going to Bojangles afterward.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Well, that's the kind of fine dining I can get behind.
Vivian Howard: Good. Good.
Dan Pashman: That was Chef Vivian Howard and food writer Adam Platt. If you want to learn more about their work, we’ll have links in our show notes and on our website.
Dan Pashman: Don’t forget to send us your food disputes! If there’s a food issue that’s coming between you and a friend or family member, I want to hear about it! Email me at email@example.com. Thanks.