On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Julie Frans, Chief Operating Officer and Chief People Officer at The Doral Yard. Her extensive experience as a private chef, executive chef, and caterer bundled with her understanding of leadership and the hospitality industry has made her a standout in the restaurant business.
On this episode of Bring It In season two, Julie sat down with Sam and discussed the nationwide staffing shortage, incentivizing your employees, and what it takes to make it in hospitality.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Below are some of the insights Julie shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
Sam: So maybe we could start with a little bit of your background. I was hearing from the team and reading from a career on private yachts, all the way to where you are. I think that’s a cool journey.
Julie: Yeah. It’s funny when I talk about some of my past experiences, people go, ‘how many lives have you led or how many lives have you lived?’ It’s pretty crazy to trace back over the last 20 years. I actually went to school at UC Santa Barbara never intending to be in the hospitality industry, I actually went to school to be a teacher. And then a few life-altering changes happened after college and I found myself traveling a lot and just kind of doing a lot more soul searching.
My dad had passed away and one of the nuggets of wisdom that he left me with, before he left us, was don’t feel like you have to subscribe to what everybody wants you to do or who they want you to be. You have a lot of talents and skills and you find your own way and do what makes you happy.
It was a real shift in my perception of who I was and what direction I wanted to go. And so I ended up traveling for many years and really exploring a lot, in the way of diving, ocean life, and boating. Also really in the realm of cooking, when I would travel, I would meet families and stay with people and learn their cultural traditions and the kitchen and how food really brought people together.
And so through all of that, I realized that was really where my talents lied and my skill set was leading me. And so, I ended up working on a dive boat in my early twenties in Santa Barbara. I went back to my roots in Santa Barbara and worked on a dive boat and found that I could travel, pursue diving and cook for people and offer them a great moment in their lives through food. And so I ended up working in dive boats and continuing to travel, ended up going on a sailboat ride for a year, with an old friend. And found myself cooking on yachts in Mexico and then up in Alaska. And really learning a lot, also along the way about sustainability, in other countries and other parts of the world and sustainable fishing, and also reducing your waste and cleaning up the earth.
And so that kind of all continued to snowball together, and I created as I was out traveling when I was up in Alaska, I created this idea of being able to offer the services that I had done on yachts to people in private homes. so that was kind of right around the time that this industry of personal chefs was emerging. It was like around 2005. And so I had created up this idea of this business in my hand, and I moved back home to San Diego. And sure enough, I was not the only person with this idea, but I was one of the earlier people on board. And so I launched this new business as a personal chef, and that ended up growing into an agency where we had chefs and the people cooking in a commercial kitchen and cooking and people’s homes and we catered, we have school lunch programs. We did a lot of educational programs. Then by the end, I think I had 22 people on my payroll and a 5,000 square foot kitchen, and two vans. And at the same time I got married and had two kids. So it was a lot for us to manage, all the people and try to raise a family.
So at that point, we gave up the business after about five years and moved to Florida to just make a completely clean break and focus on family. And my husband had a job that he had returned to. And we weren’t here for more than a few days when I was offered a job at a hotel here, a privately owned hotel as their executive chef.
And so it was kind of tricky because I had moved away from this crazy life in hospitality and working all the time, to be offered that job. But they were able to negotiate a schedule and plan that worked with me. So I was able to jump into this awesome role, overseeing a kitchen of two hotels, actually, it’s a sister hotel partnership. And so I did that for a few years, and had a whole new set of experiences of managing a team. We had a massive crew in the kitchen and I worked at the executive level with the hotel management. Finally, that got to be not what I wanted anymore. Went off to consulting for a while, traveled, consulted, worked with a bunch of different companies, and found myself working with Della, at the Wynwood Yard, right before that opened. We met on a bus on a farm tour. I was really involved in slow food and trying to connect chefs and farms and school gardens and kind of bring that into focus in Miami.
And so, we met and she was launching the Wynwood Yard and called and said, ‘I know you’re super busy. You have 18 projects on your plate, but this is what I’m doing. I’d love to have your help.’ And I just fell in love with the idea and jumped on board. And within a year I quit consulting and went full-time with Della.
And so then I was the culinary director and community director of the Wynwood Yard, and then we launched the Doral Yard about two and a half years ago. I think we started working on it, but we finally opened it in October of 2020. And, it’s been quite a ride ever since opening it during the peak of COVID and with all the staffing challenges and craziness of the world right now. It’s been quite a ride, but here we are. There’s no other place I would rather be right now.
Sam: Can you tell us maybe about the Doral Yard and what makes it so special?
Julie: Yeah, so to be honest, I was a bit hesitant because Doral is kind of like, when we’re in the Miami/Wynwood area, Doral feels like way far away. It’s like a kind of another culture, another country out there. And so at the beginning of this project, I was kind of like, oh, I’ll help launch it, and then I’ll probably phase-out. And to my surprise it’s an incredible space. It’s kind of like everything that we did at the Wynwood Yard, we’ve been able to refine and really put in with a lot more deliberate planning and strategy.
And so the space itself is really beautiful. It’s very sophisticated. Decorated by some local designers, that just did an amazing job. We’ve only opened the first phase so far, but over the summer, we’re going to be opening the second phase, which is a lot more like the Wynwood Yard with the backyard lawn and the music venue and the food trucks outside and a full-service restaurant that’ll be run by an amazing chef named Eillen Withfinca, a local restaurant here. And so it’s like we’re unwrapping a present right now and it just keeps getting better and better and more exciting.
And so it turns out I love our team. I love going to work every day. It’s not without its challenges, but that’s all I can use to describe it. It’s like opening a present with more and more layers to unwrap and get excited about each day.
Sam: Sure. I mean, obviously, you mentioned the challenge of opening during a global pandemic and everything that happened and everybody knows. But, what are the things you learned as a leader during this last year as you’ve tried to kind of, again, open fight through, get the most out of your people, any learnings that you’ve had?
Julie: Yeah. I mean, I would assume that the staffing shortage isn’t just here in south Florida. I think it’s probably a national situation. Hospitality was one of the hardest industries hit in the pandemic. So when everything closed down a year ago, there were months that went by that people didn’t have work. And so many restaurants shut down, big ones, small ones, private-public, it was really, really, really hard on the industry.
So I think a lot of people that wanted to work and were talented and skilled, they went and found other jobs and they’re in other industries now. So I think that accounts for a big portion of the job or the staffing situation we’re in right now. I think that people are still a little nervous to go back to work. There’s probably a big portion of people that are still at home and waiting for people to be vaccinated or for the pandemic to run its course before they go back to work, because when you’re in hospitality you’re in close quarters with people. You’re in kitchens, you’re talking face-to-face with people.
So, there’s still that. And then there’s also unemployment benefits and a lot of people are still riding on that train. So it’s always been hard finding the right people for hospitality, but right now it’s just that there’s nobody available. There’s a shortage everywhere. People are closing their doors for certain days of the week just more based on the shortage of staff more than business. So I think that has been the biggest challenge and then in saying that when you’re short-staffed and everybody is pulling more weight than they should be, every person is basically working two people’s jobs. People get burnt out, they get resentful, they get really upset that they’re working that hard kind of without any light at the end of the tunnel. And then people are out for COVID reasons, their family or there’s like so many things that we didn’t ever have to deal with before.
So, trying to keep the staff happy and motivated through these shortages and the lack of people has been really, really tough. And then trying to educate the customer too, like we’re doing the best we can with what we have and everywhere across the board is suffering because we just can’t give the service that we want to give.
So continuing to train the staff as much as possible and just to continue appreciating them and telling them, thank you for showing up to work every day. We really value every person that shows up every day.
Sam: Yeah. It’s gotta be tough cause you’re right. I’m in Jersey with my wife and I. It was a warm day in Jersey this week. It was like 81 out of nowhere. My wife and I are from south Florida so right away we went out to Hoboken and everything was packed. I mean, we couldn’t find parking. Everybody had a line, a few of the restaurants that all through the pandemic, we went to like religiously to just do take out, we called up and they’re like, listen, there’s no room.
It was like such a switch and I just can’t help but think as a consumer, your service expectation is almost like what it was pre-pandemic immediately. And I can’t imagine the strain on you on the service side to maintain whether it’s training or staffing levels or quality of service. It’s tough.
Julie: I’m constantly telling my friends that go out and they’re not in the hospitality industry, I just want people to understand, be patient with your server. They’re probably doing the job of three people. They probably do not have the support they need.
Our managers are sometimes running around taking beverage orders because we just don’t have enough people. So if that’s one thing that I can share with anybody that’s not in hospitality right now, please just be patient and know that they’re doing the best that they can right now.
Sam: Yeah. You all do a little for your people and are always thinking about whether it’s technology or whether it’s, you just mentioned a few times that you’re just constantly thinking about how you show gratitude to your team members or appreciation. Are there any specifics that you could share and it doesn’t even have to be for people that are in the hospitality industry for any industry, the managers are really struggling to keep their people together and connected. Are there any tactics specifically that you’re using or doing every day that you think other people could benefit?
Julie: Yeah. I mean, there are a few things I’ve recently taken on more of a role, in terms of making sure that our internal community is happy. Because of course, when you have happy employees, then that translates to happy customers.
And so really since January, that’s been my focus of how do we communicate better? How do we give them the tools that they need? How do we appreciate them better? And so a few things that I’ve really focused on this year is making sure that all the communication levels are open and that’s everything from having WhatsApp groups with the different departments to emails, department meetings, pre-shift meetings.
I created a huge bulletin board where we put up calendars and shoutouts to people and Yelp reviews and things so that people feel that there’s just a lot of communication from the team. And also developing a more robust review program so that at the end of 90 days, every person is able to have a one-on-one with their manager and really be able to talk about the paths that they see, so that we’re all aligned in terms of what their progression with the company is going to be.
And that of course helps a lot if you start as a host, but you’ve got your eye on being a manager someday. If we know that as a leadership team, we can really help develop you in that realm. And so I think the more that people feel that they’re heard and that there are opportunities for them to voice their personal goals and professional goals or any concerns that they have, and then it’s a real open-door policy, I think that’s been really helpful. And then implementing what they suggest. Not just hearing them, but also really strategically launching initiatives that they’ve suggested or commented on so that they feel that they really have ownership in this project and can see it in the longer vision.
And then another thing is, a lot of people are getting creative with cash bonuses for people because money talks. And that’s kind of where we’re competing with other businesses right now. So we’re not doing signing bonuses or anything like that. Right now we’re making sure that our wages are really competitive and our tip out procedures are fair and everybody understands them. But more than that we’re offering cash incentives for people to go above and beyond. So we have a team member of the month program. If you stay later and just bust your butt one night, and it’s really obvious that you went way above the call of duty, you might just get a cash bonus on your next paycheck. If you get a positive Yelp review or a Google review that helps us immensely. So we’ll give a cash reward for that.
And then bringing in referrals for employees, that’s going to be the best way for us to get high-quality people in the door. So rather than me spending every day on these platforms, hiring or interviewing candidates that I have no idea who they are, if our employees are bringing in their friends and family, and they stay for 90 days, then they’ll get a cash reward also.
So it’s just figuring out where we want our team members to really go the extra mile, to make this business work, and then rewarding them. And same with training. I mean, we’ve been launching a lot of new training initiatives, and definitely the people that are taking the initiative, jumping on the app, the training app, and playing the games and showing that they really care about learning for their job. We’ll give them praises at the end of that as well.
Sam: That’s cool. You said earlier you wanted to be a teacher, so I’m sure that all that kind of comes in along the way. What’s the hardest thing to train right now with new hires? If you hired me tomorrow, I mean, I think I’m a chef in the kitchen. My four-year-old daughter just throws the flour at me. But if you were to hire me and put me on the line tomorrow, what’s the hardest thing that you’re finding right now to train and develop new hires?
Julie: I mean, I guess the biggest thing we struggle with is accountability. And that’s tough to train. A lot of people come in thinking, either that they know everything and they don’t need to learn more. It’s that fine line. We want young people that don’t come in with a whole bunch of baggage because that’s hard to break old habits, but at the same time, we want people that have the maturity to know that they are coming and need to learn for their job. Sometimes we get students who are like, ‘why go to school? And I’m constantly studying, I don’t want to come to work and study more.’ I think maturity is the part that we have the hardest time training on. The material, it’s material and it’s like, okay, you’re either going to learn it on this fun app we have, or we’re going to do modules and boring paper quizzes and we’re going to get this information to you somehow. But I think more it’s like the attitude, the maturity, and that way of thinking of like, I don’t need to learn that for my job. I study enough outside or I don’t come to work to take quizzes. It’s that kind of thing.
Sam: You need coachability. I found it’s people that are “intellectually curious” as something we say at 1Huddle a lot, just being willing to learn a little bit more about something.
Julie: Yeah. Yeah.
Sam: I have a question for young people that are considering a career in hospitality and food. And you, like you just mentioned, have done it all along the way.
Julie: I have done it all, yes!
Sam: As a young person starting out who’s trying to make a career in hospitality, any advice or tips for them on how to get started?
Julie: So I guess the first thing would be that you need to be ready to work really hard. It’s not a job for people that are lazy or don’t want to physically work very hard. Whether you’re hosting, busting, cooking, bartending, across the board, you need to be able to go to work, show up every day, leave your attitude at the door and just be ready to work.
It’s very rewarding. I think being a part of a team is really rewarding work. And when at the end of the day you can be like, wow, we crushed that day. We made it, we served guests, they were super happy, so many great reviews came out of it and we made a lot of money. At the end of the day, it’s so rewarding, especially when you work for a venue that you can be really proud of, like I think we do at the Doral Yard, but you gotta be ready to work hard and you just need to really like people. You just need to be able to really communicate with people.
And the answer should always be yes when you’re in hospitality. It’s like, what do you need? Yes. If I don’t know the answer, I’m going to find it. If we don’t serve that, I’m going to figure out something else that we can serve you. And customers aren’t always nice. They get frustrated and they might take out their frustration on you as a server or bartender or whatever. And you’ve just gotta be ready to turn situations around and take people’s bad moods and shift them and make them happy. That’s your job basically, hospitality is just making people happy. And when you can do that, that feels really good, right? If the sole purpose of your job is to make others happy, then when you succeed, it feels really good.
Sam: Totally. Julie, thanks for taking some time to share.
Julie: Yes. Thank you for having me so nice to meet you.
Topics Discussed: Future of Work, Restaurants, Hospitality, Staffing, Leadership, Coaching, Training
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