Dream Team

Words by
Amber Love
Images by
Jayde Perkin

Staffing Up in Uncertain Times.

Running a restaurant is a perpetual tightrope walk—on one foot, while juggling, with a smile on your face in front of a literally hungry crowd—that can only be pulled off with a solid team. While high turnover has long been part of the industry, one of the most pernicious aftershocks of the pandemic has been a nationwide staffing shortage—one that, while overwhelming, restaurants have found ways to cope with that have resulted in even tighter staffs than before. Here, four mainstays of Miami’s food scene share how they’ve created environments where employees want to stick around.

David Martinez

Co-owner of Cafe La Trova and Sweet Liberty

Number of employees: 138

“One important piece to holding onto our staff is continuous training via seminars and classes. We do them on everything from service to knife skills, along with having a financial advisor who comes in to talk about budgeting, investing, and how to save for retirement—something many people in the hospitality industry may not have knowledge about.

To make sure everyone is happy—and to give them an opportunity to see Miami in the way our guests do—we also occasionally treat our staff to a boat day, or a spa day at the Standard Hotel. Similarly, we also exchange gift cards with other Miami restaurants, like Zak the Baker and Macchialina, and then hold contests for our staff to have the chance to win them. Both of our concepts do pop-ups around the world—London, Mexico City, Chicago, Grand Cayman—and we rotate which members of the team get to join us. We also have what we call a Legacy Program that allows workers to train for internal management positions, along with paying for sommelier certification for servers who take a great interest in wine.

But I really think the most important thing is understanding that we aren’t just owners—we are therapists, counselors. That means understanding and respecting how people in the kitchen are a different breed than the guy behind the bar, and knowing how to speak with everyone. The kitchen is also where many immigrants find their first jobs when they come to this country and you’re part of their entrance to this new life. Giving them that safe space while they find their footing in an unfamiliar world is something owners have to prioritize.”

Will Thompson

Co-owner of Jaguar Sun

Number of employees: 20

“We provide full insurance coverage, because we think that’s important. But it’s not only financial incentives that we’re offering to our employees. We try really hard to provide more than just jobs—we want to create careers. And we do our best to make sure that we make everyone feel included. I've yet to have someone interview for a position who's asked how much they're going to make—and while they absolutely should ask that question, they're more concerned about if they're going to walk into a chaotic workplace every day. We strive to not make that the case. We want to make sure our employees feel like they're taken care of and like they're a part of something bigger. Both our kitchen staff and bar staff have input on new items that go on our menus, it’s not just about one person creating a cocktail or dish and everyone else learning how to make it. It’s a collaborative effort and everyone has the chance to showcase their talents. We have turnover just like everyone else does, but we try our hardest to make this a safe space that everyone looks forward to coming to every day.”

Avy Cohen

Co-owner of La Boulangerie Boul’Mich

Number of employees: 120

“We are really focusing on the overall well-being of our employees. To do this, we regularly schedule leisurely activities outside of the workplace, such as sports events, yoga, and meditation, and have just begun a new initiative where our HR director visits each location. It’s a chance for our team members to share their thoughts, challenges, and hopes, and clearly communicate what support, if any, they need from each other, the managers, and our executives. While we offer financial incentives for performance, we’re really focused on making sure people feel there are opportunities for growth within the company—to move from the floor, say, to a management position. On a personal level, we make a point of providing employees with monetary assistance, offering no-interest loans if needed for medical or other emergencies.”

Ani Meinhold

Co-owner of Phuc Yea

Number of employees: 50

“We provide a family-forward environment for our staff. We treat everyone with respect, and value everyone equally no matter the position. We charge a 20 percent service charge and that gets distributed throughout the entire team in the restaurant; besides their hourly wage, this acts as a bonus and it's been working well for us as everyone makes a bit more money at the end of the month. We also do outing days, where we take our staff bowling, golfing, or out to restaurants, as a chance to bond and kick back together. We reward them with gift cards and allow them to have a discount at any of our other locations. We are proud to have an open-door policy that allows the staff to feel comfortable and talk to management about any issue. We used to offer to cover 50 percent of their health insurance in the past, but the staff has preferred to keep the extra money and use it as they need. Still, it’s always available for anyone who would need it.”

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