Staff Spotlight: Polk Street

I feature staff spotlights to forge the connection between the food you eat and the people serving and cooking it for you.  In an age of technology, which Kasa fully encompasses, I want to cherish the human connection even more. For the majority of our team this is the reason we are in the hospitality business in the first place!

If you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own restaurant, bar or coffee shop.  I would ask you to read this blog to see if you have what it takes.  Andrew certainly does, he is the embodiment of a successful restaurateur in the making.

Our industry is notorious for being one of the most difficult businesses to run; evidenced by the number of daily closures of restaurants.  We have razor sharp margins to work with and tiny margins of error.  We have incredibly demanding bosses: our customers.  Everyday we aim to please the entire retail market with all their individual quirks and whims.  We have to stand out amongst the wealth of intense SF competition both in terms of quality and number of restaurants.

So what are the necessary traits to run a successful restaurant and how did Andrew end up in the business?   I sit down to interview him on a fairly typical Sunday evening at work.   A simple enough task you’d think, but if you’ve ever been served by Andrew or worked alongside him, you would know that this is near impossible.  He’s always on the move and at lightening speed.  Our GM, Wendy, describes him as ‘electric – it’s like he’s on fire. He moves soooo fast’

Andrew is young, 26 so he certainly has the electric energy needed to run a restaurant.  But it’s not just his youth that makes him so energetic.   He’s genetically wired to function at speeds not possible for everyone.

Born and raised in Tucson Arizona, he’s the youngest of 6 siblings.  He’s been groomed to being bossed around, and been given consistent hard feedback and as a result emerged strong.  Ambitious that he is, he left Tuscon at an early age due to the poor job market and lack of stimulating activities.  He drove on up alone with his girlfriend to sunny California undeterred by the cost of living here or without any family support.  He jumped right into work, eager to succeed.  You have to have a fearless ambitious nature to dive into our world.

He worked with the SF Soup Co for a while, but they lost out on a gem as he came to work with us in order to have more impact on a small business.

He’s disciplined.  Unlike the majority of his peers, he does not touch alcohol.  He’s had his time in Tuscon of drinking and house parties but decided he would prefer to quit and focus on his goals and save $$$.  Whilst this makes socializing a tad difficult, he tells me in a matter of fact way, that he can handle that no problem.  He has plenty of friends and they have plenty to do together without alcohol. Skateboarding and Rock music are two of his huge passions outside of work.  

Passionate – You have to have passion for creativity and the talent to go with it.  He’s an artist & musician.  In a previous life, he was a muralist.  (Look out for a t-shirt coming up designed by him soon), and plays the bass and electric guitar.  Most importantly for us, he can cook!  Yes you need some serious culinary skills to be involved in the business.  If not you will be beholden to a moody chef that can make or break your business.  This next month’s community dinner will be created and cooked by Andrew. Stay tuned for more details on that.

Common sense old school maintenance skills – These are ones that the majority of folk can happily go about their lives without having to ever worry about.  In our world though.  You had better know how to deal with electrical, plumbing, tiling issues as well as putting up shelves and fixing refrigerators.  OR know a really good, reliable and affordable handy person. What has Andrew not done? – He also used to be a welder – so he can check that box too.

Incredibly smart and competent.  You have to have a strong head on your shoulders and take in all of the tiny details and ensure the numbers add up.  This means keeping your labor and food costs in line, whilst providing the best value for money to your customers.  This takes analysis, discipline and responsibility.  Ultimately if you don’t make money, you may find yourself crying over a failed restaurant (been there and done that AKA ‘The Marina Year’)

People person.  Invariably you will have to lead, connect with and inspire teams. Andrew has those qualities.  His team members see him as somewhat mysterious.  In reality he shrugs his shoulders and explains to me he’s just professional.  He keeps his personal life to a minimal at work.  His team consider him approachable, respectful and always there to have your back.

So now you know the gem that is serving you! As well as some knowledge if you have what it takes to open your own restaurant – (with hopefully a lot of starting capital).

We celebrate two years of working with Andrew this February and he’s become a big part in the heart of Kasa.  I personally have a lot to learn on his life’s perspective.

Andrew’s message to our customers at Polk Street –  

He loves the people.  They are friendly and outgoing – “Keep coming back!”.

A steep learning curve…

The beautiful, strong women of Kasa!

The beautiful, strong women of Kasa!

I recently read that there are more women in management and ownership in the restaurant industry than any other industry. This got me thinking about myself as a first time entrepreneur and leader through the lens of being female and a mother juggling raising two children.

Seven years since launching Kasa, I look back on how much I struggled with stereotypical challenges that some women face in taking charge. Becoming a leader has been one of the steepest learning curves I could imagine.

I began with an extreme lack of confidence and an inability to tell others what to do. I questioned whether my recipes and food would be loved by San Franciscans. I agonized over asking a cook to hand me something stored up high that I couldn’t reach. I didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone to do anything even though if it was their job. I simply couldn’t give direction. It always felt like I was asking for a favour.

I was an emotional mess when I first had to let go of a staff member. How was this person I’d fired going to pay rent now? I went to a bar and had a few stiff drinks to make myself feel less guilty.

At the bar that night, I met a tech company CFO who explained to me that it’s normal to feel guilt. He helped me understand that in reality that person had also let themselves down by continually being late. He taught me to separate my personal feelings from what the business and the team needs. I wasn’t a bad person for having to make that difficult decision.

Why did this thought process naturally not occur to me? Honestly I don’t know if it’s because I’m me (fairly emotional!) or because I’m a woman. It’s also hard to generalize since every individual is wired differently.

I also really struggled with the financial side of the business. I was all food, decor and creativity without any business acumen. It wasn’t until my landlord sat me down to inform me about a rent increase where I almost cried. He bluntly said, ‘’You are feeding San Francisco out of your own pocket. You’ll fail quickly if you don’t figure this out.”
I’m definitely not the same person I was 7 years ago. The pressure and fear of financial ruin, loss of everything I had worked hard for, the stability of my team who relies upon Kasa for their livelihood and even the regulars who have grown addicted to their Kasa fix has forced me to just do what is necessary to succeed. I also really want to be the best possible role model for my kids.

Being overly emotional, struggling with financials, lacking in confidence, shying away from hard decisions all got in the way of my success for quite a few years. Whilst these aren’t female specific issues, they certainly were for me and as I reflect on a personal note, I think some of these are specific to my experience being raised as a woman in my culture.

And what made it worse is that I was afraid to speak out and say this in case I was upsetting all the incredibly competent powerful women in leadership or letting down the ‘female’ team by accepting these issues affected me. However, until you accept them and recognize that other women may be going through this, you can’t start helping each other.

Now I have hired a woman as my lieutenant and she has been by far the most competent and successful partner I’ve had. It makes complete sense to hire the most competent person for the job regardless of gender (or race for that matter).

When it comes down to it, I think an easy solution is to raise our girls to ask boys (or girls) out on dates more. It starts right there. Girls need to learn how to be confident, deal with rejection, and be assertive about what they want. These are valuable skills in the grown up world.

Now I wish I had asked out more boys when I was younger!

Why (Some) Indians Gamble On Diwali

Diwali has many different rituals and traditions, but one in particular very popular with Punjabis is gambling through the late hours of the night.  Playing cards is accompanied with plenty of drinks (usually Jack Daniels or Black Label, all-time Punjabi favourites) and an incredible feast with lots of mithai (sweets) and fireworks.

As a child, my favourite part of this ritual was the fireworks. Growing up in London, the dates closely coincide with Guy Fawkes night, which meant that for about a week, there were fireworks constantly exploding through the night generating pulsing excitement.  Here in San Francisco, fireworks are illegal and for good reason.  There were most definitely dubiously dangerous times where us kids were kicking at fireworks that we thought we had lit but didn’t go off until you were a little too close!  Not to mention the poor environment – intense black smog filling the air, which takes me on a tangent but how and why does Disneyland get away with polluting the air with nightly fireworks??

Now that I’m older, I look forward to the just as dangerous vice of gambling. The ancient myth is that Lord Shiva (an important God in the Hindu religion representing complex themes of creation and destruction) played dice with his wife Parvati.  She won and was so mesmerized by her win (as first time gamblers often are) that she declared that everyone who gambles on Diwali night will mint money (which doesn’t quite make sense as there has to be some losers). And to make it worse, anyone who doesn’t will be re-born as a donkey!

Being a pragmatic, I tend to wonder if the gambling thing could have it’s roots in a more practical application.  At the end of the harvest season, which is when Diwali falls, farmers needed to chill after all their hard work.  But they also had to leave their doors open through the night of Diwali to allow the Goddess Laxmi (the goddess of good fortune) into their well lit clean houses.  This meant the door needed to be guarded all night. What better way to stay up through the night and relax at the same time – cards and drinks!  Especially when you don’t have hard core farming the next day, you just need the religion to sanction it of course.

My spiritual side contemplates how the gambling could be exploring heavy spiritual themes of cosmic cycles of winning/losing, beginnings/ends, creation/destruction, the grand illusion of Maya and a reminder of the fickleness of luck urging us to create a sense of balance in the pursuit of material success.

Either way – I plan on playing some poker soon! Not that I mind being born a donkey in the next life at all.

We encourage you to feed your office or Diwali party with our discount offer through November 11th to celebrate.Offer can be found on our October Newsletter.  And if you need another player for your card game, you know how to reach me!

 

Chai, Indian Style pt II

Last month, India – one of the world’s largest democracies – celebrated 68 years of independence from British rule.  We hope some of you were able to come in and celebrate with us and enjoy Chai and Pakoras on the house!
 

Me, with the Indian Flag on my cheek.I’m incredibly patriotic and proud to be Indian and was fortunate enough to have spent seven formative years at a boarding school in the pristine beautiful mountains of Panchgani, India.  I was, however, born and raised in London and simultaneously identify myself as British. And now 15 years after arriving in SF, I’m also part American too (unless Donald Trump wins the election).  Underneath it all, I’m Indian at heart and love spices –  whatever all this means.  The mind boggles with philosophical questions – what does it truly mean to be Indian or American or British.  Do I belong in either country or culture?

 

Having felt a misfit on and off my whole life I’ve concluded for me it means being able to take the best of each culture and ditch the rest.  To appreciate that despite the violence and tyranny that occurred with the British colonialism there were historic events that set some positive side effects in motion.   My grandparents suffered through a gruesome horrific splitting of Pakistan and India, leaving them homeless, penniless, losing family members and eventually migrating to England to start all over – resulting in me being able to write this piece here and introduce home-style Indian food to SF.

 

Man making Chai!A more historic piece set in motion – CHAI!!  – Until the British stole black tea from China in a great act of industrial espionage and brought the tea industry to India,  Chai was unheard of.  In order to make substantial profits the British heavily pushed Black tea on to Indians

 

Indians being who we are, took a strong somewhat unpalatable expensive drink of black tea, made it cheaper by adding milk, tastier by adding spices, sweeter by adding sugar (coincidentally the British also had a mound of sugar to sell) – and theatrics and skill to the pouring of the tea.  Almost a century later we have a drink that has stood the test of time and growing in popularity around the world.  Not to mention some of the best tea in the world is now grown in Darjeeling India and painstakingly each leaf is individually hand picked, mostly by women.  Think of that the next time you sip your chai.

 

Check out our August Newsletter for our Chai Recipe and other Kasa News!

Click Here for our Kasa Newsletter

Staff Spotlight in the Castro

Jonathan, Our Castro Lead – Happiest Guy Alive!

Many of you know and have been served by our positive Castro lead, Jonathan Abuel. I wanted to share a little of his personal history with you, as now is a very special time in his life!

Jon is originally from the Philippines and moved to America 8 years ago.  He left his home country and came here because ‘America is the country of dreams, the place you come to if you want your ambitions to come true!’

Jon explained to me that the Philippines has so much corruption that it makes it difficult to raise a family there.  Jon has a wife and two beautiful daughters, now aged 21 and 16.  He had to leave them behind in the Philippines in order to financially set himself up; as well as to go through the immigration process to bring them over here.

It has not been an easy time for him and 8 years without your family is heartbreakingly difficult but his positive attitude and love for his family motivates him.  Everything he does is to set up a future for his daughters.

His first job upon arrival here was within a couple of weeks.  Despite having a disability, due to contracting Polio as a child, he was able to find work as a barista at Starbucks . There, he was quickly promoted within 6 months because of his great customer service and work ethic.  He worked there for a few years always sending money home to his family., “I always control myself not to spend money, only on important things”.

(Left: Jon, Jamaica, Judy)

This month, after all these years, his family has finally joined him and as he says, this makes him ‘the happiest man alive’.  And like full circle, his eldest daughter Judy, started her first day of work at Starbucks yesterday!  His youngest, Jamaica, will be starting school here in the fall.

Whilst it is financially difficult right now, as he has to pay more in rent and spend more to meet the family’s needs, it is just the beginning for them.  We wish them so much luck and we are all very happy for Jon!  He deserves all the happiness life has to offer.

Jon’s story is not unusual in that so many of our staff have left their families behind in order to financially make ends meet.  I’m always in awe of how hard working and emotionally strong our staff are in order to make a better life for those they love.

And a message from Jon to his customers:  “I love America and I love my job, whilst no job is easy, I dedicate myself to my family and team.  I love my regulars as I appreciate their loyalty; not only on their Chicken Tikka Masala/Saag Thalis but to us.  I thank them for appreciating our service and their patience when we are busy or mess up something”.

(Left: Jamaica, Dory, Jonathan and Judy Abuel)

*All photos courtesy of Jonathan!