Showcasing a Season: Transforming Hospitality on ShiftWork

The pandemic helped many of us realize just how important restaurants are to the cultural makeup of our cities. Behind each of those eateries is a team of hard-as-nails chefs, servers, bussers, bartenders, and staff who work tirelessly to feed, entertain, and host. When businesses closed and those workers were at their most vulnerable, the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation (RWCF) raised over $7 million to support. That fundraising aids the movement through community building & advocacy, grantmaking, and impact investing. 

HRN teamed up with RWCF to raise awareness of their work pushing restaurants towards a more equitable and sustainable future. ShiftWork on HRN is the product of that partnership. The podcast series discusses not-so-often talked about restaurant industry topics like mental health, fair pay, racial justice, substance abuse, gender equality, and how hospitality can change for the better. 

Follow RWCF’s Executive Director and podcast host Kiki Louya as she introduces us to the trailblazers and organizations leading this transformation. As former Chef/Owner of Detroit’s Folk & The Farmer’s Hand, two award-winning food concepts, Kiki gained national attention for her fight for fair wages. Most notably, she was recognized as one of 16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America by The New York Times for her pursuit of social justice and equity in the kitchen. 

The series explores many of the issues we are facing within our country through the lens of the restaurant industry. We’ll hear leaders’ stories, as well as the story of America’s history that led to the current challenges. Saru Jayaraman of One Fair Wage explains in episode 5 that "as part of the New Deal everybody got the right to minimum wage, except millions of Black workers and tipped restaurant workers. They were given a $0 wage. We went from zero in 1938, to $2.13/hour in 2022." .

Even if you have no experience working in the back of the house or behind the bar, many communities can relate. “The hospitality industry is just as racialized as our country is…The only way to really combat that is to have clear policies beforehand…and letting your vulnerable staff know that when those situations come, this is how you plan on supporting them,” said Mavis-Jay Sanders in episode 2.

This series challenges our thinking around staff negotiations of working conditions, including collective bargaining. Guest on episode 6, Ben Hall encourages restaurateurs to “think about the way in which we invest in each other and what that balance looks like in terms of credit & privilege & responsibility & culpability when equity doesn't occur." 

There are plenty of big picture conversations, but each episode opens with a personal anecdote. For instance, RWCF Board member Chris White recounts that, "My very first interaction with the industry was being told that my education was a barrier to getting paid more. You got $50k of debt on top of your head and someone trying to negotiate you down."

This is the show for everyone from owners, to industry veterans, to those getting their first taste of the hospitality world. ShiftWork details the mixed journeys of folks from a variety of backgrounds including. There first season has come to end, but it's never too late to revisit these critical discussions. Dive into each episode below or follow ShiftWork on your favorite podcast app.

Episode 1: An Industry Mental Health Check-In: In an industry with a culture of hustling, difficult hours, low hourly pay, and little-to-no health coverage, mental health challenges run rampant. But there are a few committed individuals and organizations that offer support and models of change to the hospitality industry and its workers. They’re tackling addiction support and destigmatizing the need for mental health counseling. In this episode, host Kiki Louya hears from Chef Brother Luck who shares his own struggles with mental illness at a time when his career was at its peak. Learn more about his story titled, "Why I Choose to Be Vulnerable" on The James Beard Foundation. Kristina Magro, co-founder of Support Staff sits down for a conversation about the work that needs to be done to empower industry professionals, from back of house to management, to make necessary changes for workers mental health.

Episode 2: Real Talk On Racial Justice in Restaurants: Racial inequity can be found across industries in America, but hospitality is a particular microcosm where power imbalances, lack of HR support, and attitudes towards service professionals can make for particularly challenging dynamics for BIPOC staff. In this episode, host Kiki Louya hears from Raeghn Draper, founder of the Chicago Hospitality Accountable Actions Database (CHAAD), about the chain of events set off by a racist diner. Mavis-Jay Sanders, Director of Culinary Development and Education at Drive Change weighs in on the intersecting challenges faced by Queer people of color; she also shares insights into how restaurants can create supportive and equitable working environments for all.

Episode 3: Immigrants are at the Heart of the Industry: Immigrants are an essential and valuable part of America’s hospitality industry. From rich international cuisines and diverse perspectives, it is undeniable that foreign-born talent makes the restaurant business, as we know it, possible. This episode celebrates and explores the experiences of immigrants working in food. Host Kiki Louya sits down with Leticia Landa, the Deputy Director of La Cocina, a nonprofit incubator that’s increasing inclusivity in the food industry and offering opportunities for living-wage work and asset generation. The conversation centers on the barriers faced by immigrant entrepreneurs and the resources available for empowering a new generation of business owners.

Episode 4: Working Parents in Hospitality: Parents, and mothers specifically, face a particularly steep set of challenges working in the hospitality industry. Long, irregular hours and lack of paid time off are only the start of what can make raising children while working in a restaurant untenable. This week on ShiftWork, host Kiki Louya explores resources for families in the industry in a conversation with Sheila Bennett, the Executive Director of CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees). CORE provides financial relief to restaurant workers with children when they experience crises like illness and injury. Kiki and Sheila discuss embracing opportunity in the industry while juggling family, childcare needs, and other obstacles. 

Episode 5: The Fight for Fair Wages: What will it take to pay restaurant workers a living wage? Tipping or no tipping? Legislative or management changes? Questions abound about how to get the industry where it needs to go to ensure a sustainable career for hospitality workers. On this episode, Kiki speaks with Saru Jayaraman, one of the industry’s leading worker advocates as President of One Fair Wage and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley. Saru takes listeners through the historic background and current battle for restaurant wages. 

Episode 6: The Future of The Industry: On the season finale of ShiftWork, host Kiki Louya and her guests explore the future of the hospitality industry. From grassroots, community led support, to the ever-evolving shape of restaurant leadership, we’re looking forward. Kiki is joined by Ben Hall, a true renaissance man. Born and raised in Detroit, he owned Russell Street Deli and has been a longtime advocate for worker rights, fair wages, and systems change. His work combines his passion for the industry with his love of music, community, and educating the next generation.

Get to know the organizations and resources mentioned in this series: