“I grew up around food, and I never thought of it as a career,” says Katrina Jazayeri, 27. “How do you do something nice for another person? You cook for them. That’s just what you do.” But over the last three years or so, it’s become her career, and now she’s sitting on a chair she upholstered at a table she built inside Juliet — the restaurant she opened with her partner, Josh Lewin, four months earlier in Somerville, MA — talking about how she got here.
Jazayeri's path to the restaurant world stems from a desire to impact community health. She studied social justice and community activism in college, at one point planning to go to medical school. "Then I slowly started to unpack the roots of that and what goes into making a person healthy," she says. "A lot of it comes down to decision-making, means, and power. You can know what's good for you, but whether or not you can act on that knowledge comes down to money a lot of the time. So creating a stable economy, and creating good jobs and economic security, is step one to having an impact on health in any community."
Ultimately, that philosophy (and a variety of experiences "tangentially related to food") led her to the restaurant industry. "I started to see the food industry as a really powerful place to make the kind of impact I had been looking for in terms of helping people, making people happier, making their lives a little bit better — while also doing something that I really love, which is being around food and feeding people."
It's that mindset that fuels the way Jazayeri and Lewin choose to run Juliet: a no-tipping, profit-sharing model aimed at "creating a career pipeline rather than just jobs," says Jazayeri. "Josh and I believe that it's the responsibility of the owners of the business to pay their employees. It should not be the customer's responsibility, and that means a lot more risk for us, but we think that that bond is important, and it shows loyalty from us to our staff. It's also practical for our goals of economic stability, empowerment, and creating jobs that support a healthy lifestyle."
That model also creates a shared set of goals among the owners and staff, Jazayeri explains. Everyone is working to ensure the health of the business, and once the restaurant gets above a certain threshold of profitability, that's when the profit-sharing kicks in. It's a longer timeline on incentives than a standard tipping model — "it's not one meal, it's the length of a quarter," says Jazayeri — but it allows everyone to know exactly what he or she will be bringing home each shift because there's a fair base wage that doesn't rely on gratuity. "You have to understand what you're going to make in order to make certain decisions in your life," says Jazayeri. "If you don't ever know what your income is, it's really hard to make plans and stick to them. You see a lot in restaurants that take home a bunch of cash at the end of the night, and that was a great day, but tomorrow you have no idea if you're going to take home any money or not."
Jazayeri and Lewin also practice open-book management, so the staff can learn everything about the business, allowing each person to really figure out which line items he or she can personally affect and how that contributes to the overall business. "Aligning those goals means that every day you come to work, we're all working for the same thing, whether you're here five hours a week or 50 hours a week," says Jazayeri. "It's not only nice to work in that kind of environment, but I think it breeds a better quality of service and a more authentic type of hospitality."
The unique hospitality at Juliet comes through thanks to the employment model, but also through the space itself, which was truly a labor of love. Jazayeri's personal touches can be found throughout the restaurant because she physically put together so many parts of it herself, from the aforementioned tables and chairs to the custom stain she designed for the floor and the S-hooks she built for pots and pans.
"I started college as an engineering major, so I was always taking things apart; construction and deconstruction are still things that I do," she says. "For better or worse, I think I can make anything."
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is Eater's Boston editor.
Katrina Juliet Jazayeri is the owner of Juliet in Boston. Images by Katie Chudy.
Editors: Dana Hatic and Sonia Chopra
Copy editor: Dawn Mobley
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