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Restaurateur Katrina Jazayeri’s Essential Books Shaped Her Fight Against Inequality

From James Baldwin to George Orwell, the authors who sparked her interest in making the restaurant world a better place

Katrina Jazayeri is a multi-hyphenate: She’s a designer, a beverage director, and a restaurateur, now preparing to open her second restaurant with business partner Joshua Lewin. In 2016, she was named an Eater Young Gun for her work as co-owner of Juliet, a Somerville, Massachusetts, restaurant that prides itself on a no-tipping, profit-sharing model.

Jazayeri’s route to restaurant ownership wasn’t entirely straightforward. She once aspired to attend medical school, and she has a background in social justice — experience that has helped shape Juliet’s mission. The throughline that ties her vocations is a desire to make a difference in her community. And since her teenage years, books have helped crystalize this goal. Here, Jazayeri talks about those favorites:

Sparking an interest in inequality

“In high school, James Baldwin’s Another Country provided me with my first exposure to a personal narrative about inequality and injustice. It kind of epitomized that there’s darkness in society, but there can also be hope. For me, there was this inherent call to action. At the same time, I was reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm as part of my school curriculum. It was an introduction to dystopian societies and some of the things to look out for. It was a little bit of a ‘capitalism versus communism’ perspective.

“These books sparked an interest and an imperative for me to think about how I was going to improve my society. I knew I wanted to (big air quotes) ‘help people.’ I went to college to become a biomedical engineer, thinking that I would probably be a doctor, and that was going to be how I did it.”

Jazayeri, right, working at Juliet.
Katie Chudy/Eater

A manual for activism

“I went to college at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and found out about its Community Studies program, which was all about the identification of injustice and inequity paired with practical solutions and action. As part of that curriculum, I read a book called Dreams Die Hard by David Harris. It’s about the anti-draft student movement in the ‘60s and the civil rights movement, including college students from California who were going to Mississippi to teach in Freedom Schools. It gave me a model for what individuals can accomplish and showed me activism in practice.

“After graduating from college, I worked for a social benefit incubator that helped entrepreneurs from developing economies get their products off the ground. Until that point, my coursework was telling me, ‘Capitalism is bad, it’s oppressive. As long as there is profit to make, people will suffer.’ I took issue with that because I thought of myself as an entrepreneurial person. I thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to apply the engine of capitalism and all of the efficiencies that it’s figured out, to a different set of goals.’ I wanted to be on the front line interacting with people, running a business, and being one of those startups, instead of facilitating them at the incubator. That’s when I moved to Boston to become part of the food scene.”

The “lapsed anarchist’s” guide to building a business

“When working as a marketing assistant and prep cook for J.J. Gonson’s catering company, Cuisine en Locale, I snuck into a Chefs Collaborative conference. I saw Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, speak, and after his presentation I picked up all his books.

Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading (parts 1-4) integrated so many of the components that I had been thinking about. I knew I wanted to get involved in business somehow, and the books kind of brought it all together. The care that we have for others can be reflected in so many different ways, and that being part of a connected society can — and should — be taken up by businesses.

“That series of books has been my top reading list for the past four years, from when I started to think about creating Juliet to actually starting and then running that business for three years. Now, as I get ready to open another restaurant, I’m rereading the books with more focus, using the teachings that the books provide to apply to a specific need. For example, we’re training a whole new set of managers this week, so we want to review A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader to focus on how we should convey our mission. We’re picking out the pieces with more intention, and it’s become a different kind of resource.”

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