Busboys and Poets: Creating a community for change

April 30, 2021

Here to Help host Chris Hyams is joined by Joy Zarembka to hear the incredible story of how Busboys and Poets came to life .They discuss how diversity and inclusion is baked into the company’s culture, the recent Indeed commercial which features the venue and how the main aim was to create a place where people can show up as who they are, no matter their background.

- Hello and welcome everyone, I am Chris Hyams CEO of Indeed, and welcome to the next installment of Here to Help. This is our look at how Indeed has been navigating the global impact of COVID-19. Today is April 26th, we are on day 419 of Global Work from Home. At Indeed we believe in a world of work, where people are seen and hired for what they have to offer. And we work with SMBs or small and medium businesses, all over the world to help them hire the people that will help them realize their potential. Over the past 14 months, this work has been more vital than ever as SMBs in every sector have had to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. One of the hardest hit sectors, during this time has been hospitality and especially food service. And I am delighted today to be joined by Joy Zarembka the VP of Planning and Innovation at Busboys and Poets. Indeed has been able to help Busboys and Poets, hire a diverse and talented set of people, during the most challenging of times. And their mission and story is inspiring and I'm excited to share it with all of you, Joy, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thank you so much for having me Chris, I'm really excited to be here.

- Well, let's start where, we always start these conversations by checking in, tell me how are you doing right now?

- Well, thanks for asking, you know, I've watched enough of the Here to Help episodes to know that you mean that question rather genuinely, so I'm going to be very honest with you, I am currently emotionally shattered. If you indulge me, I'll tell you just sort of, a quick story to answer your question. For the longest time, I was just sort of one of the few people on earth who didn't have a COVID birthday 'cause my birthday falls at the beginning of March. So, all year and 2020 Busboys survived, my family and friends survived, and I finally had a COVID birthday in 2021. And I remember thinking, ah man, I'm damn near 50 and life is good. You know, I love my job, my family, my friends, my house, my car, my perfectly, you know, perfected cup of coffee, I love all these things not necessarily in that order, but, you know, things were going really well. And then mid-March, you know, my father tells me he isn't feeling well. And then the next week he's in the hospital. And then the next week my stepmother dies of COVID. And then the next week my father sort of, already of broken body and now of broken heart dies. So, I'm currently in my first month of being fatherless and you know, he was my world. So, we just finished his memorial service this weekend. So, you know, I've gone from the experience of the sort of mind-numbing statistics to the experience of the sort of mind-numbing reality of this pandemic. You know, there's about 3 million people dead around the world and I loved two of them. So honestly I have the choice of sort of, curling up in a ball and hiding in the attic or coming here and chatting with you. And Chris I know my dad would want me to be here hanging out with you, so here I am. And by the way interestingly, before my father passed, I had an early cut of the Indeed commercial, we recently did with you. And I got a chance to show it to him and he loved it. So, this is kind of an interesting, wonderful, full circle to be talking with you today. And the commercial is great, love to have that, you know, shown.

- [Andy] Food brings people together in a way that probably nothing else does. I wanted to create a place where people could come from different backgrounds and connect with each other. So I created Busboys and Poets, having an incredible team of people that really get it, was first and foremost.

- [Joy] We have this crazy notion that everybody is equal, everybody has something to bring. I think a lot of companies hire by trusting their gut and they end up hiring people who are carbon copies of who they are. And I think we have to challenge ourselves a little bit more, it's really wonderful to have a partner like Indeed because Indeed brings us the people who want to be with us. We were able to do sponsored ads, we're able to do virtual hiring events, it's just incredible how quickly we can get the information we need out of Indeed.

- [Andy] All of us as human beings, want to belong.

- [Narrator] So that giving is something that can not be measured.

- [Andy] And places like this, help people connect with one another.

- [Narrator] Thank you all Busboys and Poets, make some noise

- Well thank you for sharing that story and as you mentioned this is the question that I've been asking folks for the last now 13 months that we've been doing this podcast here. And it's so interesting to me, how much of our lives we pass people in the hallways and say, hi, how are you? And the answer is always, oh, I'm doing fine. And I feel like that question has taken on new meaning in the last year. So thank you so much for sharing your story and for being here with us today, I know that you just spent the weekend with your father's memorial service, so it means a lot for you to be here to share with us, and obviously what you do meant a lot to your father and means a lot to you. So, let's start by talking about this amazing organization. There's something clearly very special about it, can you tell us a little bit about the story behind Busboys and Poets and its mission to the world?

- I would love to, yeah. Busboys and Poets is a restaurant, but more so we are a community gathering space. So we're a restaurant, an event space, a bookstore, a bar, an art gallery, an internet cafe, and we've been built for everyone. So, at first blush you might say, okay, maybe we're doing a little bit too much but our founder, Andy Shallal, really wanted to create a place that was warm and inviting and everybody could feel comfortable. Because, you know, if we're going to be really real about it, most restaurants in our country buying large, are still very segregated. So in 2005, he started Busboys and Poets, which is named in reference to the American poet, Langston Hughes, who worked both as a busboy before he became obviously a world recognized poet. He worked here in the Washington, D.C. area at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s, and so Andy really wanted to, you know, sort of raise up both busboys and poets. And he created this incredible tribal statement, which kind of, I guess guides everything we do. So our tribal statement is, Busboys and Poets is a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted, a place to take deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul, a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide, we believe that by creating such a space, we can inspire social change and begin to transform our community and the world. So, you know, I think it's a very different way to I think approach restaurants in the restaurant industry. But, if I could tell you a little bit about Andy's background, he has this amazing story about coming to America from Iraq in the 1960s. So he's basically dropped into middle school in the Washington, D.C. area, during the civil rights movement. And he's trying to understand and navigate race relations kind of as an outsider. And one of the things he came to to understand is, he could understand the world suit through poetry, through reading, through literature, through art, and he was obviously very moved by Langston Hughes. And so one of the poems that Langston Hughes has, is called Let America be America again, and Andy often quotes it. It starts out by basically saying, Let America be America again, let it be the dream it used to be, let it be the pioneer on the plain, seeking a home where he himself is free, America never was America to me. So, you know, Andy kind of understood both the American dream and also the limitations placed on certain people inside a white supremacist system, right? So Andy goes off to college, does a couple of different endeavors and then starts a peace cafe, which is a space where, you know, Arabs and Jewish folks come together and have dialogue. And from that and some of his other activism, he realizes that sort of breaking bread with friends and with enemies. is sort of one of the ways to heal the world. So, he created Busboys as a gathering space, where the community could come together and discuss social change. So 2005 opens his first place at 14th and V here in Washington, D.C. And now we are working on opening our eighth and ninth place, one in Baltimore, one in Columbia Maryland, which seems a little bit crazy during the pandemic when so many other restaurants are shutting down.

- It's an amazing story, thank you for sharing that. So, I'm very curious, I know you have an interesting title and I know that there's something in the acronym itself so I'll let you explain that, but your job title is VP of Innovation and Planning, can you explain what that stands for and what that means?

- So, I serve as a VP for the company, but the VP here stands for vision preserver, not vice president. And so I'm tasked with really preserving the vision that Andy began with, since sometimes in business, you know, things can spiral a little bit far away from their original purpose. I mean even with Andy sometimes, we say, wait, wait, is that going in the direction that we originally intended? So, I'm really, I love my job, I love being in charge of all the sort of systems and structures behind the company. I'm in charge of all the technology and I manage all the management, I hire all the managers. And I think Andy and I picked that title because it is so broad, it can mean anything and everything, it allows me to oversee various departments and also obviously serve as a sounding board as we prepare for the future. And it's really cool 'cause, you know, I spent a lot of my time thinking about, how do we make the best possible job for people? I love my job, I come skipping to work every morning, I'm always excited about what, you know, problem, big or small there is to fix. And in earlier times I worked with victims of human trafficking in modern day slavery, which is, you know, basically the epitome of hating your job or forced labor. So, you know, you've people who are enslaved and people in forced labor, you've people who are wanting to go postal, you've people who are just going to work 'cause they've to, you've people who like their job and people who love their job and people who really, really live their job. And I spend most of my time trying to make everybody at Busboys be somewhere on this side of that spectrum. You know, how do we get people to really, you know, participate and even if we're going to be participating in this structure we call capitalism, like how do we make it more palatable for everybody? How do we make it a bit more fair? So, that's what I think makes my job so fun and exciting every day is to figure out, how do we improve what we're doing?

- I love that idea of the vision preserver. I haven't heard it put that way before but I actually view that that's my job at Indeed as well, so I've been at Indeed for 10 years, the company's been around for a little over 16, and so when I joined Indeed, I was drawn to it because there was this mission of helping people get jobs, and this vision of simplifying, hiring, and of just a people focused business. And I described my job, you know, early on as sort of like a cultural anthropologist. I had to figure out what it was about this place that made it special, and then my job is just making sure that the folks who joined 10, 15 years later, understand what that is and that we keep that alive, so it's really beautiful. So, one thing that's very clear from the business in terms of what the mission of your business is, and the kind of space that you want to create and the kind of dialogue that you want to create, is that diversity in hiring for you all is extremely important. And can you talk a little bit about your approach to that in particular, how you bring people into the business, how do you onboard them so they understand this vision that you're trying to preserve.

- Yeah, no, that's a great question. And we are lucky 'cause like diversity and inclusion is baked into our company culture. And I think that if you start with a diverse company from the beginning, it's much easier to continue those results. You know, even if you're not diverse obviously you can start at any given time to make those shifts. But it doesn't obviously just happen, it has to be very deliberate. And I think one of the things for me when I hire, I have to make sure I'm not hiring myself. Like it's very easy for me to, you know, stay in my comfort zone and hire somebody who's just like me. You know, it's interesting last week, I was interviewing an Asian woman who came in and she was wearing black and she had black pants, put a black jacket, she had a black shirt and, you know, it was a really hot day. And I remember thinking, okay, that's somewhat interesting. And at the end she started saying, what do you think about tattoos? And I personally am not a fan of tattoos, I know people love them and whatnot. But I love hiring people who have tattoos, right? 'Cause it shows me individuality, it shows me creativity and I also know that people with tattoos get discriminated against when they try to get jobs, right? So to be honest, that's the kind of person I want to hire. I want to hire somebody who has all these great things to offer, great credentials. And you know, it was funny, I said to her, I'm glad you have tattoos, matter of fact, the next person who's going to interview you, has a tattoo up his neck. So, you know, you guys might connect on that, but I do not. And I think there's something about really making sure, we hire people who reflect the world we live in, it makes for a much better place to work, you know? We're spending a lot of time thinking about culture in a different way and figuring out how do we get rid of toxicity? How do we make sure, you know, we have very low tolerance for intolerance? You know, we don't want there to be discrimination, we don't want sexual harassment, which is something that's unfortunately kind of huge in the restaurant industry. You know, we really want to make sure, people can bring their full selves to work. One of the ways that I think it's really cool, what Andy does, is he has a candid conversation about race, right, when people start. It doesn't matter what you start, you can start at the top, you can be a dishwasher. He wants to sit down and have a conversation that says, when's the first time you noticed race in your life? And again, you can come from any background, but you probably have a story, you have something to share. And by, you know, bringing a room of people together to really talk about who they are and what they've experienced, it connects us in a very different way. And I'm not saying everybody should just try to have these conversations. So I think you have to really have a background in knowing how to have those conversations, but it does allow us to again, bring ourselves more fully to work. I don't want full, full selves, like if you live in a nudist colony, we're going to have to have you wear clothes, but we do want people of all different, you know, races and genders and educational backgrounds and religions and sexuality and tattoos, we want them to come work with us. It's interesting, you know, there was a couple of weeks, where we had somebody else interviewing some line staff. It was a young white male who was doing the interviews. And I didn't really realize this at the time but I went into a couple of our spaces and I noticed, all of our new hires were young, white, either male or females. And it was interesting, it was just one person, who took over for about two or three weeks, he was starting to change the way we looked. Now obviously we want, you know, white folks and all sorts of different folks working there but we don't want it to ever seem like it's just one type of person, we want every single type of person working in our space. But it made me realize that if you aren't constantly, deliberately thinking about how you hire, it can shift in all sorts of different ways. So I spend a lot of my time figuring out, how do we make sure that diversity, that really interesting piece of who we are, is there? You know, I'm a black female, able-bodied, gay, educated, mother, right? How do I make sure, I just don't hire many more mini-mes? How do I make sure I'm hiring people who can get the job done but don't look exactly like me? Getting out of my comfort zone.

- Yeah, I think that it's really interesting, it's just so baked into the way that people have thought about hiring forever. You know, I come from a world in tech where you hear and I think you hear this in a lot of businesses, this phrase, cultural fit, which used to be a lens that companies use to figure out, is this person going to fit in here? And our head of HR, Paul Wolfe, he likes to use the phrase, cultural add. And these little things, actually make a huge difference between, we have an environment and is someone going to fit in? Meaning are they going to look and act and feel just like us or are they going to bring something new? And I think that is a very different approach but it has to be very, very conscious. And I think, so one of the questions, and you mentioned this before about, it is a lot easier to have a diverse culture if that's a founding principle of your business. I've talked about this before that that wasn't a founding principle at Indeed, so it's had to be something that we've been very conscious and very deliberate about and it's taken time to really take root. And I'd say, you know, six years or so into a real effort, you know, we're in a place where it is part of who we are, but what do you think that companies like ours who didn't have that sort of baked into the DNA, what can they do to create the right environment? So as they bring people in, they can start to grow that real sincere diversity as opposed to just something that maybe looks good on your website.

- Yeah, I want to enter that but I want to first go back to that other point you just made about time. I think one of the most interesting pieces, is how long it takes. Once a company says, okay, you know, we might be a company that was founded by People of Caucasian Persuasion, but we want to make a change. Some people think it's going to happen overnight and you know, and they say, this is not happening fast enough. And then some people I think recognize, it's going to take a little bit more time. If we want to have a diverse pool, we're going to have to keep this job open a little bit longer, so it reaches more people. You know, we're going to have to go somewhere different to make sure we're touching, you know, different folks and we're bringing in, you know, something a little bit different. So I think that's such an interesting point, especially 'cause sometimes we're like, oh, we just need to fill this quickly, like let me get my friend Fred and, you know, let's keep it moving, I know, you know? We've got to get out of that mindset and say, okay, look, there's a couple of things we know. One, if we're going to do this we have to do it right, we have to step back and think about, I think some of the pieces that we take for granted like, I think we pretend in hiring and that there's some sort of hard and fast rules about how we hire and, you know, what we really know though, is we are hiring people who we're comfortable with. We wait for people to say the right phrases, we're wait for them to have the right social capital, to run them the jump through the right hoops, and maybe we even want them just to be coached into saying the right things in the interview. And there are some jobs that are so super complicated that, you know, there's no way, you know, various people can do it. But I think with many, many jobs, things can be taught. You know, if you have the basics, we can teach you the rest, we can take a few months or a year to get somebody where they need to be. I mean, I think it's very interesting even in this year where standardized testing has fallen to the wayside, and top universities are seeing more diversity. Part of that is because we have to be honest with ourselves that there's some false gate-keeping. And there's this gate-keeping that allows us to really perpetuate some racist structures and atmospheres. So, you know, if we recognize we're a society that's based on inequality and not everybody has the exact same opportunities, like if I send my kid to the local school or the charter school or the private school, she's going to have totally different opportunities, and probably is going to show up in an interview, totally, totally different, right? But if we just, like get to the bottom and say, can this person do the job? And can I teach them to do this job? You know, and I love that idea of the sort of cultural add, can they add something here, that's different? Like what happens? And I think the most interesting example of this, is what happened right after the George Floyd killings, where a lot of African Americans including myself, were flooded with unsolicited job offers, right? Like I didn't gain any credentials, nothing really changed in my world. But what happened is like, corporate America finally opened their eyes to some racial realities that people of color and black people in particular are dealing with some incredible things every single day. And a lot of companies just decided to hire black people. And all of a sudden everybody's booked and busy, right? So, I think we just need to recognize we live in this racialized world that was created by and for, ancestors of Caucasian Persuasion and, you know, ergo the powers and the system still sits in the hands of white folks. And to a certain extent, it's up to white folks to change it, right? I can hire anybody that I want, but it's really how does the system, hold people once they come in. Whatever company or organization you work with, is it comfortable once the person arrives? So there's a lot of work to do there and it's not easy, but I think it's all obviously very worthwhile.

- Yeah, you packed a lot into that answer there. You know, one thing that sort of jumps out at me, is the distinction that the language that we use, is that talent is universal but opportunity is not. And there is a big distinction between talent and opportunity, but I think the historical view is that, people are where they are because of something they did or didn't do. That it's lift yourself up by your bootstraps and the American dream says that anyone can get anywhere. It's very clear that the data shows that there is massive inequality in the results, and so if you believe that that is not because the talent is unequally distributed but the opportunity is then, we sort of view it our role and our mission of helping people get jobs, is to align the opportunity with the talent. And so it sounds like your business, is really oriented around that. And this might seem like a silly question because I feel like you've just provided it for the last 20 minutes, but can you talk a little about your motivation for working at a place like this, and, you know, in that, you know, flood of new opportunity that in the wake of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter and all the things that we saw over the spring and the summer, when suddenly people started to maybe offer more opportunities, what is it about Busboys and Poets that keeps you coming skipping into work every day?

- Right, I mean, it's interesting, I often say, Andy, I'm sorry, it's like the Mafia, like once I get in, I'm not getting back out and, you know, I love my own job, I can't imagine working for another restaurant or a different technology company. And in part, because it's such a comfortable diverse space. I don't want to wake up every morning knowing that I have to go fight racism at work every day. I might have to fight sexism but unlike a lot of black folks, I'm not dreading being in an uncomfortable work environment, waiting for my racist colleagues to say something that might piss me off or worried about that next microaggression. So there's such a comfort and yes, you know, kind of knowing that's going to be what my day looks like. You know, I go to restaurant technology conferences and out of thousands of people, there are very few women and even less women of color and even less black women. And for me, it's like this weird twilight zone that I get to enter for a little bit, but then I can go back home, right? I can come back to Busboys. And it's interesting in those spaces people often tell me, you know, your concept is never going to work, it's, you know, it's not a good idea. And I kind of love that because it, you know, it really is the kind of feedback that motivates me to make us a successful place, to be a diverse space that is successful. I hope can show to other people, like actually you could be diverse, it's not going to, you know, tank your whole entire business, matter of fact, it might enhance it. And the fact that we're, you know, opening two more stores in the pandemic, I think that does hopefully show that, you know, there can be success in a diverse space. You know, after I sort of, was thinking about this interview, I walked into one of our locations and I walked in and a couple of my managers were sitting around together. And it was an older white woman, a slightly younger Asian man, an even younger African American man, and then sort of right behind them, was a transgender African American person, who works the register for our bookstore. And I was looking at them and I was thinking, wow, you know, when I leave work, then I see other people, they look just like somebody I work with, right? They don't look like the other to me because almost every single type of person, is in my workplace somewhere. And I'm not pretending like I'm some like highly woke person who's fully evolved. Again, I feel like you have to be very deliberate to get to that sort of space. Like for example, I grew up in Pittsburgh in a very sort of black and white space. And when I left Pittsburgh, everywhere I went people assumed that I speak Spanish, they assumed I'm Latina. And I don't know a lick of Spanish, and I don't really know that community. And I knew in my heart of hearts, I held stereotypes about the Latinx community. So, I decided to lean in to that. My daughter goes to a Spanish immersion school and now I know many parents and children and I got to know people on a personal level. And of course not surprisingly, find out everybody has the same hope and dreams for their kids. But, you know, by humanizing obviously, everybody around me, it makes me move, I think, differently in the world. Everyone I see anywhere looks like somebody I work with, and that's all in part because of our hiring process, if that makes any sense.

- Yeah, absolutely, you know, one thing in thinking about all this is we talk about, the point of having a diverse workforce, you know, on the one hand, it means that it's just a more open and welcoming and vibrant and interesting environment to work in, but the most important reason, for us or for any other business, is because we're a business and we have customers. And the more diverse the experiences and the opinions and the lenses that people bring to work, the better we are at understanding and serving our customers who are the entire world, they're not just people who look like me. So, we spend a lot of time talking about your business and what it's like to sort of, to work there, I'd love to understand a little about your customers. You've described Busboys and Poets as a place where food, art, literature and events combine. So what happens to the people who come into a space like yours? What is it like to go in and eat and sit and listen at Busboys and Poets?

- Right, I mean, one of the things we try to do, is make you feel like you're at home. Like even in some of our locations there are couches, that we want you to sit in, get warm, get comfortable and we don't actually care when you leave, right? It's one of those places where we want you to take a deliberate pause. And so, we do everything we can to make sure the restaurant feels very, very inviting. You know, there are some restaurants that are, you walk in and you feel uncomfortable, especially if you're a person of color, there's some places that just don't feel like they're made for you. And we want this to feel like it's made for everybody, that we're welcoming you into our home, and we're trying to make sure we take care of you. So some people come for the food and they stay for the event, or some people come for the event and they stay for the food, or somebody comes for a book and they stay for the bar or vice versa. And we really want to use arts in that space as a catalyst for change. So one of the first things when you walk into a Busboys, you're always going to be hit with books. You're going to run sort of directly into a bookstore. Some people think of it as a library, but we're like, please don't borrow the books, they're there for sale. And what we try to do is we have books with different faces on it. Our children's sections have books with black children on the cover. And it's kind of crazy that in this day and age that's a rarity, but we want all households, including and maybe even especially white households to have books with people of different colors, different abilities on the cover. Because that's again where we start to make those connections with one another. Then I think if you look on the walls, we are celebrating social justice and political issues. Andy, our founder is also an artist. So, in every location there's a mural in the event space that's connected to either a famous poet or a writer or historian, politician or entertainer, somebody that comes from that particular community. So another big piece of what we try to do, is make sure we're connecting with the space around us, we're not just sort of plopping a carbon copy of another location there. Instead, we're connecting with the people who were there, finding out, you know, who was important to them and making sure those pieces are also connected. So, every Busboys has a slightly different feel. And then also on the art, we show local artists, we put their information like on the wall, so you can call the artists directly. We don't take any commission, we just want to have sort of a living breathing art show or a museum that's just there on the wall. And then, you know, local artists are getting noticed and hopefully getting purchased and making connections with others. And so that's, I guess another little way that we like to give back to the community by allowing, you know, artists to really be able to be showcased. I think finally, our food is really, really good. I am totally biased because I have a totally undistinguished palette, I eat pretty much everything and anything. So I'm not the best to say it, but I mean, we have vegan and vegetarian and gluten-free food and we pay attention to a lot of allergies. So, I think that, you know, the food that we offer is pretty exquisite. When I first got to Busboys, I decided to eat through the menu. I gained 15 pounds and realized I had to move away from the pastas and into our delicious salads. And so I think, you know, a lot of people come back for that, but we really want people to be, basically you can come in and eat a burger and that's all you want to do, you can just do that. Or you can come in, eat a burger and be seeped in the history that's kind of around you. You can like, get inspired by something on the wall and go buy a book about it or go hear a talk about it or a poem about it. So we want people to have this really sort of, immersed full experience when they come to visit Busboys and Poets.

- So, this idea of hearing a story when you come, is that something that everyone is expecting when they come in for a bite to eat, and what happens when you encounter someone, who doesn't want to hear that story?

- Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, it's interesting because of course, there are some people who aren't interested in the philosophies or social justice or whatever we might have on the walls. For example, you know, we've had to have conversations with our staff about whether or not they're going to serve a Trump supporter. 'Cause some people say, absolutely not, I don't want to talk to those people, I don't want to serve them, et cetera. And we have to explain, look, we are an inclusive place, and by that, we mean everybody. We want everybody to be able to feel comfortable in our space. Now, we don't want anybody to mistreat anyone or disrespect anyone but we really want folks to feel welcome. And we had a really interesting situation that happened during the inauguration of the last president. We had two individuals walk in, they had on their red Trump hats and they stumbled upon us kind of by mistake and sat down. And one of our servers did something incredibly radical, they walked over, they smiled, they gave good service, they fed them delicious food and these two individuals left a $400 tip. And I remember seeing it on the computer come in and I'm thinking, oh my gosh, somebody's stolen a credit card and is doing something crazy and, you know, I was thinking this is going to be a big mess. So we had to look into it a little bit more, and one of the Trump's supporters had written on the receipt, you know, if everybody smiled like you, the world would be a better place. Which, you know, that is whatever they thought, and media went in, interviewed this Texan who was a dentist, who just had such an amazing experience at Busboys. Now we looked at this and we're like, she didn't do anything, she smiled, she gave great service, gave great food. But for people who maybe, had never ever been in the space with an African American, maybe this was so revolutionary for them that it actually shifted the way they thought. It was such a, kind of odd thing, but I think it does speak to, you know, every once in awhile, sometimes it's just that connection, that allows people to sort of shift what they're thinking in their brains. And I don't want to put too much on them, I don't really know their heart of hearts, but the fact that they were so moved by what we see as an everyday thing, makes me think that, you know, they were sort of surprised that they were treated nicely by a black person. But, you know, it's those sorts of moments where if you feel like, wow, we could actually change somebody's mind or make them think a little bit differently, then we've done our job and it could be anybody.

- Well, you used the phrase earlier on, and I think it might've been from Andy's manifesto about breaking bread with friends and enemies. And there is something, we could probably have a long discussion about whether friends and enemies is even the right labels, but breaking bread is for millennia, something that people with differing views have sat down and sometimes been able to see things a different way. So there is something really powerful in that experience. In the last 14 months with COVID, you know, I said at the very top, how difficult the time it's been for SMBs in general, and then in particular in hospitality and in particular in food service, talk a little bit about how your business has changed over the last year and how you all have adopted.

- Right, we started to shut down a little bit after you guys did. I know you and sort of some other larger companies, we could see were making moves to, you know, to stop travel and various things in early March of 2020. We didn't really shut down here until almost mid-March when we got various orders from either Maryland, DC or Virginia. And at that time, you know, we were just starting to sort of lay off people one by one, working our way down, basically, you know, kind of waiting to lay myself off and turn off the lights either temporarily or for good. We weren't quite sure what was going to happen. So we actually just, we closed two of our restaurants for just a short period of time, and then we realized if we pivoted to online ordering and our delivery partners almost immediately, we could probably ride this wave. So we did that, you know, we pivoted, we now recognize we were really at that point only offering food and drink. It was great that we could actually offer alcohol, soon after it happened we weren't allowed to deliver it before, one of the, I think, best things that has happened in COVID. At that time, people needed food, drink and maybe a book, and we could deliver all those things. But what we didn't know is, you know, would people still support us, if we weren't offering, you know, the events and the arts and the books, well, we could offer the books, but the art and the events were sort of pulled out. The bar, you know, was just now brought to you versus somewhere you could go and commune with other people. And what was interesting is that, basically the community said, yes, we actually are going to support you in this time, even if we don't really want to, we're going to continue to buy, you know, to go in delivery, 'cause we want to make sure you're here when this is all over. And I thought that was really interesting. I'm in charge of all the complaints that come into the company and so, I read every single Yelp review that's ever put in there, and a lot of people actually talked about like, I don't even really need this food but I want to make sure you're here when this is all over. So, I was really touched by the fact that people were so invested in making sure we are still here, because we do know, you know, so many restaurants are closing down for good, and there's going to be very few local restaurants for a while. Sadly the ones that are surviving are the chains that have, you know, some, some deeper pockets to make it through this. But for us, just having community really come through, you know, not to say that it was enough, obviously we needed to get some of the grants and loans that existed as well. But we were able to not shut down, keep most of our managers employed and eventually start to hire back, you know, a lot of our staff, so that even though, you know, obviously we're not out of the pandemic and we are still closed to only, you know, 25% to 50% in all of our locations, we're able to start bringing staff back and, you know, quite frankly doing well considering the situation we're in.

- Yeah, so it's really interesting 'cause clearly the space is basis for the business, but your mission goes well beyond that. And it's really, it's about, you know, as you've been saying, kind of changing the hearts and minds. Can you just, you talk about the motivation and the desire to help change hearts and minds.

- Yeah, I mean, one of the things we recognized is, especially in the pandemic, we wanted to obviously reach the people who are close to us in the communities, but we always also realized we could reach the hearts and minds of people a little further out. You know, we always find somebody somewhere, who knows of Busboys, but they don't live in the area anymore. And so we realized we could connect with the community online. And there was a couple of different ways we decided to take our poetry online and do open mic there. So we could reach beyond, you know, the DC area and really allow people to experience us. We have something called A.C.T.O.R., which is an ongoing community conversation on race, that we've been doing since 2005. And of course that made sense to be something that was really included as, you know, as unrest was happening in various things. We started a virtual dinner party with Andy interviewing some of his friends. He's friends with like Angela Davis and Alice Walker, and this week we're doing Jamie Raskin. So, just really having these incredible conversations with activists that anybody can tune into on Facebook or through Zoom. We started to, you know, do more stuff on arts and having conversations on creativity and culture and change right online as well as book clubs and author events. So those are some really cool ways to just, take what we are doing with events and trying to like transfer it into another space. And then with the arts, one of the things that happened kind of early on with, I can't even remember which parts of the unrest that this happened, but we're broken into a couple of different times and we had to board up our window. And the first day our window was broken, Andy went and painted a message of hope on the plywood. And from that, he got the idea that, you know, we shouldn't be boarding up our windows, like a lot of other companies were but rather we should be painting the storefronts. So he started a paint the storefront campaign, where he or other artists were either painting the windows or the plywood and a variety of different places with really inspirational words and messages. And the idea was of course, we didn't want this place to start look like everything was desolate and shut down but rather how do we keep things vibrant, even if we're in a space in time, where we aren't, you know, sort of fully functional? So, you know, Andy was able to pay artists to go, not only to all of our locations, but to other companies, you know, in Washington, D.C. and paint their storefronts too. And just, it makes for, you know, a bunch of very vibrant colorful murals all over the city. So, it was just a way to say, okay, we can't do it inside, how can we take some of these things outside of our physical space?

- So we've talked quite a bit about how COVID has impacted the business, but you also started out by talking about how it's touched you personally. Can you talk just a little bit about that?

- Yeah, I mean, it's interesting, you know, I think a little bit with the death of my father, I've been, you know, obviously thinking a lot about him and his legacy and, you know, my father was, so hard to say it in a past tense, but my father was a eyed, blonde hair, white man from St. Louis who went to Harvard. So, in all intents and purposes, like what we were talking about earlier, a very privileged person, who could have done anything with his life. And he decided to devote himself to figuring out how to make the world a better place. So he did things like, you know, started schools. He started one in Kenya, which is where he met my mother. You know, he went to the Peace Corps, he started a school in Maryland and, you know, another one in Pittsburgh, you know, when I was growing up. He started a food co-op, he started, you know, he did all sorts of things where he, you know, sort of set these things into motion that would make the world a bit of a better place. And I remember when I was young, my father would tell me, and I've been talking about, a we little pup before I could really understand many things. He would tell me things like, you know, the prison system is a genocide against the black man. And I'm thinking, you know, I remember being too young to kind of understand that but the fact that a white father, is telling this to his kids, and he's not telling me because I have to worry or to hand-wringing or to talk about privilege, but rather to tell me this is what the world around you is really like. Is so powerful, and I've been thinking if like, white fathers especially white fathers with white children, spoke honestly about the world we live in, you know, not flag-waving we're the greatest in the world but like really about sort of what our history is and what we've come through and where we're trying to go and how we could possibly be a more perfect union. I think we would get a lot further, you know, I think that if we all use our privilege for good and, you know, so I'm putting myself both in that space and outside of the space, I've been thinking a lot more about, how to create community, how to connect people, how to make safe spaces for folks. You know, my father went to Africa and figured out how to do conflict resolution and healing in sort of, you know, in conflict zones. And I'm thinking, wow, you know, what if everybody did that sort of thing, you know, the day that Obama was elected, I thought, oh, you know what, he should start some mentoring program. Every single person who voted for Obama, should now have to volunteer to mentor, you know, underprivileged individual. Like how that would change our world if we were just connecting in very different ways. So I've just been thinking a lot about what I could be doing more of, I think, you know, thinking about my father and his legacy and so much of what great things he's done while he was here and thinking, what do I need to do? You know, I lost two people very close to me and, you know, we're working on celebrating or creating a peace center in the name of my stepmother and my father. And this might sound a little bit morbid but when I was younger, I used to think about like, what is my obituary going to say, like, what am I going to do here that's going to be worthy enough for the few sentences that live on after you don't right? And, you know, I've been thinking a lot about that. Like, how do you change people's lives? And for me, I think it's kind of weird that like, just by existing to a certain extent right now, I'm being revolutionary, right? Like, how many black female VPs do you know versus, you know, white male VPs? We can think about that. Am not all that extraordinary, you know, my parents were amazing, they were supportive, they let me be who I was, but I was also raised by an educated white man, who lives in a country that was built for him, and he taught me a lot about, what is said behind closed doors. You know, he went to an Ivy league, I went to an Ivy league, because he taught me how to weave around and he used his privilege to propel me forward. And so I work hard, I'm good at what I do but I also acknowledged that there was a certain amount of privilege that got me here. You know, I know the right coded language, I have guide, and most people don't have that. You know, that's the difference between, why my resume might not have a typo and somebody else's might, right? But sometimes so when I read resumes on Indeed and, you know, I sometimes think, oh gosh, I should devote myself to rewriting resumes because there are people who aren't getting jobs. I mean, and even for me, they're not getting jobs because they don't have correct punctuation in their resume. Somebody didn't review it, right? And so, that was person doesn't get a job and can't put food on the table just because of a typo. You know, that's kind of crazy if you think about it. So, I know that I need to be doing more. I've been thinking a lot about how, you know, I mentor at work and I mentor some of my friends but I need to get outside of my bubble. And I think a lot of people do, I think, you know, I need to extend my hand a bit further, and I think everybody should and could, because, you know, when I think about my dad and I think about all the change and good he made over many years of, you know, peace-building and conflict resolution and education, and going to rebuild black churches that were being burnt in the South. I mean, all these things that he's done over the years, I feel like if we all did that, if we all pitch in, I feel like we can make a much better world.

- Well, there's a lot that we could dive into on that, especially the resume thing, I think, you know, for me that that is the talent and opportunity mismatch and we should sit down and have another conversation about that 'cause, you know, our answer is we should just get rid of resumes 'cause they're terrible. They're just the best thing that we have now but we're working on that. Unfortunately, I could continue this conversation, all day long, we're basically out of time. I'd love to just, I guess, give you the opportunity, Is there any message that you'd like to leave people with before we close?

- Well, first I want to just really thank you so much for taking this time to chat with me. This has been really cathartic for me, like I said, I'm in just in a moment of reflection right now. So I do really appreciate this opportunity to talk with you. You know, I'm a big fan of Indeed so this is a real honor and privilege. But I think if I was going to leave us with sort of one thing to think about, you know, I've been thinking a lot about this global pause, right? That's killed 3 million people so far and it's still ravaging, you know, some countries and I think this is a moment that we, you know, have to think about how do we pivot? We know climate change is coming, we know some of the richest people on our planet are trying to exit to another planet. Like this is the time for reflection and for really making change. If we're going to do capitalism the way that we're doing it, we have to figure out, you know, how do we really address these inequalities? And how do we really become more honest with ourselves? You know, we don't have a resource problem, we know we have a distribution problem. So, you know, are we talking about universal basic income? Are we talking about hiring differently? Like, what do we need to do to get people more on the same page? I'm always surprised by how divided we are as a nation, and I recognize there's a lot of misinformation. So, how do we get people reading and reading the right things and being educated more about what's happening? How do we give access to the storytellers, that could be telling these stories better? I love that so many people are stuck in front of their TV and they're watching these documentaries and learning so much about the history of this country in particular, and are getting exposed to things, they've never even thought about before. But I think for those of us in business, we need to really step back and see, you know, sort of, how are we really helping and hindering the inequalities that we see around us? What are we doing, you know, to make the world a better place?

- Well, Joy, thank you so much for joining me today, it was really an amazing conversation. I'm so glad that we have the opportunity to help you in this incredible business that you and the team have been building and growing and this vision that you're preserving. And thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself with us today.

- Thank you Chris, appreciate it.