Restaurant service

Sarah Krathen on the food service renaissance

Sarah Krathen started out as a barker in Key West, bringing customers to restaurants from the sidewalk. She went to culinary school to train as a chef, but found herself drawn to reception service, eventually opening the Sorella restaurant in New York with her partner Emma Hearst. After Sorella closed in 2014, Krathen continued to run restaurateur Ariel Arce’s operations until the pandemic made him rethink his career. Now in 2022, she’s the director of food and beverage operations for the new Hoxton Williamsburg hotel in New York, including three restaurants created in collaboration between Chicago’s Boka Group and Philadelphia’s CookNSolo. The first of these, Laser Wolf, inspired by the first version of Philadelphia, is now open.

Before the pandemic, I worked with Ariel Arce. I was the COO of his properties, managing Niche Niche, Tokyo Record Bar and Air’s Champagne Parlor. After confinement, I stayed with her. It was just the two of us pivoting. We were a retail store one week. We tried to do takeout. We have done all things. I started cooking a lot. We were selling my lasagna once a week as a “Netflix and Chill” package. I really got back to cooking.

When we officially returned, and it was al fresco dining only – the restaurant scene, working in service, just didn’t feel right. I never signed up to be a cop. I have never argued with a guest in my entire career until I had to argue with a guest about wearing a mask. I had to tell people what they couldn’t do, and we had a schedule where we had to be ready and done by a certain time. There was so much pressure.

Owning a restaurant already has so much pressure. I had owned my own restaurant with Sorella. My partner there Emma and I have been talking since, like, “What do you think we would have done during that?” And I’m like, ‘Emma, ​​we should have closed. We wouldn’t have made it. I pity people who owned restaurants during the pandemic. I only recently returned to the restaurant and felt a sense of normalcy.

At the time, I felt like I would never return to the industry in that capacity. I was not going to be on duty. It wasn’t the same thing. I decided that I wanted to focus on something different. My partner Ashley Santoro and I opened a small pop-up sandwich. She owns a wine store called Leisir in Chinatown. There was a pizzeria next door that had sunk, so we negotiated a short-term eight-month lease, and we opened a little pop-up from there. It was L’itos. I let Niche Niche and Ariel do that.

It was fun trying to do something on the other side of food. I have always liked to cook. My service story, and the reason I wanted to be front of the house rather than back of the house, was that I wanted to tell the story well. But I always wanted to have a good connection with the back of the house. What I took away from cooking school was, “You do all of this, then you give the plate to someone else, and they get all the credit.

We had a lot of fun. We had a very good follow-up. We have made some very good collaborations. I made a lot of friends along the way. And I love sandwiches. I ate a lot of sandwiches for eight months which is really bad and good for me.

When L’itos ended, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I had talked a lot with Mike Solomonov during the pandemic. I had made a dinner where we were making Israeli food, and he contacted me through Facetime and taught me how to make pita over the phone. My family is in South Jersey and Philadelphia, and he’s always been someone I try to connect with whenever I’m in the neighborhood.

Sarak Krathen at Laser Wolf in New York. Photo: Dan Isaac.

I was going back for my nephew’s second birthday in April 2021 – we were supposed to get together for his first birthday, but it got canceled for you know what – and I reached out to Mike like, ‘Hey, can -maybe we can have a coffee or something.” And he was like, “Why don’t you come and play Zahav’s boss?” that mean for Mike Solomonov? He showed me around and then he was like, “Okay, you got that,” and he left. It was crazy.

After my change of scene or whatever I do, he asked me, “So, what do you want to do?” What are you thinking?” And I was like, “God, Mike. I really don’t know. This has been really weird. I just want to work with good people. That’s all I want.”

Mike said, “Well, I’ve got this thing I’m working on, but you can’t tell anybody.” And he told me about this project in Williamsburg, and then he put me in touch with Gabe Garza, who is the president of the Hoxton division for Boka Group, and we started our conversations around May of the last year. At the same time, I had dinner at Francie’s, and John Winterman said to me, “Please help me. I need help. So I was helping them as captain in the field a few nights a week.

After meeting Gabe and talking with Kevin Boehm from Boka, they offered me the job for the Hoxton, and I’ve been on board with them since July, trying to open this thing up. I’m the operations manager for all food and beverage that will exist in the Hoxton. Our first concept launch will be Laser Wolf, and we have two next in the hotel that will also be with Mike Solomonov.

When they brought me in July 2021 it was because they thought we would be open in August. We had a few complications—all the things everyone goes through, plus a few more. Supply chain and change of our hood system. It wasn’t a big construction project, but it was high heat cooking, which I learned is very complicated. There’s a lot of talk about nozzles, and what kind of nozzles, and did we make the right nozzles? There are also a very small number of live fire inspectors, unlike other fire department inspectors. I made friends with the local city council. I do things that I never thought would play into my career, but I still love it. I never wanted to do this more, I never felt more supported, I never felt more secure, and I never wanted to do a better job.

I feel like it’s an industry renaissance. It’s as if everything that happened before no longer applies. Yeah, I’m opening a new restaurant and it’s exciting, but I feel like I’m part of a new industry, and the people who work there now, more than ever, have really chosen to stay and do that. It was always a choice, especially choosing the direction or choosing to be at the back of the house. These choices have a lot of pressure and a lot of struggle in them. It’s New York. You get paid to live off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but you work in an industry where you go out and eat the most expensive meals you shouldn’t, whenever you can.

I’ve taken a different approach in that I have a newfound patience and appreciation, and allow everyone access to me. I have a big title, the biggest I’ve ever had. It’s a huge job for me. But food runners know me. They know my dog. I try to keep a strong connection with people. I believe more than ever in growth and the importance of growing a team. Sometimes I think about the things I used to think and say, and the things my mentors said to me, like, “Everyone is replaceable. Never get attached. I want to to attach now. I don’t want to replace people, I want to make people grow. I want to give them opportunities.

I want to see a restaurant that has had the same team for over a year. My first job in New York was at Zoe’s, and it was a restaurant that had been open for a long time. There were servers upstairs who had been there for Ten years. I haven’t seen anything like it since. People did this job as a job. After everything that’s happened, if they’re still doing this, they’ve chosen to do this. I want to see what we can do with this.