Last summer, I spent a lot of time searching for the right restaurant in Philly. What restaurants could be the trailblazers in this new, unfamiliar world we are in? Navigating what seems like a vast unknown territory that has been ravaged by a global pandemic is a daunting task. These are the people who can make a middle child clubhouse difference in the town, those who are small and open to new ideas.
Matt Cahn, the owner of Middle Child Clubhouse in Fishtown seems to have at least one clear way forward. Multiple staffers told me this because Middle Child had to reject applicants during one of the worst labor shortages in industry history. Cahn assembled a team almost Monstars-like to manage the place. He had Adam Sosnowick, who bolstered his resume with a few years of experience at Rose’s Luxury in D.C., and Brandon Thrash, who was previously of Townsend, the Hawthornes’ group, behind the bar. Dan Britt, a Pizzeria Beddia chef, served as a DOO between the two Middle Child restaurants (the Middle Children). Mochi Robinson, the charming dude who managed counter service at Middle Child, was responsible for daytime service behind the coffee shop and Bernadette di Blasio ran the dining room at night. There were also 40 other employees.
“The problems in the restaurant industry don’t just affect the industry. Cahn states that they are both American and work problems. It’s about humanizing this business. Middle Child employs 45 people. Like, that’s crazy. It’s so important to remember that this is not just about the people who work here, it’s also about the people running it. Businesses can become their own beasts. They forget that humans, with all their bad and good days, are what make this thing work. Without them, it’s nothing.”
With that in mind I spoke to five of the above-mentioned employees to gain a better understanding of why they were so excited about opening this restaurant. What makes Middle Child Clubhouse so special? What is Middle Child Clubhouse special? Here’s what they had to share.
Mochi Middle Child Clubhouse Robinson
A job worth moving for: “I moved from America to Scotland for two-years, then I moved back to America to join the Middle Child Clubhouse. Not even kidding. Matt called me and convinced that I should work here. It is basically an adult version to what we created at Middle Child. It’s a place you can hang out, do some kickboxing, and feel part of a community, but not in a 12-seat restaurant. It’s basically Middle Child but larger and more mature. I replied, “Well, I fucking love this idea.”
“I had to think about what I would be willing to do to get back home. What would you want to do? Who would I like to work for? Half of the staff attended a seminar on sexual harassment. The second half of staff will be attending it later. Yesterday we held a seminar on mental health awareness. Six more will be held. These are big things, but they’re small gestures to show that he cares for his staff.”
Dan Britt Middle Child Clubhouse
Hope: “I believe it’s hope. Matt has a natural hope that oozes from him. Matt is passionate but it’s not his ego, the product or the bottom line that drives him. Matt is driven by making people happy. This is the foundation of every decision. … I’ve worked in many restaurants where managers are overwhelmed and everything falls apart. It becomes more difficult to hire cheaper labor than it is to set up employees for success. Middle Child is all about how to improve efficiency in every aspect of the job. How can we communicate the thoughts and feelings of each individual involved as we do this? Don’t keep your emotions here. It’s okay to say it.
“I’ve never worked in a place like this. Other restaurants I’ve worked at are highly regarded. They tell employees that things will change, but it was the same. This place is different.”
Concerning equitable pay: Matt’s idea was to spend what money we had on our employees and save the rest. Many restaurants don’t have that opportunity, so he leveraged his success at the original location to make sure his employees were first. Brendan, Dan and Matt were given the task of figuring out how to operate a restaurant with what was left. This was a very unique task. It wasn’t a matter of ‘This what’s left for employees’. It was ‘This what the employees get, and this what we have to put together the business.
“Restaurants should not be a place you work at just because you can. We want everyone to have a career-oriented mindset, from dishwashers to managers. We will split tips between the front and back of the house. The pool tips for the day will be split between the back of the house and the front. The house in the back will receive 15%, while the front will get 85 percent. If the kitchen is being completely destroyed, they will make more money. This eliminates the huge rift between front- and back. Servers walk out with $200 more, while cooks make the same regardless of how slow or busy. We’ve created a system that everyone wants to be as busy as possible, which means that everyone will walk out of the building with more money.
Brandon Middle Child Clubhouse Thrash
Transparency: “The reason I joined Matt and the truly special thing about working with him was transparency. This is something I will talk about often. This is something we show our employees: Being transparent and open about our limitations. Matt did not hide anything from us. Matt wanted to open the P&L [profit-and loss] statements to me so I could talk about my dream of owning a restaurant and a bar. He did just that.
“The best thing about Matt was the fact that we talked openly and often about everything. He would say, “I don’t know the solution” if he didn’t know the right answer or wasn’t sure what he was doing. That was something so unique. Matt is a proponent of transparency. This ethos is also evident in the beverage program. It was a very special moment for me to meet with the bar staff. I explained to them that everything would be available to you. Everything will be stored in a Google Drive folder you can access. You can also access invoices, P&Ls and costing sheets. It’s all there to you. The purpose of training staff is to teach them how to become bartenders, managers, and the best bartenders in America.