Danish chef and restaurateur (and Noma co-founder) Claus Meyer will focus his grand ambitions on New York this year, opening a bakery, a Nordic food hall, a high-end Grand Central restaurant, and a restaurant and cooking school in Brownsville (along other rumored projects) all within the next six months. And he hopes to import a Danish sensibility regarding employer practices and benefits along with the smørrebrød.
Meyer and the COO of his U.S. operation, Jens Baake, tell Eater that they hope to have one of the more comprehensive and competitive benefits packages in the American restaurant industry. That includes generous family leave policies, a matching 401k, health benefits, paid sick days, life insurance, and two days off a year for volunteer work for every full time employee.
They will join a handful of other restaurant groups — including Danny Meyer's NY-based Union Square Hospitality Group and the Ethan Stowell Restaurant Group out of Seattle — in offering partially paid maternity and paternity leave in an industry where workers often get none. Baake and Meyer will pay new mothers and fathers 30 to 60 percent of their salaries during their time off, depending on how long they've been with the company. And mothers will be guaranteed their jobs back after 24 weeks, as opposed to the 12 weeks protected by America's Family Medical Leave Act.
"We feel as a company we ought to grow a better employee culture. With that, we become a stronger employer of choice."
"The reason we're doing it is because we feel it's absolutely necessary for a mother and for a young family to take that time with their kids without feeling stressed out or feeling like they have to go back to work for financial reasons," says Baake. "It's important for them to develop a strong bond for the family and also for us to send that signal to our employees. We feel as a company we ought to grow a better employee culture. With that, we become a stronger employer of choice."
The men recognize that in this marketplace and without federal help, they can't offer the same 13 weeks paid leave that they do back in Denmark. They are accepting the cost of offering any paid leave here "as an expense that is necessary for us to run a business," says Baake. Meyer adds, "To become a great company in America, we want to take some of what we do at home and apply it to the American market. If we can take the best from our culture and bring it to our business here and adapt it to the American business environment, it's a stimulating exercise."
Right now, Meyer is hiring for his upscale Grand Central restaurant Agern and will hire for the food hall in the next two months. When all is said and done, they plan on bringing on 350 staffers for the Grand Central portion of the operation alone.
Stay tuned for more intel as the projects approach their opening dates.