“It’s a situation where our primary business model has closed, and our secondary business model has come to the forefront for now.”
In the big world of small businesses and especially restaurants, Katrina Jazayeri and Joshua Lewin, co-proprietors of Juliet + Company, do things differently. They’re well known for standing apart around here; as Haley Hamilton has written for DigBoston, “the restaurant is one of very few establishments in the region that operates completely without gratuity,” while “Juliet runs on Open Book Strategy, a business model that prioritizes staff participation not just on the floor or in the kitchen but in the business of the restaurant itself, teaching each employee about overhead, profit margins, rent, labor costs, etc.”
Even with a system that distributes quarterly shares of profits to workers and considers rough patches ahead of time, though, the coronavirus crisis poses a substantial threat.
“Part of our process is to involve the whole staff, and financial awareness, and talking about what money we bring in and what it’s used for,” Lewin said over the phone. “We do emergency planning more comprehensively, I think, than a lot of small businesses. But are we capitalized for three months? No. In fact the biggest businesses in America aren’t—they need the government to bail them out.”
So far, Juliet + Company, which operates Juliet in Somerville and Peregrine on Beacon Hill, has not had to lay anyone off. “We are encouraging our staff to take advantage of the workshare program, which allows us to reduce hours by 60%, and for the staff to receive unemployment benefits while we carry 40% of labor,” Lewin said.
The adjustment helps, but with just takeout and delivery, together the two restaurants are only doing 8% of the business they had three weeks ago. That leaves a lot of extra people power, and so the Juliet crew has put its other passion—making media—into overdrive. They have released magazines and cookbooks in the past, and last week dropped the first volume of Bean Zine, “a publication geared toward helping you cook the way we need to cook now—from the pantry” (hard copies can be purchased on the restaurant websites for $10 per issue, and are available online at ofJuliet.com/alternate-reality).
Starting today, they’re also broadcasting on YouTube and IGTV. “We have done very little video up to this point, but we do consider ourselves a media company [in addition to a restaurant group],” Lewin said. Joining others such as Clover Food Lab that are bringing culinary skills to the small screen, Juliet will start with a few shows and add new programming in the coming weeks.
“Most of what we do has been print and online, but we also know that people want to consume video,” Lewin said. “We’ve been skill-building, and doing content creation, and of the 50 people actively working for us, we have about 30 people involved on the media side.
“It’s always just been a hobby, but inasmuch as we want to find a silver lining to this, we now have a workforce on the labor budget with no restaurant work to do, so with the resources we have, we have been able to pivot to video. It’s a situation where our primary business model has closed, and our secondary business model has come to the forefront for now.”
Today at 4pm, Juliet will launch its channel with Aperitivo Hour, which will feature Jazayeri crafting cocktails. “It’s kind of instructional in a really technical way,” Lewin previewed, “but also introducing larger concepts about how a bar works.” Other programs will include Rising Tide, covering calls to action and ways people can help the restaurant industry (and others) at this time, and Juliet’s Freeskool of Social Distancing, which will “feature skillshare style videos from a number of Juliet + Company staff members, sharing their personal expertise, beyond cooking and restaurant skills.”
“It’s kind of a skillshare program that all of our staff has been invited to take part in, some of which has nothing to do with their restaurant work,” Lewin said. “It’s celebrating them as individuals with skills and hobbies from outside of their daily work, and sharing that with the world.”
Any revenue generated through new media efforts will be “used to support Juliet + Company operations, specifically providing funds to support our deficit in labor budget during the response to COVID-19.”
“We’re very much evolving as it launches, which is faster than we usually move,” Lewin said. “We go for a little bit more refinement in general, but in this case it’s so community oriented that we decided to just get it out there, and part of what we learn from here will be shaped by who is consuming it and what they want.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.