Amelia Ekus, GM at Twitter NYC Café with Guckenheimer, started her career in the restaurant world, so she’s noticed a few differences in corporate dining. For one, instead of worrying who might show up to a restaurant, she knows that 350 Twitter employees (affectionately called Tweeps) will show up for lunch five days a week. FM caught up with Ekus and chatted about cuisine, concepts and of course, tweeting.
Q: Congrats on your gig at Twitter! What has this job been like compared to your earlier career?
A: Thank you! The job is different than a traditional restaurant because you don’t have that anxiety that no one is going to show up. Essentially, we have a guarantee of guests coming in the door. On the flip side, it means we have to make every day even more exciting than the last so folks don’t get bored. It’s a delicate balance…Another major difference is the physical set up: It’s a mashup between a tapas restaurant and self-service counter. It makes it more difficult to have fun interactions with the guests unless we are really working for it—which we do, every day!
Q: What does a normal day look like for you?
A: I am responsible for the business of the operation: everything from marketing, payroll and hiring, to coming up with wacky pop up ideas and unique experiences for client events. I work with the culinary team to ensure we have an exciting menu that meets the needs of all the Tweeps. It is also my responsibility to manage our budget and ensure we are running an efficient business.
Q: How many dining venues are there at Twitter NYC?
A: We have a few operations within Twitter NYC: our Coffee Shop, our “Bodegas” (pantries on each floor where Tweeps can grab a snack any time), the @twEATs Café and the Special Events so we stay pretty busy making sure there is a new and exciting offering for each of those outlets. Included in the café are the #tweatery and the #NoshPit, two distinct areas that offer unique experiences. The #Noshpit is more mellow—at lunch we have our #dailydeli and #brothbar whereas the #tweatery is equipped with multiple small-plates stations.
Q: I notice that (duh!) your Twitter account @twEats is awesome! Do you do that or is it another staffer? Is it especially important to be great at tweeting and get that “voice” down?
A: Thank you! @twEATs is really me! Complete disclosure: before I came to work at Twitter I had no clue how to tweet. I have learned a LOT from following the Tweeps, but it is always a work in progress. The best of Twitter feels like talking to a good friend. You know what to expect but those moments of surprise are the best. It should feel like a person is on the other end of a conversation, not a scripted “post.”
Q: You are serving some really cool international breakfasts. Are some dayparts busier than others? How does the breakfast business do?
A: Yes! Chef Mark Gandara is amazing at integrating cross-cultural cuisines! He has been on a Middle Eastern kick lately and that has been fascinating for all of us. We have an incredibly diverse team in the kitchen here, so they contribute to the global influence. Lunch is always the busiest but breakfast holds a special place in my heart because we get to start everyone’s day off on the right foot.
Q: How are concepts determined? What are some new ones that are in the works now? How do you decide when to retire a concept?
A: Concepts are determined based on trends we see popping up that we want to support, or trends we want to create. I am currently obsessed with whey, a byproduct of the yogurt-making process. I am working with The White Moustache to figure out different applications. Whey is super probiotic-packed and an excellent way to hydrate…I don’t understand why people don’t consume it more. Also, the marketing is built in: where there’s a will…there’s a whey! And we are very lucky to work with John Dickman, the Global Food and Beverage Manager for Twitter. He sets the tone for the food program and our team makes it our own and personalizes it for the Tweeps in NYC.
Q: Do you have pop-up events to keep things entertaining?
A: We have pop-up events to keep it fresh and to highlight seasonal ingredients that excite us. Our most recent pop-up was soft-shell crab sandwiches. This was one of my favorites because it wasn’t just exciting for the Tweeps, we got to teach our team about an ingredient that many of them have never worked with before. Other examples include ramp grilled cheese, Mexican corn, hot cocoa…the list goes on.
Q: Any unique take-home menu items or customer-service programs?
A: We don’t offer take-home, but we do facilitate a CSA program for the Tweeps so they have access to fresh, local, sustainably harvested veggies and eggs. It gets delivered to the office and we keep it refrigerated until they are ready to go home. It is also a great partnership to help support Upstate Farms of NY.
Q: I heard that because of your mom’s job as a cookbook agent you met a lot of great chefs…who made the biggest impression on you?
A: Honestly, my whole family has super cool food jobs. My sister is now a partner in the agency, so she is ALWAYS discovering incredible new talent. My father had a barbecue restaurant, which is where my career really began as a busser! In terms of big impressions? That’s a tough one. Michael McLaughlin comes to mind, because he taught my mother to cook through his recipe testing. Talk about impact. We always had so many chefs coming and going, and they were cooking, learning, and pushing themselves. As a child it was inspiring to be raised around so many passionate professionals, expanding their skill sets.
Q: Where do you go for inspiration?
A: I read a lot of magazines. I go out to eat, probably too much…I have an endless supply of cookbooks due to the family business. I look everywhere for inspiration. Recently I have been into the idea of a “champagne forest” as an entryway for guests at special events…no idea where that one came from!
Q: What have you learned about having a role in management?
A: I used to think that management was about treating everybody the exact same way. Instead, as a manager, it is our responsibility to treat everyone fairly, but address the needs of each person on our teams differently. This is the hardest concept for new managers to grasp. Great leaders learn what motivates their team members; for some it’s kudos, for others it’s money, for some it’s family. Don’t judge those motivations; learn how to communicate with each person on your team. It takes more time and effort, but pays off in the long run with a happier work environment, less turnover and higher efficiency.
Q: What does it take for those who’d like to do what you’re doing someday?
A: Learn from everyone: your supervisors and your direct reports. Learn how to do the thing you are worst at and most afraid of.
Q: Any exciting travels lately or planned?
A: I am going to Japan at the end of the summer. It is on my bucket list of places to visit. I have a lot of admiration for Japanese Omotenashi – their rituals and guidelines for hospitality. The cuisine has a sense of place and a refinement and reverence that I adore. I am most excited about a visit to one of the tea farms for Kettl Tea (some of the best tea I have ever had!)
Q: What’s your comfort food?
A: Broth. I save all of my food scraps – onion peels, garlic peels, stalks, stems, you name it; it goes into the freezer and into the stock pot. I use the stock for everything… soups, cooking, just sipping. I sip on broth constantly. Oh! And tacos.