Join us as we sit down with Leith Hill, President and Founder of Ellary’s Greens. In part two of this three part series, Leith tells us what her average day looks like, and how being a mom has impacted the way she runs her restaurant.
What does your average day look like?
My average day is a shit show, haha. My average day is great, but it’s probably not something anyone else would sign up for willingly.
Today, for example, I had a meeting at 9 AM with my PR team, because we’ve opened a second location at Columbus Circle. Then I came into the city to handle a bunch of phone calls. I’m looking at new aprons, looking at a new tea vendor. We just closed during the day yesterday for the first time in three years for renovations and to bring in a keg, because we’re going to have beer on tap. Then I went up to the new space, because all the kitchen equipment was delivered there.
After our interview together, I’ll go meet the tea lady, who happens to be in SoHo. We’re going to taste tea. I’m going to check with my director of operations. I’ll be at the restaurant later tonight, and I’ll also be checking in with my assistant to see what information she needs from me.
Every single day there’s something. One of the biggest joys for me is our team. I love our guests and I love our team. It’s my ultimate delight to spend time at the restaurant. Oftentimes, I’ll show up with my laptop and camp out, or I’ll work the floor. Every day involves a lot of emails, calls, outreach, and contract negotiation. In the middle of that, the real joy is working with our team and guests.
How many employees do you oversee?
Right now, we have 36. I know every single one of them. I have all of them in my phone. No one starts at Ellary’s Greens without having “the Leith talk,” which is a conversation that every employee has with me. It’s a conversation that I’ve standardized and developed over the years. I welcome new employees, and sit them down and let them know exactly what I expect. And I let them know exactly what they can expect from the job.
Part of the reason I do that talk is so people know my expectations up front, and based on that, they can decide whether or not the job is a good fit. Everyone who’s gone through that talk has said “no one has ever spoken to me with such structure and clarity about job expectations.”
The team is really important to me. They are, in a way, an extension of me. They are the public face of Ellary’s Greens when I’m not there to be that myself. So the team matters. We’re about to pop up closer to 46-50 employees when we open up the second space at Columbus Circle.
What has been your greatest struggle in running a business?
Oh my goodness. One struggle is being a woman who owns her own restaurant in New York City. The external forces that come at restaurant owners, especially from the New York City government, is difficult. Fines that are imposed on restaurants, bans that are put in place, restrictions that aren’t on any other industry….
It makes me so sad when I see restaurants close. It’s very important to me that we all work together in the restaurant industry–whether we work in similar restaurants or not. We have so many forces that work against us, as restaurant owners in this city.
For example, in the Mayor’s office, there’s no liaison for food and beverage. Every other industry in the city has an office or a presence in City Hall. There’s no industry that’s as heavily regulated as we are, except the medical industry.
In the restaurant industry, we have to pay for everything that we do. And we have to pay heavily. We don’t have the luxury of a union. We don’t have anyone in City Hall who we can have a conversation with. That is something that I didn’t truly, fully understand before opening Ellary’s Greens. Even if I had realized it, all of the restrictions and regulations that were put on us 5 years ago when I started the company have been multiplied.
On Jan. 1, the city gave all of my employees a 50% raise. They didn’t ask us, they just did it. Servers at Ellary’s Greens typically make $25 an hour. In other restaurants, they can make up to $50 per hour, depending on how upscale the restaurant is. Our servers were all given a raise, and that’s a struggle as a business owner. It’s a struggle to be in business in a city that’s known for its food, but to not have support from the city itself. That’s hard.
How has owning a business fit into the rest of your life, like being a mom?
Owning a business has been a great enhancement to being a mom. I had the luxury of holding off starting Ellary’s Greens until my younger son was off at boarding school. My husband is a physicist, so he isn’t’ involved in the restaurant at all, except that it’s his favorite place to eat.
All of my time that is not spent with my family, is spent at the restaurant. Even some of the time that should be spend with my family is spent at the restaurant. They’re very understanding of that.
Owning Ellary’s Greens has really enhanced my life, as a mom and a person. It’s an incredible example to have my own business and a team that I lead very strongly. I have two sons and they’re my pride and joy, and my greatest accomplishment is raising them and the relationship I have with them. And they express often that they’re very proud of me. That touches me enormously.
They’re now both in college, and when I have conversations with them, they always ask about my day and what’s going on at the restaurant. They really are very proud of the restaurant, and take an active role in wanting to understand what my day is like and what challenges I’m facing. It’s been a joy to have the restaurant and my team, and it’s been a joy to have my family interact with that. They see me as a strong business woman and business leader.