West Village, New York
West Village, New York
Never is the tradition of family meal as treasured than at 4am after a long night of serving cocktails to a full and boisterous bar. The staff over at Employees Only in Manhattan's West Village truly value the moment they get to sit down and enjoy their late night/early morning nosh.
The lights are still dimmed, and the table conversation expectedly centers around funny stories from the night. The meal feels almost like an afterparty; one you wish you were invited to. Lucky patrons and friends of the staff are often invited to partake, making the meal even more of an event, full of laughter, music and of course a plethora of after hours drinks. We were lucky enough to score a seat at the veritable "Employees Only" table and found out just how good a 4am staff meal really is.
Employees Only was opened in 2004 by five restaurant veterans. We are a speakeasy, cocktail bar, and restaurant in the West Village of Manhattan. Our philosophy is catering to our industry, so we serve food and drinks daily until 4am, ensuring that when everyone gets off of their shift there is a place open for them to unwind.
Our food is meant to be approachable, seasonal, and able to stand up to our cocktails. The influences come from European bistro fare and especially from my background which is Croatian.
Given the name Employees Only and our philosophy of serving industry we wanted to extend family meal to everyone that comes.
It really goes by who comes in first, so it starts with the bar back who begins his shift at 3:00, then the bus boy, bartenders and finally the managers and servers. The kitchen eats family meal after our dinner rush. Whatever we make for our meal in the kitchen becomes the “Family Meal” special that we run as our special late night dish on the menu.
When the bar is near closing, we start passing around soup. The tradition of the soup came from the Balkans, it’s customary to receive a soup or something small and warming at the end of the night in bars. We adapted the tradition and it serves as our good will gesture for everyone still left in the bar at closing time to get to wherever they are going safely. We always close the bar playing Tom Waits.
We truly believe in hospitality and treating our customers as they are part of our family. We always want people to feel welcome and comfortable.
We have about 45 people that work here and we all consider ourselves family. There is a very low turnover rate, many people have worked here the entire 11 years we’ve been open!! So you can imagine after spending all that time with someone the dynamic is very familial and close.
Everyone’s job is different, but since we are a small place the lines of one’s job blur a bit. We are all constantly helping others even if it is “not our job,” our dynamic really helps.
Since everyone’s opening time is staggered we don’t have a family meal before service as most restaurants do. Instead when people arrive they order off of a staff menu. For the early meal it is eaten in the dining room as long as we aren’t too busy, otherwise we have a back room where people eat. The late meal is also eaten in the dining room once all the customers have left. We open at 6pm and close at 4am so our late staff meal ends of being more of the typical ‘staff meal’ where everyone sits around a table. In honesty it feels more like a dinner table, usually stories from the night are told and there always happens to be a friend of the house leftover from the bar sitting with us. It is usually 2 bartenders, a bar back, food runner, manager and server. The kitchen guys will also come up and join in as well as our door person.
The dinner cooks prepare the early meal and the late night cooks prepare the late meal. Since some of the family meals come from the menu it changes and varies with the menu itself. The kitchen staff meal is usually a little more planned out using ingredients left over from specials or new dishes we are working on, sometimes my cooks will bring things in as well.
The early meal is a more individual experience, but the late night meal is very communal, usually discussions of the night. It varies depending on how much energy everyone has left from the night.
Our kitchen family meal, which is also run as a special on the menu has much thought put into it. I really let my cooks run with this. Most of my cooks are from Mexico so they bring recipes from the towns in which they grew up. I think it keeps it very interesting and authentic. We have had delicious family recipes that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
Interview with Julia Jaksic - Chef/Owner
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