There’s a romantic ideal of the modern chef. You know the one. The 60 hour work week, married to the craft of service. Driven to perform by an unyielding passion for food, driven by something greater than themselves. Knowing the only way to serve the game is to sacrifice any semblance of work-life balance.
“You see it all over social media, you see cooks on a milk crates, eating with their aprons on by the trash can. They try to glamorize it,” Chef Brian LaVielle of Burien Washington’s Lavish Roots Catering said.
But according to LaVielle, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to love your job and to be loved right back for doing it.
That begins by creating a work space designed by and for working cooks. Not designed by and for the bottom line.
“The reason we started lavish roots is that we were tired of (how we were treated) at other places we worked. I don’t necessarily mean being disrespected, but maybe not having the right equipment to do the job or enough workspace or ventilation or correct garbage facilities. Or even something as simple as a place for our team to eat together or hang their jacket when it’s raining,” explained LaVielle.
Founded in 2014 by LaVielle, Carly Duke, Ann Lamb and Evan Garrard as an employee empowering catering company, it took until 2021 and quite a bit of trial and error before that dream could be truly manifested into reality.
“We wanted this to be a really beautiful place to work,” LaVielle said. And he means that both physically and emotionally.
Designed from scratch, Lavish Roots’ currently boasts a 5,000 square foot commercial kitchen with an additional 2,000 square feet dedicated to offices, a conference center and a full bar and tasting area.
With floor to ceiling windows running the entire length of the structure, and the purpose-built kitchen at the front of the building, Lavish Roots employees are able to enjoy something that most cooks would only dream of; natural light illuminating their work area. With only low prep tables in between the windows and the cooking line, workers are able utilize the full extent of that airy daylight to better see their work and to enjoy a sense of physical lightness unfound in most kitchen environments.
And that daylight doesn’t simply shine on the prep tables, it also sparkles against vintage analog clocks, and subway tile mosaic walls that give the kitchen a school room feel, where employees are at play with their mates as much as work with fellow chefs.
Most importantly of all however, the windows beam light directly on to a world class, fully Vulcanized cooking line. A six-piece, unbroken work chain anchored by three 36’’ 6-top burners, flanked by a VACB36 Charbroiler, a 2VK5DF Fryer that Garrard calls ‘a much nicer fryer,’ than the brand they had before and a V2FT36C French Top that completely changes how the company operates.
“We had never had a French top before, and being sauce and soup making connoisseurs, that was important,” Garrard said. “Before, we’d come in, in the morning and have to take the stocks off the stove because we needed the burner space. But now we can have the stocks running on the French top and we do the reductions on the side and utilize all the burners.”
What’s more, this is only the first half of the company’s vision. A second side of the line has been completely plumbed and gassed in, so that as the business grows the current line can be mirrored to double capacity.
“Once we’re full we anticipate being able to cook up to 10,000 meals a day here if we have to. It would be cranking, but we could do it,” explained LaVielle.
First things first, Lavish Roots needs to grow, and it is.
“We’re currently hiring like 60 people, everything from dishwashers to sous chefs and in between. The number one thing here is your going to have benefits, 3 weeks paid time off, and a 401k with 4% match,” LaVielle said.
Which is all part of the Lavish Roots vision of change for the restaurant industry. Not only that, but being a caterer that focuses on corporate and office clients, Lavish Roots employees typically work a reliable Monday-Friday shift, allowing for many free weekends with family and friends.
Of course, becoming industry trend-setters was never a forgone conclusion, especially when a global pandemic struck just as the company was planning to move into a new state of the art space. A space with a price-tag to match.
Instead of putting their dreams on hold, laying off employees and closing-up shop, LaVielle and Garrard opted to go in a different direction.
“The very first thing we did was make sure we acquired this building. When you are a chef people assume your creativity is only with food, but a lot of it is in administration. We totally revised and edited all of our jobs descriptions, which is a huge task since we have over 60 different jobs within our company, after we got that dialed in, we went to town on how to do our take-out food,” LaVielle said.
An undertaking made that much more impressive seeing as the company had never done take-out before.
“We had to get creative to stay in business,” LaVielle said.
It’s that creativity, paired with a dynamic vision and a nose for high quality equipment that is currently allowing Lavish Roots to blossom.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is just to be thankful for what we have. And to be very honest with the team. Those conversation we had with our team where we were like ‘hey, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to commit to you, even out of our pockets, and the risk of the company,’ overall, our team got closer because of that,” LaVielle said.
With the pandemic winding down, and business picking up it’s no longer the health of the company that LaVielle and his associates are worried about, now it’s making sure they create a new paradigm in foodservice and show the world how an employee centric company can be both profitable and fulfilling.