May 1, 2020

A Glimpse Into the Future of Events: Barrie Schwartz of My House

A Glimpse Into the Future of Events: Barrie Schwartz of My House

Today we chat with Barrie Schwartz, founder of My House, an events company in New Orleans, Louisiana. Schwartz has made a name for herself  as an industry disruptor by democratizing chefdom, proving that chefs don't need restaurants, they simply need an audience. These efforts have garnered her accolades including PCMA’s 20 in their Twenties, Connect Corporate’s 40 Under 40 and Gambit’s 30 Under 30. The COVID 19 pandemic has inspired new challenges as she and her team now work to ensure women and chef of color are represented on the front lines of this fight.

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SHOW NOTES

  • Started her love of hospitality in college where she and friend ran a sandwich cafe
  • What she loved about hospitality
  • Making others happy
  • Social aspect
  • Entrepreneurial skills to run a business
  • Time management
  • Goal setting
  • Community building
  • Living and working by the company values
  • How My House became an industry disrupter
  • Allowing chefs to bring their voice and story to events
  • Making food sexy
  • Giving chefs an opportunity to add another revenue stream via catering whether they have a restaurant or not
  • Getting past major obstacles
  • 2013 they owned a food truck business that was forced to close due to politics
  • Pivoted to start a food hall
  • Learned that being pushed to a wall forced resilience, creativity and innovation
  • Working in New Orleans
  • Equally creative, entrepreneurial, and cultural
  • Equally old school and present roadblocks for entrepreneurs
  • Initiatives during Covid
  • Providing chefs with other economic opportunities while restaurants are closed via small events
  • Pushing female chefs and chefs of color to the forefront of community work
  • Diverse mix of chefs feeding keyworkers in the community
  • Rethinking the business model
  • How can the business model accommodate smaller events?
  • Could postponed events maintain their budget but happen on a smaller scale?
  • Covid gives us time to pause and reflect
  • What aspects of the business do we want to keep doing?
  • Continue to bring different chefs together
  • Continue to introduce people to food they may not have tried before
  • What are the mechanics of keeping these aspects in a post-covid world?
  • Allowing the team to rest and pause is also important
  • Dealing with fear during the crisis
  • Prioritizing self-care
  • Somedays more resilient than others
  • Not allowing fear to dictate the next moves of the business
  • Not wanting to rush into things because of fear
  • Gentle, slow approach to rebuilding
  • Secrets to success
  • Being adaptable to feedback and evolving the business idea over time
  • You can’t over-communicate too much
  • Communicate the “why”, not just the “how” and “what”
  • Understanding your weaknesses and asking for help
  • Pitfalls to avoid
Transcript

Josh Kopel:
Today's episode is brought to you by Yelp, whose mission is to connect people with great local businesses. They're also helping me connect with you, which is totally awesome. Now, here we go.

Barrie Schwartz:
How can we, as an industry, think about this as a wake up call and not go back to how things were? And how can your employees benefit even more from this to make your customer service, your restaurant, your business model, your life better?

Josh Kopel:
Welcome to Full Comp, the show offering insight into the future of the hospitality industry. Featuring restaurateurs, thought leaders and innovators served up on the house.

Josh Kopel:
I'm Josh Kopel, and on today's show, we chat with Barrie Schwartz, founder of My House, an events company disrupting the industry by proving that chefs don't need restaurants, they need an audience.

Josh Kopel:
New Orleans is famous for knowing how to throw a good party, and few do it better than New Orleans resident Barrie Schwartz. The pandemic may have decimated the events' industry, but it's given Schwartz and her team a new purpose, to ensure women and chefs of color are represented on the front lines of this fight. Here, Barrie takes us back to when that warrior spirit was born.

Barrie Schwartz:
Looking back on it, it makes sense that I've always been in love with the industry. I was just from a very Midwest family, that quite frankly, wasn't very interested in food. And when I was in college, I started being around people who had grown up loving food, and having cooking be a part of their everyday life. And I had a really good friend who worked at a cafe a few blocks away from where we lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And when the people who owned the cafe originally were leaving Michigan they said to her, "Hey look, this job, and this company is made for college people. You should take this on. And it's a little stall in a specialty groceries, and the owner just wants to help someone get their feet wet with entrepreneurship. And basically he'll split the profits with you. And for inventory, you can just pick anything you want off the grocery store shelves."

Barrie Schwartz:
And it was almost like this playhouse restaurant. And she asked me if I wanted to make sandwiches with her. And that was just the moment I fell in love. It was so much creativity. All the sandwiches were named after our friends. I had a grilled cheese sandwich on the menu called My Schwartz, and I just fell in love. I loved interacting with the customers every day. I loved the routine of it. I liked making people happy. It was great. That was my love story.

Josh Kopel:
Your company has a central focus on community building, and it seems like that's been there from the beginning. Can you talk to me about why that's the case, and how you guys implement that in the business?

Barrie Schwartz:
Yeah, absolutely. So, I think one of the central tenants of community building, the reason why it's so strong and continues to be a central focus of really everything we do, both on the chef's standpoint and the client's standpoint, is because the business really found me more than I found the business. And I think community building was something that organically was happening before I even realized it. Basically, I was waitressing at a restaurant called Coquette, which is an unbelievable restaurant in New Orleans. And there were some amazing people working in the kitchen, I was a food runner. And one of my friends Nini Nguyen, who actually is on Top Chef for the second time this season, she's amazing. She is from a Vietnamese family in New Orleans and wanted to showcase her family's Vietnamese food.

Barrie Schwartz:
And I always knew I was good at promoting and bringing people together and helping sort of bridge community. And I said, "How about we do it at my house and I'll sell tickets and you can focus on the food. And I think we would work really well together." And that just started after that first dinner. Chefs were coming up to me and saying they wanted to do things at my house. And it just started becoming My House, which has the name of our company now. And I started to realize just the power over a meal. And even though that's evolved a lot over the last eight years, and our business today is really different than pop up dinners at a house, today we really customize menus and do things in the catering industry to bridge chefs who typically don't nowhere where to start with catering revenue, and we connect them to those moments.

Barrie Schwartz:
The heart and community building of it has always really played through. And it's something that we just really check ourselves on. I'm a big fan in setting goals, and time management, and having company practices that just are constantly reevaluating. Are you working within your values and your goals? So by asking ourselves that really every meeting, "Are we really living up to our value of community?", it's been something that's been able to stay throughout as the company has evolved.

Josh Kopel:
Listening to the press that comes out about My House, describes you and your business as an industry disruptor. In what ways would you say My House has disrupted the industry, and what efforts have you made to change things?

Barrie Schwartz:
I think we are a disruptor in the way that we're living in the world of live events and the event industry, but in a way that's making food sexy, and in a way that is bringing a voice to every single chef and making sure that you can see who they are, and understand the story of their menu at your wedding, at your corporate event. And I think that's disruption because I think that is going and happening all the time in the restaurant industry. And that's where I personally am really interested in and where I am always picking up what's going on. But then bringing that over into the events industry is disruption. Because, just because you're an event producer who has to provide food for large groups of people and make it cool and sexy for your client doesn't mean you're a foodie or no, or to care that much about food.

Barrie Schwartz:
So we bring that knowledge and those connections to a different industry in a way that is disrupting. Another way I really think we're disruptors is we're making sure that people who maybe just want to cook and have a popular restaurant, but they've never thought of how do we charge on a price per head basis, and bring this off site, and bring an oven to a location that's not our restaurant, and how do we make that design and proposal really cool, and find the time to do that. And by us being able to take all those things on, I think it's really disrupting the events industry to make sure that lots of different chefs are getting a part of that economy.

Josh Kopel:
Well, and you're also democratizing chefdom, right? Because a chef needs a restaurant-

Barrie Schwartz:
Yes.

Josh Kopel:
-in order to be a chef, but by working-

Barrie Schwartz:
Yes.

Josh Kopel:
-through you and your company, that's no longer needed?

Barrie Schwartz:
Exactly. That's no longer needed. And a lot of the chefs, even some of the most popular chefs that we work with who are pretty famous in their own right, that is a totally different thing to be able to come to a festival, or to be able to come to an event and cook then doing it at your restaurant. And we're definitely able to bridge that gap, and make it a lot easier for people to have additional revenue streams in their businesses.

Josh Kopel:
Well, now I want to parlay into talking about resilience. I believe that's going to be the secret sauce. That's going to motivate all of us to thrive post pandemic.

Barrie Schwartz:
Yes.

Josh Kopel:
Can you talk to me about a time in your life that, or in your career where you felt like you were back to zero and how you overcame that?

Barrie Schwartz:
100%. so I would say the most poignant moment for me was in 2013. And this was a time globally when everything was happening with food truck laws. I'm sure people remember just in most cities, food trucks were wanting to be downtown, and there was a really big conflict with restaurants thinking that was taking away from their business. And that was kind of the point we were at. In our company was doing major events downtown and having lunches for people who were working in the central business district in New Orleans. And it was really booming. And I could see us opening up a food truck lot. And I was really excited about where we were going. I could see what was happening in New York city, in San Francisco. And I could really feel that we were going to create all these Tod markets that were feeding people for lunch.

Barrie Schwartz:
And out of nowhere, to me, I had a permit to be doing this. Our company had permits. We were working with a restaurant. The mayor of New Orleans, well, she's actually now the mayor and she's amazing. I love her. But at the time she was the Councilwoman for District B, and she was feeling a lot of pressure from her constituents. And she made us shut down all of our events and said food trucks could no longer be allowed downtown. And it was a huge blow where I really didn't know how to move forward. I was 22. I was all of a sudden caught in a very political thing, hearing from the head of the LRA, hearing from the city's office. And it was a huge political chess game that I didn't really feel prepared to take on.

Barrie Schwartz:
And it was a big obstacle. And for a while, I thought I was going to stop doing My House. And I had my partner Danielle at the time, we both took other jobs and I actually pivoted and took a job starting a food hall in New Orleans. And it was a huge obstacle for me. And I really felt I was stuck in a rock and a hard place and didn't know how to navigate all of the legal stuff. And it was a really cool time because it really made me think deeply and think how to be resilient, and really think about what are the things that we want to keep doing that do work that don't mean we have to change the law? And it was a light bulb moment of why don't we bring that to people's events? And why don't we do what we were doing, create these culinary experiences, but in a way that translates to catering? And I don't think that resilience would have come if I wasn't pushed to a wall, which is part of what we're all in the midst of right now during these times.

Josh Kopel:
Well, and it's so interesting to have the conversation and frame it based on location as well. I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, you live in new Orleans.

Barrie Schwartz:
Yeah.

Josh Kopel:
And so through the lens of the city of new Orleans, what's the overall tone there?

Barrie Schwartz:
I mean, Josh, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean when I say this, it's a real interesting cross between being the most innovative, culturally creative, stimulating, really good place to be an entrepreneur, amazing hotbed, but also deeply old school with a lot of major roadblocks. And it's kind of these juxtaposing vibes that keep happening almost serendipitously, together in a way that kind of works for the city. So it kind of makes a lot of sense that the city would be really into having these cool food truck things. But then when it came to an easy way for a small business to navigate those roadblocks, it just wasn't something that was simple to do, which kind of is why New Orleans is built as a tourism economy, and why our business model made sense when we pivoted and went towards the big economy that already existed.

Josh Kopel:
Mm-hmm(Affirmative). Well, and what are you doing as a leader and as a company currently within the confines of quarantine and in the pandemic?

Barrie Schwartz:
So currently I think we're taking our mission and our values as being community builders and as being a mission based company that works really hard to support and provide economic opportunities for chefs, who maybe don't always have those or want a bridge to get access to more opportunities, and seeing how that plays out with stuff currently going on. So a big thing we're doing is making sure that there's women and chefs of color represented when people are choosing who feeds the front lines. There's so much going on, where you can Venmo, or donate to get restaurants to feed half the workers, EMS police. And we really want to democratize that process, and make sure that people who maybe haven't been the strongest with their branding, don't have all of those connections, have a way to get access to those opportunities. And that the frontline workers can see a diverse group of people feeding them special food every day.

Barrie Schwartz:
And that's been ringing really, really true right now and is a way we're being a leader during these times locally. And then also just really trying to rethink our whole model, on how can we turn our customized high end, high volume company into something that can happen for smaller gatherings that can be more palpable on our website, and how can we just keep changing with the times and understanding our new normal as it all unfolds?

Josh Kopel:
And do you have a plan for the future of your business?

Barrie Schwartz:
It's a great question. We have a lot of plans and I personally, as a leader in thinking there's always a good time to just pause. And I think right now is a time to pause and deeply think about what are the things, no matter what, no matter how the future unfolds, that none of us have a crystal ball that we want to keep doing. And I keep thinking about how we love bringing multiple chefs together. We love introducing people to new food that they might not have known before. And I'm just thinking of different ways, given all the possible scenarios that that message could still play out in a different way for the times.

Josh Kopel:
I'm so glad you brought that up because foundationally, I do see this as an opportunity since everyone shut down for the most part to rethink everything about our businesses and the industry. On my end, we're asking big questions, right? They do we need to be open seven days a week? What is the labor model look like? How are we going to represent the Southern food that we put out for a new market post quarantine after everyone's been out of work for three or four months? What questions are you asking yourself about your business? And in what ways do you think that reflection is going to change the way you do business?

Barrie Schwartz:
Great question. I mean, a lot of the questions we're asking is, we're still in a lot of immediate emergency management. So we rebooked about 40 weddings that were in March and April to the fall. So a lot of questions that are really immediate right now is what if these people who have already moved their weddings, and been amazing clients, can't have the 200 person wedding they dreamed of? How can we work with them and have it be a win-win situation and try out new things? Can we tell them, "Okay, maybe you stick to your original budget in some way, shape or form that helps save our businesses and all the chef's business. But we do a family style meal that's served in a totally new, different way that is up with the sanitary appropriateness for 50 people instead of 200."

Barrie Schwartz:
We're asking, can we create a way that people can pick their starters, their mains and their desserts from the chefs we work at, and have parties at their house for 20 people instead of our typical minimum that we had, where we were really only doing events for over 130 people? So just really trying to think how can our current model, the things that worked with it exist in a totally different way for smaller groups of people, and what are the best ways to do that? And also how long can we really figure out? Another big thing we're thinking of is if the economy is in some sort of recession, if there's a lot of empty buildings in New Orleans, are there ways we can be at the forefront of helping consult these spaces to bring them back to life, and thinking about those kinds of models?

Barrie Schwartz:
It's a lot of big questions. It's hard not to feel your brains just spinning. And it's part of why I'm thinking all these questions, but also trying to have us in our team breathes. Because there's a lot of stuff going on outside of work right now, too. And that's okay. And it's okay to pause and to ask these questions, but not have the answers yet.

Josh Kopel:
I think of a role as fear playing in your life in this moment and what are you doing to combat that?

Barrie Schwartz:
Wow, you have such good questions. I love it. I would say, there's days where I'm really afraid and I feel bogged down by it and I'm being gentle with myself, and I'm like, "It's okay, I'm going to go camping and just live in the moment and cook really good meat and make a steak." And then there's other days where I feel really resilient and fears, not playing any part. And I'm like, "I'm proud of our team. I know we can get through this. This is a moment, it's the present, but we're versatile. And I think we can come out stronger."

Barrie Schwartz:
And honestly, it's changing every day. It's quite a roller coaster, but I think a little bit of fear kind of helps put fire under us to really make some changes that are cool and needed, but I want to make sure they don't happen hastily, and that things stay simple and well thought out. Because I don't want us to redo our whole business model based on fear, and then something totally different happens with the future, and we have to go back to the drawing board. So part of me wants the fear to keep building a little bit, but make sure that we're being patient and gentle with ourselves.

Josh Kopel:
When you look at the landscape of your life, personally and professionally, and you look at your successes, what would you say is the secret sauce there? What would you say are the qualities that you believe have helped you become successful, and that are going to help you weather this storm?

Barrie Schwartz:
I love these questions. I would say the secret sauce, and I think a lot about this and it's kind of whenever I'm talking to anyone or trying to help people think through their own lives, I say, "Make sure that you are not just stuck on your original idea or thought, because that is your ego. And you have to have the ability to evolve." And we've evolved our business probably four or five times realistically, since we've started. And I really think it's the way we've been able to stay successful. And I think I've evolved my personal life as well. And being able to let your ego walk out the door and say, "Okay, this is working, this isn't working. Why isn't this working? And let's change this?" And listening to my friends, our customers, the chefs, and being able to evolve based on the feedback we're getting is definitely my big secret sauce.

Barrie Schwartz:
Two other ones that are incredibly important to me are communication. You cannot over communicate enough. So I think really making sure that people understand the decisions you're making from a why perspective, not just we're doing this, but this is why we're doing it, is so important personally and professionally. And then the last one that I think always takes things to the next level is being able to really understand what you're not the best at, and making sure people around know that that's something that you need help with, and letting other people help you with that.

Josh Kopel:
What are some pitfalls that you think people should avoid? What are some big mistakes you've made in your life that you would prefer to not see others repeat?

Barrie Schwartz:
Acting too swiftly. Having something happen that is frustrated that you're heated with and acting in the moment, instead of letting the emotions cool down a little bit, to then make a sound decision. That's definitely a big mistake I've made that I think most people make and it's a good one to try to not do because it never ends well. And then the other one is almost not acting quickly enough. When you see something that's a red flag, or a relationship that's not working out and you just keep thinking it'll work itself out, I'm sure Josh, there's a rude awakening. If you passively don't deal with something.

Josh Kopel:
What hospitality brands, restaurants, event companies do you look up to? Who do you think is doing it well?

Barrie Schwartz:
I actually love in LA, Wo Nawi catering. Have you ever heard of them? They're they're amazing catering company that has a conference called Potluck Hospitality, and it's for people who are in the catering industry. And I think what they do is really amazing, and their food is super fresh, and I love their brand. I love Pineapple Collective. They're a group of women that are highlighting women in the industry, working really hard and doing really cool things and just launched all female made olive oil company, which I think is super cool. Locally in New Orleans, I'm really impressed after the whole John Besh scandal with how a Alon Shaya came out and created Pomegranate Hospitality, with his restaurants, Saba and Safta, in New Orleans and Denver. And I think every employee of theirs I've talked to loves how they're treated. And I think that just says so much, and is cool what a turn around he made.

Barrie Schwartz:
I'm also really into Kristen Essig, with Thalia and Coquette, and Michael Stoltzfus, her partner. I just think they do a really good job of providing health care for all of their employees, and talking about some really hard issues in the industry. Those are some of my top the company is that I really just love what they're doing, and think it's pushing things and pushing the envelope.

Josh Kopel:
Any predictions as to what the event planning, or the restaurant industry is going to look like in the coming weeks, months and years?

Barrie Schwartz:
I think with the event industry, I see a lot of people pivoting to do high-end intimate engagements, and saying just because it's minimal doesn't mean it can't be perfect and you can't utilize other services to help you. I saw this company, Sapphire Events, who we love in New Orleans, and they've already pivoted to create a company called Minimal Matrimony. And it's basically intimate moments. And I think there's going to be a lot of things that we're all redoing around the dinner party vibe, the smaller scale things that you can really create experiences. I can even see people going back to really popular ticketed backyard dinners, or having your restaurant open, but maybe being rented out by groups of friends. I could see that happening a lot. I think there's going to be a lot of just talk about how intimate is the new, big and fabulous.

Josh Kopel:
You have the opportunity to talk directly to an entire industry, is there anything you would like to say?

Barrie Schwartz:
I would like to say, "How can we as an industry, think about this as a wake up call and not go back to how things were, and how can your employees benefit even more from this to make your customer service, your restaurant, your business model, your life better?" I think just really thinking about in the future, how can we set our companies up in a way that when horrible things happen as a team, everyone can come out in the same and equal way? And whether that's taking a percentage of your profit and having an employee relief fund that really helps get you through hard times, and doesn't just rely on government assistance. Whether that's continuing to lobby after this, to figure out a way for business owners and employees, to have a model that works for both with higher wages. Just what are the creative ways that we can come out of this even stronger as a team in the industry on all levels?

Josh Kopel:
Hey, where can people find you online?

Barrie Schwartz:
Myhouseevents.com, @myhouseevents, Instagram, Pinterest, our website, please reach out.

Josh Kopel:
That's Barrie Schwartz, founder of My House Event. If you'd like to check out her past events or see what she has going on in the future, go to myhouseevents.com. If you want to tell us your story, hear previous episodes, check out our video content or read our weekly blog, go to joshkopel.com. That's J-O-S-H-K-O-P-E-L.com. Thank you so much for listening to the show. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and while you're there, please leave us a review. A special thanks to Yelp, for helping us spread the word to the whole hospitality community. I'm Josh Kopel. You've been listening to Full Comp.