This post is part of the Food Writer’s Diary blog.
Anthony Rudolf was a talented maître d’. At least he says he was, but it’s probably true because he was maître d’ at Thomas Keller’s culinary landmark in New York City, Per Se. And before that he was a captain at Jean Georges.
He was so good, in fact, that he was promoted to general manager. Great! Except that meant he had to present a forecast of the restaurant’s business performance to its investors, and he hadn’t seen a profit-and-loss statement since college.
So, apart from working 16 hours a day as GM, he had to spend extra time trying to figure out what all those numbers were and then buttonhole the comptroller whenever he could over the following couple of weeks to try to figure out what he was doing.
“It was the most painful way to learn anything about finances,” Rudolf told me.
But in the restaurant world, the options for young managers, or cooks or servers who would like to move into management, to learn, depend on the restaurant owners, who have limited resources.
“Is it in their best interest to train everyone?” Rudolf asks. Sure, it would make sense to train the next person in line for a management position, but broader training than that is virtually impossible, he said.
That was his inspiration for Journee.
It might be spelled like the French word, but it’s actually pronounced like “journey,” and is inspired by the idea of journeymen — working professionals between the apprentice and master stages of their careers.
The root of “journeyman” is, in fact, the French word journée (zhoor-NAY), which, among other things, means a day of work.
“Being a typical American, I took the accent off and bastardized the actual real word,” Rudolf said, and decided to pronounce it “journey” to connote one’s life path, because he hopes his organization will be a resource for restaurant workers throughout their careers.
Journee is an association geared toward industry professionals who want to learn more about how to run restaurants than what they’re learning from working in their current jobs. Open only to people who work at restaurants or in associated fields — suppliers, farmers, wine makers, tech companies, distributors etc. — membership costs $1 a day, $365 a year, and gives them access to lectures, meetings, seminars and so on provided by leading professionals in the business.
Rudolf spent 20 years working for restaurateurs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Thomas Keller, culminating as Keller’s director of operations for New York properties, before striking out on his own to fill this gap he saw in the restaurant world. He uses those 20 years’ worth of connections to find speakers to do wine training and teach about accounting, finance, human resources, leadership, management and related topics — including boring but essential things like insurance and contract and lease negotiation.
He pays the teachers, too, of course.
Rudolf founded Journee in July of last year and he said it currently has about 450 members, who have all learned about it through word-of-mouth. Early joiners were manager-level people in the dining room and kitchen, but he said he’s now starting to get more hourly employees.
“They’re a very hard group of people to hear about things because they spend most of their time just working,” he said, noting that some of the investors who rejected him made a similar observation.
“They said, ‘Why would you want to build something for people who have no time and no money? They’re possibly the worst demographic to build for.’”
On the contrary, Rudolf argues: They’re the best people to build for, because they’re the least served.
Also, they’ve chosen a career in service.
“So they value taking care of people, but they often don’t receive it enough,” he said. “So from a demand, desire, loyalty, culture building, community building perspective, they’re actually a really key target,” he said.
“It’s just, how do you monetize it?”
Oh, is that all?
Rudolf’s goal is to get enough in-person membership to break even on the rather nicely appointed space on West 21st Street in Manhattan (centrally located, between 5th and 6th avenues — not a trek to 12th Avenue, because speakers would never make that trip).
Online teaching, which he hopes to launch in June, will provide supplemental income. Rudolf already has 20 wine courses online, and he said more classes are going up every week. For $180 a year you’ll be able to have unlimited access to that, Netflix-style.
For company leaders who join at the normal rate of $365 per year, their staff can join for $25 per month each (so $300 per year).
Rudolf’s goal, as he put it to me, is “to provide open access to multiple perspectives and resources so that you can have control over the aspirational stages of your career,” and also, “To find a larger network outside of the dive bar at 2 o’clock in the morning with the people that you work with.”
So far, management and leadership classes have proven the most popular, although wine seminars fill up quickly too, Rudolf said.