By Omar Mamoon
The San Francisco Bay Area is a place where we pride ourselves on diversity and inclusion; those values encompass every aspect of our lives. From the neighborhoods we live in to the places we work to the bars and restaurants we drink and dine in, it’s always been important to have spaces where everyone feels safe, welcome, and included.
Having these safe spaces is more important now than ever. We sat down with Kristina Liedags Compton and Rachel Sillcocks of the fun and creative Hilda and Jesse in North Beach to see how they make space in their place for everyone.
It’s said that good food comes from a positive environment. How do you foster that at Hilda and Jesse?
Kristina: Rachel and I are very transparent and direct and open. We have direct conversations and communication, and if we sense something is off, we’re always checking in and addressing that. We take what we do seriously, but we have a lot of fun. We’ve both worked in intense places. The premise behind opening our space was to have some fun. It’s all about teaching. We hire a lot of people that don’t have a ton of experience – front of house and back of house. And having that approach of open communication creates a great environment.
Rachel: I think the environment is very collaborative. We try to draw on everyone’s experience, be it vast or limited. We respect people voicing their opinions. We always try and take the temperature of the room and figure out what works best for everyone involved. We want everyone to be excited about coming to work, and that means if they’re able to contribute, be it in a system or in an event or with a vendor, we’re all ears. We love to have those conversations and create those opportunities.
What are some ways you make Hilda and Jesse a safe space for everyone?
Rachel: We let people be who they are. And I think that’s really important. We made conscious choices not to have a uniform. We let people wear what they want to wear. We want people to be comfortable so they can bring the best version of themselves to work.
We engage with everyone and connect with them on a human level and not just a business level. It’s really important to not confuse the business and personal pieces, but it’s really important not to forget the personal piece. We’re all human and we live in this intense world. It’s important that people can come into work and talk about anything and can come to us and ask for our opinion on something.
On a more specific level from a business standpoint, we have check-ins that we try hard to be religious about. Our HR person comes and they can have an open dialogue one on one – they can have an open space to communicate things that they’re open and frustrated about that they might not necessarily feel comfortable voicing.
Kristina: We also have check-ins with us, too, so we do both.
Rachel: As far as the team goes, we have parameters, but essentially everyone’s style of service is a little different. And I think by not limiting people to a specific, regimented set of operating procedures, it allows them to really be who they are and feel much more comfortable. And in turn, that translates to the food, the guest, the experience that everyone has. I think that’s really important.
Kristina: We represent ourselves as a Queer space. And we’re conscious of that. And people automatically associate us with a safe space, whether you’re trans, Queer, male-identifying, female-identifying. I think being a Queer business, it brings a different type of person and a diverse group of people to work in the space. People seek out our restaurant because they feel safe working here and knowing we have their back.
When we opened, we took a staff-first mentality. Sometimes to the detriment of the business, but we have an extremely strong team. We also have amazing staff retention and the environment is so special. I do think us making that decision when we opened definitely set us apart from other restaurants.
What keeps you motivated to keep coming back to the restaurant every day?
Rachel: I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of what we set out to do. It’s no surprise but it’s difficult to run a business in San Francisco. But I feel like within our space, we have so many different levers to pull and so much opportunity to serve great people and provide a great place of work. To build a place where people can build events and host parties. I feel like we’ve really just begun. And that’s what drives us every day to come to work.
Also, going back to our staff. They’re deeply invested in what we do. They like coming to work, they like showing up. And every day we come to work and we show up for them.
What’s one thing the majority of diners don’t know about the industry that you wish they knew or understood?
Kristina: With opening Hilda and Jesse, I personally learned how big of a stake in society a small business holds, especially a restaurant. For those who come in and dine or read something in the paper, a restaurant and the people running and trying to create the space, we’re definitely not perfect. We’re human like everyone else. Sometimes it’s hard when you receive so much critique or someone sends you an email and it holds so much weight for the business owners because we put so much time, effort, and heart in the space. We take all of it to heart. It’s like someone saying something about your child.
Rachel: I think people don’t realize how appreciative we are that people choose to sit in our space. We’re really grateful that people seek us out and give us the opportunity to feed them. I try and tell everyone how grateful we are – and I don’t think people know the depths of that gratitude.
Anything new or exciting on the horizon?
Rachel: We’re growing our event business. So we’d love people to think of our space for private events, micro-weddings, showers. We also want people to think of us as a dinner spot – there’s a preconceived notion that it’s a special occasion restaurant. But it’s pretty approachable. We’re really excited about it. We just wish more people knew about dinner and more people would join us.
Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.