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Alon Shaya on Innovating Philanthropy and Sustainable Culture at Pomegranate Hospitality

rectangle image with navy background of Alon Shaya

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About this episode

#60. For this week's episode, we are thrilled to welcome chef Alon Shaya. Alon is a two-time James Beard Award winner, having earned accolades for Best Chef in the South and Best New Restaurant. He's also the author of the acclaimed book "Shaya," a book that traces the evolution of a cuisine and the transformative power of cooking throughout Alon's personal life and career.

Alon has made significant strides in the culinary world. He is the chef-partner, and founder of Pomegranate Hospitality, a venture he started with his wife, Emily. Alon is deeply involved in philanthropy. One of his notable initiatives is Rescuing Recipes, inspired by a moving story from the Holocaust Museum about a Yugoslavian Jewish family and their preserved recipe book. Alon has been recreating these recipes and sharing them across the country with Steven Fenves.

Additionally, Alon co-founded the Shaya Barnett Foundation with Donna Barnett, contributing further to his legacy of giving back. In this episode, we delve into Alon's philanthropic efforts, his innovative approach to building a supportive and sustainable company culture at Pomegranate Hospitality, and his commitment to ensuring his team has access to health insurance and a safe working environment.

Join us as we explore the fascinating journey of Chef Alon Shaya, his impactful work beyond the kitchen, and the experiences that have shaped his remarkable career.

Where to find Alon Shaya:

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

In this episode, we cover:

(03:57): Alon's experience coming from Israel to Philadelphia
(09:09): Does suffering make for an entrepreneurial spirit?

(16:26): A Cookbook's purpose in the past vs. now
(21:18): How does Alon have time for fly fishing?

(27:54): How Alon manages the culture part of his business
(39:14): How core values manifest in day-to-day business
(51:14): Shaya Barnett Foundation

What We Cover

(03:57): Alon's experience coming from Israel to Philadelphia

(09:09): Does suffering make for an entrepreneurial spirit?

(16:26): A Cookbook's purpose in the past vs. now

(21:18): How does Alon have time for fly fishing?

(27:54): How Alon manages the culture part of his business

(39:14): How core values manifest in day-to-day business

(51:14): Shaya Barnett Foundation

Transcript

[00:00:00] Josh Sharkey:

You're listening to season two of The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, a culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, we're going to talk to high performers in the food business, everything from chefs to CEOs, technologists, writers, investors, and more about how they innovate.

[00:00:19]

And operate and how they consistently execute at a high level day after day. And I would really love it if you could drop us a five star review anywhere that you listen to your podcast. That could be Apple, that could be Spotify, could be Google. I'm not picky Anywhere works, but I really appreciate the support and as always, I hope you enjoy the show.

[00:00:46]

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, today's guest is chef Alon Shaya. Wow, so Alon is a two time James Beard award winner. He won best chef in the south. He won best new restaurant. He's also the author of the book Shaya, which is sort of half memoir, half cookbook about his time traveling through Israel. He is an Israeli American.

[00:01:09]

He's the chef, partner, founder, along with his wife of Pomegranate Hospitality. He also has a bunch of initiatives, mostly philanthropic, one of which is called Rescuing Recipes. It's really cool. Uh, the backstory is really that he, you know, he was traveling to the Holocaust Museum and learned about the son of this Yugoslavian Jewish family that were displaced from their home, the cook in their home had saved the recipe book, and he's been cooking all of these recipes.

[00:01:36]

So dish by dish and traveling the country telling the stories with the son named Steven Fen. I think Fenves is how you pronounce it. He also founded an organization called the Shaya Barnett Foundation along with Donna Barnett who is a big part of his past. Anyways, he's an incredible chef, but we don't actually talk too much about cooking today because I was just so fascinated with the work that he's doing, both philanthropically and also the way that he's built his company from the ground up, Pomegranate Hospitality with.

[00:02:04]

the team in mind and with longevity and creating careers and supporting the team and making sure that they have health insurance and they have a safe working environment. And a lot of that probably comes from his experiences in the past with other places that he's worked, which we'll talk about.

[00:02:18]

Anyways, it was an incredible conversation and I do apologize. It seemed like his internet might've been a little bit shaky at times. So we did our best to make sure that the sound quality is as good as it could be. And as always, I really hope that you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did.

[00:02:44] Alon Shaya:

Thanks for having me on the show.

[00:02:45] Josh Sharkey:

Yeah. Thanks for coming on. And thanks to Gia for setting this up. Always. You were on Eli's podcast a little bit ago. Actually, that must have been like a year ago. It was a year ago. Yeah.

[00:02:56] Alon Shaya:

for Philly Chefs Conference. Yeah. Are you going this year, by the way?

[00:03:00]

I'm not. No, I think it's actually happening right now. We just came off of a, um, restaurant opening in Las Vegas and We have French Quarter Festival this weekend in New Orleans that I'm doing a bunch of stuff for, so.

[00:03:13] Josh Sharkey:

Oh yeah, so you're jammed. Yeah. All right. This is my first time going to the uh, Chef Conference.

[00:03:19] Alon Shaya:

Oh it is, it's great. I was the, yeah, last year I was there, it was a lot of fun, a lot of great people there.

[00:03:24] Josh Sharkey:

Yeah, yeah, I'm moderating a panel on menu development with some of the folks from Noma and a couple, you know, cocktail person and Ariel Johnson, it should be a lot of fun. That sounds like fun.

[00:03:32]

Anyways, let's talk about you. I want to start, if it's cool, with a little bit of your background and not too much because if it's okay. I want to, I have a lot of questions on some of the work you're doing with the Rescue Recipes and stuff like that. But maybe just, just if you don't mind teeing up a little bit of, of your background coming to the States.

[00:03:47]

I know you didn't speak English when you got here, grew up in Philly from what I've heard, but maybe just a little winding us up on your background up until getting to where you are now.

[00:03:57] Alon Shaya:

Yeah. I, um, was born in Israel when I was four when my family immigrated to America. You know, I grew up outside of Philly, outside of downtown Philly.

[00:04:08]

And I'm a very young age, you know, really connected the foods that my grandmother was cooking in our, in our kitchen with my feeling like normal again, you know, like everything was kind of up in the air when we first came to America, I didn't speak English, you know, being four years old, being put into a new school by the time I was five, my parents split up.

[00:04:35]

So. My mom was working two jobs and raising my sister and I on her own.

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