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Ellen Yin on Building a Culinary Empire: Vision, Collaboration, and Empowering Women in Hospitality

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About this episode

In this episode of the meez Podcast, host Josh Sharkey welcomes Ellen Yin, the esteemed founder and co-owner of High Street Hospitality Group. Ellen has garnered acclaim for her work, including being honored with the Outstanding Restaurateur Award by the James Beard Foundation. She also serves on the board of Open Table (among many other boards) and is the co-chair of the Sisterly Love Coalition, an organization dedicated to empowering women in the Philadelphia hospitality industry.

Josh and Ellen dive into her decades of experience running High Street Hospitality Group, discussing the challenges and successes she has encountered along the way. Despite not being a chef herself, Ellen has a clear vision for her business and has successfully collaborated with numerous talented chefs, particularly at Fork Restaurant. The conversation explores how Ellen balances the creative vision of her chefs with her business objectives, offering valuable insights into her hiring process and leadership style.

Tune in for an engaging discussion filled with industry wisdom, stories of resilience, and Ellen's inspiring journey in the world of hospitality.

Where to find Ellen Yin:

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(03:11): Ellen's thoughts on awards

(04:44): High Street Hospitality's new growth

(07:24): How Ellen is adapting to opening restaurants in different cities

(10:12): Community involvement in new cities

(14:20): Pros and cons of being a restaurateur and not a chef

(26:55): How Ellen measures team growth and happiness

(32:21): The uniqueness of the Philly restaurant scene

(40:21): Today's cost of food and service charges

(46:26): Sisterly Love Collective and The Wonton Project


[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.


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.


Hello, ladies and gentlemen, today's guest is the founder and co owner of High Street Hospitality Group. She has been awarded the Outstanding Restaurateur Award by the James Beard Foundation. It is Miss Ellen Yin. Ellen sits on the board of Open Table, among many other incredible organizations. She's also a co-chair of Sisterly Love Coalition, which is this organization that's helping to empower women specifically in the Philadelphia area, in, in hospitality.


And all in all, we just had a blast talking about the decades worth of experience that she has running this group and all the sort of trials and tribulations, well, along the way. And I was actually super curious about how she works with all the chefs. Ellen is not a chef herself, but she has a really clear vision of her business and she's had some really incredible chefs throughout the years, specifically at Fork Restaurant.


And I was just very curious to understand what she looks for when she's hiring a new chef and how she balances the vision of the chef with the vision of her business. And she's done a really good job of that. Melody and the two, and we talk a lot about that today, among many other things, of course. And as always, I hope that you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

[00:02:05] Ellen Yin:

Good morning again.

[00:02:07] Josh Sharkey:

Hi, how are you? Good, good. I would say this is probably nice to formally meet you now because I think we've probably seen each other at a couple of events and I definitely saw you at the chef conference, but we didn't get to chat much. So I'm excited to chat with a little more today.

[00:02:18] Ellen Yin:

Yeah, me too. Everybody I know seems to know you. So great to connect.

[00:02:24] Josh Sharkey:

Same. Well, I did want to dig a little bit into your background a bit personally, because I know you went to Wharton and growing up, my father passed away when I was 16, but he always wanted me to go to Wharton and I went to culinary school instead, and I always, I always feel like he would have been disappointed, but then I started running, you know, opening a bunch of businesses and, you know, you learn, you know, as you go there, but I have some questions I'm going to ask you about Wharton, if that's okay, and also just how it relates to the restaurant business, but we'll get there in a little bit.


First off, congrats on the James Beard. That's amazing. How does that feel? I know when you started the restaurant, the first restaurant, like 27 years ago or whatever it was, you just wanted to stay open for five years, which, yeah, that makes sense. But how does it feel now, fast forward, you know, almost three decades later, and winning Outstanding Restaurateur from James Beard?

[00:03:11] Ellen Yin:

I haven't really thought about that as a possibility because I don't really do what I do to try to get awards or anything like that. I just love what I do, but it certainly it never hurts to receive recognition and. I'm certainly honored. I think that once you win, there's a certain amount of responsibility that comes with it, including living up to everything that people expect from you.


So it is a lot of pressure, but I, I feel incredibly lucky to be noticed. And like I said, I think that there's so many talented. people out there, how a person gets the award. I, I'm not sure.

[00:03:49] Josh Sharkey:

Yeah. I mean, you know, obviously I did a little bit of background before this conversation and what is so evidently clear, Ellen is like, it's so clear.


Like you just love the restaurant industry. It's really refreshing to sit here. You talk about it and sit down and eat. It's like, wow, you, you are patron as much as, as an operator. And you know, I don't think anybody that sets out You know, I just want to be a billionaire. I just want to be a James Beard award winner.


That's typically not the best way to go about something. You usually want to say, I want to, you know, be great at this thing, or I really love this thing. And so it's really nice to, to see that recognition from externally as a chef and restaurant owner, because you care, you really do care. I can, I can tell, I don't know you that well, but I can, I can say for sure, just from hearing you talk that you really love what you do and you'd love the industry.


You also happen to love gluten a lot, which is. What's taking up like, you know, most of your brain power right now, or maybe even set a different way, like what's keeping you up at night right now?

[00:04:44] Ellen Yin:

Well, we are growing and growing is really exciting. It's also very challenging in a lot of ways, because there's so many things that you're trying to evolve


But at the same time, things about yourself, your group, your colleagues that you want to retain. And so I think that that's one of the most challenging things right now. We are in the midst of planning a new restaurant in Washington, D.C. Hopefully it opens this summer.

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