Ian A. de Leoz considers himself a “journeyman chef.” Calls arrive from friends in the industry—often panicked—asking for last-minute kitchen help. Perhaps a cook called in sick. Or maybe someone simply decided not to show up. De Leoz, who plans to reopen his popular Pop Sandwich at some point, has been around long enough to ignore labor complications in this business. He simply jumps in and fills whatever gaps pop up. But how many people like de Leoz exist in the marketplace? And, more pressing, how can operators locate the 11th-hour life vest before it’s too late?
De Leoz and James LaLonde, the executive chef at Bocadillos in San Francisco, sat at both sides of this spectrum when they began brainstorming a solution. Unlike many available apps that work to ease the hiring hurdle, de Leoz says their CVR4ME platform was born out of a unique perspective. “We’re not tech guys, we’re restaurant people,” de Leoz explains. LaLonde often calls on de Leoz to assist in his restaurant, and when he can’t, finds himself paying $75 to post Craig’s List ads that often go unanswered. Even when they are, LaLonde says it’s like playing labor roulette when it comes to who actually walks in the door. Will they be skilled enough to truly help? In those situations, LaLonde admits he doesn’t really have time to care. “Basically, we knew there had to be a better way,” LaLonde says. “I was finding a hard time getting people in here and all my friends were saying the same thing.”
CVR4ME was developed to connect restaurants with potential hires. That can range from a day-of need to a long-term position. The fee is $25, but restaurants only pay if they actually hire a capable replacement. Also, a rating system will help foster a network of capable professionals. “[The employee] is responsible for what kind of job they do,” LaLonde says. “This way, some of those people who aren’t doing a great job, they can kind of get weeded out.”
The idea reached serious ground in February 2015. De Leoz’s brother in law is a web developer, which helped with logistics. Then came investors, lawyers, design work, and more challenges than he could recall.
“Everyone thinks, ‘I’m going to build this app. It’s going to be so easy. I’m going to be a millionaire.’ That’s not how it works,” de Leoz says. “That’s something that we learned through the process. We’re not making this to become millionaires, we’re making this to help our industry.”
The app is currently available on the iOS marketplace, with Android development in the works. It’s also downloadable in every state across the U.S. Anyone with a cell phone can begin posting—or accepting—positions on CVR4ME. On the service side, there are categories to fill in, such as job position, skill set, resume, and availability that quicken the decision process for both parties.
“It was built out of necessity,” de Leoz says. “Even to this day we’re still experiencing these same issues that we were almost a year ago. I’m continuously getting calls to work in other places; James is looking for help; other chefs that I know are looking for help. What you’re seeing a lot now in the restaurant community is young cooks don’t want to work full-time jobs anymore. When we were younger, and in the line-cooking thing, you would stay at a place for a year, maybe two years. Now, you’re seeing people jump around from month to month. That’s the issue that we’re trying to tackle here: a way for everybody to be happy.”
Along that logic, De Leoz says there are other benefits to mention. For those freelance chefs, who perhaps are trying to work other jobs or are enrolled in college, it allows them the opportunity to rolodex contacts in some of the best kitchens around—jobs they would have never been exposed to otherwise. On that level, a chef can network and climb the culinary ladder through direct, and otherwise unattainable, experience. It also helps a restaurant employee supplement income if needed. “Maybe you have a birthday or a vacation coming up, and you want to pick up some extra shifts, why not go ahead and do that?” de Leoz says. “Some restaurants won’t allow you to get overtime or extra days, so if you can find another place to work for a day or two during the week, maybe for a few weeks, why not?”