Firstly, tell us about Biscuit Love and its origin story.
We were blessed enough to be loaned a food truck, and all we had was an idea scribbled on a napkin of what we wanted it to be. It developed from there, and we ended up in our first brick-and-mortar location in The Gulch before it was even The Gulch, before it was capitalized. We didn’t know how integral that would be into who we were, we cooked honest food and were nice to people. I will never forget opening the first day and looking at Sarah and saying, “Oh my God I have no clue what we are supposed to do.” She then told me, "Karl, we are going to cook good food and be nice to people and see what happens.” She was pretty brilliant, because it worked. People started celebrating us, which still feels weird to say. At some point in that timeframe, our mindset shifted from being recognized and wanting to win a James Beard Award for Best Chef to more of a mission to change the restaurant business.
What inspired the employee care part of the business? How did you all set out to change that dynamic as generally seen in restaurants?
I will never forget my first internship out of school where I was berated and yelled at the first night—I had to be adult enough to walk into the office at the end of the night with the chef and say it was not for me, this is not the environment I want to be in, and I am not learning. Sarah and I came into the restaurant business as full-grown adults at 30. I knew that people end up in the food business because they love serving others, but a lot of people end up there because life hasn’t given them a fair shake.
We saw that with restaurant No. 1 when we were working side-by-side with our staff at The Gulch. I think the light switch moment for both Sarah and myself happened when sitting down for breakfast with a guy we had working on our team—he said up until this point that no one had known his name, let alone cared about where he came from or who he was as a human. Sarah and I had so many crazy ideas, and one day the right ball fell into the hole for us—her mom was a therapist and was about to retire but wasn’t quite ready. That was the catalyst for this crazy idea.
What are some ways the brand achieves that today, starting with the on-staff therapists?
We all as humans screw up a lot, and so I always preface that with new employees. Everyone is going to mess up, but I think owning our actions and learning to admit when you make mistakes is critical. We’ve always seen Biscuit Love as this kid that we’ve been interested in guiding, something we are stewarding. It is up to us to raise Biscuit Love similar in the way that you raise a kid, in that I want it to kick ass, change the world, and be the best version of itself. And that doesn’t mean taking a lot of money from it and mooching off of it. I can’t imagine Gertie—our daughter—being 30 years old and making a lot of money and me going, “Hey I am going to need a bunch of money each year, because I got you here." I think Sarah and I see Biscuit Love the same way.
How has it evolved over the years, especially ever since 2020? What was Biscuit Love’s response to the COVID dynamic in those early days?
When we first said we were going to have therapists on staff, it was in hopes that people would start seeing therapists. Our therapists work day-to-day alongside our staff. They are doing dishes, bussing tables, talking to guests, and running the cash register. It allows for staff to start getting comfortable with them and opening up. We found initially in our plan that the shame cycle was triggered after telling all of their deep dark secrets, and it kind of morphed into what I call an ambulance role.
They are there to triage—if they get a call about someone wanting to take their own life or getting evicted, their role is to get them ready for therapy. Sarah and I pay a significant portion of the first six visits, but we’ve got people who have been 20-25 times. We both believe that if you are going to put out a little money and work on yourself, then we want to be a part of that because it is going to make our business and the people around them better. With all that to say, we were still missing the mark.
Yes, we were doing this really good thing, but how were we missing it? We were missing the Spanish speaking population and their own set of needs. Sarah and I look through the world through a Christian lens—whether you look at it through a spiritual lens or a lens where you don’t really believe in anything, the one thing we can agree on is that the puzzle pieces are in line. It’s kind of up to you opening your eyes, seeing them, and putting them into place. One of our very first employees, Rachel, wanted to get her therapy degree and wasn’t really sure what to do with it. Growing up in Miami, she took on our Spanish employees, understanding their different set of needs and what they’re looking for.
After 2020, it morphed into people needing a lot more. I have a bi-weekly session with my therapist, and if I miss that, I am not the best human I can be. I think mental health has played a more integral role as we have come out of the shock of 2020, especially in the restaurant business where we didn’t get a chance to work from home for two years and really grieve. The world stopped and our lives were upended—we just kind of put our heads down and worked through it, and that puts trauma in us that we need help working through. As our economy has grown, especially in the Nashville area, it still kills me that these employees that we pay fairly and better than industry average can’t afford to live in the same areas that our restaurants are because rent is so high. Now, it’s changed a bit into a role of coping and helping people get healthier in a sense, while also solidifying that I don’t want to ever see a Biscuit Love without these people in place.