Food shot

Dining that’s just, right.

A delicious look at a new concept in hiring – and a daring model in dining.

By Alyssa Bedrosian • Photography by Martin W. Kane

If there’s a handbook for how to start and run a restaurant, Kathryn Hubert ’12 has completely rewritten it.

As owner and chef of Chez Genèse, Greensboro’s newest French restaurant, she decided to do things differently when the restaurant opened last fall.

She hired a staff with virtually no restaurant experience. Instead, she looked for people with a strong work ethic and a positive attitude.

She created an integrated work environment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to thrive.

She instituted no tipping and decided to pay all employees above minimum wage.

And she said “no” to dinner. The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch, so that Kathryn and her team can enjoy a healthy work-life balance.

It’s a model that has not only found success, but has been transformative – for her staff, for downtown, and for the Greensboro community.

An Original Recipe

Kathryn grew up in Boone, North Carolina. As the oldest of four girls, she often found herself in the kitchen, alongside her mom, cooking for her family.

“I’ve always loved food – I’ve been fascinated by it,” she says. “In high school, it became an outlet for me to de-stress, be creative, and do something that was practical for the people I cared about.”

Kathryn Hubert ’12, owner and chef

“I’ve always loved food – I’ve been fascinated by it. It became an outlet for me to de-stress, be creative, and do something that was practical for the people I cared about.”

Kathryn Hubert ’12

She completed her two-year culinary degree, and then moved to France for one year to work and cook at a conference center in the Burgundy region.

Things were different in France – the pace was slower, the food was better, and there was a focus on quality of life that was new to Kathryn.

“They’re not so time- or efficiency-driven,” she says. “They work hard, but they really value the time that they have off, and what they eat and how they eat.”

After a year, she returned to the United States, and started at UNC Greensboro. The University had a strong hospitality and tourism program, and accepted her credits from culinary school.

While at UNCG, she worked part-time for the Autism Society of North Carolina. It wasn’t her first time working with individuals with disabilities – Kathryn has three cousins with autism. Ultimately, her involvement with the organization led to a full-time job as a behavioral support assistant for Guilford County Schools upon graduation.

It was at this point when Kathryn started daydreaming about opening her own restaurant. She had a culinary degree, a hospitality degree, and international culinary experience. She also had a desire to provide an opportunity for those who are often excluded.

She left her job in the school system after two years and landed at the Iron Hen Café – one of Greensboro’s favorite breakfast spots. There, she learned every aspect of the restaurant business.

At the same time, her vision for her restaurant became clearer. The food would be French, the environment would foster community, and the culture would be one where people of all abilities would be valued.

New Beginnings

Chez Genèse, which roughly translates to “the place of new beginnings,” opened in October of 2018.

Since then, Kathryn has received a slew of recognition for her unique concept. But she’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not about her – it’s about the team and the culture she is creating.

“I think something will only last for so long if there’s only one person who’s heavily invested in it,” she says. “It was really important to me that my team, especially our management team, learned to live and breathe our mission.”

One of those team members is Bethany Moore ’18, event coordinator and administrative assistant for the restaurant.

Like Kathryn, Bethany studied sustainable tourism and hospitality at UNCG. Her senior year, she completed an independent study on event planning under Dr. Erick Byrd. It was this experience in particular that prepared her for her role at Chez Genèse.

“Event planning is all about connecting and making space in a very busy culture,” she says.

“People come into this space and they feel at home. This is just a really restful place to be – from the decoration, to the food, to the overall experience.”

Bethany Moore ’18

Chez Genèse hosts one to three events per week, in addition to external catering. During the holidays, the restaurant hosts a variety of corporate events and parties. They’ve even held a wedding ceremony and reception in the space, which seats 45.

“People come into this space and they feel at home,” says Bethany. “This is just a really restful place to be – from the decoration, to the food, to the overall experience.”

Kathryn and Bethany aren’t the only UNCG alumni at Chez Genèse. Bridget Lucas ’19 and Nils Skudra ’18 MA are servers at the restaurant.

“It’s been amazing to work some place where I’m accepted. People see me as a person and not someone with a disability,” says Bridget, a recent graduate of the Retailing and Consumer Studies program. “It’s crazy for me to think about how far we’ve come and how far I’ve come since we started.”

Bridget Lucas ’19, server

“It’s been amazing to work some place where I’m accepted. People see me as a person and not someone with a disability. It’s crazy for me to think about how far we’ve come and how far I’ve come since we started.”

Bridget Lucas ’19

Nils started working at A Special Blend last fall, a coffee shop in Greensboro that exclusively hires individuals with disabilities. He landed at Chez Genèse because he was drawn to its integrated approach.

Nils is now back at UNCG as a graduate student in the Master of Library and Information Studies program.

He’s also the founder of Spectrum at UNCG, a student organization that serves as a support network for students with autism.

While his long-term goal is to become a professional historian, working at Chez Genèse has helped him improve his customer service and communication skills.

“The managers here really appreciate my work,” he says. “I love my job.”

Sweet Success

That’s the culture that Kathryn and her team have worked so hard to create. It’s a culture where everyone – from server to dishwasher to guest – knows they are valued.

To be clear, Chez Genèse is not a nonprofit. It’s structured as a for-profit business.

“It was important for me to lay the foundation and say, ‘I believe everyone has abilities and skills to contribute, and I can make that real and put my money where my mouth is by making this a business,’” says Kathryn.

She explains that she hires people of differing abilities because she believes it’s the best business decision she can make.

So far, it’s worked. Chez Genèse has quickly become a local favorite – the restaurant is packed on the weekends, and often during the weekdays, and is one of the top-ranked brunch spots in Greensboro according to Yelp.

It’s also helped bring to life the South End District, a portion of downtown that is experiencing growth after decades of decline.

In hiring individuals with disabilities, the restaurant hopes to decrease the percentage of unemployed adults with I/DD – a rate that currently sits between 70 and 80 percent, educate the public on what it means to live with a disability, and train people to obtain and maintain a job in another work setting in the future.

Bethany Moore ’18, event coordinator and administrative assistant

And in bringing a piece of France to downtown Greensboro, the Chez Genèse team hopes that their guests will begin to slow down, connect with one another, and enjoy life a little more.

“While it is a French concept, I think the values are bigger than France,” says Bethany. “The value of genuinely caring for people – caring for employees and caring for guests. That’s something everyone has been excited about.”

See a different story about Spartans supporting individuals with I/DD.

Food photography by Barrier Photography

 

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