Ryan Egozi of SuViche Hospitality Group on Keeping Employees and Customers Happy [Podcast]

By: Dahlia Snaiderman

8 Minute Read

Jun 18, 2019

Su Viche-Header

SuViche was created in Miami, FL in 2010 by brothers Aliosha and Andrei Stern, along with acclaimed Peruvian chef Jaime Pesaque. The name SuViche comes from the two dishes that make up most of the menu: sushi and ceviche. During the past nine years, the restaurant group has grown to include six SuViche locations plus two other restaurant brands: Argentinian steakhouse Novecento (with four locations) and Chi Fa, a Chinese-Peruvian food truck. 

In 2012, Ryan Egozi joined the team, and today he’s the Director of Operations for the whole restaurant group.

In the latest episode of The Garnish, we sat down with Ryan to discuss how he and his team make SuViche an amazing place to dine and to work.

How to Keep Turnover Low

The restaurant industry is plagued with sky-high staff turnover. Egozi says restaurants used to deal with turnover as if it was an unavoidable reality of the industry.

“Beforehand, it was a turnstile. We have 300% turnover and that’s how it’s gotta be, and we're going to replace this position three times every month, and there's nothing that we can do about it.’ But that's not sustainable,” said Egozi.

“With a bad environment,” he continued, “there’s no pride in production, no matter if it’s a shoelace or an A5 wagyu – you’re not gonna do a good job” 

Suviche has been open for nine years as of this month. “We got people that have been with us for 90% of our lives and that makes a huge difference to us.”

Ryan explained that SuViche hires for cultural fit over skills. “I think we went through a period of looking for skilled people and finding that they just didn't fit in with our values. [So] instead of trying to instill values in a human being, which is very difficult, it's much easier to train somebody who comes in with high moral fortitude and a high level of integrity on how to cut up sushi rolls.”

What are SuViche’s guiding principles? Initiative, innovation, continuous improvement, empowerment, openness, timeliness, intimate technical knowledge, and commitment.

Whenever problems arise within a team at SuViche, the issue is taken seriously and addressed with all parties encouraged to speak openly. If an employee has an issue with a manager, “we look at those managers very, very carefully and it’s very much about sitting down with them and putting a round table together and asking the team members to come in and speak frankly, honestly, and openly.”

Profit-Sharing for Management and BOH

SuViche also has two types of revenue-sharing programs in place to keep staff happy and to empower them in their work. 

For managers, there’s a monthly and quarterly bonus program. The monthly bonuses are based on how well they manage controllable costs. “[If managers] save a dollar, they get 50 cents in their pool. They lose a dollar, they lose 50 cents from their pool.” Then, each quarter, there’s an evaluation of the profitability of the restaurant. “So as long as we're 5% profitable or more, then 3% of that profit is assigned to the managers, and it gets distributed based on their evaluation.”

That program led to the development of a revenue-sharing program for the back of house employees – or, as they say at SuViche, the heart of the house employees. Since Florida is one of the states where it’s illegal to tip out workers that don’t have contact with customers, they wanted to find another way to give bonuses. 

The restaurant’s food cost and sales numbers are shared with all kitchen employees and dishwashers so they can directly see the impact their work has. Every week, employees are graded on certain metrics – like kitchen cleanliness, for example – and if goals are met, the employees are offered 1% of sales. “It comes in to them on their check, like a bonus. It's not part of their hourly wage, it's just an extra 300 bucks or 100 bucks or 500 bucks, whatever the case may be. And it's cool for them: you know, they’re $15, $16, $18 an hour employees, and they get to really participate. They see that the extra steps that they take throughout their day resonate with the business and that the business is prepared to compensate them for it.” 

“You have to do something like that, you have to involve your kitchen, because at the end of the day, without the dishwasher, there's no clean plates and nobody gets food," he added. 

Going Above and Beyond

In a restaurant group, there can be more financial wiggle room than in a one-location, family-owned concept. SuViche views this as an opportunity to invest in their employees. 

It’s highly uncommon for restaurants to have HR departments. “Up until three weeks ago, I was our HR guy,” said Egozi. But now, he's free to focus on the many other elements of his job – SuViche just hired their first HR representative. 

It’s also uncommon for restaurants to provide employee benefits like health insurance, but SuViche has managed to provide coverage for many of its employees and they’re hoping to eventually provide it for all staff. “We provide our team members with health insurance as much as we can and it’s not because Obama told us to, or not because it's what the government wants, but because it's the right thing to do."

“You guys deserve to be covered,” said Egozi. “You deserve to be helped by your employer. And as much as we can afford it, we will. There's times when we can't afford it, and that conversation takes place: ‘listen, we're not ready to provide this portion of the company health insurance because it's an expense that's completely unviable, but it's on the roadmap and we’re working towards it. And we're going to do whatever we have to do to make it happen.”

Keeping the Customer Satisfied

Every restaurant deals with unhappy customers sometimes, and at SuViche, they lean on transparency, genuine concern, and comping to turn an unhappy guest into a regular. 

"I think everybody wants to feel valued and heard," said Egozi. "I tell my managers all the time: 'Why are you going to comp a dessert, when if you comp the whole check, you make them love you.' That's all it takes." 

Egozi said a manager should never approach an unhappy guest with anger or annoyance. It's always better to show genuine concern over the issue. "Generally when people are pissed off, it's because we made a mistake and they don't want to be told why. They just want to be told 'We made a mistake, here's how we're going to fix it today, and we're going to fix it tomorrow, too.'" 

"I think we tend to overshoot – I'd rather comp $100 than $20, knowing that $100 is going to get me back my guest."

To hear more about operations at SuViche, listen to Ryan Egozi's episode of The Garnish, which you can find on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or here. For even more on SuViche, check out this video.

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