Interview with Katrina Jazayeri of Juliet
Interview with Katrina Jazayeri by Julianne Gauron
Juliet, Union Square Somerville, MA
Every detail of Juliet, from the extraordinary, seasonal menu, to the warm but professional service, the European homey décor, to the fairly novel equity based business model are all the intentional creation of Proprietor Katrina Jazayeri and her partner, Chef Joshua Lewin. The two opened their first restaurant together in February 2016 after individual accolades and years in the industry. And culinary commentators have taken note, including Bon Appetit’ “America’s Best New Restaurants” in 2016, “Best of Boston 2017” by the Boston Magazine and “Winner, Boston’s Best” by the Improper 2017.
Eater Boston said it best perhaps, in their 2016 Boston Awards, which Juliet won, naturally. "In a neighborhood full of gems, the new, cozy Juliet sparkles brighter by the day, the ideal example of what a true neighborhood spot can be."
But I wanted to understand Katrina’s story, her ever present energy and the origins of this unique restaurant, in what is increasingly becoming a high end design area of Somerville’s ever hip Union Square. I sat down with Katrina to chat about how she and Josh created this expression of their beliefs for us all to taste and experience, and perhaps, be inspired to do some good of our own in world.
Julianne Gauron : First off, who is Juliet?
Katrina Jazayeri : Juliet is actually me, my middle name is Juliet. We knew this was going to be very personal for us. We wanted to reflect that in the name. Josh will joke his middle name is David, and it is not quite as European as Juliet, so I won out to that.
JG : How did your background and education [outside the traditional restaurant channels] inform the creation and model of Juliet?
KJ : My degree is in community activism, with a specific healthcare inequality focus, and through that I found my way into food being the basis of health and then taking a step back even further to the root cause of health problems being economic. Well, you have to address the economics before you can address...personal consumption of food.
After college I worked at a social entrepreneurship incubator in Santa Clara that was focused on engineers and developing world companies. The concept of social enterprise, where you deliver a product that in and of itself is good, but then the sale of that product and the production of it can also have peripheral benefits to so many people inside and to the community you are delivering it to - so I thought I wanted to have a business that improves a community somehow.
So from freshman year of college, I thought, I’m going to become a doctor, and cure what ails Africa and have a global impact, but if I were to define success now– if our employees can put their children through college, that is success to me. If we have people with us long term, that we can impact their lives beneficially, then that’s success.
And I wanted to do something that makes me happy every day because I want to do it forever. I didn’t want to have the money making period of my life and then this is the part that I enjoy. I can do something for 70 years if I love it...I love having dinner parties, and hosting people-–so if I can figure out a way to make an impact doing that then I will be happy and do a good job and inspire people to have similar [goals.]
Turning an eye toward what you can do for your surroundings, I think, is ultimately fulfilling, even if you don’t set out with that goal.
JG : For those of us unfamiliar with this new model, can you explain the economics of Juliet? Is it a part of the Fair Wage campaign?
KJ : To set the stage, in Restaurants, you can have a “tipped wage,” [meaning] you are able to be paid by your employer's sub minimum wage. So for a server in a restaurant the minimum wage is really $3 an hour, with the idea that tips make up the difference.
The One Fare Wage Campaign is to do away with that [the tipped wage.] There should be a minimum wage, and it is particularly relevant in restaurants because there has been a subclass of servers, who take on all the risk, and they don’t even really work for you [the restaurant,] they really work for the diners.
So that is a component of what informed our decision to not have tips here. Because if we remove that, and we don’t have any tipped workers, then legally we have to pay people a certain amount. And because minimum wage is not a livable wage, we were looking for strategies to be able to increase [their income] and so that is where the open book management and profit sharing come in. Rather than getting a tip at the end of your shift, you have access to a bonus on a quarterly basis.
There’s a lot of work to be done in that space, and we’re excited to be one of the only places in Boston addressing both issues.
The power to make decisions like that is what drew me to be a business owner.
Having the purchasing power, to think about the implications of our actions, and to train a small but growing team of people to do the same is important, and hopefully will be impactful.
JG : Experience wise, the vibe is so calm and sophisticated, beyond the thoughtful very business strategy, how do you create that, particularly both being so young? (Both Lewin and Jazayeri “Zagat’s 30 under 30” in Boston awards.)
KJ : We were lucky enough to go to Europe together and we knew we were going to create this restaurant. On April 14th  we signed the lease and on April 15th we flew to Paris.
We fell in love with the European café, which is not a coffee shop the way we think of a cafe. It’s where you start your day, and you could end your evening there. We didn’t have that, as residents here, and we craved that.
And from an aesthetic design perspective, we wanted something that felt like home and sort of functioned like a home does. The way I think about it in my house is, you walk in and there you know you are at home because of the way it smells or certain big structures stay the same. And so we thought, how do we create a canvas, that we can swap things out or add to, that it will grow as we grow?
There are a lot of reasons why I have a restaurant that are serious and intellectual. But on a joking level, I have such a collection of dishes, and glassware, and service pieces, that ran out of room in my home. So I had to make a business that could house my collection.
JG : How do you stay fired up and present through the long days.
KJ : At the most basic, I really like what I am doing here. We worked 106 days straight, both Josh and I, with no breaks [our first year]. If you had told me that at any other point in your life, I would have said that’s impossible.
I could always define what I wanted to do--I wanted to help people. I get fulfillment from other people. I think if that wasn’t there it would be hard to do this every day, but I can see in real time the impact of what we are doing has.
JG : What do you consider your title? You are co-owner, and the person we see in the front of house, but what do you call yourself?
KJ : In the restaurant world, I would be the general manager. Proprietor, that’s my preferred title, I guess, because it implies host in the best way. You are the person inviting and welcoming people into a space that you have put together for them, but it also implies that you have decided what the space is going to be.
But I am also the coffee maker, the buser… I think it’s a disservice to tell people that you have to pick one [thing to be good at] or to assume that if you like science you cannot also be good at beauty.
That’s why it’s kind of fun here I think. Everyone here has both a customer facing role and a production role. So no matter what industry you are hoping to work in, our goal is to bring some of those skills or exposure to things that you almost never get in a restaurant, but that you could get in a lot of other industries.
That’s the goal.
We have a lot of goals [she says with a laugh.]
Julianne is a writer, photographer and industrial designer, a student of life who thrives on problem solving and connecting deeply with people.
Born in Boston, she has lived and worked in Italy, London, Micronesia, Ireland and India, and while she enjoys the amazing community in Boston, there is always another adventure and project on the horizon.
As a designer, she has worked with New Balance, Burberry, North Face, Dear Kate, MNY, Mighty Well, McGarry and Sons, Breakaway, NASA, Kenzen and the Boston MFA.
Her writing and photography has appeared in Misadventures Magazine and The Outbound Collective, and an upcoming tissue of Take.