Restaurant Running Clubs Are Replacing Post-Shift Drinks – Bon Appetit

Restaurant News

As a line cook in New York, Akira Akuto used to work painfully long shifts, sometimes not getting out until 5 a.m. Afterward, he’d go out with co-workers, grabbing drinks and often a meal at whatever spot was open at that hour. He’d sleep in as late as he could the next day, and do it all again.

Now, as the chef and co-owner of the daytime Japanese sandwich shop, Konbi, in Los Angeles, Akuto and his team go on a run after service ends instead of going out to a bar. This running club is the new normal for his restaurant, and many others across the country including Bar Corallini in Madison, W.I.; Comedor in Austin; Chaia in Washington D.C.; Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad in New York; and Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, C.O. By providing substance-free opportunities to connect outside of the kitchen, these places hope to help change the industry’s late-night, bar-fueled social culture.

Akuto and his business partner Nick Montgomery started their running club as a way to build camaraderie among the staff when they opened Konbi in 2018. “We were thinking about what kind of company culture we wanted to create,” Montgomery says. That meant gearing socializing “more in the direction of something that is good for you, beneficial, and sustainable.” The running club now includes a third of the close to 20-person staff, and usually meets on Mondays after service.

A lot of these running clubs started for a similar reason—as a healthy way to socialize that didn’t require too much planning or resources. Bettina Stern, who co-founded the vegetarian taco spot, Chaia, which has two locations in D.C., was inspired by the Georgetown restaurant’s proximity to the Potomac River, a popular running path. She collaborated with a nearby running shoe store to start the club for staffers and customers of both establishments.

Stern says she sees running as particularly valuable for those working in the restaurant business, as “it gets you pushing your body to move in a way that you don’t necessarily do in the confines of a 2,000 square foot space,” she says. “For me, it is as much an emotional thing as a physical fitness thing.”

Gabe Erales and Philip Speer began running to blow off steam when they were in the process of opening Comedor, their Mexican restaurant in Austin. “We jokingly called it our run club,” Speer says. “And then the other people in the kitchen started joining us.” They started posting about the club on Instagram with the hashtag #comedorrunclub, and within a week, much of the kitchen staff, as well as employees of other nearby restaurants, had joined them. The group meets at the restaurant three days a week at 10 a.m. to run a 5K route around the city. Some people run 6-minute miles, while others run 13-minute miles. Even a few of the restaurant’s vendors have joined.

“The thing about running is that you can just go out and run,” Speer says. In other words, it’s a free activity that’s available to almost everyone.

Alex Pfaffenbach, who is the director of food and beverage for The NoMad hotel’s three locations (in New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas) and oversees the umbrella restaurant group’s running club, takes the New York staff out for 9 a.m. runs and midnight runs in Central Park twice a week The company also has a dedicated running coach, John Honerkamp, who trained Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm for marathons and is now contracted to serve as a shared resource for the restaurant group.

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