Bucking the Brigade

by Caroline Hatchett
Caroline Hatchett
March 2015

Restaurant

Before Diana Kudajarova and Tse Wei Lim opened Journeyman, they had no formal restaurant experience. “My husband and I ran a supper club for two and a half years while we had full time jobs. We came to a point where we needed to quit or move,” says Kudajarova.

Kelvin Goss, Tru Lang, Robb Morrell, and Ben Blum
Kelvin Goss, Tru Lang, Robb Morrell, and Ben Blum 

The couple self-funded Journeyman in Somerville’s Union Square and worked in the kitchen alongside two line cooks to get the tasting-menu-only concept off the ground. As the restaurant matured, Kudajarova and Wei Lim moved into baking, management, and front-of-house responsibilities and they built their kitchen dream team, but not on the brigade model.

Journeyman is now run by four chefs—Kelvin Goss, Ben Blum, Robb Morrell, Tru Lang—who have near complete creative freedom and contribute their own dishes to the nine-course menu. Brigades, with built-in hierarchy and designated roles, have inherent efficiencies like centralized prep, and they serve as learning and proving grounds for young chefs. Journeyman bucks the brigade by hiring skilled sous- and CDC-level cooks and letting group think and peer-to-peer relationship push the food forward.

“We have a very small kitchen, and everyone has to be experienced to pull their weight and do their part. We’ve been lucky to find such talented and hard-working cooks. We want them to be proud of the menu,” says Kudajarova. “We have a nine-course tasting menu, and we change three to four dishes a week. There’s a weekly meeting, where we talk about the upcoming menu. We have a sourcing manager, who prints out a list of what we can get for the week. Everyone brainstorms over what to get in and what to work with.”

It’s a collaborative model that weighs the vision of cooks, owners, and managers equally, creating a cohesive voice. It may work at Journeyman because it’s a small restaurant, serving 24 to 40 covers, and it’s run by unconventional owners. “We are a little different. We’re a quirky little place,” says Kudajarova. But Kudajarova, Wei Lim, and the kitchen crew may be onto something bigger.

Collaboration “is just better business,” according to the king of unconventional management, Ari Weinzweig, CEO of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In Weinzweig’s A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader, he writes about collaboration within the ($40-million-a-year-revenue-generating) Zingerman’s community of businesses: “Collaboration here is about strength, smarts, and success. Freely chosen, with full respect for each individual and the organization overall, collaboration creates the creativity, the better decisions, the positive outcomes, the stuff that has made us what we are. … As crazy as it sounds, collaboration works.”