Fair Share: An Interview with Alt Economy Founder Jennifer Kim

By Erin Lettera | Will Blunt

By

Erin Lettera
Will Blunt
Chef Jennifer Kim of Alt Economy
Chef Jennifer Kim of Alt Economy

Jennifer Kim has a lot of information to share, amassing a mountain of paperwork during her years as a two-time restaurateur. Instead of going to the shredder when Passerotto and Snaggletooth closed, she launched Alt Economy, an initiative to empower workers who don’t inherently benefit from the mainstream restaurant economy. In addition to distributing a financial toolkit, Alt Economy hosts a pop-up tour that pairs burgeoning food businesses with established restaurants to share space and resources. We asked Kim about her approach to helping these “alternative economies.” 

What kind of information does Alt Economy give out?
A lot of the living worksheets and information are geared toward folks who are either operating a business or are pretty close to starting one. There is information available on how you would price food or retail, and it offers a lot of samples of specific events, businesses, or pop-ups. It’s a living worksheet, so you can literally just plug in your own numbers and play around with it. It also gives you a P&L statement. 

Who are you trying to reach? 
As an owner, you will already know this information; it’s basic stuff. But pieces of info are gatekept from hourly employees. It’s for people who have never held management or finance positions—people who don't know where to start. This is info that should be shared with everyone without people feeling like they have to go to culinary or business school. 

These resources are great, but the ideal would be for managers and owners to keep more of an open-book policy and offer the knowledge in-house. How do we convince the gatekeepers to share?
We have to realize that accessing the necessary information is a lot easier for some folks. Addressing the issues that exist within our industry is something we all have to participate in in some way shape or form. Let’s talk about how to collectively work on dismantling those systems that only help the privileged so we can have more voices readily available to dictate what the new hospitality movement will look like. You need to let go of a lot of aspects of control to really incorporate as many identities and voices as possible. Because you as one person have a limited view; you have limited capabilities. 

You were once a first-time restaurant owner. Where did you seek your knowledge in those early days? 
Before opening Snaggletooth, I had no idea how a restaurant operated outside of a kitchen. I didn’t know what happened to servers' money or how P&Ls worked. I never held a position in which I was responsible for wages or finances of any kind. I looked to the people who held knowledge and information around me, and I asked a lot. The response was always the same: You don’t need to know this; this is not your business. That idea, that it’s not your business, it’s all rooted in capitalism, and my ability, willingness, and readiness were taken out of my hands. I had to take that power back. That was the catalyst to say, “Fuck you. If you’re not going to teach me or give me room to learn, then I’ll figure it out on my own.” 

alteconomychicago.com

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