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Interview with Heidi Minora, RAMMYS 2018 Manager of the Year Finalist

April 16, 2018

The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) presents Heidi Minora, manager of Commissary. She is nominated for the Manager of the Year award for the 2018 RAMMY Awards Gala on June 10. The Manager of the Year award goes to a non-owner manager or general manager in the food service industry who displays the highest level of professionalism and leadership. This person must be an inspiration and mentor to all his/her co-workers displaying outstanding service, an excellent work ethic and a positive image.​

Name // Title // Bio Heidi Minora, General Manager, Commissary & Marketing Director, EatWell DC
Heidi Minora was born and raised in Linwood, New Jersey and has lived in Washington, DC since 2006. In 2007, upon graduation from Pennsylvania State University with an English degree, she joined EatWell DC as an opening server at The Heights. During that time, she held the position of Marketing Manager at the Cato Institute.

In 2009, Heidi became a manager at The Heights. With a passion for marketing, her time as manager also involved pioneering the promotions program of the restaurant. With the premiere of the (now famous) annual “Oscar Party”, it was clear she brought not just a unique vision, but a love for making a connection with guests and exceeding their expectations on every level.

In 2012, Heidi moved to Commissary as Assistant General Manager and in 2014 became General Manager. The next year she took on the additional role of EatWell DC Promotions Director, where her energy and dedication helped the group to reach new customers and connect the community. Now in her role as Marketing Director, she has the opportunity to explore new and innovative ways to further those goals. 

In her 11th year at EatWell DC,  Heidi has proven herself as a both a teacher and mentor by pioneering the EatWell Senior Server program and has taken the reigns as a true humanitarian through her efforts with GiveWell (the fundraising arm of EatWell DC) raising money for charities such as Everytown, SMYAL and City Dogs within the four walls of Commissary.​

What's the hardest part about being the GM of a restaurant? Fixing things. The role of General Manager also means being able to complete small repairs and odd jobs throughout the restaurant. Whereas I have honed my hospitality skills, I am not a handyman. I luckily have an amazing team of managers who are equipped to complete these small tasks (wherein a service company would not be needed). I do not pretend to be an electrician. To a certain extent, I feel as though we are occasionally asked to diagnose problems and come up with solutions, and while I have done my best, I feel as though I have a very long way to go.

...and the most rewarding part? At Commissary I have had the privilege of growing some amazing managers who were once servers and bussers and, also , executive chefs who were once line cooks. It is my goal to make sure every staff member feels appreciated. I have gone to many lengths to provide a happy, lucrative and fair working environment for our staff.  It has been a rewarding experience to educate and grow our team. Many times our staff will stay on just for one shift a week because they love the energy and vibe that we have created in the community.

Within EatWell, I am one of five General Managers. Of the five, I am also one of four female General Managers. It has been an amazing experience to see how the restaurant business has grown and changed in DC. Wherein once I had only male managers as a server, women are finally at the helm and taking the lead in many high profile restaurant positions. To be a part of a restaurant group who employs such strong and powerful women gives me a huge sense of pride.  

How are you influenced by the neighborhood you are located in? Since taking over Commissary I have maintained that we are a safe space, free of judgment. We are in the business of hospitality, not hatred. Many of our guests and clientele gravitate towards Commissary because we are not here to take sides or force agendas. We employ staff of all walks of life and no one should ever feel embarrassed of who they are when they walk through those doors.

In the wake of the Orlando tragedy it was our duty to let our staff and community know we would not be taking this lightly. We have since supported many gun control advocacy groups through fundraising happy hours and donation items. Because this hit so close to home, we closed Commissary and gave 100% of our proceeds to the Orlando victims and their families.  As a gay owned restaurant, in a gay part of town, this could have happened to any of us. It's important that we do not sit silent as these atrocities continue to happen.

How did you get started in the business? What was your first job in the industry & what did you learn from it? My first job was as a server at a crab restaurant in Ocean City, New Jersey. This was a very small operation where the servers did everything from the serving to the cleaning. Working as a server teaches you multitasking and urgency which can be translated into any field. The sense of comradery that comes with working in a small operation that requires you to wear many hats can create lifelong friendships. I always tell people who are new to the city to get a job in a restaurant. It's a great way to have an introduction to the neighborhood but also form tight bonds that you will never forget.

Where do you see yourself in five years? My hope is to take what we have done at Commissary and continue to build. I would like to open more Commissaries throughout the DC area. What we are doing is a sure fire concept that anyone can get behind. Who doesn't love an amazing tuna melt? I am not here to reinvent the wheel. I am here to create a second kitchen for folks in the neighborhood who like to dine out without the high price point. We have created an approachable restaurant concept which I believe can appeal to folks everywhere.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given? "When you love what you do, the hours don't matter." I feel very fortunate to have my roles within Commissary and EatWell DC and I have never counted the shifts or the time I've spent within the restaurant. I love my job and I am passionate about what I do. If you are going to start counting hours you are in the wrong business.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Probably event planning or something along those lines. I love creating experiences for people. When you create a special dish for a birthday or even surprise a guest with a sparkler for an anniversary, it goes along way. I love cultivating events and memories that people won't forget.

What is your favorite ingredient? Potato. I wish I had something more glamorous to say. Potatoes can be manipulated in a bunch of different ways and there are few things a side of fries won't fix.

What insider foodie tip do you have for diners? Sustainability. Ask a restaurant where they source their products. Commissary is a green certified restaurant that only serves local, sustainable ingredients. Whereas we're not going to be making our own ketchup anytime soon (99% of the children in the area would not be happy), we do try to keep our products as natural and fresh as we can. At Commissary our staff might be serving a burger, but the beef came from a grass-fed cow, the lettuce and tomato came from our farm in La Plata, MD and the bun came from a local bakery. Yes, it's just a burger, but it's a burger our staff is proud to serve.

You're hosting a dream dinner party. What three people would be at your table? I would just pick my best friend and mentor, Josh Hahn. We love eating together. He's taught me everything I know and has made me the respected manager I am today. We have inspired each other for a number of years and I feel so lucky to have him in my life. Currently, he is in Maine starting a camp for kids. He taught me restaurant philosophy, the importance of respecting  your staff and that your own personal happiness matters. My other guest would be Britney Spears (but I don't think Josh would get along with her, so I would need to wait for another dream).

It's the last meal of your life - what's on your plate? A dozen oysters, side of french fries and a really amazing glass of Sancerre.

What are your pet peeves? People not having integrity or living to their full potential.

What is your favorite way to give back to the community? In terms of our fundraising efforts, I've loved partnering with one of our many vendors and collaborating to provide a beverage or food item that we can give 100% of the proceeds to a local charity. Most recently I participated in an internship program with the Field School and mentored a student over the course of three weeks.  She has since chosen to stay on as my intern and learn more about the world of hospitality and restaurant management.

Why do you love working in restaurants? My job has afforded me the opportunity to do things that I never thought were possible. When we were down a line cook, I've worked the line. When we were down a bartender, I've poured drinks. When we were doing a promotion, I've tried my hand at graphic design. I have come up with some crazy ideas that have spanned from Britney and Beyoncé brunch to Oscar Viewing Parties. Not everything is a winner. I have had some failures, but when you work in restaurants you try things and you keep trying them until they work. Whether it be a restaurant item or a themed event, you can never stop thinking, growing and giving people an experience that they will always remember.