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Community Highlights: Meet Sara Fakhfouri of Monroe Place

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sara Fakhfouri.

Hi Sara, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I’m originally from Torrance, CA but my story began once I moved to New York City at 18. Throughout my time in college, I worked in restaurants to support my income as a maitre’d server and gradually progress to bartending. Post-grad, I secured a job with a paid media firm and although I was doing what I was “supposed” to be doing, I wasn’t fulfilled or happy. I quit my job and in a frantic state of figuring out what to do next, I went back to what I know best – restaurants. I ended up taking a job as an Event Coordinator with a previous General Manager that I worked with, and from that moment on my life changed. I realized how much I love hospitality and that I didn’t care about my business degree and wanted to pursue a career in management, hoping to progress to ownership at some point. I finally had obtained my dream job as a manager for Gabriel Stulman’s restaurant group, Happy Cooking Hospitality, and I couldn’t have been happier. Once the pandemic hit, I was laid off, just like everyone else, and I was devastated. Throughout the months of isolation and self-reflection, I realized I didn’t want to return back to management – although it’s a great job and an awesome learning experience, it can also be a very thankless job. So, I ended up going to Mexico for a couple of months to figure out what I wanted to do next. My favorite food is a sandwich, so naturally, I had many tortas while I was in Mexico. When I moved to LA, I realized – “Hey! This is what I want to do!” and I put my fears aside and decided to just go for it, and that’s how Monroe Place was born.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Restaurant management is hard. Anyone who’s ever been a manager will tell you the same thing. It’s a lot of pressure to please everyone. Most people think of managers dealing with guests as the hardest part of their jobs, but that’s only 10% of it. The pressure to maintain sales, please ownership, dealing with staff, unruly guests, on top of daily operations and daily functions of a restaurant, it can be a lot. You basically have to sacrifice the rest of your own personal life. Ten hour days turn into 15 hour days, five day work weeks turn into six days work weeks. And the thing is, it’s no specific restaurant or group, it’s the nature of the industry, and I had it lucky with 10 hour work days. Most restaurants in NYC go with a standard 12 hour work day for management. So, a big obstacle for myself has been gearing the guts to jump into an ownership position. Opening a business is also difficult but it hits different. It feels rewarding and exciting. I’m also trying to take a different approach to my own business. At this moment, I’ll be managing Monroe Place on my own but when it comes to hiring management – I want to adopt a culture where your social life is important. Life outside of work is important. I think work-life balance is something the entire hospitality industry should focus on and try to make better. That’s something I’m striving to do when that moment arises.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Monroe Place is our first business that I’ll be opening with my partner, Alex, this upcoming September of 2021. The name Monroe Place is inspired by our last apartment in Brooklyn which was located on Monroe Place. We figured that we want a constant reminder of where we came from and keep ourselves grounded. The concept is simple – great food, great service, and great vibes. After all of my experiences working different restaurant jobs, I’ve learned that food and eating out shouldn’t be so serious. It should be fun! It should be chill! And that’s my goal for this business. A place where people can come get lunch, hang out, and have a great experience even if it’s just a small food market serving some sandwiches. As for the menu, we’re taking a different approach on some New American classics. Instead of using different aioli and mustards, we’re making homemade spreads of our own that aren’t mayo-based and using fresh ingredients.

Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
I am a first-generation Iranian-American. I grew up with immigrant parents, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Most of my meals growing up were traditional Iranian stews and rices, and my love for saffron and spices started early. My upbringing has influenced me a lot and I’ve incorporated some of those flavors into some of our menu items without even realizing. I personally feel that if I wasn’t Iranian and raised the way I was, I’m not so sure I would be in this field! For that, I am eternally grateful for who I am and where I come from.

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