Norman Wu isn’t just trying to build a restaurant empire, he’s doing it consciously. So much so that he even named his restaurant company, the parent company of his heritage brand Just Poké, Conscious Hospitality.
“We’re building the restaurant concept with an ethos in mind that’s not just about making money,” Wu said on a recent episode of Take-Away with Sam Oches. “So, for us, something that we’re really passionate about and caring about is making sure that everything we use is sustainably sourced.”
This includes takeout containers, the construction of the restaurant, the materials used in construction, the sourcing of products, and the professional development of restaurant staff.
Catering Group is committed to “building a team framework that can truly enable people to have a career” [at Just Poké], not just a job. “
This is only part of it. Conscious Hospitality’s team pays about 30% more than minimum wage and has provided healthcare to employees since its inception.
“We really want to create an environment where people can come in and actually work without worrying about some of these issues, and really treat people well and let them grow with us,” Wu said.
To offset those costs, Wu says their fast-food menu costs a little more than the competition, but customers in Seattle really appreciate what they offer their employees, and customers are “voting with their money.”
“They don’t mind spending a little more to support businesses that they think are doing things the right way,” he said.
But it doesn’t cost the client as much as you might think. The brand is growing fast. Just Poké expects to double in size this year, from 15 units to 31.
“I think our business grew faster, so we were able to essentially absorb some of the additional costs of scaling,” Wu said.
This also includes landlords. While real estate has been tough in the current economy, Wu and his partner, Danny Brawer, have had a slightly easier time finding real estate because when landlords hear about the type of business the pair run, they will be more accommodating.
“A lot of times, our landlords have offered us space because they like the brand so much,” Wu said. “They love the ethos and core values behind the brand, beyond the fact that the brand is successful from a sales standpoint.”
One example is Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, which is owned by Amazon and plans to be an eco-friendly and sustainable arena. Arena linked to Just Poke to be part of the food and drink selection because their values align.
Conscious Hospitality isn’t just the parent of Just Poke; it’s also the parent company of five other brands and a brand incubator for other “conscious” brands. Companies that “don’t have the funding or the operational experience or the team to scale the concept,” but are “great,” Wu said.
Wu and Brawer reached out to local business owners in one location to inquire about expansion, and found one who was passionate but couldn’t get past that.
Both go beyond the capital of these brands because “there’s capital out there for people to leverage,” but there’s not necessarily a ton of guidance beyond that.
The bottom line for team eco-friendliness is paying good salaries, building the right team, and giving them the resources to do good (like donations), all accountable to Conscious Hospitality’s partners.
Conscious Hospitality’s six brands include Just Poké, Pure Acai Bar, Sugo Hand Roll Bar, Pure Boba, Matcha Magic and Seattle Juice Company.