Serving the Servers: Restaurant Saba’s Suzi Darré Takes Care of the People in the Kitchen and on the Floor

Before joining the team at Pomegranate Hospitality as Director of People & Culture, Suzi Darré oversaw human resources departments at several high profile hotels. OffBeat checked in with her on her new job, shaping the work environment at Alon Shaya’s new restaurant Saba at the corner of Magazine Street and Nashville Avenue, with Safta in Denver to open later this summer:

Your title, Director of People and Culture, isn’t common. Did you even know what the job was when you interviewed?

I spent the last eleven years in human resources, which is what this is, essentially, with an added emphasis on culture. I try to affect every step of the life cycle of an employee—starting with the application process, training and orientation. In a lot of industries, human resources is about compliance—making sure everybody comes in, has the right paper work and those types of things. But with Pomegranate, the focus is really on the experience. Much like the guest experience, this is about the employee experience.

Also, I thought Director of People and Culture was a great title! A girlfriend of mine in New York has the same title, actually, and I think we’re seeing a slow shift from Director of Human Resources to something more poignant, something that’s more about the people.

What does the culture bit mean?

With our first-round opening team, we hired about 50 people and the culture training was really about diversity training, talking about harassment and discrimination and all the ways to report and handle different things.

I have reminders on payroll that tell me whose birthday it is, work anniversaries depending on hire date, etc. We celebrated one of our line cooks on opening day with a donut from District Donuts and a card from Walgreens and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” He said that was the first time in his career that anyone had celebrated his birthday.

What other responses have you been getting from the employees so far?

I think they’re a bit amused by it, because my approach is more light-hearted than they’re used to, but they really do appreciate it. I air on the side of cheesy and adorable.

Mainly, I think a lot of our employees really appreciate the fact that this is a fresh start. They’re not used to it, but they’re excited to see what it’s going to look like going forward.

Personally, what’s your favorite part of your job?

God, so many things. It’s the Sophie’s Choice of human resources.

But good, I hope?

Yes! I worked at The Carlyle in New York City—much larger groups of people, like 400, that’s the standard number I’m used to.

How do you make an impact on 400 people?

It can be hard.

Because then it’s like a big corporation—here’s accounting, here’s HR…

Right—and also, coming into an 87-year-old hotel or even a 10-year-old hotel—things have been done already, and your impact is limited to how you can change things just a little bit or make things just a little bit better, but the best part of this job is being able to start from the beginning, lay down a foundation and work with people who are passionate. Being on the ground with everyone is my best part. I get to be creative again, and in the HR world, that’s not necessarily the focus; you’re just doing things to steer ships and make things float and keep people compliant, but you don’t get to stage bake-off competitions, and do things just for fun. Next, we’re starting an athletic league!