Safta Wants to Redefine Restaurant Workplace Culture

There s a reason why Alon Shaya called his Denver restaurant following his grandmother or “Safta,” as it s interpreted in Hebrew. But it s not only due to the interior or that the menu is partially based on his grandma ’therefore recipes. Rather, it has to do with respect.

“When you’re your grandparents about, you’re sitting up a bit not cursing as much,” stated Shaya. “So we believed , can we start restaurants admiration although that focus on not merely professionalism and being type whilst making people comfortable?’ ”

Alon and Emily Shaya. Photos by Brittni Bell Warshaw.

This seems to have influenced everything he and his wife Emily have done in creating Safta. This includes intensely vetting every single employee, to creating an HR position that’s solely focused on “people and culture,” and providing many work amenities restaurant employees aren’t used to, like health benefits, a five-day work week and continued education. 

“We’re going to put them first. Above customers, above the bottom line — everything. Their experience here has to be more important than everything else,” said Shaya. This is a stark difference from the traditional hospitality culture where the customer comes first. But Shaya’s focus on respect makes sense considering less than a year ago, the chef lost everything in his professional life due to a toxic work environment. His old mentor and partner, John Besh, fired him only a month before Besh was accused by 25 women for fostering a culture of sexual harassment at his restaurant group. That company included Shaya’s namesake restaurant — of which he later lost in a legal battle with his mentor.

Shaya now sees this as a blessing. “It was a chance to press the reset button,” he said.  “It [allowed] us to be like, ‘here’s what we know how to do, here’s what we love doing and here’s what would make us the happiest.’ ” The result has been Pomegranate Hospitality, the restaurant group that has opened a pair of pubs: Saba (grandfather) in New Orleans along with Safta (grandma ) in Denver.

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Safta just started this past weekend within the brand new Source Hotel. Located in a building full of angles and concrete, it may look like a tough spot to recreate something that reminds you of your own grandma. But the rose partitions paired with orchids and blonde wood softens the distance.  Shaya, half-jokingly stated he reminds him of a hipster area s living. The area that is inviting feels much more informal and in certain sense, that’s represented from the food too.

READ: [PHOTOS] The Source Hotel Opens Market Hall, Restaurants and New Belgium Rooftop Bar

On one side of the menu that you ’ll find a large choice of hummus, of that Shaya is famous for. It comes packed with an range of accouterments including lamb ragu ($18), soft-cooked egg ($14) or blue crab ($24). Paired with all the puffed pita breadthis is a must order at any visit to Safta — however urge ’t rely on the Salatim (three for $21). Beneath the hummus in the menu, so you also ll find a set of side dishes that are standard that are little — ones which remind Shaya the most of his grandparents. Simply take the Lutenitsa for example. The mix of peppers, eggplant, garlic and tomatoes is really what Shaya credits because his earliest food memory and he got to cooking in the first location.

“I was learning English. I had been an immigrant child from Israel. I was a total weirdo outcast in school. My parents had experienced a few years before … I had been all over the area,” stated Shaya. “I remember opening the door along with the eggplants and peppers hit me and I knew my grandparents were there and also I understood that family was together. ”

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Past the sides — that could make for a hearty lunch using sufficient pita — large plates and the dishes is the point where the restaurant actually reveals. Try the Kibbeh Nayeh ($22) — a middle eastern lamb tartare served with the flakiest flatbread that resembles more of a puff pastry or even the Matzo Ball soup ($14) that’s made with duck rather than chicken. Should you’re looking for something large to share, try out the pomegranate-braised lamb shank ($42) made with labneh and berry or the charred cabbage ($22) — one of Shaya’s preferred recipes he adapted from his grandma. Generally speaking, the area is a wonderful spot for vegetarians with many dishes coming meat-free but nevertheless decadent (the entire roasted cauliflower ($25) is a show stopper).

As for beverages, beer and wines abound as well as the cocktails aren’t too shabby either. Fans of a classic Sazerac ($13) will locate a friend in this rendition, whereas people with an aversion to tequila will probably be astounded by the mellowness of the Negev ($12). But something feels about drinking a glass of pink wine at Safta — of.

With all things Shaya would like to accomplish with Safta from Denver, it can be viewed from the title. The feeling of hospitality respect and comfort are in hopes that he and his wife do right and in turn to do right by the people about them. To honor that guarantee, you ll see their grandmothers’ 2 faces around the wall when you depart.

“[They] are all here to look over us and offer wisdom and advice to us,” stated Shaya.

Safta is located at 3330 Brighton Blvd #201, Denver. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 pm also it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. 

All photography by Brittni Bell Warshaw.