Heather Weerheim (00:00):
Well welcome Patti, owner and creator of Yum, the quick-serve restaurant and bakery. I truly believe you invented fast casual and you provide high quality, delicious food within my one hour lunch limit that I have. Your restaurants are beautiful, clean, and some of my favorite places to network with my industry peeps. So I truly feel like I have a celebrity here.
Patti Soskin (00:22):
You are so kind and way the, yeah, none of that, but okay.
Heather Weerheim (00:26):
I did, I really did have someone the other day, she was gonna meet with me for lunch and I said, well, what places do you feel comfortable meeting in? Because that’s what you have to ask these days. Well, where do you feel comfortable meeting up? And she said, I feel comfort at Yum.
Patti Soskin (00:42):
Yay! I love hearing that.
Heather Weerheim (00:43):
I do too. So we’ll get more into some of the changes that you had to make. And we’ll talk a little bit about COVID, but I wanna have a little intro with you so that our guests can get to know you and that I can get to know you too. So, how did it all start? And when did it all start for you and Yum?
Patti Soskin (00:59):
I laugh because I always say that all the other little girls that I knew played house and I played restaurant. So I’m really lucky because really young, I knew what I wanted to do. I love cooking. I love eating. I love dining out. I love caring for people and loving them through food. So I really knew all my life, what I wanted to do.
Heather Weerheim (01:19):
That is awesome. So then did you go to culinary school?
Patti Soskin (01:22):
I did not.
Heather Weerheim (01:24):
How does that work then?
Patti Soskin (01:27):
I know. I do not have a professional culinary background. All of my experience is front of the house, waiting tables, front of the house manager, that type of thing. But, I cook at home all the time. I have three children and four now because one is married and two grandchildren and eating and cooking and dining and it’s a big part of our lives.
Heather Weerheim (01:49):
Some of my favorite things. Well, that’s awesome. And then how does, what role does your husband Robbie play into the business?
Patti Soskin (01:56):
You know, Robbie and I have been together since we were 16 years old. So at a very young age he said I better learn something about the restaurant business. And when we were in college, we both waited tables at a restaurant together. And it’s kind of funny because he started out as a bus-boy. I was a server, I became the manager, he became the server. And then when I became higher up in the group, it was time for him to move on but he was going to law school at the time too. So it was all good. And it was okay. You’re all, he understands the restaurant business because of those days. We are completely opposite in terms of what we like to do. He takes care of all the technology. I deal with all the food and the service and that part of it. And, he joined me two and a half years ago in the business maybe three years ago. Yeah. Full time. Yes. Yes. Before that, I mean, yeah, he had his own career, but he was always part of the restaurants and he’s the DJ. He makes all the music mixes.
Heather Weerheim (02:55):
You do have great music.
Patti Soskin (02:57):
We have really fun music. And I love seeing people start to dance in there and sing and you know, we sell happiness. We want you to, it creates a vibe.
Heather Weerheim (03:04):
You do sell happiness. I’m often there because in the crazy world of construction we’re up early. And so at 7:00 AM, I know you guys were only opening at 8:00 AM for a while with the new COVID hours. But I used to be the one first at the door at 7:00 AM at the Yum in St. Louis Park. Because I would usually have someone to network with that we’d meet at 8:00 AM. And so I’d be there with my computer and then I would start with coffee and your coffee is magical and it’s in the nice little insulated mug, you know, or coffee glass. Yep. And I don’t know if you have extra caffeine in there or what, but then the music we played. And so by the time my guest would come I’d just be spewing out information. But anyway, it is a great place and I would be bobbing my head to the music. So thank you Robbie for that. So I kind of, I say it maybe in jest, maybe for real about the invention of fast casual, like I really think that in at least in the Metro that you were the inventor of fast casual, was that true? Do you think it was a different
Patti Soskin (04:05):
There clearly were not as many quick-serve restaurants than fast casual as there are today.
Heather Weerheim (04:11):
Oh, sorry. Is there a difference between fast casual?
Patti Soskin (04:12):
No, it’s all the same in my world. I had a restaurant when I was 28 years old and I failed and it was a fine dining restaurant.
Heather Weerheim (04:24):
Would I remember what that is?
Patti Soskin (04:25):
It was called Patti’s. And it was in the Colonnade on, what was 394 and, or isn’t 394 now.
Heather Weerheim (04:32):
So I love that this ties into commercial real estate a little bit. So you know what it’s like to lease in a building like Colonnade which is class A office space in the burbs, but I digress
Patti Soskin (04:41):
Class A office space that didn’t get filled. And, it was just such a learning experience and I realized that you can do your best and give it everything and you can still fail. And I never thought I’d go back into the restaurant business again, this opportunity came up and it was like, I had a great life. I was consulting in restaurants. I was, I had three children and this space became available. A friend of mine wanted to open a restaurant and he’s like, let’s do it. And I said, absolutely not. And he said, just come look at the space. And I looked at the space and it was clear to me that it needed to be what it needed to be. And fast casual worked for us.
Heather Weerheim (05:22):
All that makes me so happy. So it was, the space spoke to you. And so, ultimately you weren’t looking for a restaurant space, you were done because of the incident prior to that. Prior to that. But this space spoke to you and were you going to take it as, were you going to purchase the space or were you leasing the space?
Patti Soskin (05:43):
A friend of mine bought the building and we leased it from him.
Heather Weerheim (05:46):
Got it. Okay. Good to know. So then, with the space that you’re in now, did that influence the design or did you feel like you didn’t have to do much design in that?
Patti Soskin (05:57):
Oh, we had to. I mean, we definitely, and it’s evolved since it first opened. Right now I say it’s organized chaos. With the coffee bar being separate, then, where you order the food, you can order anything everywhere. But we also used to have another area that was a cashier area and we evolved to what it is today. Our newer restaurants, the coffee bar is usually connected to the rest of where you order just makes it easier for labor, which, in this day and age, when we can have less people working, it really helps.
Heather Weerheim (06:31):
Yeah. We might touch more on that in a second. So I have been to your Minnetonka location. And so yeah, I’m curious to how your spaces evolve, but first I want to say the goal of today’s episode is to learn about how the decisions you made along your journey have shaped your success at Yum, which we’re kind of touching on right now. So what worked, what didn’t and from a real estate point of view, curious about the different locations and how they’ve affected design as well. So, I’m going to go through my questions and again, we can edit them because we may have touched on it already. So it sounds like at the beginning of your search from Yum, there wasn’t a search for Yum. You were not ready to be in the restaurant industry. So location or design really didn’t mean anything to you, but from your experience of Patti’s, I’m curious to know what the design was like, your design experience at Patti’s and then what it was like at Yum. If that makes sense.
Patti Soskin (07:23):
Well, we worked with David Shea believe it or not at Patti’s. And previous to that, I had worked with David at Leeann Chin. I was like David’s first restaurant. Well, Leanne, I should say, was David’s first restaurant client. And I followed through with that. And so David Shea and I have known each other for about 40 years.
Heather Weerheim (07:46):
That is so cool. We just had Kim and she mentioned Leeann Chin as being one of their first clients. And, not as a chain, but as local.
Patti Soskin (07:55):
Heather Weerheim (07:55):
Yes. Leanne the original. So that’s when you were working as a consultant.
Patti Soskin (07:59):
No, no, no. I was working, I worked for Leanne. I worked for her full-time I managed her restaurants. I managed and I actually opened one that David designed with her and he had designed her other two before I got there.
Heather Weerheim (08:13):
Oh. So it was an easy decision to make, to have David Shea join you on this venture.
Patti Soskin (08:17):
He was my friend.
Heather Weerheim (08:19):
Yeah. He did good.
Patti Soskin (08:21):
He did great.
Heather Weerheim (08:22):
So then, you mentioned your building in St. Louis Park evolved. This is a question that I got from a fellow restaurateur. Maybe, you know him, I have a feeling that you local restaurateurs know, but John Gross, he owns Martina.
Patti Soskin (08:41):
Oh, of course. Yeah. Everybody knows those restaurants. Yeah.
Heather Weerheim (08:44):
He’s great. He was a hoot. We reached out to him to get an idea of what would be good questions that restaurateurs would want to know. And so I loved this one. He said, what needs to happen in your restaurant to a customer, so you’re satisfied with their visit or you’re happy with their visit? So like, do you follow when designing and when creating a restaurant space, is there a certain flow or something that needs to happen? If you’re a diner?
Patti Soskin (09:12):
Well for the customer to be happy. I mean, that’s way beyond the design, obviously, too. I mean, you want people to feel welcome and warm and hospitality is loving people up. And so there’s so much to, way more than you want them to have a great meal. You want the food to be great, you to make sure that the bathrooms are beautiful and clean and you know, welcoming and it starts before they walk in the door, what do your plants look like outside? You know? And, the experience it’s, you know, it’s an old saying that people eat with their eyes before they taste. And so it’s gotta look beautiful and feel right and then it’s the warmth that you create in the space too.
Heather Weerheim (09:59):
Yeah. Well, you’re definitely doing something right. And you’re exactly right. And that warmth, I have been on occasion at a, over the lunch hour at your space and you’re there helping clean tables and get people to their seat and make sure that they have a spot. Is that part of the warmth and the experience that you want in hospitality?
Patti Soskin (10:16):
Absolutely. And, it’s the biggest part because I always tell people that I work with many restaurants can serve great food so what’s the point of difference for us? And it’s the relationship that we build. And we have so many regular guests I’m gonna venture off a little bit here, and I know you wanna talk about COVID eventually, but it’s what saved us during COVID is these relationships, it’s the community that you build and people were during, in the beginning of COVID I gathered our team and said, failure’s not an option. We’re gonna keep going. And we did, we never closed for a single day. We pivoted to take out right away. And it was the community. I think I cried the first three months of COVID for real, every single day, we had a guest that baked us cookies. We’re a fricking bakery and they brought us cookies. I mean, it was just so sweet and people would drop off checks and say, I know your employees need money right now. And it was just, I didn’t journal, but I would like write little notes in my calendar every day. So I would never forget the kindness that people showed during that time.
Heather Weerheim (11:26):
Patti, that fills my heart. I, that is an amazing story. To be able to persevere during this time was the most difficult thing. It was so sad to see how it affected some of our local restaurants. So the fact that you were able to stay open pivot, sorry. And do the takeout and in the, during that time have plans for, to open another Yum is incredible.
Patti Soskin (11:51):
Well, we slowed down a little bit. But, you know, it was all part of the plan and we just kept saying, we’re going, yeah, we’re going, this is happening.
Heather Weerheim (12:01):
So takeout wasn’t always a part of your business plan.
Patti Soskin (12:06):
We always have offered takeout. Thank goodness, December before COVID we had put in online ordering, we never had that. So it used to be basically we would get an email and we had to enter it into our point of sale system. It would’ve been a debacle during COVID to have that type of system. So luckily we had recently upgraded our point of sale and we were prepared. Obviously we, you know, I would say about 30% of our business in the past had been takeout even today, about 60% of our businesses, takeout,
Heather Weerheim (12:41):
Kim and I were talking that probably isn’t gonna change. And so does that mean then now that your sales have increased or is it just different? The ratio of sales and
Patti Soskin (12:52):
I would say dine in isn’t completely back. It will come. I think as the weather gets warmer and as now COVID has peaked and we’re coming down in numbers, we’re gonna see more indoor dining. But takeout is going to be here to stay for sure.
Heather Weerheim (13:09):
And have you had to make any adjustments then in your locations for design or kitchen design to just,
Patti Soskin (13:14):
You know, things that people don’t think about? Just paper and packaging alone take up so much space so I would recommend anybody who’s getting into the restaurant business now plan a separate area where you can store all your paper and packaging.
Heather Weerheim (13:26):
That’s great advice. Because I was overwhelmed, you know, I wanted to support local as much as I could, but I got overwhelmed by all the packaging. And I get kind of sad about the plastics that was used to, and I hope I tried to recycle it. I don’t know what recycling’s doing, but yeah, that
Patti Soskin (13:41):
Everything in our restaurants is compostable too. Oh. So
Heather Weerheim (13:45):
There are certain buildings here that won’t let anything or, some design firms that I know of. They won’t let any non-compostable in. And I was like, I was trying to find a catering service downtown that had non-com compostable stuff and it didn’t go over well. But anyway, now I know.
Patti Soskin (14:03):
Everything can be composted.
Heather Weerheim (14:04):
Okay. I have another funny John Gross quote too. So when I asked him what a restaurant owner would not would want to know, he said how to find the exit door, like how do, how to get out of this industry. Because I think you guys are wired a little bit differently. You just love service, you love food, you love to make guests happy. And so what does, so it sounds like what keeps you coming back is your, is your clientele, is there anything else that keeps you coming back and that
Patti Soskin (14:33):
Mentoring the employees? For sure. We have young employees and watching them grow up and become either professional with us and, you know, becoming supervisors, managers, we have many long term employees and it’s so much fun to watch that, watching the guests grow up that’s for sure.
Patti Soskin (14:53):
And I laugh. There is no exit strategy in the Soskin house for sure, because I’m 62 years old. And if I outlive my leases we’re in the process of signing a, you know, with all the extensions a 20 year lease. So I guess I’m planning on working forever.
Heather Weerheim (15:08):
That’s until you’re 80th. Wow. Good thing you love what you do.
Patti Soskin (15:11):
That’s right. So yeah, there is no exit strategy here.
Heather Weerheim (15:14):
Well, with that mentorship piece though, do you have talent that you could see that building into
Patti Soskin (15:22):
100%? Oh, 100%. And that would be my dream situation is okay. This is what I laugh about. Every restaurateur would say I never my children to go into the business but I would love to mentor somebody else and let them take it over.
Heather Weerheim (15:36):
So none of your kids have any interest is what I’m
Patti Soskin (15:39):
So far. No, and I don’t think they will.
Heather Weerheim (15:42):
That’s hilarious. Yeah. Do any of them even work in their spaces and like
Patti Soskin (15:46):
None of them now, but when they were young, they, I mean, and by default at times they all do when we open a new restaurant, it’s all hands on deck and the kids come. But, they’ve all worked there. Mother’s day last year, everybody, all my kids came home with their significant others too. And I made them all chefs coats and they said on the back of their chef’s coats that said doing it for mom,
Heather Weerheim (16:09):
I love that. Yeah. So there was no pay involved. None of them were taking home a paycheck?
Patti Soskin (16:15):
No, they just come and help.
Heather Weerheim (16:16):
Out of the goodness of their heart. Yeah. Because they love you so much. So I want to talk a little bit, you mentioned your leases that you’ve signed that you may or may not outlive. But they’re in different locations. So I think about your spot St. Louis Park, your space in Minnetonka, which I would say is, a one level, I don’t know what you would call it, not a retail space, but I mean, it is a retail space, but it’s just a one level commercial space parking lot, you know, in the burbs. Is that in Minnetonka or Hopkins? Minnetonka Okay. And then in St. Paul, I believe you’re in a retail space under a condo condominium.
Patti Soskin (16:56):
Apartment building. Yeah.
Heather Weerheim (16:57):
Did you have different issues building within a condominium space? You know, versus let’s say that one level in Minnetonka. What did that look like?
Patti Soskin (17:06):
Well, the venting was a huge thing because we had to go up through all the apartments and that was like, whoa, we never have dealt with that. See, thank goodness for Greiner. That became Tony’s problem. But so yeah, of course there’s different situations and we have, there’s a parking ramp, so we have lower level parking that. So loading, you know, food deliveries, all of that, all sorts of different issues. Yeah. But it’s fun to experience them all. Yeah.
Heather Weerheim (17:35):
Oh my gosh. You’re so positive.
Patti Soskin (17:37):
Well, you have to be. You know, hey, I always say choose happy. You know, you can look at it either way. We opened Yum St. Paul during a pandemic during the peak of COVID. And is it a bad time to open a restaurant? Well, it’s a great opportunity to train your employees and get the food right, so.
Heather Weerheim (17:56):
That’s amazing your positive outlook and just in using as an example to train and show your employees how to just overcome
Patti Soskin (18:07):
That’s the way we roll.
Heather Weerheim (18:08):
Yeah. Well then I’ll quote you from an article that I read. Our employees and customers are an extension of ourselves. They are family. We are committed. I love it.
Patti Soskin (18:22):
Well, I mean, I always refer to them as the kids. Some of them are my age even, and I still refer to them as the kids, but, you know, I want Yum to be the preferred place to work. And part of that is caring about your people, caring about the people you work with. We’re all in it together. I want them to have fun at work. I mean, we talked about the music. I want them to sing. I want them to dance. I want it to be a joyful place to work. And I care about their families. I care about their kids. We’ve had health insurance since the day we opened our doors for our employees. And we pay most of it for them. It matters to me. We also have paid vacations, which are not normal in the restaurant industry.
Heather Weerheim (19:10):
It’s definitely not normal.
Patti Soskin (19:10):
But I also, the manager at St. Louis Park has been with us all 16 years. The cooks, we have many families, I break all the rules of everything. They taught you in school, business 101 is like, I do it all wrong. But I have family members, you know, I have my parents and children. I have siblings. I like it that way. We’re family.
Heather Weerheim (19:37):
That’s so cool. You can tell, you can tell and then in your environments at Yum that people enjoy what they’re doing there and that they’re being treated well. And so I’m curious to know, have you been affected by labor shortage because that’s commonality in the restaurant industry right now. So are you experienced with that? Are you feeling less of that because you treat them so well and have these benefits for them?
Patti Soskin (20:01):
I mean, we definitely feel it to some extent it was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be in St. Paul. I think part of that is because of our locations, because we’re close to so many schools. Cooks are the hardest part. It’s labor shortage for us in the kitchen is kind of like labor shortage for, I would guess for you guys right now too. Yeah. I mean it’s the skilled workers that work really hard, but hopefully we treat them really well and then we are their preferred place to work, but it’s not an easy job. It’s hard, it’s hard work and it’s physical and it’s nonstop, from the day, you know, from the time they get there. But, I think we’ve been really blessed. We do a great referral program and our employees refer friends and relatives too. And I think that has really benefited us.
Heather Weerheim (20:47):
Do cooks have a trade school that they would go to like our carpenters would?
Patti Soskin (20:55):
Yes. There’s culinary schools for them to go to. Now what’s happening now is many of them locally are closing and also the student loans are so high that many people are learning on the job and we love teaching. So we are willing to take people with very little experience and train them. Okay. The Yum way.
Heather Weerheim (21:18):
Well, I love it.
Patti Soskin (21:18):
Heather Weerheim (21:19):
You can train them the way that, how you need them. Right. But I guess it was probably a dumb question to ask about the culinary school, I guess when I think of culinary school, I think of it as having to be like a four year program or are there different levels of culinary?
Patti Soskin (21:34):
There are. There are and you can just do a pastry program or just do, you know, different areas.
Heather Weerheim (21:40):
And you’ll take pastry chefs you’ll take or cooks and you’ll take line cooks. You’ll take them all right now. Or you’re you would be hiring right now. Yeah. For those.
Patti Soskin (21:49):
Well also because we’re gonna build another restaurant, if they’re good on whether we need ’em or not, I’m like, hire them, bring them in, let’s make it work.
Heather Weerheim (21:56):
Yeah. Hire fast. Right. So, okay. So you mentioned that you’re looking to lease another location within the Metro and I think you’re open about that it’s Woodbury, right? Correct. Correct. Okay. But you haven’t found a spot yet or have you?
Patti Soskin (22:08):
We have a spot.
Heather Weerheim (22:09):
Oh you do?
Patti Soskin (22:10):
Yes we do. It’s not a signed, done deal, but we have a letter of intent.
Heather Weerheim (22:14):
Patti Soskin (22:16):
Thank you. Thank you.
Heather Weerheim (22:17):
And why Woodberry?
Patti Soskin (22:20):
It seemed like a natural progression for us. I kind of think of it as Mintonka and St. Louis Park are a little team and then St. Paul, Woodbury will be a little team and they can help each other and work off of each other. And, I think Woodbury though, I don’t know the area that well, I will learn quickly. It’s just, it’s such an up and coming area that it was a natural for Yum and we don’t want to put the restaurants too close to each other.
Heather Weerheim (22:48):
So it’s growing, Woodbury, I mean, it’s been growing for years, so that will be a good location. Will we see you at each of the locations? How are you gonna divide your time?
Patti Soskin (22:57):
You will, you will. You know, I always say I’m where I need to be when I need to be there. That being said, I do do weekly meetings with the supervisors and the managers. So one day a week is designated for each restaurant. And then other than that, but the beauty of the restaurant business is seven days a week. So we can be there on the weekends. We can be there at night. You can hit more than one restaurant in a day. So far, I’ve already been known to hit three in a day and you know, three meal periods. So we can hit breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And
Heather Weerheim (23:28):
Do you take vacations?
Patti Soskin (23:29):
I just got back from vacation.
Heather Weerheim (23:32):
Patti Soskin (23:32):
Heather Weerheim (23:33):
Is that the norm that you are able to do that?
Patti Soskin (23:37):
You know what, if I’m not able to do that, then I’m not doing, then something’s not going right. And I have to be able to do that. And I’m a firm believer when I was a restaurant manager, I used to be scheduled 60 hours a week. And that was the norm for our business. I don’t believe in that. I mean, my goal is for our employees never to work more than 40 hours a week unless they want to, so it’s a whole different restaurant world in that respect. And I think that’s why we’re seeing people leave the industry is those expectations
Patti Soskin (24:13):
And I don’t want that. I want, I believe in life balance. I want to see my kids. I want see my grandchildren, you know, so
Heather Weerheim (24:24):
I couldn’t agree more. We were talking about that within the construction industry and the great resignation and hiring new talent and maintaining talent. And I’m afraid that the days of the 60 hour work week are not, are going to go, which is fine. I think that’s a good change. I think it’s a good change for everybody. So it’ll be interesting to see how our talent or how we continue finding labor and what that looks like. And maybe you just have more employees and they may, they work their 40 hours and that’s it. And that’s okay. That’s how it should be. But that’s going to be a, I think that that’ll be a culture shift for a lot of people
Patti Soskin (25:01):
Absolutely, but we can also look at it different too of maybe as much as it’s nice to have consistency and see one person managing the restaurant. Maybe it’s two people to manage the restaurant. Yeah. Maybe it’s job sharing. Maybe, as a woman, I want to be a full-time mom and a full-time grandma and I don’t want to miss life events. and I don’t want anybody else to miss them either. I don’t want to be the one responsible for somebody missing their kids’ super important baseball game. You know, I just, I don’t believe in that anymore.
Heather Weerheim (25:32):
Yeah. Do you think that’s a post COVID thing? Is that
Patti Soskin (25:35):
For me it was owning a business and raising children at the same time. Yeah. And realizing, you know, what was right for me, tends to be, was right for other people too. And that it can happen.
Heather Weerheim (25:48):
Well, thank you for sharing that. Patti, we’re so grateful that you took time out of your busy day to meet with us at our studio downtown. I love your coffee, food and baked goods. So I truly feel that I’m in the presence of a celebrity, like I said earlier.
Patti Soskin (26:05):
Ah shucks. I love that. I don’t get that much credit. My children, if they were here, they’d humble me. Right? They’d be like, mom, you are no big deal.
Heather Weerheim (26:14):
Well, once you leave, you can take the step down from that pedestal that I put you on. But thank you so much for sharing your expertise today and taking the time and we appreciate it.
Patti Soskin (26:22):