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Follow The Leader Dianna

 “Follow The Leader: Company Culture with Dianna Daoheung”

Kerry Diamond: Hi Bombe Squad. This is Kerry Diamond, host of Radio Cherry Bombe and editor in chief of Cherry Bombe Magazine. Welcome to our new series. Follow the Leader.

Kerry Diamond: These days, everyone is hungry for more advice, especially about being an entrepreneur or finding smarter ways to run a business. For this series, we're talking to four women at different stages of their careers, about how they handle key aspects of their business. Today we'll be talking about culture and no, we don't mean the yogurt kind. When it comes to building your business. It's important to consider how to create a community and an ethos that speaks to both your employees and your customers. That's why I'm talking with Dianna Daoheung of Black Seed Bagels, about how she's worked to create a culture from day one, when she had just a few employees and one location to today, with more than 100 employees across seven locations.

Kerry Diamond: Let's thank Uber Eats for supporting this series. And now, my interview with Dianna Daoheung.

Kerry Diamond: So, we're here to talk about culture.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: Not the yogurt kind or the kombucha kind, all that, but what it means to have a company culture. So Black Seed's been open now, for five years, right?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Five years, going on six, very shortly.

Kerry Diamond: Five going on six. It feels like Black Seed has been around longer because you opened and you just started crushing it immediately. I mean, you change the bagel scene in New York, which is not an easy thing to do because the places that have been around our institutions.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: And now Black Seed is an institution. How does that feel?

Dianna Daoheung: It's insane to think that we have seven locations now, in five years. Like you said, to you, it seems like we've been ... to me, I feel like I've been doing it for a lifetime. It's insane.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, I feel like it's been around forever. Yeah.

Dianna Daoheung: Right. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I think that is the mark of a good brand and a good product.

Dianna Daoheung: Absolutely.

Kerry Diamond: When it's sort of seamlessly fits into the city.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah, for sure. Especially hearing the younger generations talk. I'll be randomly on the L train and I'll overhear some college kid, being like, "Oh, I take my mom all the time to Black Seed".

Dianna Daoheung: I'm like, "All the time? We've only been open for five years".

Kerry Diamond: That's funny.

Dianna Daoheung: So it's amazing. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So tell us how you got your start. You've been baking for a while.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Well originally, I was in advertising, when I first move to New York and I did the typical life crisis, transitional change, drastic in salary pay in all types. But, at first I started off in the savory scene.

Kerry Diamond: Okay, wait. I need to take you back in the advertising part. You glossed over that very quickly.

Dianna Daoheung: I try to.

Kerry Diamond: So where did you grow up?

Dianna Daoheung: I grew up in Florida.

Kerry Diamond: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Dianna Daoheung: My parents are originally from Thailand, first generation. I went to school for marketing and business and then moved to New York, thinking I'm going to be a madman and I'm going to be in advertising, and that was going to be my career life choice.

Kerry Diamond: Why was advertising interesting to you?

Dianna Daoheung: Obviously, the creative aspect, the money. Because when you're young, you think money's the answer to everything. And at that time too, it was 2004 and it seemed like that was the right move. Especially, growing up in Florida, and when you think about New York jobs, advertising, fashion, those are probably the two biggest things that you first are drawn to.

Kerry Diamond: The glamor jobs.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah, the glamor jobs. And then you realize it ain't so glamorous is it? Especially when you're on the bottom of the rung. And I moved up pretty quickly in that world and I learned a lot of business practices that I still apply to my current job. But at the end of the day, I was stuck in luxury brands and every client that I worked on was just these unattainable brands that aren't for everyday people. And I just didn't feel good about it at the end of the day.

Kerry Diamond: Wow.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So how old were you when you decided I need to make a change?

Dianna Daoheung: I was probably, feels so long now, 25, 26.

Kerry Diamond: So you realized pretty quickly that this world wasn't for you?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. My dad is a Buddhist monk. My mom was a housekeeper. I never really grew up in that kind of world, and consulted with my dad and he was just like, you have to follow your heart. Just really don't chase the money. I know how important it is in New York, but that's not going to be what makes you happy. And I really just dug into what makes me happy.

Dianna Daoheung: And at the end of the day, food is a big part of my family of Thai culture. And so I was just like, you know what, I'm just going to go to culinary school and give it a shot. And the main reason why I chose culinary school is I had served and bartended all through college, but I really was super nervous going into a situation where I really didn't know much about it, except from the front of the house side. So, I don't want to say I regret it now because culinary school gave me my basics, but I'm still paying for tuition, basically.

Kerry Diamond: Well, like every college student.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah, exactly.

Kerry Diamond: Not everyone. Lucky ones don't graduate with debt. When you got to culinary school, did you gravitate toward any one side? Sweet? Savory?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. I mainly actually went specifically for pastry, I know this sounds crazy, not because I had a specific interest for it, because I knew that was my weakest thing. Thai food isn't really known for its sweets. My mom was a big savory cook. She really didn't like bake a cake for us or anything. So I naturally knew how to do a lot of savory things already. And I also wanted to really go into a kitchen and be like, you know what? I know how to do everything. I don't ever want to be in there like, I don't know how to butcher a pig. I don't know how to bake a cake. And since that was my weakest and I knew I was going to pay a lot of money for school, I was like, I'm going to do something that's going to benefit me, where, when I go in a kitchen, the chef is going to be like, "Who knows how to make a cake?" And I can raise my hand. So that was really why I chose pastries.

Dianna Daoheung: I still love making it, but overall, I like just being a well rounded chef. I think it's really important in today's kitchen economics, because you can no longer afford just a savory, just a pastry. You really need to know everything at this point.

Kerry Diamond: So you gravitate toward baking?

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: You wind up meeting the Mile End folks, which is a sort of modern deli in Brooklyn.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: And tell us how you got involved with them and how you got involved in their baking program.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So it actually goes back to advertising. I had a really great friend that lived above Mile End, and at that time it was just the one in Brooklyn, which now it's just the one in Brooklyn. But he was just like, "Hey, I know you're really nervous about going into a kitchen, asking for a job. I know a place opening up and they really are needing some good talented people".

Dianna Daoheung: And I literally just went up and I was like, "Hey". And at this time too, Noah had no clue what he was doing either. I could just tell he was still green. So he was like, "I could use any help possible". So at first, I was doing half kitchen, half front of the house shifts, because he needed help on both. And slowly but surely, he's like, "Wait a minute. I'm going to teach you how to slice meat". And he saw me just like murdering all the guys. I could slice way faster, way thinner than any of the guys, even on the line. So he's like, "All right, let's do this".

Kerry Diamond: That's awesome. Noah being the cofounder, right?

Dianna Daoheung: Yes, exactly.

Kerry Diamond: Of Mile End.

Dianna Daoheung: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: So fast forward. They come up with the idea for Black Seed.

Dianna Daoheung: Right.

Kerry Diamond: How do you wind up involved in that?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So it was actually Noah and Matt Kliegman who owns the Smile and operates the chain. They both were just sitting around. This was after Sandy basically-

Kerry Diamond: Hurricane Sandy?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah, Hurricane Sandy. And Matt offered a hand to Noah, just being like, "Hey, I heard your commissary went down. How can I help you?"

Dianna Daoheung: And they were just having beers and just chit chatting about why are there no good bagels? And they were like, "We're restaurateurs, we can make this happen".

Kerry Diamond: Now we have to note, before the new Yorkers are like, "What do you mean there are no good bagels?" Noah is from Montreal.

Dianna Daoheung: Montreal. Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: So, it's a different kind of bagel. Dianna will explain to us what a Montreal bagel is. But that's why they were saying there are no good bagels.

Dianna Daoheung: Right. And then, Matt is actually in New Yorker, so that's how we came up with a hybrid. And how they came about with me is, we don't know what Black Seed is going to be. We can't afford necessarily, a general manager, a chef. We need somebody that can really encompass everything. And this was obviously before they made me a partner of any sort.

Dianna Daoheung: I think I'd worked with Noah for about five years at that time. And too, at that time, I think I was just managing and doing catering and events from Mile End, and he's like, "Hey, I know you really miss baking. Do you want to do this again?"

Dianna Daoheung: And I was just like, "Sure, I'll give it a shot". Not knowing that was going to be the craziness it is now.

Kerry Diamond: And it was one of those rare brands that became a success, right out of the gate.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. It was insane to me. We couldn't keep up with it. First day, I think we had to close down at like 1:00 PM.

Kerry Diamond: I feel like I remember the Grub Street story.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: You kept running out of bagels.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: That's crazy. So you're a partner today.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: You know, it's interesting hearing you talk about the, the Mile End days. I don't even think we used the word culture that often back then to describe-

Dianna Daoheung: Definitely not.

Kerry Diamond: ... what your company was like. In your mind, what does culture mean, in that respect?

Dianna Daoheung: Oh man, there's so much that goes into culture. I think one, it can be just a feeling. It could just be literally walking into a space and feeling something. But also, what is your staff appreciating in the place? That's part of it.

Dianna Daoheung: But honestly, I think the best description is just the feeling to it.

Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dianna Daoheung: And I'm still trying to figure out to this day, constantly, how do we develop Black Seed culture? How do we really keep our employees, retain them, but also have them be excited to go to work? And not only be excited to go to work, be really proud of the work that we do.

Kerry Diamond: So how would you define the Black Seed culture? A good culture, I think is sort of like a living thing. It's always evolving.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: But if you had to describe it right now, what would it be?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. I like to say we're extremely diverse. I think that's the thing I'm most proud of, to be honest with you. We literally have people from all walks of life, all ages. I always like to tell people that I am so proud that when you go into a Black Seed, nobody looks the same. I hate going to those bars in Brooklyn where everybody has tattoos and nose piercing. And there's a time and place for it, I get it. And it's not like that's how they hire, but to me, I just think it's really cool that we attract everybody from all countries, from all walks of life.

Kerry Diamond: And that's not necessarily easy to do. What are you putting out into the universe or in those Craigslist ads, wherever you're putting job postings? What are you doing to attract those kinds of potential employees?

Dianna Daoheung: So, a couple of things. One, I really, really make an effort. Right now, we're at seven shops, I have 150 employees. So it's very intense. But it really literally give every single employee my personal phone number. And I almost try to make an effort to speak to each and every one of them. I really try to use my maternal instinct to really have them understand where a place that is growing, and we want them to be a part of the growth. And also, a more personal approach. It's really easy with how large we are now, to feel corporate. And that's the last thing we're trying to do is make people feel alienated, make people feel like I'm just punching in and punching out, kind of thing. So I really make it a point to talk to each and every employee.

Dianna Daoheung: Obviously, it's 150 employees, so it's hard to do every single day or every week. So I at least try to make a point every month to just sit down with them and just ask them how they're doing, or what they're liking. It's as easy as like, "Hey, what's your favorite sandwich?" Something as small as that makes people feel really like, "Oh wow. She actually knows my name. She's interested in what kind of sandwich I'm eating?"

Dianna Daoheung: So it's just the small things, I think that can help build culture.

Kerry Diamond: And you're a partner today?

Dianna Daoheung: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: That's exciting. When did they make you partner?

Dianna Daoheung: It was literally, probably a year and a half after we opened.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, wow.

Dianna Daoheung: They immediately were like, "We can't do this without you".

Kerry Diamond: We need Dianna.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So in terms of the Black Seed culture, how much of it are you writing down, as you get bigger and bigger and you have 150 employees? Yes, a lot of it is stuff that comes from the gut and how you would like the business to be run.

Dianna Daoheung: That's funny that you're asking that right now, because literally, now that we're at a, I don't want to say a stopping point, but we're at a little-

Kerry Diamond: Inflection point. Don't they call it that?

Dianna Daoheung: Right. Because literally, I think we opened up three locations within three months. I'm exhausted, let's just say that. This is the time that I am starting to write our training manuals out, write how I can really create this culture. Because I'm not going to lie, as I keep on having more and more stores, that is my biggest fear is how do I incorporate more of myself in there? How do I keep my values alive in every single one of those stores.

Dianna Daoheung: And I think the most important thing is really training my managers, not necessarily into being me. I don't want them to be mini mes. But I do want them to have similar values, not necessarily in their personal life, but at least in their business life. Because again, I'm not the type of chef that yells, I'm very patient and I'm very encouraging. So I want to make sure that my managers are the same.

Kerry Diamond: So how much is written down right now?

Dianna Daoheung: Probably none. I'm not going to lie.

Kerry Diamond: No, that's okay.

Dianna Daoheung: It's hard to write something like that.

Kerry Diamond: We're all figuring this out. Yeah.

Dianna Daoheung: Absolutely. I think it's also hard to figure out how to really write culture down inwards, because again, I feel like it's such a feeling and such a ...

Kerry Diamond: It's a spirit.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah, absolutely.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Dianna Daoheung: 100%.

Kerry Diamond: But once you start to get past 150 people.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. And that's exactly the point that I'm trying to literally give myself computer time, because as a chef, people are like, "Oh, I can't believe you actually emailed me back".

Dianna Daoheung: And I'm like, "I really try to have some computer time". As cheesy as it sounds, because I need to figure out how to write this culture down in words. And it's probably the toughest task that I've had to do in a really long time.

Kerry Diamond: And you haven't worked in a lot of professional kitchens?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Not that many. I think the most professional was the Boulevard in San Francisco, but they didn't even have anything written down. And I grew up in a kitchen culture that was just like, "All right. Good luck in the kitchen". No manual. I don't think I've ever gotten a handbook. We didn't have sexual harassment training, we didn't have any of these written down guidelines. It's just the old school kitchen way.

Dianna Daoheung: So I think working with the next generation, the thing I am understanding is they need that really written down word, because they are very, I don't want to say literal, but they're just way more educated in social things, than I ever was, as a line cook.

Kerry Diamond: Does Black Seed have a human resources department yet?

Dianna Daoheung: You're looking at her.

Kerry Diamond: How's that going?

Dianna Daoheung: It's good. I think it's good because it's extremely important to me, as a female. Any kind of harassment, not even just sexual harassment is one of the most important things, that I let any new employee know that I don't care how little it is, I need to know right away. If they feel any kind of threat, they need to come to me right away.

Dianna Daoheung: Again, it's kind of tough playing all roles. But I think if I was to have an HR department and if I was separated from it, I would feel not in control.

Kerry Diamond: That's interesting.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Do you have sexual harassment training yet?

Dianna Daoheung: Yes, we do.

Kerry Diamond: You do?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us what that involves.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So Harri actually do employment too. They actually have a great online program because there are so many nuances where, as every employee comes in, I can't just literally sit down. So it's just an online program. It's a 45 minute course, and then at the end of it, they take a test just to show that they were actually listening. Because again, I think the thing I'm learning is one person's harassment isn't necessarily the others, but they just need to have the basic understanding of what is harassment?

Kerry Diamond: So you said it's Harri’s? Just for other restaurateurs, who are looking for a resource.

Dianna Daoheung: There's a lot out there, but I think the good thing about Harri, so H-A-R-R-I, they give you a little certificate to each employee that completes it. So it shows that they've been through it.

Kerry Diamond: And that you take it seriously.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah, exactly.

Kerry Diamond: It also sounds like you're really describing a kitchen culture based on respect.

Dianna Daoheung: Absolutely. Yeah. 100%. I worked at ISA, I worked at again, Boulevard, which was-

Kerry Diamond: Oh, so you worked in a lot of kitchens?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Not a lot. There's definitely some-

Kerry Diamond: For some reason, I thought you went right from culinary school to Mile End.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. I had a little break from Mile End for a minute, because I wanted to broaden my experience. And it was tough being a female, trying to really move up and move up quickly. So having that experience myself, I made it my goal that Black Seed wasn't going to be that type of environment. It was really, really important to me and it still is.

Kerry Diamond: Let's thank Uber Eats for supporting Follow the Leader.

Kerry Diamond: Hey Bombesquad. Savvy food entrepreneurs are as selective about their ingredients as they are about food delivery, which is one of many reasons why they partner with Uber Eats. In addition to the reliable delivery, Uber Eats is a delivery platform that allows users to discover new restaurants, so a smaller business gets reach and awareness benefits. If you are ready to learn more and get started, visit\bombesquad, for more information. That's\bombesquad.

Kerry Diamond: Let's return to my conversation with Dianna Daoheung, of Black Seed Bagels.

Kerry Diamond: So let's talk about hiring. That is the hardest part, regardless of what industry you're in.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah,

Kerry Diamond: How do you hire?

Dianna Daoheung: Oh man. I've actually stepped away from using Craigslist. The biggest thing with Craigslist is you just get everything. And you put specific things and you just don't get what you need. So I actually work with Hot Bread Kitchen.

Kerry Diamond: For our listeners out there who don't know what Hot Bread Kitchen is, just give us the brief description.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So obviously they're a bakery as well, but Hot Bread Kitchen also has this amazing training program for women, that are either refugees or just lower income and just trying to get their foot in the door in the kitchen, and might not have the skillsets. And in the program, for each person, they go through a whole series of interviews. I'm not quite sure how big each class is, but they have a limited seating on how many people, and I believe it's a three month program they go through.

Dianna Daoheung: And I think the best thing about them is they don't just teach them, "This is how you use a Robot Coupe. This is how you dice something". They teach them the soft skills. So by soft skills, I mean, showing up on work on time. How do you take criticism? What is really team playing? Because I think the one thing that I have learned is that's what's actually missing in a lot of people. It's unbelievable how I tell people, "Okay, it's really important to me to show up on time". And to them on time is five minutes past the time that they're coming in.

Dianna Daoheung: And I love Hot Bread Kitchen for taking the time to teach interview skills. Skills that I definitely wasn't taught as a line cook. So I think that's why I love them. And at the end of every semester, they have a little recruitment program. And I also love obviously the fact that they work with women. I think it's amazing.

Kerry Diamond: So Hot Bread Kitchen is a resource.

Dianna Daoheung: Right.

Kerry Diamond: And not using Craigslist anymore?

Dianna Daoheung: No.

Kerry Diamond: Where else are you going?

Dianna Daoheung: Indeed. Indeed is actually the new-

Kerry Diamond: You're the second person to mention that to me today.

Dianna Daoheung: They are a really good source. They really have figured out how to supply each employer with not just one or two, literally hundreds of resumes you can sort through. So I really have enjoyed using them.

Dianna Daoheung: They might give you a hundred employees but out of that hundred, you might get 10. But I think the frustrating part is you'd be surprised, you get 10 reply saying, "Yeah, I'll come in for an interview". And really, only like two or three show up.

Kerry Diamond: I know. Isn't that maddening? When I was hiring for my coffee shop, I would always be like, "They no-showed me".

Dianna Daoheung: Yep. All the time.

Kerry Diamond: They ghosted me.

Dianna Daoheung: They love ghosting.

Kerry Diamond: They do love ghosting. But I learned over time, I was still using Craigslist because I'd used a few other niche hiring sites, and they just didn't really perform for me as well as Craigslist. But I was hiring baristas.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: And I learned that if I didn't write a really corporate sounding job description and ad, then I got a better quality candidate. And that sounds like it makes total sense, but if you go on Craigslist and you look at the ads, they're awful. They are like a thousand words and so boring.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: And instead, I just put who we were and what we were all about. And at the time, we were looking for baristas who were very much into environmentally sustainable practices, and got a lot of great people.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. I think our ad is kind of a mix. Obviously, we tout the James Beard thing and tout that we've been in this. But we also tried to-

Kerry Diamond: You just slipped that in. What is the James Beard thing?

Dianna Daoheung: You know, just being nominated.

Kerry Diamond: So modest.

Dianna Daoheung: I think we try to keep it a little bit corporate, but also, really put our soul into it. Kind of just keep it fun and not so serious.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah.

Dianna Daoheung: I think also, the hardest part is the fact that the economy is doing somewhat good. So it's kind of tough to hire somebody ... $15 an hour, yes, that's minimum wage, but it's a lot for a restaurant. Especially going from 13 to 15, it really is tough. If you think about now, a high school kid comes out of high school and makes 15. When I was a line cook, I think it was like 7.50 an hour. I mean, I think it's definitely necessary, we had that jump. But it's tough from a business standpoint.

Kerry Diamond: Right. And you're selling one bagel at a time, you're not selling-

Dianna Daoheung: Exactly. We're not like a whole sale. And even wholesale is tough.

Kerry Diamond: I just mean even somebody who comes into a restaurant.

Dianna Daoheung: Oh right.

Kerry Diamond: You know, if the average ticket is, I don't know, $70 or something.

Dianna Daoheung: Exactly. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Average tickets.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. We're a fast casual. And it's absolutely tough to compete with the Gramercy Taverns of the world that again, every person that walks in there is spending at least $70, if not more, where ours ranges from $3 to you know, $12 in one big oldest. That's why we need to continue to expand.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. So when you hire someone, what sort of orientation program do you have when they start?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So luckily, now with seven stores, we have hired, I guess we can call them an orientation manager. So we are very compliant with all the paperwork. So literally, the stack of paperwork they have to do, was like a hundred pages long. So obviously that, and then they hand them a menu guide and go through our basic guidelines of what it means to be at Black Seed, which obviously is the boring and basic part. And then we kind of just throw them in the trenches. We have them side by side with the trainer. But, I think the hardest part is really taking it back to when we just had one Black Seed.

Dianna Daoheung: When we had one Black Seed, literally the whole entire staff were like my friends. I was like, "Hey, do you want to work with me?" Which was probably not the best thing, now that I look at it. I definitely didn't hurt any friendships, but I definitely didn't gain any friendships like that.

Dianna Daoheung: So, it's definitely interesting on how to try to keep a little piece of me into every Black Seed we open. That's been my biggest heartache, I think, as we grow.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. And then how about for your customers? What we're talking about is a lot of the behind the scenes.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: Although, obviously some of the people you're hiring are consumer facing.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: How do you create a culture for your clients and your consumers?

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. I think one, obviously the aesthetics of your restaurant play a big role in it. Luckily, my two partners have amazing design aesthetic and they really focus on the build outs with that. So I think one, even though each location is a different floor plan, really, things that are key to us are obviously, the types of wood we use, what tiles we use. Just really making sure that, even though it might look a little different, you can walk in and you're like, "Aha. This is Black Seed. 100%".

Dianna Daoheung: The music, we use a program called Gravy. It's a little bit better than Spotify, just in terms of your employees aren't just allowed to pick any one. It's literally Black Seed specific. When we we're using Spotify, I'd walk in and I literally would hear death metal at like 7:00 AM. I would have one baker wanting to put on this Norwegian death metal, and I'm like, "I know you're ending your shift, but these people are just waking up. This is not Black Seed".

Kerry Diamond: That's so funny. When I had Smith Canteen, the coffee shop, we worked with this great kid from the food and finance high school. I won't say him by name because he might be listening. If you're listening, you know I'm talking about you.

Kerry Diamond: But I would walk in and all of a sudden I would hear a Lady Gaga song, that I knew was not on the playlist. And then all of a sudden, it would stop after one song and I'd be like, "Where is he? I know he messed with the playlist". Yeah.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So I think visual and audio cues can absolutely make the culture of a restaurant. The minute you walk in, you can feel a difference. I think, as cheesy, as much as I hate uniforms, I think uniforms actually really helped play a part in creating this feeling where okay, these guys are professional. Where, back in the day, when we just had two or three, I was like, "Okay, yeah. You guys can wear whatever I want", forgetting that some people's professional clothes aren't like every other people's professional clothes.

Kerry Diamond: So tell us what they wear now.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Right now, they just have basic Black Seed T-shirts. They just have our logo on them, and Black Seed hats. Like I said, they're basic, but again, we're a bagel shop. I'm not expecting them to wear chef uniforms and things like that.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. One of the things I talked to my staff about a little bit, was how they interact with the guests.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: Because people use different pronouns today.

Dianna Daoheung: Absolutely.

Kerry Diamond: You don't know what their pronoun of choice is. You can't tell from looking at someone.

Dianna Daoheung: Absolutely. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Talk a little bit to them about, just how you interact with guests and don't make assumptions about gender or pronouns, or things like that.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. A couple of things that we do is, nowadays a lot of credit cards can automatically read the name. So, one of the things we do, once we're finished with the sandwich in order, we call out the person's name. So, we no longer just go straight from the credit card. We always always ask, "Hey, can I get your name?" Because again, maybe I don't want to be called Dianna. Maybe I want to be called Matt or Noah. So, in that respect, we absolutely just ask for their names.

Dianna Daoheung: A lot of people still love to say, "Hey honey", or "Hey dear". And personally myself, I hate when people do that to me. Even my friends, I'm like, "Can you just not call me that?" I don't necessarily want them to be without personality, my staff, but I just let them know to really be neutral about things. Don't necessarily assume somebody wants to be called one thing or another.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. I had to talk to them about that.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. It's tough to kick that habit out of people, you know?

Kerry Diamond: Especially when that's tied into how you feel you're being welcoming to someone.

Dianna Daoheung: Absolutely. And I think that's the one great thing about the sexual harassment training. It does touch on that, where we can no longer assume and we shouldn't. I think it's perfectly fair to be called what you want to be called.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. It is hard to break that. I find, I still say, "You guys", too much.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: And I'm really trying my best to break that.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. I'm the same. Yeah. Especially, I think just coming from a different kitchen status too, I really try to respect people's gender identities in that respect.

Kerry Diamond: You've been doing this long enough now. I know you're not an old timer in the industry, but you've really seen kitchens change.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Even within this past five years that Black Seed's been open, it's so different. It's insane. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: It must be exciting to be part of that change.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Again, the minute I opened Black Seed, from day one, I made sure that we're not a yelling kitchen. We're not the type to make anybody feel excluded. I don't care who you are, I don't care where you come from, it's not the place for that. So I hope that when people leave Black Seed after working and go, do something bigger and better, that they can always look at Black Seed and be like, "Wow". And I absolutely have people still Instagramming message me, and being like, "Hey, I'm actually a professor now in Philly, and I just wanted to say, I still think about how it never bothered you that I was transgender", or, "You actually were the first boss that made me feel like I was what I wanted to be".

Dianna Daoheung: And I was like, "Yeah, why would I treat you any different? I don't understand why you're thanking me, but cool. Thanks".

Kerry Diamond: That's great.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So, you've got five years of wisdom under your belt now.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: If you were opening Black Seed today and you were thinking about company culture, what would you do differently?

Dianna Daoheung: I'd probably write it down. No, seriously. I probably would because, as we're looking to expand outside, which I can't necessarily talk about now, but ...

Kerry Diamond: Ooh.

Dianna Daoheung: As we're thinking about going to other countries and other-

Kerry Diamond: Other countries? Damn.

Dianna Daoheung: Yep. Perhaps.

Kerry Diamond: I won't start guessing which countries. Go ahead.

Dianna Daoheung: It's making me nervous, again, how is Black Seed going to be translated to even other cities? Forget countries. But how would we look in LA? How would we look in DC, because I'm not going to be able to be there everyday, like I am here.

Dianna Daoheung: So, like you said, I think just even starting to write down what it is. And again, maybe not hiring so many of my friends to begin with. But again, hiring my friends I guess, helped me define that culture because my friends are so much of me.

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. All right. Let's talk about food for a few minutes, before we let you go. So explain to us what a Montreal bagel is.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So the one thing I want to say is that we're definitely a hybrid.

Kerry Diamond: Right. You're a hybrid.

Dianna Daoheung: I don't want these Montrealers coming, knocking at my door.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us first what the Montreal bagel is, and then tell us what the Black Seed bagel is.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So the Montreal bagel is kind of a smaller, denser, friendlier cousin of the New York bagel. It's sweeter because of the honey. It's wood fired. And I always like to tell people, on the spectrum of a Kaiser roll to a pretzel. It's probably closer to a pretzel kind of thing. It's thinner, a bigger hole. Often misshapen. People in New York are very spoiled with like perfectly shaped bagels, that look like-

Kerry Diamond: Big, pillowy bagels.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I'm a native New Yorker, so to me, a Montreal bagel is not really a bagel, but that's okay.

Dianna Daoheung: I think Michael from Food Baby, he actually went to Montreal and he was posting like, "This bagel sucks". And some of the Montreal friends were like, "Nope".

Kerry Diamond: No offense, Montreal. We love you.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. So again, I think we took the aspects that we liked out of Montreal, the wood fire, the honey and not so much of a huge bagel, and mixed it with the New York bagel. It's literally like my two partners. Again, one's Montreal, one's from Long Island, so we just kind of mix those two and came up with, what I like to think is a perfect bagel. Not too big, not as dense as a Montreal, but again, not as as fluffy as a New York bagel.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Some New York bagels, you could actually sleep on one of them.

Dianna Daoheung: Oh, yeah.

Kerry Diamond: They're so big and fluffy.

Dianna Daoheung: It takes me days to get through one New York bagel.

Kerry Diamond: When I was a kid, growing up here, it was a big deal. My dad would go get bagels on Saturday morning, and if when he came back they were warm, you just felt like you won the lottery or something.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah, totally. Now, I don't even touch cold bagels. I'm like, yeah, I'll just take one right out of the oven. No human hands have touched it.

Kerry Diamond: And you are in our new issue. We're very excited.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. That's fun.

Kerry Diamond: You kindly welcomed one of our contributors, Jane Larkworthy, who's a beauty editor and who works at The Cut, New York magazine. She is an amateur bagel maker.

Dianna Daoheung: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: What do you call a bagel maker? A bagel maker.

Dianna Daoheung: A bagel maker? I'll have to think of an official term. Bagel baker?

Kerry Diamond: I don't know. Like bagel-ist. I don't know why I said that. But anyway, she's an amateur bagel maker and she wanted to learn a little bit more about how someone, who's a professional makes bagels.

Dianna Daoheung: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: But now that I said that, I'm like, actually we made her go do that story.

Dianna Daoheung: You forced her hand.

Kerry Diamond: We were like, "Jane, do you want to go learn how to make bagels from someone who actually knows what they're doing?" And she was game.

Dianna Daoheung: Have you had her bagels, since she left there? Are they any better?

Kerry Diamond: You know what, I had her bagel, prior to her class with you.

Dianna Daoheung: Okay.

Kerry Diamond: How did she do?

Dianna Daoheung: She did great, actually. I think, after a couple of hand rolls ... You could immediately tell which bagels were hers and which bagels were mine. But no, she really impressed me, actually. I was like, "Ah, maybe you should quit the beauty editing thing and start waking up at 4:00 AM with me".

Kerry Diamond: And I love the description of the rolled bagel, like a bangle.

Dianna Daoheung: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond: Was that something you'd describe it as, or was that Jane's terminology?

Dianna Daoheung: No. There is a bunch of different written history about the history of bagels, and there's one that we're seeing that, they mimicked it off of a bangle. And the N fell off, or however you want to describe it. There's that theory and there's also theory of, it was part of the King's horse's stirrup. So there was this famous Polish King that won this awesome war, so this Jewish baker made this pastry for this King, that was mimicking his stirrup. That's one thing.

Dianna Daoheung: And then once, it was actually for the queen when she was giving birth and it represented her bangle that she would always wear. So there is a bunch of different-

Kerry Diamond: I was afraid you were going to say something else about her giving birth and what it represented. I was like, "Where is this story going?"

Dianna Daoheung: Life. It represents the circle of life.

Kerry Diamond: Exactly. So if folks want to support you or just see what you're up to, where can they find Black Seed Bagels?

Dianna Daoheung: Oh man. Now that we have seven locations, it's hard for me to think. So I'm typically at either, the East village or the Chelsea location, right now. The Chelsea market is our newest one. It's more of an appetizing shop, so that's like our newest thing.

Kerry Diamond: What's an appetizing shop?

Dianna Daoheung: That's so funny. So it's not full of jalapeño poppers and potato poppers or whatever. It's an old school Jewish, I don't want to call it a fishery, but it's full of smoked fishes. Basically, anything that you could put on a bagel.

Dianna Daoheung: So that's at the Chelsea markets, our newest one that opened, maybe two months ago, at this point. And then, there's the East village and Nolita, which is our original location. There's Brookfield Place, which is down by the financial district. There's downtown Brooklyn. And then there's, gosh, I can't even keep track, one by the Ace hotel, near the new milk bar. And then there is-

Kerry Diamond: You are all over.

Dianna Daoheung: Rock center. I can't believe I forgot Rock center.

Kerry Diamond: Do you go to all of them?

Dianna Daoheung: Yes. I try to make it a point. Obviously, not every day because that would be exhausting. But every week, I at least try to see them or meet up with all my managers.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. That's a lot of ...

Dianna Daoheung: It's intense. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: That's a nice touch. That's amazing.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah. Again, that's part of building that culture. If you don't have facetime, then you're going to end up kind of disappearing, if you don't make that facetime.

Kerry Diamond: And tell me what your classic order is at Black Seed.

Dianna Daoheung: I always go for the super classic smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, capers, onions on a sesame bagel.

Kerry Diamond: Why?

Dianna Daoheung: Just the balance of it. That saltiness from the capers and the salmon, and then the mellowness of the plain cream cheese. And I just love a sesame bagel because, as much as I do appreciate the everything bagel, I just think sometimes the garlic and onion can overpower all the rest of the ingredients. And just the tomato, and it just gives that acidity. To me, it's the perfect sandwich.

Kerry Diamond: That sounds like heaven.

Dianna Daoheung: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for this episode of Follow the Leader. Thank you to Dianna Daoheung for talking with me about the culture she and her crew have built at Black Seed Bagels. And thank you to Uber Eats for supporting this Radio Cherry Bombe mini series. Follow the Leader was produced and edited by Jess Zeidman of Cherry Bombe and recorded at CDM sound studios and Argot studios in New York city.

Kerry Diamond: Thanks for listening everybody. You are the bombe.