Restaurant Owners Give New Meaning to Comfort Food
Deborah Kahn, JD (MBA ’13) and Andrew Segal opened The Whisper House in downtown Claremont in 2015 with a commitment to offer a unique dining experience, treat staff as valuable members of their team, and dedicate a portion of profits to worthy causes. The steady stream of return guests—70 percent of the business—is a testament to their vision.
On March 17, the restaurant staff was preparing for its usual 4:00 pm opening when word came that would affect the lives of over 1.5 million people working in California’s restaurant industry.
State leaders and health officials, in the battle against COVID-19, ordered that service be limited to drive-thru and takeout orders.
Segal did the math: The restaurant would most likely break even. More importantly, he did not want to risk the health of those he and Kahn consider part of their extended family, many of whom have been with them since their opening.
On that day, at 3 p.m., The Whisper House closed, and Kahn and Segal focused on a new clientele—their staff.
The crisis, says alumna Kahn, “goes way beyond our immediate family. Our business supports 41 families.”
“We vowed to do well by them,” Segal said. It took about four hours to package $20,000 in meat, produce, and dairy— the entire inventory for the restaurant. “We opened our doors and shared it with employees, their families, friends, and the community.”
“It was very emotional and hit close to home,” Kahn said. “What really struck us was how sad our employees were to know we were closing, but how grateful they were to take things home. This crisis goes way beyond our immediate family. Our business supports 41 families.
“You never really know people’s lives outside of work until you see it firsthand.”
They also recognized the need to nourish the bonds that the close-knit group had formed over the years, so they created a private Facebook page. “We’re touching base every week,” Segal said. “If someone needs help, we’re there collectively for them. We want to instill upon our staff that, ‘Tough times don’t last. Tough teams do.’ We’re all in this together, and we are a family.”
The commitment continues. Every two weeks, The Whisper House provides all of its employees with an opportunity to stop by the restaurant to pick up food for their families, observing social distancing and other health protocols. Segal made a point to thank his investors for their dedication and financial support of The Whisper House team and their families.
When the state gives the all-clear, Kahn and Segal are prepared to pivot again.
“We want our staff to know that the minute we have a chance to open, we are committed to doing so,” Segal said. “We support our staff and are dedicated to getting things back to where they need to be.”