If there’s a handbook for how to start and run a restaurant, Kathryn Hubert ’12 has completely rewritten it.
As owner and chef of Chez Genèse, Greensboro’s newest French restaurant, she decided to do things differently when the restaurant opened last fall.
Most notably, she created an integrated work environment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to thrive. And she instituted no tipping and decided to pay all employees above minimum wage.
It’s a model that has not only found success, but has been transformative – for her staff, for downtown, and for the Greensboro community.
Hubert grew up in Boone, North Carolina, and often found herself in the kitchen, alongside her mom.
“I’ve always loved food – I’ve been fascinated by it,” she says.
She completed her two-year culinary degree, and then moved to France for one year to work and cook at a conference center in the Burgundy region.
Things were different in France – the pace was slower, the food was better, and there was a focus on quality of life that was new to Kathryn.
After a year, she returned to the United States, and started at UNC Greensboro. The University had a strong hospitality and tourism program, and accepted her credits from culinary school.
While at UNCG, she worked part-time for the Autism Society of North Carolina. It wasn’t her first time working with individuals with disabilities – Hubert has three cousins with autism. Ultimately, her involvement with the organization led to a full-time job as a behavioral support assistant for Guilford County Schools upon graduation.
It was at this point when Hubert started daydreaming about opening her own restaurant. She left her job in the school system after two years and landed at the Iron Hen Café, where she learned every aspect of the restaurant business.
“It’s been amazing to work some place where I’m accepted. People see me as a person and not someone with a disability.” — Bridget Lucas ’19
Chez Genèse, which roughly translates to “the place of new beginnings,” opened in October of 2018.
Hubert has received a slew of recognition for her unique concept. But she’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not about her – it’s about the team and the culture she is creating.
“It was really important to me that my team, especially our management team, learned to live and breathe our mission,” she says.
One of those team members is Bethany Moore ’18, event coordinator and administrative assistant for the restaurant.
Like Hubert, Moore studied sustainable tourism and hospitality at UNCG.
“Event planning is all about connecting and making space in a very busy culture,” she says.
UNCG alumni Bridget Lucas ’19 and Nils Skudra ’18 MA are servers at the restaurant.
“It’s been amazing to work some place where I’m accepted. People see me as a person and not someone with a disability,” says Lucas.
To be clear, Chez Genèse is not a nonprofit. It’s structured as a for-profit business.
Hubert explains that she hires people of differing abilities because she believes it’s the best business decision she can make.
Chez Genèse has quickly become a local favorite – the restaurant is packed on the weekends, and often during the weekdays, and is one of the top-ranked brunch spots in Greensboro according to Yelp.
In hiring individuals with disabilities, the restaurant hopes to decrease the percentage of unemployed adults with I/DD, a rate that currently sits between 70 and 80 percent, educate the public on what it means to live with a disability, and train people to obtain and maintain a job in another work setting in the future.
And in bringing a piece of France to downtown Greensboro, the Chez Genèse team hopes that their guests will begin to slow down, connect with one another, and enjoy life a little more.
“While it is a French concept, I think the values are bigger than France,” says Moore. “The value of genuinely caring for people – caring for employees and caring for guests. That’s something everyone has been excited about.”
The full version of this story originally appeared in UNCG Magazine. To read the full story and other stories about UNCG alumni making an impact, visit alumnimagazine.uncg.edu.
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications