Studio IX : What’d you have for breakfast?
Hannah: I actually haven’t eaten yet. I thought I was gonna be late, so I got over here as fast as I could. But I did find, I think, some egg on my shirt this morning. I think that’s what it was, egg.
Studio IX: Hmm. (laughter)
H: I do have egg packed in my lunch. It could be that.
Studio IX: There’s evidence of egg.
H: There is evidence of egg.
Studio IX: Okay. First real question. Who are you, and what do you do?
H: Who am I, and what do I do? I’ve always considered myself a listener and a people watcher, and I think those two identities work in tandem. I’ve been fascinated by other people for as long as I can remember. In fact, I’ve probably been more interested in other people’s lives than in my own. But sometimes it’s stifling being the “observer,” rather than the “participant,” so I’ve worked in recent years to be more of the “participant.” I have a lot of things I want to do in my life. Even still, I love being quiet—just kind off doing my own thing and figuring out how I think about the world. There’s a balance there somewhere.
As for what I do, I’d say that I serve people, and I try to do it with a good attitude.
Studio IX: What is your actual title, and who do you work for?
H: I’m the Director of Employee Experience at Roots Natural Kitchen. I get a pulse on how our people are doing, how they’re engaging with their peers, their managers, and their work, and figure out how to improve their experience—before, during, and after their time at Roots. The goal is to make this the most fun, fulfilling, and empowering place to be, and be from.
In short, my work is figuring out what it is we’re promising our people, and how we plan to deliver on that promise throughout the course of employees’ careers.
Studio IX: Awesome.
H: Yeah, it is.
Studio IX: Well, I’ll just ask it—you may have answered it, but what are you passionate about?
H: I’m really passionate about food and our relationship to it—including all the emotional, physical, cultural, political, and environmental ties to what we eat. I think I’m angsty, or let’s say, convicted, at my core, because I find a lot of injustices in the world, particularly in the food industry, and I feel a deep-rooted personal responsibility to right them.
In college, I used to joke, though mostly seriously, that I was a poet and a “muckraker,” which was a term coined to describe the investigative journalists who exposed the evils of leaders, corporations, and political systems around the turn of the 20th century. Think people like Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle, and revolutionized American food safety with his words. It’s a lovely thought: these “muckrakers” digging up crap and exposing it. Bringing it out into the light, out into the open, to get some fresh air. So I would say that I was, and still am, a poet and a muckraker, because I believe that you can dig up truth and illuminate it in such a way that it is useful, invigorating, and beautiful.
I’m also drawn to healing, all kinds of healing. I think any profession can be a “healing profession” if you approach your work, and your people, with care, thought, and a sincere desire for wholeness and restoration.
And I’m passionate about people. I’ve heard it said that loving others is the most creative thing we could ever do. I’ll add that I also think it’s the hardest, and the most worthwhile.
Studio IX: I feel that—
Studio IX: Does this play a part in your work?
H: For sure it does. Right now, I’m uniquely positioned to advocate for people. Something that I love about Roots is that we offer opportunity—a fresh start for a lot of people in this industry. I, or really, we as a collective company, are able to put under the microscope most jobs in the service industry and say, How can we make this work better, more humane and worthwhile, for our people? So in that sense, I’m taking the injustices that I see and doing what I can to right them, to offer people enriching work and translatable life skills. I often say that I feel experientially “rich,” especially at Roots, and I want others to feel the same. I want to make a tangible difference. One that others can hear, see, and touch.
Studio IX: Yeah. What do you enjoy most about work?
H: Word on the street is that this is everyone’s favorite aspect of work—but of course, the people. My coworkers are creative and wildly entertaining to work alongside. They play with words, and ideas, and norms, and to me this is the most fun. Being a somewhat recent college grad, I thought I was going to miss school, but this past year, I’ve found that my curiosity, my need for intellectual stimulation, is met in our corporate office. My mind has been changed and twisted and teased countless times—it’s been cool to have the boundaries of my brain just stretch. Not only have I gleaned a lot of professional experience in this role, but a lot of cognitive and relational experience as well. I really love that.
Studio IX: I mean, that’s a good segue to jump off the regular kind of scheduled programming and just talk about the show for a minute. So you have an exhibit here at Studio IX, in the gallery in September.
Can you talk a bit about it?
H: Yeah. It’s funny, because when I was talking to you earlier, I mentioned that this gallery exhibit was not the way I thought I was going to be “published.” This whole project started because one of our co-founders, Alberto, wrote an email one day—and the thing you gotta know about him is that he is very direct and succinct in his writing—and I was so struck by the cadence of his words. I don’t know if he intended his email to be that way, but it rhymed, and overall had the right tempo. I thought it was brilliant. So I wrote it down and played with the spacing and the line structure, and I was like, Shoot, this is poetry.
After that, I kept my ears perked. I started recording more and more quotes from my coworkers, and playing with them, thinking, “Oh, if I work with them, shape them this way and break down the words that way, I can recreate the experience of hearing them for the first time.” I started identifying as a scribe, a preserver of our open-office culture. You think of ancient cultures that tell their stories on wax paper and stone tablets—I happen to tell ours electronically. I had everything written down on a word doc. Like any other scribe worth his salt, I felt compelled to remember, and at some point, pass along, these conversations and comebacks. Each poem, then, encapsulates a very specific creative moment.
But the thing is, even in their specificity, these poems are broad enough where you can read them, relate to them, and think, “Oh, I see where you’re coming from with that.” Or, “You know, I’ve been there. I resonate with that.” That’s powerful.
Studio IX: Yes.
Studio IX: Could you share a memorable story?
H: Memorable story. hmm—?
Studio IX: If we take your writing, your love of the word, your love of people, your work with Roots—is there a memorable story that comes to mind?
H: I feel like there are a lot of memorable stories.
Studio IX: Something that stands out to you.
H: Let me think on it. I’ve been with Roots now for three and a half years, and for two plus of those years I worked in restaurant operations. Anytime you deal directly with the public, you get a lot of good stories. I’ll have to circle back on that.
Greg: What’s an aspect of what you do that people might be surprised to know about your job?
H: Hmmm. I’m on hold a lot.
Now I don’t mean that to sound diminutive. I work on a several “big picture” projects, and I love it when people say they’re different because of Roots. But a lot of times, I’m responding to emails, waiting on hold, doing “little” things well. Because when you pull back the curtain, you find that the little things are actually the big things, the world-changing things, if you do them proficiently and consistently. So I do my best to approach the little things with the same sense of faithfulness, and reverence, and joy, that I do the big things. I’ve gleaned a lot of this wisdom from my coworker Henry, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience it, and make sense of it, in my own way.
Studio IX: Well said, Han’
Studio IX: Any sense of where you’re headed, where Roots is headed?
What’s in the future for the company, or for your role in it?
H: In 2015, as you know, we opened the doors of our flagship location here on the Corner—and since then, we’ve opened five more restaurants. So we’ve grown quite rapidly in the first few years of business. I know the plan from a strategic perspective is to continue that growth. In 2020, we’ll have several new locations opening, and obviously, with more growth comes more opportunity.
Going forward, my role will look slightly different, in that I’ll be hiring, and working closely with, somebody new to ensure that the more technical tasks of my current role, including compliance, payroll, and benefits administration, are handled. All of us here wear a lot of hats, but for most of the time, the “humans” department is a one-woman department, so I’m thrilled to get some help in this area. I’m excited, also, to step into more of a managerial role, and work on my professional parenting skills, if you will. So my medium-term plans are to keep doing what I’m doing and then help our new humans department hire become acclimated.
Studio IX: Then, save the world.
H: Then, yes, save the world. Those are my long-term plans. (laughter)
Studio IX: What do you enjoy about being here in Studio Ix?
H: Something that drew me to Studio IX in the beginning was the atmosphere. I remember when we were touring office spaces, looking for our company’s new corporate home, I left Studio IX thinking, Yes, this is it. The space was so bright and warm, even in late October. For me, Studio IX was an aesthetic attraction and a gut sense.
Think of how you fall in love with a person. Maybe you’re attracted to someone because you’re a sucker for crow’s feet, but once you spend time with them, and you get to know them, you become enthralled with the other parts of them: the lines of their handwriting, the patience they have in traffic, the sun-burnt backs of their ears when you walk behind them.
That’s how it was with Studio IX. At first, I was drawn to the general appearance and atmosphere. But as I got to know the space, I found that I was drawn to its people, those I met by the printer and passed in the hall and learned by first name at the fridge making breakfast; drawn to its habits; drawn to the Van Morrison on Tuesday morning over tea; drawn its many Thursday happy hours. These characteristics and quirks come with a space once you spend time getting to know it. All of these things equally become it.
And I don’t want to forget Sicily Rose, which, even after it no longer greets us here in the mornings, still has a home in my heart and my mind. The friendships I’ve formed with those at Sicily Rose, and the perspectives I’ve gained from having this place as a part of Studio IX, I consider not transitional, but pivotal, in my own personal development.
Studio IX: We’re honored to have you and the team here with us, Hannah.
H: Thank you.