How Restaurants Feed Their Staff

An intimate look at the restaurant ritual of the staff meal

"A train of things keep coming out. I need a break clearly," Henry Hargreaves warns over the phone, though chipperly.

He's shooting the upcoming Jack's Wife Freda cookbook right now, but he's taken a few minutes to chat about a new project he's finally unveiled after nearly a year of shooting: Staff Meals of the World.

Together with Lauren Levinger of The Food Life, Hargreaves has meticulously chronicled the restaurant industry's practice of breaking bread together in the lull of the early evening before the rush of dinner service. The restaurants span from the aforementioned always-busy Jack's Wife Freda in New York City, where working at the all-day café means the staff sit down one at a time, ordering whatever they want off the menu and inspiring daily specials, to Blacklock in London, where the front of the house is cooking for the back of the house during family meals.

"I just felt like it was a really privileged look in the restaurant world that you never get entrance to," Hargreaves explains. "No matter how much money you pay, it's the table you won't get to sit at."

However, the team isn't just interested in the exclusivity of this meal, but rather the recent evolution of it. It started with Okonomi, the Japanese breakfast counter in Brooklyn, which Levinger assigned Hargreaves to shoot last summer.

"It seems like there was so much more to be told through that," Hargreaves recalls. "I started hearing about places that went the extra distance, like at Peter Luger, they have a staff meal room."

The idea of a staff meal isn't revelatory to Hargreaves, a former high-fashion model-turned-photographer, who worked at Schiller's and Minetta Tavern to get by in the early stages of his behind-the-camera career. But the attention to detail in what has been and can be an overlooked part of the industry was. Now, 23 restaurants later and counting, Hargreaves and Levinger are telling the stories of these establishments through the meals restaurant crew eat before everyone else does.

"I just wanted to show how restaurants are using that moment to give something back," Hargreaves says.

Then he hollers to someone over the phone. Back to grind.

Find Jack's Wife Freda here, or in our DINE app.

Find Okonomi here, or in our DINE app.

Find Peter Luger Steak House here, or in our DINE app.

Find Schiller's Liquor Bar here, or in our DINE app.

Find Minetta Tavern here, or in our DINE app.