Gastronomy News Chef

Douglas Keane’s Search for a High Quality Life…in the Kitchen

Sveva Valeria Castegnaro
copertina doulas keane

Douglas Keane chose to totally revolutionize his fine dining restaurant to improve staff working conditions by guaranteeing minimum pay of €60,000 per year, help with medical expenses, and liveable shifts, operating only four days a week.

The news

Same name, completely different style. One might think of a Cyrus in disguise, but this is not the case: the new restaurant of chef Douglas Keane and his long-time partner Nick Peyton has a new identity. In September 2022, exactly ten years after the closure of the first Cyrus at the Enlightened Wine Country Restaurant, Cyrus Alexander Valley, its 2.0 version, opened. "It is the culmination of a dream and a ten-year journey to reinvent fine dining, from service to staff. We hope that our innovative concepts introduced at Cyrus Alexander Valley will not only bring our guests an enjoyable and rejuvenating escape, but also have a long-term impact on the health of the restaurant industry as a whole," reads the homepage of the restaurant's website.

@Beth Schlanker- The Press Democrat

The main transformation at Cyrus 2.0, is not so much the approach to the kitchen (which remains fine dining, and three months after opening was even awarded a MICHELIN star) but the approach towards the kitchen team. "Despite the 2 MICHELIN stars, even before the closure of the original restaurant in 2012, I realized that things were no longer working, but I didn't know how to fix the issues. The turnover in the kitchen was high, the profits low, there was no work-life balance. I was “obsessed” with the MICHELIN guide, all of my decisions taken were based on how the critics would react.

I couldn’t see a different way of running the business until the sudden closure of the restaurant, when I started to think about how to change things. I wanted to rethink the traditional fine dining model, abandoning certain patterns, prioritizing employee and customer satisfaction, and the expectations about getting a “sacred MICHELIN star.” I am not saying, a Star is not important. When we were awarded one in December we celebrated, but that is no longer the priority. That obsession ruined us.” 

Thanks to the use of technology and an engineering process, the Cyrus model is now more streamlined. No more tablecloths, only one large napkin per diner; setting greatly influences cost. Dishes such as meat and chawanmushi, when possible, are cooked in vacuum bags to lighten chef’s workload. A chocolate tempering machine, typical in pastry shops and hotels, but rare in most restaurants, supports the small team of pastry chefs so that there is no need to have one person dedicated exclusively to chocolate. The result is a smaller team with higher salaries. There are currently 20 people employed by Cyrus, each guaranteed a minimum salary of $65,000 (roughly 60,000€) per year and most employees earn even more. Since the 1st of February, part of employees health insurance is paid by the employer. Keane also aims to close the restaurant for one week this summer and two next winter.

Cyrus' new approach has attracted many high-level professionals who are happy with the flexible working environment. Indeed, the brigade structure boasts a cross-training mentality that gives the opportunity to learn other roles, progress quickly, and develop creativity. "I feel that there is not a separate reality in the dining room and in the kitchen, we are all one team," says Karla Garcia, who joined Cyrus as part of the wait staff and is now knowledgeable in all aspects of the dining service. After the first few months, Keane also decided to reduce the opening days from five to four, also increasing from three to four shifts per day. This decision increased the restaurant's cash flow, but also the staffs’ days off. "The first suggestion from investors in response to the change of schedule was to reduce staff pay by one day. No, that is not what I wanted to achieve with this choice. The goal is not to reduce costs and increase revenue, but to ensure a better quality of life,” Keane explains.

In this new concept, the Cyrus team manages to push the boundaries of creativity by taking diners on a culinary journey through a series of rooms where they can sample the different courses on the tasting menu, an experience that culminates with the arrival in the Willy Wonka-inspired chocolate room. "Eating is entertainment and sharing. We had to get there, we had to think outside the box. Under stress it’s difficult to work well, living in a place where you yell all day long, I can't handle it anymore."

Cover picture: @Jeff Kan Lee


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