- Eleven Madison Park owner Daniel Humm considered raising wages and menu prices last September.
- A ghost-written opinion draft said some EMP workers could “barely afford” food and rent.
- Plans to pay workers a ‘living wage’ were killed after heavy criticism from The New York Times, people said.
In September 2021, famed restaurant Eleven Madison Park wrote an opinion piece saying it was paying workers “too little” and announcing plans to raise wages by up to 33%. But after a scathing review by New York Times food critic Pete Wells, the restaurant dropped the article — and the proposed raises.
The restaurant hired a reporter to write the article, which read: “It is absurd and unfair that the people working in the kitchens and dining rooms of some of the best restaurants in the world can barely afford their own food and rent We’re going to make sure everyone working at Eleven Madison Park gets a living wage of at least twenty bucks an hour.”
In the draft opinion, which Insider reviewed, Eleven Madison Park said it would offset higher labor costs by raising the price of its tasting menu to $425 from $335. Charging $335 was only possible, according to the draft opinion, because most kitchen staff were paid $15 an hour.
“It is, of course, impossible to live in New York on such a low salary, which means that we can only recruit those who have extra jobs or family support or who are in debt or live far from home. city and endure long commutes,” the editorial draft said.
The editorial was still a draft and not a final plan approved by Eleven Madison Park management, the people said. (Those with knowledge of the editorial draft requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, but their identities are known to Insider.)
The article was written by Adam Davidson, who wrote a glowing profile of Humm in The Wall Street Journal in May 2021 when the chef announced plans to reopen Eleven Madison Park as a vegan restaurant. While a knowledgeable source said Humm hoped to publish the article in The New York Times, the article was never presented for publication.
“One thing we know is that we continue to be on the right path,” Humm told Insider in an email Thursday. “Our mission as a company is progress, not perfection.”
“Countless people, especially many women and people of color, have never been able to become leaders”
Even before Eleven Madison Park reopened in June 2021, some employees tried to convince Humm that if he wanted to hire a diverse staff, the restaurant needed to raise salaries, according to a former staffer. At the time, the former employee said, Humm was reluctant to raise his salary.
“I didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that by paying low wages I was unwittingly excluding so many people from my kitchen,” the editorial draft said. “Today I realize that countless people, especially many women and people of color, have never been able to become chefs because they couldn’t work such long hours for so little money. How many more great chefs would we have if we had realized…if I had realized – all along that we have to pay everyone who works in a restaurant a living wage?”
Current and former employees of Eleven Madison Park previously told Insider that many have left the restaurant over the past year due to long hours, low pay and disenchantment with Humm and his family. purported mission to fix a broken food system (a former kitchen worker said the restaurant wasted large amounts of food, dubbing the restaurant “farm-to-trash” rather than farm-to-table). Former employees have described juggling roles and working over 80 hours a week.
A rep for Eleven Madison Park dismissed those complaints, saying the staff members Insider spoke to were “agenda-driven” and that their reviews of the restaurant were “totally misguided.”
Still, the draft op-ed — which insiders say was written after lengthy conversations between Humm and Davidson — acknowledges that understaffing and low pay were significant issues that only got worse once that the restaurant has gone vegan.
The editorial draft said preparing each plant-based dish at Eleven Madison Park was time-consuming, requiring even more work than when the restaurant served meat. According to the project, the only way to raise wages was to raise prices.
“Currently, when someone eats our tasting menu, they pay $335. About $80 covers material costs: food as well as cleaning linens, lost dishes, silverware, glasses and other expenses minors. $20 covers rent,” the draft reads. “And $250 covers labor: $90 for service staff and $160 for kitchen staff. In total, the cost of each meal is $380. Yes. We lose about $45 each meals. We recoup some of that loss from selling wine and other beverages. But we’re not profitable. We’re losing about $300,000 a month. The editorial draft said that before the coronavirus pandemic, Eleven Madison Park was “consistently profitable with a margin typically around ten to twelve percent of overall revenue.”
“It’s horrible and unbearable”
Davidson began working on the opinion piece late last summer, around the time employees were anticipating the New York Times’ criticism of Eleven Madison Park. Three former employees said Humm was so confident EMP would be Wells’ first four-star review on the pandemic that he was already planning a celebratory party.
Instead, Wells destroyed Eleven Madison Park. He wrote that a beet dish “tastes like Lemon Pledge and smells like a hot joint” while tomatoes “taste a puffy, distorted flavor, like tomatoes going through a wah-wah pedal.”
Humm was in Europe when the September 2021 review went viral. When the restaurateur returned to New York, he railed against Wells with staff, the people said. The restaurant, however, did not increase its salaries or prices.
Eleven Madison Park, which previously banned tipping, reversed that policy five months after Wells’ review, effectively raising prices by 20% and increasing pay for some employees. But Humm never acted on the editorial’s proposal for a minimum “living wage” of $20 an hour.
“I find myself in a more difficult position than any I have faced before,” the editorial draft said, explaining how the staff at Eleven Madison Park essentially allowed diners to pay less.
“They subsidize the meal with wages that cannot support them. They subsidize the meal with lost dreams when they have to leave our kitchen – and, often, the profession altogether – because they don’t simply can’t afford to keep working. It’s awful and unsustainable: we can’t ask our staff to bear so much of the cost of our meals.”
A former employee said she felt Humm’s decision not to raise wages in 2021 was representative of bigger issues at Eleven Madison Park.
“He developed a level of arrogance that has now become a danger to himself, and he brought with him a very great, classic New York institution,” the former employee said. “I don’t think he realizes that Eleven Madison Park isn’t Daniel Humm. Eleven Madison Park is Eleven Madison Park. And what he’s doing is destroying an institution that’s bigger than him. .”