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COMFORT ZONE

‘People are everything you have’: Tatte founder Tzurit Or talks about supporting her team — and the community — in uncertain times

Tzurit Or of Tatte Bakery & Cafe.
Tzurit Or of Tatte Bakery & Cafe.WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF FILE 2015

Less than two weeks ago, Tatte founder Tzurit Or was collaborating with her team to create an array of summer brunch cuisines and planning her bakery expansion to Washington, D.C.

Today, her in-person employee gatherings are replaced with Zoom meetings, the employee recruiting event in D.C. has been postponed, and her days are filled with uncertainty as Tatte cafes around Boston limit their offerings to online ordering and pickup.

Amid her daily team check-ins and food deliveries to homeless shelters, Or stepped away to discuss the impact of the pandemic, employee support systems, and her advice for those in the hospitality industry.

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Q. Since the coronavirus pandemic isn’t anything one could have prepared for, how are you grappling with this?

A. In the 12-year history of Tatte, this is without a doubt the most challenging period any of us has experienced. As a people-first company, this is a heartbreaking moment for us. How long will it take for this to pass? Our first discussion and focus were, “How are we protecting our people?” The people were always at the top of priority for us.

Q. Since Tatte doesn’t offer delivery or dine-in services right now, what brings guests out of their homes during this pandemic to pick up your food?

A. I think the comfort it creates. People are looking for a way to get comfort and a way to get their normality back to them. And I think it only takes one time to come in and pick up your order to see that it’s really safe because the way we gated it, there is no human contact. We are currently working on adding delivery to make it even easier for our guests and people with families that don’t want to leave the house.

Q. What specific measures are you taking to support hourly employees?

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A. We’re paying all hourly and all our salaried people, whether they work or don’t work. So, we basically gathered everyone to let them know that they’re going to get paid the average amount of hours they worked previously. If you were a part-time employee, you’ll get your part-time pay. If you were full time, you’ll get your full-time. We also gave everyone 40 hours of sick time without the need to accrue. Usually, you accrue it during the year. Anyone who is affected by the virus — we give two weeks of additional pay for sick time. Usually, we have 90 days from the hiring date until you can enroll in our health insurance program. So, we waived this and offered everyone immediate health insurance, and we’re supporting everyone from dishwasher to prep cook to line cook to, of course, all of our hourly front-of-the-house and baristas. It’s about a thousand people, and they’re all getting paid for as long as we can.

Q. I recently saw on your Instagram that you were providing food from Tatte to a local homeless shelter. What motivated you to do that?

A. We are actually working with Heading Home. We work with them to provide jobs and help them in any way that we can during event donations. We’re just there for them. And I immediately called their team and said, “We’re gathering everything we have in our inventory now, workings in our bakeries and heading your way.” It was the best part of my day that day. I mean, it allowed me to breathe another day. I just told my team yesterday we have a lot of cookies and retail products, and I asked our team to donate to all our senior houses. I think this is a community that during the normal time is fairly isolated and lonely. And I think they are suffering terribly now, and I want to brighten their day.

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Q. Do you have any advice for those in the hospitality industry during this time of uncertainty?

A. People are everything you have. Everything. Nothing matters if you don’t have your team taken care of. I know most people in our industry put their people at their top priority. But those that are not, please do, because that’s the only thing that will make your business successful. And that’s the only thing that really matters. When you look back at your journey and your life, you should look at being proud and that you did the right thing to people.

Interview was edited and condensed.