Jordan Keao is the executive chef and owner of Aina Restaurant in San Francisco, one of Michael Bauer’s 2018 Top 100 Restaurants in the Bay Area, San Francisco Magazine’s 2018 Best Places to Eat in San Francisco and featured as a chef at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival.
My name is Jordan Keao, I’m the chef/owner of Aina restaurant here in Dogpatch, San Francisco. I was born and raised in the big island of Hawaii in a small town called Waikaoka on the Hilo side. I grew up cooking as a way of life. Fishing, hunting, gathering, farming with my mom, building barbecues, entertaining people, hosting people at my house, hosting family members and creating an enjoyment of community and people.
For me cooking has been a part of my life since I was a kid. Helping my mom build barbecues, build fires, fishing with my uncle and helping him cut and cook fish. That was the first foundation for me that actually made me realize how enjoyable it was. And then when I grew up I chose it as a career and worked in professional kitchens, a few Michelin-starred restaurants like La Folie here in San Francisco working for Roland Passot for three years. And working at larger companies like Google and Airbnb running large full-scale program with quality food for thousands of people.
I think what makes a really dynamic chef is somebody who has done a lot of different things and not just one thing. They’ve run large operations, small-scale operations, tasting menus and everything in between so they know how to look at every situation from a different angle.
Expanding the Brand with Aina Bento
“We did Aina Bento and we really wouldn’t have been able to pull it off unless we had a resource like Pared”
At Aina restaurant our mission is to bring more aloha to the Bay Area and expand the awareness of aloha and the what it is; the authenticity of Hawaii. We’re starting a new brand Aina Bento which is a sub-brand of Aina restaurant, focusing on a more fast casual approach to some of our local style favorites of island barbecue, ice shave, malasadas, our house-made spam and everyone’s all well-known poke. When trying to grow our business Aina Bento, it’s really challenging not having a roster of staff, explore the brand, do events and be able to actually grow without having a staff of people. So now we’re able to expand. We did a pop-up for two weeks at a restaurant, only serving lunch, two hours through Caviar. We did 200 bentos a day, we staffed it solely through Pared with a different Pared shift of people every day. There were some favorites that requested to come back which were great because they were really helpful with us, so we were able to get consistent Pros for that two week duration.
We did Aina Bento and we really wouldn’t have been able to pull it off unless we had a resource like Pared, where we were actually able to book people from, because all of our extensive network was already working at a restaurant. And we couldn’t hire full-time employees to work for us because we didn’t have a full-time position or job. So it’s really tough because we actually want to spread our business and we want to keep on growing but we’re not able to unless we have the people and the personnel, which sometimes you can’t afford to when you’re starting out a business so small. Pared allowed us the opportunity to have those resources and grow our company and our business which we otherwise wouldn’t have had.
What did you think when you first heard about Pared?
When we first heard about Pared, it wasn’t a resource I thought of using, because in our industry it was dishwasher’s out, “Okay, I’ll go wash dishes.” Now, when I started to open up my own business and run my own business, I started to realize I actually can’t grow my business if I am washing dishes and if I am doing these roles. So I actually need to have a role filled so I that I can still continue doing my job in growing my business. That is something we weren’t able to do prior to Pared. Now we are able to hire a dishwasher when someone calls out, give our employee the break and rest that they need and have me continue doing my job and my role, so that our business doesn’t really change, in fact it actually grows.
“It’s actually the same cost, if not cheaper, having that one person or that one shift filled for that one position a week versus having a staff on roster just to have that one position filled and have them underutilized for the other four days of the week.”
Our accountant, myself and our CFO ran the numbers around our financials for an employee. Benefits, cost of an employee, if they get injured, insurance; all the different things that add up to what it takes to have an employee including taxes. It’s actually the same cost, if not cheaper, having that one person or that one shift filled for that one position a week versus having a staff on roster just to have that one position filled and have them underutilized for the other four days of the week.
My first experience working with Pared was when we first opened up our restaurant Aina here in Dogpatch. We had a hard time finding prep cooks, dishwashers and when we are in an opening process it’s so limited to find people, get resources, and having Pared ready, hiring somebody for the next day, so that that stress isn’t there, knowing that someone’s coming in, having them be able to do it and execute it so that you can continue to grow your business and run your business, for me it was groundbreaking.
One of the things I really love about the Pared brand is that it actually looks at the people and the person, not the company and the business. Even if you’re a business using it, they’re looking at who you are as a business and what you need versus just satisfying a business need which doesn’t really get you as far or get you the quality you would like.
I think Pared is helping young cooks nowadays get a more well-rounded background and be able to see different operations and understand that the food industry has a wide range of things to do and you might actually get help honing in on what it is you actually want and getting better at what it is you actually want. For me, I think it’s kind of amazing that you can go into all these different restaurants around the city and say “Hey, I’ve cooked in twenty restaurants in the matter of a year, even if it was only for a few days.” A lot of people can spend a month or two in a kitchen and see the ins and outs of every part of it.
From the user interface of the app to the Pro that comes to your kitchen to help you execute what you need them to execute, the sense of authenticity and knowledge and caring about the people is so present and the quality of people that show up are definitely representative of that. It’s something that I feel is very important and why this is so different than any other company that I’ve seen.