Moran Agasi Lang: “Let’s start a zero-waste movement in the hospitality industry”

The concept of a zero-waste movement in a restaurant is something I think is brilliant and where we are heading in the hospitality industry. We do our best to eliminate as much waste as possible but going even deeper I would love to implement a no-waste policy at L28, and even explore the transformation of […]

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The concept of a zero-waste movement in a restaurant is something I think is brilliant and where we are heading in the hospitality industry. We do our best to eliminate as much waste as possible but going even deeper I would love to implement a no-waste policy at L28, and even explore the transformation of food scraps and what we can do with that.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Moran Agasi Lang. Moran is the General Manager at L28 Culinary Platform, a concept restaurant and pioneer accelerator platform for young and emerging Israeli chefs, created by Israel’s Start-Up Nation Central — an NGO connecting the world to Israeli innovation. Based in Tel Aviv, Moran Agasi has been in the hospitality industry for the past fourteen years, with notable experience managing some of Israel’s biggest restaurant groups such as Zepra, Taizu, Dinings TLV and Dinings SW3, where she also opened their third restaurant in the UK.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m a native-born Israeli, with Moroccan and Russian parents — just for a better understanding, I’m basically considered to be the ultimate Israeli. I was raised in a home where hospitality was our tradition. My mom came from a culinary background, so our home was constantly rich with flavours and had a strong aroma of spices. Growing up we were always hosting people at our house — from family dinners to gatherings with friends, there was always something going on. I remember when my friends would come over, the first thing my mom would ask is, “What can I make you to eat?” This sort of Israeli hospitality was embedded in me at an early age, and that’s really where my passion for hosting began.

Following my army service, I got my first job working part time at a restaurant while I was in school. I studied in a different field but always found myself drawn to the hospitality industry. I didn’t really realize that I can make something that is like a second nature to me become my career path but working in the restaurant business only strengthened my desire to host. I fell in love with the feeling of making people feel special and happy, and that’s when I knew that this is what I wanted to pursue, regardless of long hours and high pressure that comes with it.

I’ve been in the hospitality industry for the past 14 years, and managed some very high-end restaurants in Israel, such as the chef restaurant Chimichanga, as well as Zepra, Taizu, Dinings TLV and Dinings SW3, where I also spent three months abroad in the UK to open their third restaurant.

I’m currently the General Manager at L28 Culinary Platform, a concept restaurant and the first chef accelerator platform that gives emerging Israeli chefs the opportunity to explore various interpretations of Israeli cuisine, while also getting a first-hand experience of what it’s like to run their own restaurant. Each chef is supported with all the operational elements needed to succeed, in a similar manner to that of a start-up accelerator. This is a project I am extremely passionate about, and through the food our goal is to connect the world to Israeli innovation, Israeli cuisine and Israeli hospitality.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the best things about what I do, is that each day brings a new story. I’m constantly meeting new people, sharing my life story and in exchange learning theirs. It’s so interesting to get to experience people from all over the world’s fascination in Israeli hospitality and Israeli cuisine. I can’t really define it for you, but there’s a certain magic and warmth that they receive. It’s not only about the food, and goes further than just the dining experience, but it’s also the knowledge they receive and the understanding of passion for what we do.

L28 shares a building with Start-Up Nation Central where we host various engagements for the incoming delegations from around the world. Most recently we hosted a chef delegation, where various chefs and industry influencers from abroad came to Israel on a full scope culinary exploration to better understand what we aim to do here at L28. It started with an ecosystem talk that highlighted farm to table foods, then led to an exploration of the different food-tech startups here in Israel and ended with a dinner at L28.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started waitressing, a very well-known Israeli politician came in to dine at the restaurant where I worked. Luckily for me, I was her waitress and being that I was studying International Political Science at the time, you can say I was a bit starstruck. She came in wearing a beautiful white coat — and you can only guess where this story goes, she ordered a red curry dish and when I was bringing out her meal, I was a little too excited — and yes, I ended up spilling the dish all over her jacket. I was so embarrassed!

The biggest lesson I learned from this incident is something I always instill in my team — regardless of who the guest is in front of you, you have to keep your professionalism and treat them how you would treat every guest. Remember the rules of hospitality, it’s about giving your guest a place to feel comfortable.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

There are so many factors that make L28 stand out. This is a pioneering project in the heart of Tel Aviv’s start-up ecosystem, where we’re exploring various entrepreneurial characteristics in the culinary world. At its core, L28 is a start-up restaurant concept that provides a 6-month residency for emerging chefs to get a first-hand experience at what it takes to run their own restaurant, while at the same timing presenting various interpretations of Israeli cuisine. Israel is a melting pot of so many different nationalities and traditions, and through this concept we aim to explore and define contemporary Israeli cuisine and bring the nature of Israeli cuisine and hospitality to a global forefront.

At L28, the focus isn’t just about the chef, but also about the kitchen crew & restaurant staff, it’s about the ingredients — the herbs and vegetables that are locally sourced from our very own rooftop garden, the fact that we promote local Israeli brands, and most importantly it’s a full circle platform that highlights our guests at the centre of the stage — we want to show our guest the most exceptional experience and give them the true essence of Israeli hospitality.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

An ongoing project we’re involved in at L28 is the idea of promoting small, local businesses by exposing them to global audiences. Everything from our curated wine list, to our uniforms and architecture, are all sourced locally, here in Israel. Each new chef in rotation has the chance to change the wine list to promote their recommended wineries in Israel.

We’re also constantly working on investigating new forms of Israeli cuisine and sharing the special magic of the Israeli hospitality by ecosystem talks and panels.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Regardless of gender, I would advise other leaders to listen to your intuition, share the company vision and values with your staff every day because it will promote passion and help build and maintain a great environment and company culture.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

The only way to achieve success is to have the right team behind you. It’s not just about us as the leaders, because we can’t get there alone. It’s about your management team and the staff who have the first connection to the customers. Implement levels of hierarchical structure and select the right people for each role that have the same value, vision and mindset for your business. Then once you have your team in place, it is important to empower them and look at each member of your team as an individual first, and then as a team unit. What I mean by this is it’s important to get to know your employees, understand their strengths & weaknesses and what they bring to the team as an individual.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I was starting out, I experienced working under a lot of managers with different management styles. Some who helped me understand what you shouldn’t do and some who showed me exactly what being a manager is all about. Both management styles ultimately helped me in defining the best leadership practice I can provide for my business.

A former boss of mine, Nick Guy who is the Owner & HR Director at Dinings TLV told me this sentence that sticks with me to this day “we are like swans — under the surface you’re juggling so many different things, but above the water you need to be elegant, intelligent and professional.” It’s important that people on the other side can’t see the struggle and you’re able to solve the problem underneath the surface. A few more people who helped me and taught me valuable career lessons along the way are Noy Segev, Restaurant Manager at Chimichanga who showed me the key to observing my guests, and how impactful it is. Nadav Laor, former COO at Taizu who taught me the importance of closing the circle. Yuval Sella, Yoram and Ari Yarzin of Yarzin-Sella Group my former and current employers who continue to teach me so many things with each new encounter. They’ve been in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years, and their authenticity, hard-working morals and clever business practices inspire me.

Like those who made an impact on my career, it’s my goal to inspire, to be a mentor and an operational support system for our young chefs & staff by giving them a toolbox for life that lets them go beyond L28 and into the next step in their personal career path.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

By establishing and maintaining a rooftop urban farm and using its produce in our restaurant we are contributing to a more sustainable and livable city, with fewer food trucks coming in and out of the city from the farms/distribution centers, which lowers traffic, lowers pollution, and lowers the price of food. We are huge proponents of this and would love to see urban farms on as many roofs of this city as possible.

In addition, our restaurant doesn’t use any straws or plastic stirrers, and this is something we also care about deeply.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be Authentic

  • A very important value that can help shape the entire culture of your business is being authentic with your staff. I like to think of myself as not only a mentor, but also as a teacher in their journey. I’m here to inspire my staff and give them a toolbox for life that takes them beyond L28 and into their personal career path. I’m able to share my story of how I got to where I am, show them the truth about the struggles along the way, but ultimately listen to their dreams and try to help them achieve it.

Be A Good Listener & A Problem Solver

  • The core of what a good leader embodies is being a good listener and being able to problem solve. That doesn’t mean having all the right answers, but being a good listener and evaluating any problems that may arise. Once you define a problem, assess the situation, weigh out the stakes and provide the best solution.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Support

  • Leaders don’t work alone, we don’t have all the answers constantly, and that’s why we work with people and in teams who can provide valuable input that helps shape the success and structure of the company. I always encourage myself and management to be transparent with their team, share all the information with them and look to them for support when needed. Not only will they feel valued as a huge part of the system, but you will also benefit by having another outlook at whatever the situation is.

Take Care of Your Team

  • It’s important to get to know your employees on a personal level and understand why they’re here now and where they want to get to in the future. Help them achieve their dreams by being a mentor along the way. Set them in the right path and help them set small goals within the business that will help them get to their longer-term goals either in the business or even beyond it.

Be an Inclusive Leader

  • Something I’ve really benefited from by being an inclusive leader is gaining so much valuable insight from my team. Just like my staff looks to me for direction and input, I look to them for the same. You feel the sense of family and belonging when everyone feels an equal part of the team and it’s something that’s really very special.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The concept of a zero-waste movement in a restaurant is something I think is brilliant and where we are heading in the hospitality industry. We do our best to eliminate as much waste as possible but going even deeper I would love to implement a no-waste policy at L28, and even explore the transformation of food scraps and what we can do with that.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” -Walt Disney

This quote hits really close to my heart. It empowers me to never give up and showed me that if I wanted something bad enough, I could have it — you just have to work hard, enjoy the journey, remember why you started in the first place, and of course, believe in the power of Magic.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Danny Meyer is a huge inspiration for me, and it was him who helped me understand that being a restaurateur and pursuing a career in the hospitality industry is a career path, even though it wasn’t so common growing up in Israel. He wrote the bible of hospitality “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” — I’ve read it over 20 times and have given it as a present to each one of my staff members. To me, Danny Meyer is one of the most influential people and I’d love to sit and talk with him to get insight into his thought process and business creativity.

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