Joy Zarembka of Busboys and Poets on Inviting Customers to Take a Deliberate Pause Interview with Busboys and Poets COO Joy Zarembka about operating an inviting restaurant, being a stage for the community to connect, and the importance of feedback.

By Shawn P. Walchef

Key Takeaways

  • Deliberate Pause - At Busboys and Poets, customers are invited to take a “deliberate pause” while dining, shopping, or browsing art. Unlike other restaurants which might usher customers out quickly, Busboys wants people to take their time and enjoy the atmosphere. This inviting space has led to them becoming a community hub.
  • Storytelling Online - Being able to tell your own story online — and the story of others in your community — is important to spreading the word. Busboys and Poets started on social media posting early on but is always working on finding ways to expand their presence online in engaging ways.
  • Diverse Hiring - Busboys and Poets COO Joy Zarembka says that if you can smile you can work for them. Helping build an intentional community of diverse voices is something that other restaurants and companies should take into mind when hiring and building out a workforce.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Busboys and Poets, a socially conscious restaurant, bookstore, and community hub, was named after one of the most famous busboy/poets of all time: Langston Hughes.

By providing a space for all people the multi-unit restaurant company has inspired much more than appetites. It has also inspired positive change.

Before she ever worked as Chief Operation Officer for Busboys and Poets, Joy Zarembka worked on her writing at the restaurant.

Writers know the importance of where you choose to "put pen to paper." You need a calm space where you can work, and one that is comfortable enough to spend considerable amounts of time.

At Busboys and Poets, customers are invited to take a "deliberate pause". And during that pause, they can eat, drink, enjoy art, buy books, and more. Founded in Washington, DC by artist and activist Andy Shallal in 2005, the restaurant is a "cultural hub where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted."

Busboys and Poets is:

  • a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted.
  • a place to take a deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul.
  • a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide.

Joy Zarembka chose the original 14th and V location to be her writing spot because the restaurant was so welcoming. Others have written novels and PhD dissertations while taking their time at Busboys and Poets, she added.

"Lots of restaurants are trying to turn tables and kick people out," said Joy Zarembka during an interview at Toast HQ with Shawn Walchef of CaliBBQ Media. "We want people to sit and relax, grab a book, grab a drink, take in a show, learn some poetry, look at the artwork, hang out with your friends.

"We are one of those places where we actually don't kick people out when they've been there too long."

After her book launch event for "The Pigment of Your Imagination" in 2007 at Busboys and Poets, Joy Zarembka transitioned into her place in the Tribe. From VP of Planning and Innovation, she became the company's COO in 2022.

A big part of Busboys and Poets has been storytelling. Now with the prevalence of online media platforms and the thirst from audiences for unique and engaging digital content, it's imperative that all businesses learn to tell their own story online.

The plan for the expanding social media presence of Busboys and Poets, like it should be for all brands, is to create content "beyond the dish."

"We want to make a media space that we could really just broadcast all over the place… We got into social media early on and that allowed us to really build a great following in various places."

As a member of the Toast point of sale company's Customer Advisory Board (along with Restaurant Influencer's host Shawn Walchef), Joy is using her influence to make positive changes for Busboys and Poets and the industry.

"What's been so amazing is meeting other restaurateurs who have great ideas, and are doing things differently," she said about serving on the Toast Customer Advisory Board. Toast is also the title sponsor of the Restaurant Influencers series.

"Just having those conversations has been really the most beneficial because we can take (an idea) back and implement it right away."

Joy and Busboys have also collaborated with Toast and the Indeed hiring company on helpful industry content online. It's all part of the mission to make restaurants, and the world, a better place.

"I always want to challenge other restaurateurs, and even challenge Toast and others, to think about how do we make sure we have all the different voices in the room? And we can be talking about race. We can talk about class, gender, you know, tattooed or not tattooed… whatever you want to talk about…

"At Busboys, I often say if you can smile, you can get a job here."



Restaurant Influencers is brought to you by Toast, the powerful restaurant point of sale and management system that helps restaurants improve operations, increase sales and create a better guest experience.

Toast — Powering Successful Restaurants. Learn more about Toast.

Shawn P. Walchef

Founder of Cali BBQ Media

“Be the show, not the commercial.”

Cali BBQ Media Founder Shawn Walchef helps brands and leaders leverage the new Business Creator Economy with strategic Smartphone Storytelling and Digital Hospitality.

His Cali BBQ restaurant company has generated more than $35 million since opening in 2008. They operate numerous locations in San Diego and beyond.

Shawn’s weekly video series Restaurant Influencers (published by Entrepreneur Media and produced by Cali BBQ Media) has been seen by over 25 million people.

More from Restaurant Influencers

How Restaurant365 CEO Tony Smith Uses Data to Make Better Decisions

Sara Finnegan of Edley's Restaurant Group Shares the Key Ingredient for Restaurant Success

Zack Oates of Ovation on Building Business Connections through Digital Storytelling

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