Community Spotlight: Amali

Amali, a sustainable Mediterranean restaurant, opened in 2011 on East 60th Street. From the beginning, Managing Partner James Mallios set out to create a restaurant that went beyond just locally-sourced products or humanely-raised food. From the re-purposed wood salvaged from their renovation and used for the tables to their incredibly unique and progressive employee practices, Amali is a restaurant built on a belief that fair, responsible business practice is the best way to turn a sustainable profit. Amali is also a proud participant in the ‘Best for NYC’ Challenge.

Why join the movement?

“Restaurant people understand they need to go past the numbers on the page when buying grass-fed beef or organic produce, but for some reason they often don’t apply that same logic to their labor practices. There often seems to be an adversarial relationship with the employees, an alpha male, militaristic-type kitchen environment, porters coming and going, and too many times employees being paid in cash, which perpetuates an indentured servitude type of arrangement.

When people are thinking about their employees, or responsible business practices in general, they need to think more holistically about their actual costs versus just the balance sheet. When an employee leaves, the money we spend on finding and training their replacement is substantial. Why not invest that money in making sure that employee is happy, well-trained, and has growth potential? It is just good business.

Being a part of ‘Best for NYC’ helps companies think about some of these business practices and where they can improve. They also can be recognized for the things they are already doing well.”

Pride points

“At Amali, we respect the environment, our community (both within the restaurant and outside of it), and the origin of our products.

When we source our food, we try to find local, quality farmers that might not be on the radar yet and help them grow. Our chicken purveyor, Don, used to deliver our chickens in garbage bags. Now, he has huge city accounts and shows up in branded, refrigerated vans. We are proud of being a part of that growth.

We also work very closely with schools (both in Harlem and the Bronx), bringing the kids to farmer’s markets and teaching them how to cook healthily. We also routinely host nonprofits, offering the food at-cost.

But we are probably most proud of how we treat our employees. Every year, we set aside 30% of our profit for our employees. Our staff is encouraged to travel abroad. We pay for it, as long as they promise to come back and help the restaurant implement what they have learned overseas. We also invest heavily in training and professional development opportunities. We had our first cook leave for another NYC restaurant a few weeks ago. That is the first time that has happened in over two and a half years!”

Improvements and goals

“Whenever you see what other people are doing, it prompts you to do better.

After completing the ‘Best For NYC’ assessment, there were a few questions that made me reflect. For one thing, our Board of Directors doesn’t meet face-to-face as much as they probably should to discuss our vision, etc. I would like to change that. Our paid leave policy could probably be more clearly defined in the handbook. We also have a space upstairs that could be used for yoga or tai chi classes. I have been wanting to invest in health and wellness for a while now and would like to put that room to use. I also would like to be a better resource in helping some of our employees escape the cycle of poverty. Some of the city’s resources, like the Department of Consumer Affairs, can be extremely helpful. Our employees often don’t know about what is available to them them. I would like to be more proactive in connecting our team with those types of resources.

I also just want to re-iterate that I 100% believe that these business practices help the restaurant achieve success. They reflect my values, but if they hurt the restaurant, I would have a much more difficult time doing them.”