Female Powerhouse Leads Restaurant Group Across State Lines
PlumpJack Group, a San Francisco-based hospitality company, opened Pendulum, the first newly built restaurant to Colorado’s Vail Village in eight years, in December. In addition, the group also re-opened a Vail favorite, White Bison, which features an updated menu, a new cocktail program, and an interior renovation.
Since its founding in 1992, PlumpJack has grown a portfolio restaurants, nightclubs, wineries, bars, retail stores, luxury resorts, and more under the leadership of co-presidents Hilary Newsom, who manages company operations, culture and marketing, and Jeremy Scherer, who manages strategic growth.
Newsom’s brother, Gavin Newsom, founded the group. Hilary joined the team 20 years ago and has been a driving force behind the company’s tremendous growth since 2009.
By bringing a hands-on management approach that focuses on people, Hilary Newsom has created a unique atmosphere that differentiates the employee and guest experience at the company’s restaurants and other properties.
“We have 550 employees company-wide,” Newsom says. “The success of the company and opportunity to grow is based on those 550 people, so my energy and focus is on them, and their energy and focus is on the guests.”
Part of Newsom’s strategy is to center the company’s foundation on its core values, which are to be honest, approachable, and compassionate, and Hilary takes those values seriously in her business life.
“We are thoughtful about every decision we make, and it comes down to the connection, you have to have a connection to the community and with the people.”
To foster that connection, Newsom focuses on philanthropy as a way to build community relationships. “Nearly the first thing I do when I go into a new community is to look at opportunities for us to be philanthropic and to make a difference,” Newsom says. “That’s a really gracious way to ingratiate yourself into a new community and to be humble and to be inquisitive and to be philanthropic, and then we go from there.”
But those connections must also come from a deeper sense of community fostered by the staff of the restaurant. Newsom is committed to creating a comfortable environment in which employees can be themselves and feel valued.
“I tell my team ‘I hire you as an individual,’ and PlumpJack is all about the individual experience,” Newsom says. “I don’t want to hand anyone a manual—they don’t need to memorize greetings. They need to be authentic, and if they are authentic with guests and I’m authentic with them and they are authentic with me, that’s success.”
Encouraging that authenticity begins with Newsom’s personal investment in individual employees. She runs a program called Tea with Hilary, for which she meets with two to four line-level employees to get to know them. During this meeting, the group does not talk about work. Instead, Newsom tries to get to know about her employees, their families, why they work at PlumpJack, and their interests. This, in turn, has lead to opportunities for PlumpJack to use employee talents in new ways and to promote their interests.
“What I’ve found, almost without exception, is that everyone who works for me is so multifaceted,” Newsom says. “For example, the photographs in our hotel rooms in Squaw Valley were taken by one of our employees because I found out they were a photographer. One employee is a great writer doing blog posts for us. Another is into film and is doing vlogging for us.”
Though it is a large time commitment to regularly meet with employees, especially as the company grows and expands to new locations, it is something Hilary feels is a priority.
From this strategy, Newsom is seeing success, as many of the group’s restaurants of loyal regulars. The Balboa Cafe, for example, did not suffer losses during the economic downturn, which Newsom attributes to the fact that “people felt safe and welcome.”
“We’re in hospitality, and hospitality is about having fun,” Newsom says. “If it’s just about a transaction then it’s not fun for us. It has to be about the journey and the experience and the people.”