‘Big-hearted boss:’ Matteo’s Public owner extends opportunity, support beyond the next shift | TheUnion.com

‘Big-hearted boss:’ Matteo’s Public owner extends opportunity, support beyond the next shift

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union

Matt Margulies is a restaurateur by profession and a kindhearted, compassionate boss by nature.

He believes in giving people a chance to earn a living wage working at Matteo's Public, sometimes including those with sketchy pasts and bleak futures. A friend coined the phrase "Matteo's Misfits" when describing Margulies's assortment of employees, past and present.

"I don't search the misfits out. They find me," reflected Margulies. "I have hired a few people with criminal backgrounds in the hope of helping them find a straight path."

Two months ago, one of his workers was arrested and charged with three drug counts including possession of a controlled substance for sale. Margulies didn't fire him … he encouraged him.

"I felt for him," Margulies said. "I know he's got a good heart and before he got into all that trouble, he worked really hard. I knew he had the good in him to improve himself to make it right for him and his young family."

Margulies has stood by other employees when they've had run-ins with the law or fought battles with drugs and alcohol.

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"One of my employees, who has been with me since the year we opened in 2009, now runs my daytime (operations). I couldn't do it without him," Margulies said. "But he's gone up and down. He struggled with addiction and now he's clean. He's overcome a lot."

'Room for growth here'

"Matt doesn't like to let people go. He'd rather find a way to help them work through whatever they're going through," said Jen Counts, a 24-year-old server at Matteo's Public. "When I applied, I had no experience. There's room for growth here. He cares so much about how I feel and how my life is, not just about my work. He's like a friend or a dad because he's so bighearted."

"Jen had no restaurant experience, so she had no bad habits. When I interviewed her, I knew she was smart and capable," said Margulies, explaining why he decided to give the inexperienced young woman a chance in 2014. "She started as a busser and a hostess, and now she's a really good server. She's kind, friendly, and attentive to customers."

Head chef Will Orovitz started working at Matteo's Public just a few months after the restaurant opened. His first job: dishwasher.

"In Will's case, his girlfriend Daphne was working here and had to have surgery," recalled Margulies. "She said, 'I'm going to send my boyfriend in to work for me.' I told her that's not the way it works, but after I interviewed Will, I decided to give him a shot in the dish room. And look where we are now."

Orovitz worked his way up to fry cook, then grill chef, and finally head chef in 2014.

"He's given me all the opportunities, including running big events at the restaurant. He's facilitated growth for a lot of people," praised Orovitz. "Matt never yells. He's very mellow, calm and collected. Very reasonable and understanding."

Margulies's steady, positive influence is a stark contrast to what Orovitz experienced as a youth.

Homeless for several years as a teenager, he couch-surfed at friends' houses. His parents were strung out on meth and they lost the family home.

"We were bouncing around from hotel to hotel, but I didn't really have an issue with it," Orovitz remembered. "What am I going to do, complain about my situation or do something to better myself?"

The 25-year-old Orovitz is now married to his high school sweetheart, Daphne, and they have two children. He credits Margulies with offering the opportunity to become a successful chef.

"He's always been there to give a hand," said Orovitz. "I feel like we're more like friends. It's almost odd to call him my boss."

Standing steadfast when his employees face adversity certainly helps his workers but also pays dividends for his restaurant, said Margulies.

"They, in turn, are loyal and caring. The bottom line is they care a lot about what's going on here. The treat it as their own," he explained. "That's a big thing when they take ownership of Matteo's Public."

Setting the tone from the top

Margulies said having a professional, pleasant staff is especially important in the restaurant business.

"It's huge. It's as important as having a refrigerator! You've got to have people you can rely on when you're not here," said Margulies, who works six days a week. "Customers tell me, 'We were in the other day and you weren't here, but we want you to know your staff was friendly, kind, and obviously cares about your business.'"

Not only does Margulies's compassion and kind heart engender loyalty among his staff, his disposition and character work the same magic in the community.

"It is such the perfect rendering of a local pub: family-oriented, local music, good food, and he hires local people," said former county supervisor and Matteo's Public regular Peter Van Zant. "I know restaurants are not big profit centers, yet he's so generous supporting all the good causes around. He really has become an institution in Nevada City in a relatively short time. It's just the generosity and warmth of the guy."

Sometimes, despite the unwavering support Margulies offers his employees, it doesn't work out.

"I give them every chance. I give everybody a mulligan. Sometimes I've been too kindhearted with that and given more than one mulligan," he laughed. "If they prove me wrong, they still know they've been given every chance."

The failures are few and the successes are many, which keeps Margulies reaching out with his helping hand.

"Misfits make one helluva family," smiled Margulies.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a business news feature, contact her at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.


Matteo’s Public

Owner: Matt Margulies

300 Commercial Street

Nevada City

Phone: 530-265-0782

Website: MatteosPublic.com

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