Hosted by award-winning chef Nyesha Arrington and renowned restaurateur Philip Camino, the Happy Mouth podcast introduces listeners to a wide range of insights within the hospitality industry in bite-sized form, from the latest news to multigenerational stories. As thought leaders in the field, Nyesha and Philip join forces to deliver digestible, relevant, and impactful information through dialogue.
We spoke with Nyesha to discuss the podcast’s mission, pandemic lessons, and the future of the hospitality industry.
How did Happy Mouth come about?
My good friend Josh Kopel has an amazing podcast called Full Comp. I adore Josh and have known him for a long time. We’ve been in the same circles and events, and I always walk away from our conversations with value. Josh and I have known Philip, my now podcast partner, separately. Philip and Josh came to me and said, “Hey, what do you think about us doing a podcast on the Yelp for Restaurants platform?” I said, “Well, impeccable timing because I very much enjoy the art of dialogue and human connection.” When I met Philip, him and I had such an amazing rapport. I thought, “What an amazing human who’s super present, thoughtful, intentional with his words.”
It was a great start. As the three of us were talking about this, Philip and I went off on our own and thought about naming and developing the format, talking about headlines from the angle of hospitality.
How did you decide on the podcast’s format?
Phillip and I both listened to a lot of podcasts and are rooted in mindset growth. Before we partnered on this, we individually were always downloading data. We were talking about different formats from a macro standpoint, the average attention spans these days, how to capture people’s ears. We were vetting different concepts, thinking that the “bite-size” structure may be more digestible for people to latch onto. They’re more likely to binge it if they’re new listeners and most likely to spend an hour listening to 15-minute episodes. We thought that might be more approachable and could be good for us to get in and talk about the news while people can get on with their busy day.
How are you and Phil approaching the show as co-hosts?
What makes our partnership interesting is our shared interests and passion for hospitality and food, but we have unique perspectives individually which make up the personality for the Happy Mouth podcast. I come from the creative, back-of-the-house standpoint, and Philip is a creative, front-of-the-house standpoint—two dialogues happening synonymously that creates one beautiful dialogue.
We live in the digital age. We’re consuming data constantly, visually, audibly, in direct conversation with other humans via our cell phones. It’s important for us to consolidate and make that lane of conversation or downloading of data easy for people. People can come to Happy Mouth to get their daily news fix from a beautiful array of topics. As opposed to going to Spotify, Google, and YouTube to try to find all these answers, we’re going to give them the news they need to know, whether it is from a chef’s perspective or from a business owner’s perspective.
That’s important because we’re going to capture the minds and the hearts of someone who would say, “Hey, I am a little buddy out here starting on my career and want to take down the right notes and listen to the right things.” It provides people a beautiful array of information all in one place.
What topics can restaurants expect to hear on the podcast?
We have one foot in pertinent restaurant news that people need to know today—like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which is imperative to repair and restore our beautiful industry. We believe stories like that need to get out to the people, help people understand the numbers, how to navigate the portal, how to apply, etc.
But we also have fun topics like Fun Fridays where we will bring in a guest. For example, we have this gentleman Dustin Vitale out of Philly who is celebrating his mom who is battling an illness. He said, “What can I do for you, Mom?” And she said, “I’ve just always wanted to go to Egypt.” [To pay for the trip], this man then brought his mother’s Philly cheesesteak recipe to life and decided to sell them for $15 each. He raised a very significant amount of money—I want to say over $20,000—just by selling $15 cheesesteaks. We want to celebrate beautiful stories like that.
From an analytical lens with the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and from a creative lens with the cheesesteaks, we can celebrate the nuances of dialogue between those two from a barometer standpoint. That’s our range and everything in between.
What excites you most about the podcast?
Stories like Dustin Vitale’s bring tears to my eyes, knowing that we celebrated this man and his family. Money, business, and all those tangible entities of life are amazing, but when we can celebrate soul, love, life, heart… create a marker for that and say, “Hey, in April 2021, this man did this for his family,” then people or his kids can go back, listen to that episode, and celebrate his mother’s cheesesteaks. For me, that is invaluable. I’m most excited about meeting more people across the nation and celebrating more stories as we’re laying the framework on this journey and creating effective change along the way.
We talk a lot about health and wellness in our restaurant community, which was not always the dialogue. Phil and I talk a lot about fine dining and its culture, and that in itself is starting to change. As we celebrate where we’re heading, it’s really important because separate from the podcast, we are healing as a restaurant industry from a culture standpoint. We’ve seen over time a lot of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and unhealthy things going on in our restaurants’ people because it’s so hard. It’s the mindset of an athlete—you go out on that restaurant field every single day and give everything you have, plus more. We’re trying to find a way to heal and create balance, and I think Happy Mouth is going to be a leader of that dialogue.
I’m personally excited about celebrating and humanizing those stories, creating true, real human connection, and paving the way for the future. We talk a lot about tech, operations, pertinent news, and it’s not about us just reporting the news. We’re also putting real life experience behind this. We have a responsibility to navigate our dialogues well.
As a sense of normalcy returns after the pandemic, what changes are here to stay in the restaurant industry?
Number one, the use of delivery apps. About 90% of restaurant revenue came from delivery app sales during COVID. When you look at those numbers, that’s a huge stat and not something that’s going to waver back and forth just because COVID is over now. Having access to food so easily has definitely swayed that vertical. So the use of delivery apps has exponentially grown, and that’s not necessarily going to go away. Even pre-COVID, we already saw that data and the use of tech being integrated into the food vertical.
If we’re talking about in-room dining, the use of QR code menus is interesting. We saw QR codes come in, go away, and come back again. The conversation is really around contactless service. Having that QR code to replace a paper menu in a post-COVID world signals this idea that it’s a safer exchange. You’re not transmitting through contact and payment systems. We’re seeing a lot more contactless payment features.
The other interesting thing that’s starting to emerge is the idea of internal collaborations. For example, pre-COVID, you’d see chefs in restaurants doing things like, “Hey, we’re going to collab on this menu,” and now they’re doing it from coast to coast. Recently we saw Vespertine and Eleven Madison Park do a collab digitally where you can order an Eleven Madison Park dish at Vespertine in Los Angeles. It’s interesting to see how we’ve navigated this as chefs, and creatives bring new experiences. We’re seeing this synonymous dialogue of coming back to being contactless. I don’t think that’s going to go away.
How has the restaurant industry gotten stronger?
For better or for worse, what COVID forced was a stronger sense of community. The restaurant hospitality industry has the strongest sense of community in any industry. In the early days of the pandemic, you saw restaurants combine to think innovatively faster than most, although they were impacted more than most.
At the core, this business is about nurture. We are chefs and operators because we like to nurture people. That is the root of why we do the things we do. There was so much humanity coming out of the restaurant world with supporting hospitals by donating food. We didn’t know what else to do, but we have these infrastructures—let’s cook. That was truly beautiful.
What is your outlook for 2021?
I feel very optimistic about 2021. Even the word optimistic is rooted in that opportunity. If we can continue to create a dialogue of community and create opportunity, we’ll see the most growth. There are a few different dialogues happening in tandem because you have this old school “recipe” of what it is to be a successful restaurant business, which is, you have your four walls and a great write-up, and people patronize your restaurant and talk about it.
Now with the integration of tech, of social capital, everyone is after clout via social media and that lens of how we talk about food and what it is to be a food person. It’s not just about chefs and operators anymore. It’s also about content creators, ghost kitchens, digital collabs, and all other branches that are coming off of this root system of the restaurant industry. I won’t say that there are no rules—there are frameworks and parameters of what our restaurant business is as an identity. But now more than ever, there are so many lanes of opportunity.
Fast forward to the end of 2021—what restaurant industry headline do you hope to be reading?
We’re building the structure now for the future. We were going through the #MeToo movement, the inclusivity movement, talks of inclusion as we headed into the pandemic, and social unrest. The industry has been broken, and we all want it to heal. We want to fix it, but how do we fix it?
A big part of our dialogue is trying to find those answers. We’re doing the due diligence, talking to the people, and implementing new systems into our businesses. Everyone that I’ve talked to—my friends, my colleagues, Phil—we’re pounding the pavement to find these answers of how to be responsible restaurant owners and operators.
My first in-room dining experience was in New York, which I hadn’t had for the last year. The joy on people’s faces just to be able to do service was amazing. That’s only going to exponentially grow over the next six months. I imagine that sort of headline, if it’s in the Los Angeles Times or the New York Post, we’ll read there’s a resurgence in the restaurant business. We were doing what we could—getting those bills passed, sitting at big tables to have those dialogues, the [Independent Restaurant Coalition] programs—we are a strong force. We’ve seen incremental growth and been heading in the right direction based on the data. So, I would say the headline reads, “The restaurant business is in full swing.”
Hear more about the Happy Mouth podcast from both Nyesha and Philip: