If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you’re probably familiar with the fast-paced, high-stressed environment. Whether you were creating one-of-a-kind cocktails as a bartender, or presenting gourmet meals as a server, your lifestyle probably consisted of having after-work drinks at 3 a.m., rolling silverware throughout your shift, and wearing uncomfortable, itchy uniforms. Even though you still wish people would tip at least 20% on their checks, you can at least be happy to know that those stiff, itchy uniforms are gone for good.
Tilit was created with the hospitality industry in mind. After working as a professional chef for about 20 years, Alex McCrery realized there was a gap in the hospitality workwear where servers and chefs alike were confined to wear uncomfortable garments to work. With that in mind, McCrery decided to partner with his wife, Jenny Goodman, to create a high-quality, USA-made line of uniforms that could also easily transition into streetwear. Since its launch in 2012, Tilit has sold its products to numerous well-known restaurants, been featured in every publication you can think of, and is about to expand into the hotel market. McCrery and Goodman are changing the way the hospitality industry dress and we’re all about it.
Alex: New Orleans, LA
Jenny: Atlanta GA
Alex: LES New York, NY
Jenny: Lower East Side
Must-have item from Tilit:
Alex: Our new Tactical Pants
Jenny: Pin Dot Chef Shirt
One thing you miss from working in a restaurant:
Alex: The camaraderie of the line.
Jenny: There is a ton of camaraderie when working in restaurants that is hard to replicate in other places and businesses.
NYC restaurant you’ve been meaning to check out?
Alex: Looking forward to the opening of our friend Gerardo’s place Lalo.
Jenny: Mimi and Le Coucou are at the top of my list.
Ultimate spot for a date night:
Alex: The Musket Room
Jenny: Our date nights basically consist of going out to eat and we love pizza and burgers so Speedy Romeo in the LES is about as romantic as it gets for us! We also had a pretty magical date night at Olmsted recently, their backyard and food are not to be missed.
Must-have nightcap after a long day:
Alex: Basil Hayden bourbon on ice.
Jenny: Wine! Rosé in the summer and red during the rest of the year for me.
Next travel destination:
Alex: Miami then hopefully the Caribbean!
Jenny: We have a 7 week old baby, so next trip is not until the holidays, and we are going to Miami.
Let’s start with the basics: How did you guys meet and come up with the chef-approved clothing line, Tilit?
Alex: Jenny and I met while working at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. I was in the kitchen and she worked Front of House – cliché I know! We toyed with the idea of a hospitality-inspired workwear line after spending years in kitchens wearing outdated garb. With the proliferation of open kitchens and chef owned restaurants it was disappointing that no one was offering an alternative line of workwear. We were here in Manhattan at the time and up for the challenge, so with a great deal of research, planning and testing we launched a very small line in late 2012, early 2013.
Jenny: Alex and I met when we were both working at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans 12 years ago. I was working Front of the House and he was a sous chef, we are one of those cliché restaurant couples! The credit for the idea of Tilit and updated chef and hospitality workwear really goes to Alex, he was a chef for 20 years and was sick of wearing the boxy, unstylish, 100% polyester clothes. Being around the industry and seeing how restaurants had changed over the last decade while the uniforms had not, I knew he was onto something.
It seems like a lot of your team members used to also work in the restaurant industry. Why do you feel that’s an important element for team members to have when you decided to hire for the company?
Alex: It’s certainly not a requirement for our team, but the culture of our company is that we are industry insiders. For years restaurant clothing had been created by people that never had any intention of wearing it. It makes our team that much more passionate about the items we create and the people that wear them.
Jenny: We design all of our items with the wearer in mind and like to treat each customer with the same hospitality and service they bestow on their guests. It was only natural that several of our employees have logged many hours in the kitchen or dining room.
Alex, can you describe what your creative process is like when you’re designing an item for Tilit?
Initially we took pieces that were being worn and reworked them, making them fall in line with street style, utility and comfort. To be perfectly honest, improving the state of restaurant workwear has been easy, because it was just that bad before. Since then, our new pieces that we continue to add to the line bridge the gap even further between workwear and streetwear. Our customer base is increasing well beyond the kitchen. Now we take inspiration from streetwear worldwide. We really love the style of Japanese workwear and the attention to detail in every piece of the garment. From inspiration, we develop samples. Almost every time, we do so in my size, that way I get to be the first to wear and test them out! I like to wear a piece around friends and chef friends to get their feedback before putting an item like our new tactical pants into production.
Both of you were in different industries before you started Tilit, what steps did you both take to get Tilit off the ground?
Alex: We were lucky to have the guidance of a few friends in the NYC fashion industry. Our friend Whitney, who has her own very successful line, Whit, was amazingly helpful and encouraging. She helped intro us to the folks that are part of the production process still today. Aside from that, I took sewing lessons to learn a working knowledge of the craft and what details are essential to ensuring the utility of a garment. They also helped as I will still hem pants in the studio on occasion!
Jenny: This is the part where we straight up hustled! We knew Tilit was a good idea but we are totally self-funded so we had to both keep our day jobs initially. This meant we really thought about every investment and made sure that we were getting the product perfect. Alex was really good at getting feedback from early customers. This allowed us to make small runs of product initially and refine along the way. We were also wearing every hat initially including fulfillment and shipping, shooting our own photos, modeling for the website, and turning our LES apartment into Tilit HQ. There was inventory stacked to the ceiling!
Jenny, you’ve earned your MBA from NYU to further your skills as an operations manager. Why did you feel it was important invest in a college education instead of learning as you go?
Jenny: Neither of us have a business background and I didn’t feel like we had the time to learn on the job this time around, so why not learn from others? Also, I am a little bit of a nerd and kind of like school!
Working with your significant other is not for everyone. How do you guys make it work so you don’t kill each other by the end of the day?
Alex: We’re very fortunate in the sense that we have different skill sets and interests in the same business. At the same time we’re both super passionate about what we’re doing and the people that we get to work with.
Jenny: Ha! We get this question a lot! Luckily we have very different skills and different roles and responsibilities in the business and we work really hard to respect those boundaries. While we talk about the business a lot we make sure to unplug as much as possible on the weekends and to have date nights and special time that is about us and our family.
Because Tilit was the first business you’ve started, would you have done anything differently to make the process easier?
Jenny: We actually had a food truck called Goods back in 2011 that didn’t work out, so technically this is our second business. That being said, we learned so much from the first experience and were definitely able to apply tons of lessons learned. Hindsight is always 20/20 so for Tilit I would say that sometimes we were too conservative with cash flow. We had a period of time about a year in where we were out of our bestselling items like the contra apron and chef shirt. This probably slowed our growth. If I had to do it again, I would have invested in more inventory as soon as we understood the demand.
While you guys have created a typical go-to chef’s line, you also have included a chef’s dress into the collection. Why did you feel it was important to include that into the collection, and how did you come up with the design so it was functional yet stylish?
Alex: As we’ve done with most all of our designs we ask a million questions to the people that will be wearing it. One of the key components of why we exist is to create more options for people when choosing workwear. A chef dress is certainly not for everyone, but if there are a few people out there that will appreciate it, then why not include it in the line.
We recently heard you also had a beautiful baby. Congrats! As parents and business owners, how are you guys planning on managing your time between parenthood and entrepreneurs?
Alex: We currently live 4 blocks from our studio, so we’ve eliminated a commute! I think we’re still very much figuring the rest out though!
Jenny: Thanks so much! Having a baby is magical and is definitely a job within itself. That being said, having a baby while owning your own business allows for amazing flexibility. So I didn’t really get a traditional maternity leave and have basically been on email within a few days of giving birth but at my own pace. Our office is only 4 blocks from our house, so baby Maly has made appearances at our Tilit team meetings and I have team members to the apartment for meetings when I can’t get away. We are super fortunate that our team has also been flexible and understanding.
Where do you hope to see Tilit in five years?
Alex: We’re currently expanding our line to hit the workwear needs of hotels as well as developing more street-ready garments. Bottom line: we hope to see Tilit everywhere!
Jenny: Hopefully on the team members that work in every restaurant, kitchen and hotel! Since our designs are meant to look as seamless on street as in the kitchen, we also see crossing over into traditional street wear.
Words of Wisdom for future entrepreneurs?
Alex: Limit your risk at every step of the startup process. It will make you happier by reducing your stress and it will force you to be creative in every facet of your new project.
Jenny: You will have setbacks along the way, but always look for the silver lining and learn from your mistakes.