At Lexington Brass, Iowa-native Jo Rausch knows most of her guests by name—and with good reason. As the maitre d’ of one of New York’s classiest American bistros, she encounters a gaggle of regulars daily, all looking for an enjoyable time alongside their lobster mac ‘n’ cheese and buttermilk fried chicken. But her career didn’t start as maitre ‘d; she worked her way up across the EMM Group’s lauded venues, from bottle waitress to host. Here, our September 2012 Industry Insider shares her average day, where she gets her favorite cocktail in NYC, and her encounter with one of the hottest actors in Hollywood.
What inspires your work in the hospitality business?
When I went to the University of Northern Iowa, I took advantage of every travel program offered. I climbed the ancient steps of the Acropolis, ran straight off of the Swiss Alps with a parachute on, stood in awe of the Sistine Chapel, and danced and sang on tables at Oktoberfest. Travel opens your eyes and puts you on a different level of understanding people and culture. You can manage life so much better with an open-minded view of things. That is directly transferable to my everyday life working in hospitality.
What does your job as maitre d’ entail? What’s an average day like for you?
My day starts with a giant cup of Stumptown coffee when I get to work—it’s life changing. We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Lexington Brass so there is never a dull moment for us. I go through reservations and plot the floor for lunch. A casual diner won’t pick up on the amount of planning that goes behind your seating arrangement. I spend the afternoon reaching out to guests and keeping up with our regulars. Hospitality doesn’t have a down time and that’s one of the many reasons it keeps me interested and challenged.
Describe the food and atmosphere at Lexington Brass. What do you think is unique about it that keeps people coming back?
We have an awesome team here and when you start with that solid base the rest comes very easily. Our menu is classic American bistro with a lot of unique flavor pairings. Executive chef Chris Leahy is so creative and always trying out new things here for us. The dessert menu is where I get into trouble though: the Fried Apple Pie is incredible!
You’ve been working with the EMM Group for years. Describe the brand and what has kept you working with it.
When I started with the company, The Chandelier Room was their second venue. I’ve watched the company quadruple in size over my three years with them. That in itself is a phenomenal testament to the drive and work ethic that keeps them going. I’ve also loved being part of a company that you can grow with; if you have the drive, they recognize it and help you actualize your potential.
Where are your favorite places to drink and dine?
My friends and I have been working our way through Adam Platt’s top 101 restaurants list and, as you might guess, Eleven Madison Park has been my favorite, but I also love classic tiny spots like the original Westville. For drinks you can find me all over the place, from The Red Lion listening to an amazing David Bowie cover band, to Catch with my favorite tequila cocktail—the Cane—in hand. (For an extended list of Jo Rausch’s all-time favorite NYC spots, click here. )
What’s the greatest lesson and advice you’ve learned across your career in nightlife?
You have to remember that everyone that walks through the door is there to have a good time and your job is to make sure that happens. If you aren’t having fun, that will manifest its way to your guests. When I go to work I don’t feel like it’s a job and I think that’s the key to happiness in your career.
Amid your work as a bottle waitress, host, and now Maitre D’, what is the craziest thing you’ve encountered someone do?
That’s a story to tell over drinks but it involves John Stamos, or maybe that was just a dream I had.