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Six-year-old Alison Arth led pounding footfalls up the staircase in her family's San Francisco home, her brother in hot pursuit. Before they could reach the top, a doorknob turned and they shrieked with laughter back down the stairs before the stranger on the other side could catch them.

"The game was always changing, because the people staying at my family's bed-and-breakfast were always changing," she said.

For all of her formative years, the happiness of those staying in a guest room was tethered to her family's well-being. That meant their meals and fitted bed sheets came first.

Decades later, Arth reclines in a Minneapolis all-day cafe with a cup of tea. Her lithe form folds into a chair, but her warm gray-green eyes with gold flecks flit across the room. Nothing goes unnoticed, from the table of chattering women taking their first bites, to the server wiping down a wine glass, to the clatter of commotion at the kitchen door.

She's attuned to the room — a skill she can't turn off. But when her gaze lands on the person sitting across the table, it gives the sense that this is the most important conversation of the day. She shifts gears to delve into a meandering but meaningful conversation about her career.

In hospitality circles, Salt & Roe, the business Arth operates out of Minneapolis, along with Kimberly Belle in San Francisco, has become shorthand for a company that coaches and teaches leadership. Its success has led to notable changes both locally and nationally in an industry long romanticized for its screaming chefs, hard living and unforgiving hours.

Area chefs like Ann Ahmed, Gavin Kaysen, Ann Kim and Jamie Malone have Arth on speed dial, and while she might not be present in those busy dining rooms, the culture shift she created can be felt.

Arth's partner in Salt and Roe is Kimberly Belle (left).
Arth's partner in Salt and Roe is Kimberly Belle (left).

Eloquent Co.

Listening to intuition

Arth worked in her first restaurant in high school before attending Cornell University, where she studied hospitality. "I've never done anything other than work in hospitality," she said. "I went right from college to opening two restaurants for Daniel."

Daniel is Daniel Boulud, an internationally renowned New York chef who, at the time, was growing his restaurant empire. It was there, in 2010, that she crossed paths with Kaysen, the young chef leading the kitchen at the Michelin-starred Cafe Boulud.

Arth thrived in the fast-paced, controlled chaos of opening restaurants and establishing company culture. She was good at it, too, having a keen understanding of both personalities and building around a bottom line. But just as she was starting to feel like New York was home, she left, "ignoring every screaming bone in my body saying this was not a great idea."

She moved back to San Francisco soon after getting married. She was hired to help open and manage staff at a private club that was fueled by people with plenty of tech money but little hospitality experience. Those in charge leaned heavily on Arth, and she soon found herself in a position that was exhausting and hollow.

"You know the adage, 'you can't buy taste?' Well, we found out you can't buy vision. Here we were with good intention, working so hard, and it looked like a total starfish. You're going in five different directions instead of one," she said. "There's no winning that game."

By all accounts she was successful. She had more money, a prestigious job title and led a massive team of people. Inside, though? Her mental and physical health were a disaster.

That deeply felt lesson became her north star: Success is not dependent on resources; it's about shared understanding and commitment.

At the height of her unhappiness, and contending with the end of her marriage, she got a call from an old co-worker. Kaysen was in town and the two met for drinks. "At dinner we were chatting and she didn't have that Alison spark," he said. Kaysen issued an invitation to Arth that would open up a whole new path, one that would lead to Minnesota.

Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis shortly after its opening in 2014. Owner Gavin Kaysen enlisted Alison Arth to help with his company, Soigné Hospitality.
Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis shortly after its opening in 2014. Owner Gavin Kaysen enlisted Alison Arth to help with his company, Soigné Hospitality.

Travis Anderson Photography

Leading the leaders

Kaysen was on the cusp of moving back to his home state to open his first restaurant, Spoon and Stable. The two would work together just like they did in the old days, but this time, Arth would do it while leading her own business.

She called her company Salt & Roe: Salt for the essential flavor-enhancing ingredient, and Roe in honor of her mother, Ruth Roe.

Arth contributed to the culture of Kaysen's Soigné Hospitality Group from the ground up, working with Kaysen as he later opened Bellecour and then Demi. One of the foundations of Kaysen's company would be a commitment to the people who worked in the restaurant. While some kitchens are loud and hidden from view, Spoon and Stable's opens to the dining room, quiet and methodical. They also support workers in job growth, using downtime to bring in guest speakers and world-famous chefs to teach and discuss their craft.

That includes the Synergy Series, a charitable event hosted by Kaysen. The dinners are one of the hottest (and spendiest) tickets in town, drawing bold names such as Kristen Kish, Daniel Humm, Nancy Silverton and Grant Achatz. But the accompanying daytime conversations with the chefs, moderated by Arth, are kept affordable so young chefs and industry workers can benefit from listening to these industry titans.

"I love talking to Alison," said new "Top Chef" host and celebrity chef Kristen Kish, echoing a sentiment heard often about Arth.

What could be a standard celebrity interview in a hotel conference room becomes something much different under Arth's guidance. Deliberate pauses during questions, seemingly chewing on the thoughts of the chefs and exposing their vulnerability. She will mirror their words, drawing out intent and emotion from what could be rote answers.

"That was more like a therapy session than an interview — in a good way," said Kish.

Alison Arth helped Ann Kim shift her restaurant from Sooki & Mimi to Kim's, where Claire Puffer and Ted Woxland dined last month.
Alison Arth helped Ann Kim shift her restaurant from Sooki & Mimi to Kim's, where Claire Puffer and Ted Woxland dined last month.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Shifting mindsets

Honing her work beyond Kaysen's company, Arth traveled the country, working with other restaurant owners and professionals through the Salt & Roe curriculum that guides clients through opening a restaurant or developing leadership skills, paths well-worn by Arth at this stage of her career.

When the pandemic came, Arth didn't slow down. Instead of working with restaurants to open and hire, her focus changed to how to keep them afloat. "We went immediately from planning for a night's service, to shifting to online ordering and how to do takeout," said Arth.

For those she worked with — people hardwired to serve others — the isolation and loss of normality were brutal on several fronts. No people in spaces meant there was a lot of time to think. Feelings of helplessness and resentment were amplified.

"It was hard on everyone, especially so for us in the industry that usually have so much human contact," said Arth. Coming back and reopening dining rooms brought an opportunity for the industry to push a reset button.

"I thrived in the world of make it [expletive] happen," said Peter Campbell, owner of Red Wagon Pizza Co. Coming out of the pandemic, he could still feel his life spinning out around him. Working with Arth, he shifted his mindset from things happening to him — people not showing up for interviews, calling in sick, unexpected bills — to centering himself as the one who runs the business.

"It's changed everything," he said. "It began with asking myself questions. 'Why don't I value my own time?' You know, the worst things that anyone will ever say about you come from yourself," said Campbell. "Putting intentionality behind how we run the business, How are we motivated to do what we do? It's an eye-opening thing that transcends our industry."

Along the way Arth also met Ann Kim, the James Beard Award-winning chef and a breakout star of Netflix's "Chef's Table."

"Alison's superpower is that she really listens to people — and she's just very curious and smart," Kim said. "She's a unicorn."

Kim, who owns Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza and Young Joni with business partner/spouse Conrad Leifur, reached out to Arth when they needed to make their toughest business decision yet. Their Uptown restaurant that opened during the pandemic, Sooki & Mimi, hadn't grown into what they had hoped it would become.

"I used to say leading sucks! It's hard. But you aren't born a leader. Leaders are made," Kim said. "You have to be committed to it. You don't just take a class and boom, you're done. It's constant work." For Kim, leading also meant making a hard decision. She worked with Arth to develop and execute a bold move: to close one restaurant and open her most personal yet: Kim's.

The Korean-American restaurant, which opened in late 2023 to instant lines out the door, tells the chef's story from immigrant to Minnesota suburban kid through food. Arth was there for its debut, beaming at the work her friend and client put into it.

Alison Arth might not be a familiar face to diners, but she's a dependable resource for chefs.
Alison Arth might not be a familiar face to diners, but she's a dependable resource for chefs.

Eloquent Co.

'Hard work isn't optional'

Chef Janene Holig was looking to add skills. Unlike Kim, Kaysen and Campbell, Holig was between jobs, having just stepped away from a job she had held almost since leaving culinary school and wanted help figuring out what came next. She had watched Arth interview chefs at Synergy Series events, and was impressed by her candor.

"Working with Salt & Roe just completely changed the way I approach not only my work, but my life," said Holig. "There is such a need in our industry for this. I'm a lot more gentle in the way I ask questions, and the way I talk to myself. We can have difficult conversations and it doesn't have to be reactionary. I'm a lot — a lot — more patient."

The framework and coursework she's done with Salt & Roe involves a lot of practicing and talking about how to approach hard things. "There's never a good day to talk about bad things," said Holig, who eventually started a new job as the executive chef for Birk Grudem and Christina Nguyen's restaurants Hola Arepa and Hai Hai. She credits Salt & Roe for managing the calmest kitchen she's ever worked in.

"Hard work isn't optional," said Arth. "In work and life — there's going to be hard work, but the why behind the hard work needs changing."

Like her clients, Arth has continued to grow into this community. She's committed to staying in the area, although her client list has lengthened beyond local chefs; and Salt & Roe now has business worldwide.

After years of rushing from one place to another to serve demands in San Francisco and New York, the Midwest suits her well. She's invested in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, appreciates the weird way Minnesotans pronounce "bag" and loves the people. She's built a life that includes a creative cadre of friends and a romantic partnership with Marco Zappia, the nationally renowned bartender and co-founder of Tres Leches beverage company. The two share a home in the city. She smiled as if agreeing with herself, watching the sun crack through gray clouds from inside that all-day cafe.

"Sometimes you just need to choose a more fulfilling kind of hard."