One thing that I’ve noticed from spending a large number of years within the Oklahoma food industry is that we are all connected and have all worked extremely hard to get to where we are today. It’s a rare thing when you see a female blazing her own path in such a demanding and unforgiving career choice. So, when you see a woman like Rachel Cope holding her own within this finicky male-dominated business, it’s a cause for celebration!
In 2013, Cope paired with Avery Cannon and brought Empire Slice House to The Plaza District. Recently, she has set out on an intense vision quest scheduling back-to-back restaurant openings with GORO ramen and Revolucion Taqueria & Cantina. Is she crazy!? I’d say so but, if anyone can do it, she can. Personally, I’ve been friends with Rachel for about nine years, and I couldn’t be more proud to share my recent conversation with her. I wouldn’t call it an interview, because we just aren’t that formal, and frankly, she’s too much fun to be around to have to sit and ask her preconceived questions hoping that she’ll answer properly, because I know she won’t. She’s infatuated with Garth Brooks, adores her two Frenchies, Cocoa and Frank Underwood, and secretly sneaks out to gamble at Remington Park in the wee hours of the night. She’s authentic, funny, and has always been one of my biggest fans! I’m glad that you are about to get to know Rachel in the same way that I do!
I spent a few moments with her during a crab boil we attended at her home with family and friends.
Allison: So you were going to be an attorney, or attend law school, or something like that then, boom, restaurants! Go into detail about the how’s and why’s of that decision.
Rachel: After moving to OKC to play softball for Oklahoma City University (2007 national champs!), I graduated with a Political Science/ Pre-Law degree. I wanted to continue doing something that was competitive, but also challenged me intellectually. I took the LSAT, got some good information from my stepfather and a best friend who are both attorneys, and decided it wasn’t for me. So, I kept doing the only thing I knew how to do…wait tables! Over the course of a few years I began to develop my own thoughts and ideas about the kind of place I wanted to work at and the people I wanted to work for. I began to develop these “concepts” on my computer, never knowing when I would get an opportunity to actually do one (if ever!). In the summer of 2012 I was driving through the Plaza District and saw a little ol’ laundromat for lease...
Allison: What is the most valuable piece of information that you’ve been taught as a business owner and who taught it to you? Also, what was the worst advice you’ve ever received.? And, how did that shape you?
Rachel: There’s always a solution. It might not be the easiest, it might not be pretty, but if you get outside of yourself and really look, you’ll find it. That comes into play almost every single day, not only in business but in life as well. This business is a giant puzzle. There are no guides, roadmaps, and sometimes no help! I keep telling people I’m going to get my first tattoo and it’s going to say “we’ll figure it out” ‘cause that’s all we can do. Elena Farrar, currently the wizard behind Elemental Coffee, hired me at the Wedge Pizzeria on Western shortly after it had opened. Watching her was unlike anyone I’d ever worked for before! Her passion for food, customer service, and DETAILS was so inspiring for me. I need to thank her for that more often. Worst advice? At a convention in Las Vegas an older operator told me “you can’t do pizza by the slice in Oklahoma.”
Allison: How do you think being female affects you in the restaurant business? I mean, you are in a wheelhouse of men who dominate restaurant ownership. How does being a female benefit you in this industry, and how does it hinder you?
Rachel: I definitely don’t see it as a negative! I think people view the industry as being more geared for male owners and operators because it can be grueling physically, dirty, and oftentimes we’re in situations that need a really aggressive and staunch disposition. Some might think of that as not being a very “lady-like” job, but I think my childhood got me ready for it. My mom used to call me “Pigpen” (Charlie Brown) due to the fact that I was constantly covered in dirt, bruises, etc. from sports and running around at a million miles an hour. Also, I wanted to wear a football jersey (Jerry Rice!) to school photo day in 4th grade so I guess “lady-like” has never really been my forte. Being a female in the industry is fun because people aren’t expecting it. I’m not sure if that’s really a benefit but it makes you easy to remember. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m loud and crazy as far as being memorable is concerned. I would say my biggest hindrance is that on top of being a female, I’m also 31 and possibly look 21 (I think it’s the Vans!) so it was really difficult to be taken seriously in meetings but it has gotten better now that I’m developing relationships with those people.
Allison: You are about to stack two restaurant openings back-to-back. What were you thinking!?
Rachel: I HAVE NO IDEA!!!! I’m a firm believer that when the right opportunity shows itself, YOU FEEL IT IN YOUR BONES. I was already considering the space at 6th and Classen for a concept, though I wasn’t sure what that was going to be, I just loved the space. Then we heard about a possibility of having a shot at the building next to The Mule in the Plaza District. You
can’t pass that up! It’s been interesting to see which one is going to open first. FYI it’s going to be GORO the ramen shop. Jeff Chanchaleune, partner and chef at GORO, and his wife Rachel, are really the heart and soul of that place so I have no doubt that they will really be the leaders of that restaurant which allows me to focus on building a separate team for
Revolucion, our taqueria and cantina. So excited for both! People always ask me how it’s going and I find myself responding “I’m just trying not to screw it up!” Funny, but damn true.
Allison: What are a few things that keep you sane in such a high stress job?
Rachel: I have some really great friends and family. I absolutely love music so I find myself going to concerts anytime I can. House of Cards! I have two French bulldogs, one of which is named Frank Underwood. “Setting the Table” by my favorite restaurateur, Danny Meyer of NYC, is also super inspiring and makes me feel like I’m getting an inside look at someone who’s
been in my shoes, though in a much less forgiving city! Love our Thunder. I can also be found pecking out songs on my piano pretending that I’m Chelsey Cope, though as soon as I start to sing, I am reminded that I am NOT Chelsey Cope.
Allison: You also have a strong family focus at the core of your restaurants. Your sister helps with Empire and your dad is helping you with the build-out of the soon-to-opens. What are the pros and cons of working so closely with family?
Rachel: Pros are easy, at least for me. They ALWAYS have my back. They will never not give me help when I need it and they are saints for putting up with my neurotic, work-obsessed, perfection chasing self. Plus, I get to see them more! Cons? I see them more! Kidding. It’s tough to try and hold them to the same rules as other employees, which is strange to even call them that. The good news is they are both super understanding and really don’t ever put me in positions where I would have to do that! So, thanks Dad and Chels.
Allison: People, like me, who have been in the industry for years, a lot of times are a bit gun shy when deciding to open up a restaurant. What was the final push for you to make such a huge decision?
Rachel: I knew that I had found what I wanted to do, so I just finally jumped. There’s nothing more interesting to me than getting to be a part of an industry that’s always evolving. It means we’re constantly learning, trying new things, and getting a chance to bring things that we have seen in larger cities back to our home and give people here a chance to try something new. I’m a believer that things happen when they are supposed to. That day for me was February 7th, 2013, the day we signed Empire’s lease! It’s also Garth Brooks’ birthday so if that ain’t fate, I don’t know what is.