Meet Anna Polonsky, Founder and Creative Director at Polonsky & Friends in New York
Committed foodie advocating food as a beacon of change through mission-driven initiatives to support the vulnerable communities.
Photo by @MalleBollini
Visionary Anna has a good number of strings to her bow. She graduated from Science Po Paris where she studied politics and advertising. After, she worked in the fashion and luxury industry for a while before “going back to her roots”, as she confides. 10 years prior to launching her own consulting activities in the Food and Hospitality industry, she landed in New York to expand the Paris-based disrupted food guide, Le Fooding in the US. This experience allowed Anna to build a strong knowledge of the US culinary scene and to develop a F&B network that includes the most interesting chefs and brands. Today, through her new venture Polonsky & friends, she’s involved in many projects across the country. A strong believer in mission-driven and food-related projects, she sees the covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to support the communities in need and perhaps “to reset an industry that was dysfunctional in the first place”. Deeply affected by the situation and strongly committed, she collaborated with several companies and people to launch two major charity initiatives to support the struggling restaurant industry workforce: the Bragard Apron and the Ask Chef Anything online auction which she’ll tell us more about.
Anna is a creative spirit who immediately put her visions into action towards inclusiveness and sustainability. We wanted to tell her story and highlight the admirable initiatives she began.
Welcome Anna to Chefs for Impact!
By Anna Polonsky as told to Chefs for Impact
How did you end up working in the Food industry in New York?
“I grew up with the love of food and gathering. My family comes from the F&B industry; my uncle was an iconic hospitality uniform designer and my dad has a supper club in Paris. As a matter of fact, I got to know chefs from a young age.
I studied political and advertising in Paris. I think at that time I didn’t know that food could be a career if you weren’t a Chef. I did a few internships in fashion. I remember a time when I was doing an internship for a luxury company in New York while having a side job in a restaurant at the same time. I realized that I was much more interested in food than in fashion. So, I ended up quitting and decided that I really wanted to pursue my career in food. I was introduced to Le Fooding, one of the leading food guides in France, sort of an alternative to the Michelin guide and all the traditional food media. A few months later, I was helping them set up the company in NY. From doing food events to consulting activities, I helped them target the younger generation of Chefs and foodies than what traditional media was offering at the time. That experience was my education in food in the US. It broadened my approach to food as a bigger culture, and not something that is meant to be elitist but that aims to gather people.
When I decided it was time for a change of scenery, I was helping some friend Chefs to do their own marketing. I realized that a lot of talented chefs needed help in translating their vision into words, graphics and spaces. As a matter of fact, you have very talented people failing because there was no clear story. I saw an opportunity and decided to launch, with a friend, my former agency MP Shift, a 360-hospitality consultancy. We had clients from the independent restaurant in Brooklyn to a more established restaurant group such as Danny Meyer. In our third year we won a James beard award for best restaurant design. It did so well that the clients were bigger and bigger and at some point, it became disconnected from food in the way I was perceiving it. It was a lot more about promoting real estate development and building food courts. I wasn’t really fulfilled and I felt I needed to go back to my roots. I needed to do food projects that I had a real passion for.
That’s how my consulting agency Polonsky & friends was founded last year. The services are similar, in the sense that we provide concepts, graphic design and strategy but we’re really focused on mission driven clients. There is still a variety of Chefs and brands but they all share common sustainable values.”
Can you tell us more about the initiatives you launched to support the restaurant industry recently? What was the scope and impact of these actions?
“There is so much anxiety for everyone within the industry right now, but on the other end it really gives an opportunity for Polonsky & friends to put into practices everything we’ve been craving for a year: mission-driven projects. We use our design and marketing skills to expose the audience to important issues.
First of all, we’ve put ourselves available to help our clients totally pro-bono in these difficult times. As a lot of restaurants are pivoting to deliveries and to-go, we’ve been working a lot on brainstorming ideas of redoing entirely their brand identities and packaging.
Second, we’ve been working on a couple of campaigns.
As we, my cousin and I, were looking to find a way to signal to our industry that we cared, we collaborated on creating a Bragard Chef apron to support the vulnerable restaurant workers. Since all of the restaurants are closed and most of the people are home, cooking, it seemed like a perfect symbol. We chose one of the emblematic blue aprons from Bragard, with an embroidery icon that represents a dove bringing peace to Chefs. All the benefits are donated to the NRAE (National Restaurant Association Educational foundation). They set up a restaurant employee fund to nationally support the workers who, for months, haven’t received any support from the government. It quickly became a buzz on Instagram, a lot of Chefs and artists were promoting the apron which allowed us to raise $30,000 in total in two months.
Most recently, my friend Gaeleen Quinn and I have launched the ‘Ask Chefs anything’ initiative. It’s an online auction taking place in multiple cities, where famous Chefs and personalities in the industry auction off 30 minutes of their time in support of immigrant workers. During their discussions with the winners, they will share anything from recipe tips to career advice. Quickly, we had 40 Chefs on board in New York, such as Eric Ripert and Christina Tossi. We ended up raising over $30,000 that we used to purchase groceries at cost from our partner Chefs Warehouse. The provisions are then delivered to local community centers to feed disadvantaged immigrant households. In the case of New York, we partnered with Mercy center that helps immigrant workers of the hospitality industry in the Bronx.
Overall, it’s a drop in the ocean but it also motivated me to do more. I was excited to see that people were happy to contribute and that with a simple idea you can still make a little bit of an impact.”
How do you see Polonsky & friends evolving after the crisis?
“There is an opportunity for a reset of an industry that was dysfunctional in the first place. It’s an opportunity to see, first of all, if it’s worth it to open so many restaurants within an over saturated market.
Second, I do think that reforms are going to be needed in terms of government support. As rents are going out of control and the labor cost is getting higher, it makes it almost impossible for a restaurant owner to survive in NYC. Meanwhile, we need the clientele to understand and add more value in restaurants. I think clients are realizing it at this point, as they’ve been deprived of it for so long.
In terms of my activity, thankfully I have some clients including hotel and restaurant groups who were planning to open in a year or so, those projects keep on moving forward. I also plan on doing as much as community work as I can. I want to help reinventing the restaurant industry while addressing the necessary sustainability issues like the ones connected to the take-out and delivery packaging for instance. I want to put my skill set at the service of impact by bringing exposure with the right marketing.”
Learn more about Polonsky & friends: https://www.polonskyandfriends.com/