Colors opened earlier this month at 417 Lafayette St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. It's a white tablecloth place whose menu features American cuisine, with rotating specials drawn from each of the 20 countries represented in its 50-person cooperative ownership. Executive chef Raymond Mohan's opening week starter options included lambi salad, a Haitian-stewed conch topped with arugula, radish, lime leaves and crispy fried conch fritters ($11); and Philippine lumpia stuffed with lobster ($15). Main course offerings included curried goat, stewed in coconut milk with a Peruvian-style lentil rice cake ($24); and seared scallops on a bed of mustard greens, paired surf-and-turf style with Madeira-braised oxtails ($27). Desserts went for $9 each.
"This is the new American food," says the Guyana-born Mohan, one of 12 Colors employees who did not work at Windows on the World. "It's cooked in a kitchen where everyone is equal, no yelling, no screaming. And you actually own the dishes you're washing."
"We will never forget our 73 brothers and sisters, but we don't want people to come and eat at our restaurant because of 9/11," Moroccan-born waiter Fekkak Mamdouh told CNN.com. "People come for pity one time, but they won't come back. We want them to come to Colors because of the food and great atmosphere."
Colors' ownership structure is a co-op, meaning its waiters, busboys, bartenders, chefs and dishwashers each have a stake in the venture. The co-op owns 20 percent of Colors; investors control the rest. Also, every worker, no matter how low on the totem pole they might be, makes a minimum of $13.50 an hour. That's well above the prevailing restaurant wage in New York City for most positions.
The restaurant's start-up capital--$2.2 million-- came via grants and loans made by a consortium of nontraditional sources. Donating entities ranged from an order of Roman Catholic nuns in the U.S. to a group of Italian food exporters. The Nonprofit Finance Fund put up $1.2 million for Colors, aggregating loans from 15 smaller lenders. The restaurant's rent--$21,500 per month--is reasonable for Manhattan.
Mamdouh is also a director of Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York, a nonprofit cooperative whose mission is to help restaurant workers, many of them immigrants, improve their lives. For Colors, the group scored a three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health that will enable the new restaurant to function as a learning lab for restaurant worker ergonomics.
The clinical ergonomist working with Colors made several recommendations for the restaurant's design. They included raising many work spaces and bars by six or eight inches and recasting flow plans so workers will bump into fellow workers less frequently. Other mandates included sharper knives, the better to prevent repetitive motion injuries, and anti-fatigue mats placed on floors throughout the back of the house and behind the bar.
"The objective is to create a model for the industry," says Saru Jayaraman, executive director of ROC. "You can treat your workers well, create good safety and health standards and still make a profit. The challenge with the ergonomic piece was to stay within the budget and make sure it is really a model."
"From the ashes, this will not only be a legacy to those who lost their lives," says Mamdouh. "It will show other restaurants how they should be run."