What makes Not Your Average Joe’s well above average? – Let’s hear from the CEO

[This interview was conducted by Adrienne Walkowiak on behalf of AllergyEats]

What makes Not Your Average Joe's well above average? - Let's hear from the CEO

AllergyEats is a huge fan of Not Your Average Joe’s, a chain of 14 food-allergy friendly restaurants in Massachusetts and one in the Washington, DC suburb of Leesburg, VA.  Not Your Average Joe’s has also received consistently high ratings from diners on the AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com), as the food allergy community applauds the restaurants for being incredibly accommodating to their special food requirements.

We talked to Steve Silverstein, CEO of Not Your Average Joe’s, to find out more about their food allergy-friendly philosophies.

AllergyEats:  Not Your Average Joe’s is one of the best known allergy-friendly restaurant chains in Massachusetts and Virginia.  You have an astounding chainwide AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating of 4.9 (out of 5.0).  How have you become so food allergy friendly?

Steve Silverstein: Our basic operating premise is guest obsession.  We’ll do whatever you want us to do.  We have chefs in our kitchen that make our food from scratch, and we’re perfectly suited to fulfilling special requests.  That’s really our competitive advantage.  A lot of restaurants don’t make their food from scratch, and others are afraid to take the risk and prepare meals for food allergic diners.

AllergyEats: How do you create this allergy friendly corporate culture?

SS: We didn’t create an allergy-friendly culture.  We created a guest-friendly culture.  We’ll do whatever it takes to accommodate our guests, and that’s what makes us special.

AllergyEats: What was your motivation to accommodate food-allergic and intolerant diners?

SS: I’ve been with Not Your Average Joe’s for 17 years now, but when I started in the restaurant business, I’d never worked in a restaurant a day in my life.  But my background was in retail clothing, so I knew a lot about customer service and how to take special care of customers.  I learned a lot about making people happy, and brought that knowledge to Not Your Average Joe’s.  We want to be well-known for accommodating allergies, but it’s really more than just that.  It’s our guest philosophy.  We want to please all of our guests – regardless of their food allergies or restrictions.  And we’ll do whatever it takes to make them happy.

AllergyEats: What advice would you have for other restaurants to become more allergy friendly?

SS: There are so many people with food allergies and intolerances.  You can make them incredibly loyal by accommodating them, and that turns into increased business through word-of-mouth referrals.  Becoming allergy-friendly is good for business.

It starts internally with training and education.  You need to know what’s in your food – what allergens your foods contain – so when you serve a guest, you can be honest with them.  Know what’s in your purchased products.  If you buy a plum sauce, you need to know every ingredient that’s in it.

And communicate to your staff.  We make sure our entire staff knows to get our chefs involved immediately whenever we have a food allergic guest.   Our chefs go to the tables to talk directly to food allergic guests or their parents.  And we make sure the chefs are properly educated so they can speak confidently and customize the guests’ meals appropriately.

AllergyEats: Do you think restaurants can increase their profits by better accommodating the food allergy community?

SS: Absolutely.  The one person who has dietary restrictions will usually dine out with other people.  So that’s a party of two, three, four or more people, who will come to your restaurant because you’ll accommodate the one guest with an allergy or intolerance.  And they’ll all come back because you accommodated this food allergic guest so well.  Start adding that up.  If one person can’t go to a particular restaurant because they won’t accommodate his peanut allergy, the restaurant loses the business of that whole group.  If people think you’re accommodating, they’ll have confidence in your restaurant and keep coming back.

AllergyEats: What types of food allergy protocols and procedures do you have in place in your restaurants?

SS: Our chefs get involved with every food allergy meal, speaking directly to the food allergic guest or their parents.  We want to ensure that the chefs hear and understand the allergens, so they can oversee the meal and make sure there’s no cross-contamination.  If a guest can’t eat the tomato sauce, we’ll create a whole new sauce for them. We’ll customize the meal based on each guest’s requirements or requests.

AllergyEats: Thank you, Steve, for speaking with us today, and thanks for all that you do for the food allergy community.  We appreciate your staff’s willingness to accommodate our special food requirements, we applaud your food allergy protocols and procedures and we hope that other restaurants will follow in your (impressive) footsteps.


Not only do I, and others, love Steve’s attitude and the culture he’s created at Not Your Average Joe’s, but I’m always glad when a food allergy-friendly restaurateur speaks about the positive economic benefits of accommodating food-allergic diners.  Ultimately, I think this will be the key driver for other restaurants to follow suit.

We knew about Not Your Average Joe’s incredible efforts to cater to our community not only from personal experience, but primarily from the ratings you posted on AllergyEats.  With that in mind, please take a minute to go to the core AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) and rate any restaurants you’ve dined at recently.  These ratings are the heart and soul of AllergyEats that help food-allergic diners find more comfortable restaurants at which to dine.  The ever-growing volume of these ratings is also what is giving AllergyEats a powerful voice with which to advocate for our community.  Please help make AllergyEats a little stronger by taking a minute to add just one more rating.



    Thanks for this information. The interview was exgtremely helpful. I am the parent of a tree nut, peanut allergic child and I didn’t realize that restaurants like Not Your Average Joe’s even existed.


    They are, hands down, our favorite restaurant. They do such a great job with allergy orders, and the food is consistently great! I always recommend them to friends with dietary restrictions.


    I agree. We have had great luck with this group of restaurants. Thanks Paul for all your good work


    I wish this restaurant was in Iowa! I’ve contacted so many restaurants and never heard back from them regarding allergies. Or I get the people who are so clueless, I will NEVER step foot in their establishment. Good for him!


    NYAJ is my FAVORITE restaurant. We moved out of the area, but whenever we are back I always try to find an excuse to eat at NYAJ. We don’t have allergies in our family, but once we went w/friends to NYAJ and their son had an allergy. I was SO IMPRESSED that the chef came out to the table to talk to the mom and then he checked back in after the meal was delivered to make sure everything was okay.


    My apologies to Morgane M., an AllergyEats Blog reader, who had previously submitted the following piece about Not Your Average Joe’s. I wish I included it earlier.

    My son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, and eggs. I know, right?? So my husband and I are always nervous to go out for fear that one of these days the chef is going to cross contaminate his food, causing a reaction. The other day we went to Not Your Average Joes in Landsdowne, VA. When we ordered, I gave my usual speech about my son’s allergies. A minute later the waiter came back and told us he had realized the fries were fried in the same oil that some other foods were fried in that are coated in an egg wash, and that he thought it was safer we skipped the fries that day. About 2 minutes later, the manager came out and told us to call ahead next time we were going to come in and that he would have a clean batch of oil set aside so my son could enjoy some french fries. After we left, he came outside to reiterate how seriously Not Your Average Joes takes food allergies, and that anything containing or made with peanuts is kept on a separate side of the kitchen, and that the chef also takes it very seriously. He also said they have some gluten-free items as well, including hamburger buns. It made us feel great knowing we could go back there knowing our son’s food would be safe in the hands of their chef and waiters.

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