Introducing fonio, the "miracle grain."
Senegalese chef and entrepreneur Pierre Thiam is on a mission to break into the Western-dominated grain market with an ancient grain called fonio. He built his company, Yolele Foods, in 2017 with the intention of creating economic opportunities for farmers who grow grains like fonio, and his success could have a huge impact on African countries, by alleviating poverty and hunger for millions of people. Pierre tells us about his strategy to break into a global market that obsesses over wheat, rice, corn, and soy. And so far, it's working. Yolele's packaged fonio is flying off the shelves at Whole Foods locations all across the country.
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Host: Nora Ali
Producer: Bella Hutchins
Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus
Fact Checker: Kate Brandt
Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop
VP, Head of Multimedia: Sarah Singer
Full transcripts for all Business Casual episodes available at https://businesscasual.fm
Nora Ali: For Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, where we chat with people you know, and some you may not know yet, and share stories that might surprise you about the trends in tech shaping business and your life right now. I'm your host, Nora Ali.
Now let's get down to business. We know that marketing undoubtedly impacts what we choose to eat. I used to ask my parents to buy the cool new cereal, probably something like French Toast Crunch or Oreo O's as a kid, because I saw a fun TV commercial that was marketed to people like me, an eight-year-old who liked sugar-hyped cartoon mascots. And most of those cereals, and other common food products, were composed of four main grains: rice, wheat, corn, and soy. One huge contributing factor to those four being our main grains in the US is the strategic work of brands and marketing agencies that very intentionally made it happen.
Our guest today, Senegalese chef and entrepreneur Pierre Thiam, is on a mission to make an ancient grain called fonio the next big thing, through better marketing, education, and storytelling, via his three cookbooks. His latest one is called The Fonio Cookbook: An Ancient Grain Rediscovered, and also by making yummy food with fonio in places like his New York restaurant, Teranga, where he's the executive chef and cofounder. He built his company, Yolele, in 2017, with the intention of creating economic opportunities for farmers who grow grains like fonio. And his success could have a huge impact on African countries, by alleviating poverty and hunger for millions of people.
One of the marketing challenges around fonio, Pierre told us, has been to reverse the colonial mentality around it. This idea that fonio is somehow inferior because it's not a European or American product, but it's nutritious, tastes a little like couscous, is environmentally friendly, and takes five minutes to make. As Pierre calls it, "It's a miracle grain, which was cultivated in Africa for thousands of years before colonization." Pierre shared a lot of surprising tips for anyone looking to distinguish their brand in a competitive space, and how to introduce products to new unfamiliar markets. He also highlighted the importance of having a bigger mission beyond the products you're selling. Pierre is lovable and passionate, and it really came through in our conversation. And that convo is next after the break.
So I do want to start with a little bit of an icebreaker. Obviously the restaurant business has changed so much in just the last few years, with the increased rise of delivery, and health and safety concerns in restaurants. So we want to know what is something you wish people knew about what it's like to work in a restaurant and in the restaurant industry, something that you wish customers would be more cognizant of?
Pierre Thiam: Oh, wow. That's a nice icebreaker question. Yeah, I guess, this year this pandemic's been truly disrupting. And a lot of things that people didn't know is now known. I wish they had known it before. I wish they had known that many of the restaurant workers are essential workers. It turns out we are essential and that's why our industry was trying to stay afloat. It was very, very difficult for my restaurant. We decided not to close down our doors and we had to be very flexible in doing so. The main reason why we wanted to stay open is, for me personally, my team in the kitchen, I have employees that worked with me for over two decades now. My very first restaurant. The same people that work with me and were depending on that, because we work in an industry where there's no safety net. People are getting paid on a weekly basis and this is how we plan it. And this is unfortunately the situation of this system. And now these people are finding themselves without any source of income and completely at the mercy of a pandemic. So that was very, very difficult for us to realize it. We kind of knew it, but we were not expecting a pandemic. And now I wish people, everyone, knew that. I wish people were more conscious on how we treat essential workers. And food system is something that's quite important. So yeah, I think it's a big realization.
Nora Ali: Yeah. Yeah. And we've seen a lot of turnover, people leaving the service industry because the pandemic highlighted just how difficult it is to work in an industry like food. You said that you've worked with some of your employees who have been with you for over two decades. That's incredible. Why do you think they're so loyal to you, as a boss, as someone they want to work with?
Pierre Thiam: I like to believe that I'm as fair as possible to them. I try to treat them with respect. I have very much respect for them. This is my approach to cooking. First, the kind of cuisine that I present, my mission in cooking, is to really bring the food culture of West Africa, which was something that's quite unique in the New York world. So the team that worked with me, they recognized themselves in this mission, and that's a unique place that they find themselves into. And so that really opened opportunities for many of them. They were able to explore it, to connect with their culture. My team, those people I'm thinking about, they're coming from different backgrounds, mostly from West Africa, others from all other parts of the world too, but who are also interested in this culture. So this is a unique place. That's one of the reasons why they stuck to it. And I would try to be fair in remunerating. And that was something that also, we were very competitive in the way we were treating our employees. That's also something that is considerable. And I mean, the rest is, I try to be as human and friendly—I'm very friendly. I'm not the type of chef that screams, and throws knives, and throws pots on the table, that's not me at all. So that makes it easy, I guess.
Nora Ali: You have to be human, treat your workers well, pay them fairly, and to your point, there's a broader mission that you have. It's not just about making good food, and I do want to get to that mission. So you talk a lot about this grain called fonio. And from my perspective, as a regular consumer, it feels like the grain industry is just dominated by rice, corn, and wheat. I had never heard of fonio before, but what is it exactly, and why do you describe it as a miracle grain?
Pierre Thiam: Well, it's a miracle grain in so many ways. It's the oldest cultivated grain in Africa. So what is fonio? Fonio is a grain. It's a gluten-free grain. It's an ancient grain. It's very, very nutritious. And it's great for the environment. It's a grain that grows in poor soil and has a way to regenerate the soil because it has deep roots that add nutrients to the soil. So in addition to being great for the environment, fonio is also a nutrition powerhouse. It's really nutritious; it's rich in fiber, it's rich in amino acid. Two of them in particular, called cysteine and methionine, and those ones are deficient in most of the major grains, rice, wheat, all of those. Fonio has it in abundance. So it's a grain that really, we need to support. Like many other grains, it's unfortunate, like you just mentioned, that the whole global food system is relying on four grains, the ones you mentioned, rice, wheat, soy, and corn, but there are thousands of other grains and plant foods that we are ignoring. We need to integrate them in our food system.
So for me, as a chef from West Africa, I saw this as an opportunity. There are crops from my country, from my continent, that are not integrated in this food system, and they need to be integrated for many reasons. First to say biodiversity, because when we don't consume, when there's not a market for these crops, they disappear. You'd be surprised, Nora, the amount of crops that have disappeared in the past 50 years only. The past 50 years there's something like 60% of the biodiversity has disappeared. And we're talking about climate change, we're talking about hunger, and those issues can only be tackled—the solution to those problems is by integrating those underutilized crops like fonio. And fonio is a perfect example. It's resilient. It grows in an area that's dry, the south of the Sahara desert, so it's really a grain that mitigates the advance of the desert because it restores that soil. It is also, as a chef, that's most important, it's a grain that's delicious. It's delicate, it's very versatile, you can do so many things cooking with fonio, and the most important that you guys would like is it cooks in five minutes. It's really the fascinating thing about fonio.
Nora Ali: How did you know? That is very important to me. But it's not just about maintaining biodiversity, and the health and climate benefits, even of fonio, it's also the livelihoods of those who are cultivating the grain as well. Can you share a little insight on the reality of life in that Senegal region of Africa that you mentioned, and how fonio cultivation could actually help to change it if there was more demand for the grain?
Pierre Thiam: Well, in Senegal, in the country I'm from, it grows in a region called Kedougou. And Kedougou is considered to be the poorest region of Senegal. So that's the thing. The reality is when you go to Kedougou you don't even see any more youth. The young men in particular have left Kedougou because there're no opportunities. They're going out—you may have, or may not have heard of this odyssey of young Africans who are traveling to Europe, trying to make it to Europe for opportunities of work. So those people, if a grain like fonio becomes a world-class crop, they have opportunities, they have employment, that's all they need. They're young and able, but they don't have opportunities because these crops don't have access to market.
So I figured, as a Senegalese chef based in New York who knows what fonio is, if I was able to figure out the path from fonio to the global market, that would change the situation, that would bring economic opportunities, that would bring jobs. Even people taking pride in a product that's very significant, that's part of their inheritance. So there's so much that comes up with it is at stake. And that's not only for the locals, which are the ultimate beneficiaries, which should be the ultimate beneficiaries because that's their heritage crop. But even for the consumers, because it's important for us to have a diet that's diverse. It's so important for even for our health. Many of the chronic diseases that you've seen coming up in the past 50, 100 years, they're directly connected to our diet. And you see more and more of those because we don't diversify our diet. Because fonio scores so low in the glycemic index, so we talk about diabetes. The people suffering of Type II of diabetes are looking for this kind of product, but they don't have access to it. So bringing a market for fonio is checking so many different boxes, but most importantly, you're right, bringing economic opportunity in the poorest regions of the world, which is rural West Africa.
Nora Ali: Well, Pierre, you've convinced me that it's a miracle grain, and I do want to get into what's preventing it from proliferating across the world, but we will take a very quick break. More with Pierre when we come back.
So Pierre, you're talking about how there's limited access to fonio as it stands now. And one issue that you brought up in your TED Talk, which I found was so interesting, you said there's this colonial mentality that what comes from the west is best. And people see fonio as, quote, "simply country people's food." Can you expand on the perception of fonio and how that's contributing to limiting the spread of this so-called miracle grain?
Pierre Thiam: I can take you through a little back of history. Senegal is a country that was colonized by the French. And as you know, colonization was a business move. It was about supporting the economy of the colonizers through their businesses, through the enterprises. And the agricultural politics of France at the time was to make sure our farmers in Senegal grow crops that are in demand for the French economy. And peanuts happened to be that crop at the time. Peanut oil was very much prized. It still is. But it became the cash crop. The French farmers supported the agriculture of peanuts in Senegal, and they started importing broken rice from the other part of the French colonial empire, which was Indochina, Vietnam, and all that, was coming the broken rice, which are leftover rice debris from the rice being processed in Vietnam. They were sending it to Senegal. And that became the rice that Senegalese were consuming, which is a substandard rice.
But even today, 60 years after independence, we are still importing that rice. We are still depending on that rice, since it's the rice that we use in our national dish. In the meantime, we have ignored our traditional crops like fonio, like millet. Even that our own rice, we even have a rice culture in the south, but we haven't developed a value chain for those crops, just because of the system that was established by the French colonial. Even further, the French colonial started exporting, bringing to Senegal, wheat, because we don't grow wheat in Senegal, but they brought wheat, wheat flour. And a certain aspect of the French culture, which is a symbolic baguette bread, the baguette bread is such a big part of Senegal's culture. Now, every single day, every Senegalese's household has baguette bread for breakfast or for dinner. So we don't grow wheat. And we are not growing our own crops, because also part of that mentality, it's a branding thing. The wheat was branded, baguette was branded, it didn't brand our crops like fonio.
And we started to think of whatever was coming from the French, whatever was coming from the west is best. Like I said, it's because the French were bringing their products, that we were branding it properly, and we were looking down at our own products, which were far more superior in terms of nutrition. And they were more adapted to our system, our region, our environment, but we looked down at them because the French didn't promote them. And we didn't think of promoting them after independence. So even today, you don't see fonio products in the big cities of Senegal.
To me, the challenge was to reverse that by making fonio attractive and turning it into a brand. And that's why Yolele came to be. Yolele is the brand that we are promoting as a platform for those underutilized African crops. And promoting it in a city like New York has a double impact, because New York is really leading in terms of culture. If it makes it in New York, like Sinatra say, you can make it anywhere. So if you make it for New York, which we did, we started in New York and now we are distributed across the US. And now in Africa, people are looking at fonio. Now in Senegal, the demand is like, hey, can we have Yolele products? So that's great. It's working. And that was the vision. And that's very important to see that branding is a big part of it. And it's time that we start decolonizing our mentality in Africa, and everywhere in the world really, but in Africa and Senegal in particular. That colonial mentality that made us look down at our own product is something that fonio can reverse because fonio, before colonization, is 5,000 years. It's an important crop symbolically.
Nora Ali: Yeah. That's so interesting, where you've made fonio something that's more known, getting more popular in New York. And the popularity in New York is what's getting people in Africa to actually pay attention now. Was that the plan all along? That's incredible foresight. How did you know that was the way to go?
Pierre Thiam: Well, because I've been paying attention, and other things that came from this part of the world and that became very popular in my part of the world—I mean everything that's branded culturally—music, food products all came here, and it became hugely popular in Senegal, in Africa and elsewhere. That's just the way this system is. And branding is really what it is. And so New Yorkers, what comes from the west is best, like I said, right? So New York is like the ultimate west, I guess. This thing that actually really came from us, but is now coming back...
Nora Ali: Wow.
Pierre Thiam: ...through New York, becomes best.
Nora Ali: Yeah. And in terms of branding, there's obviously big corporations that have a big impact on what we consume. One of those is Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, of course. So walk me through how you got Amazon and Whole Foods to pay attention to fonio. How did you land that first distribution deal with them?
Pierre Thiam: Well, there was elements of luck. There are elements of timing. Whole Foods were opening a store in Harlem. I have a restaurant in Harlem which happened to be a community of West Africans. And they have this approach of moving into a community and integrating some of the community's products to belong. That's a Whole Foods approach. So we came to them, my business partner, Philippe Devereaux, who's also a veteran in the food industry, had a connection there. We approached Whole Foods and said, "Hey, we have this product that West African community would connect with." And that's really how it started.
The first thing was, obviously we knew that when you come to one Whole Foods, you have to make sure your product moves, otherwise they go off the shelf quickly. I mean, Whole Foods is just like that. So we had to do tastings. We had to do cooking demos. I personally would go and do cooking demos and having people taste the food. "Hey, this fonio, the name sounds funny at first for you, but now taste it." And then they taste it. And every time we would do tasting, the products would fly off the shelf, every time. And Whole Foods noticed it, obviously, and we became, actually, the leaders in our category. In the grain category, the fonio was leading. And for this unknown grain it was quite amazing.
So next step was Whole Foods invited us to another store, downtown this time. And it still started to sell. And then Midtown, and Brooklyn, and all that. And then the whole New York, and then Northeastern region, and then the whole country. And between that and today we have added even more products. We have fonio pilafs now that are all inspired by West African traditional cuisine. We have the jollof pilaf, we have the dawadawa, which is a fermented locust bean, we have the yassa, which is a dish I'm really proud of it because it's from the south of Senegal. It has onions and lime and chili in it. So there's all those products that came, and even more exciting now, we entered the snack category. We have four new chips now, which are even more exciting because those people who are not going to cook, even though it cooks in five minutes, they can go and grab the chips and snack on it, because everyone loves a snack. And our chips are quite amazing. And they're all gluten-free, like I mentioned, they're very...
Nora Ali: The gluten-free part of it is appealing to me because I try to avoid gluten, and it's become so much more common. Now you go out to restaurants, they have gluten-free labels, they have gluten-free sections. How much has maybe changing dietary needs or people realizing their dietary needs, how much has that changed people's appetite for fonio? And is that something that people are looking for is that gluten-free aspect of it?
Pierre Thiam: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And that definitely was one of the main reason why we started with fonio. Fonio was checking all the boxes, including gluten-free. My inspiration was quinoa. I was in New York as quinoa was entering and as quinoa was making its way, this obscure grain from Latin America, the Andes, and ancient grain, too. But it was the gluten-free aspect of quinoa that people were like, wow, this is interesting. So to me it really was kind like my North Star. I knew what I wanted to avoid. I didn't want to fall into the pitfall of the same problems that quinoa did have with the indigenous farmers who didn't get as much as they could have. I used that as a path, what to avoid and what not to avoid. But quinoa was the way. If quinoa was able to make it, fonio can make it.
But Yolele wasn't a fonio company to begin with it. Fonio is our star ingredient, but Yolele is actually a company that promotes African food products and African food culture. So we have also products that are coming up that are also going to be introduced to the market, like Bambara groundnuts, for instance, which is a bean that was traditionally grown in rotation with fonio. See, we want to promote this traditional way of doing agriculture. We want to stay away from monoculture. So if we promote fonio only, the farmers are going to grow only fonio, like they were doing growing only peanuts when the French imported them. And like it's been happening here in big farms. So that's the problem. And when you talk about climate change, a lot of the challenges are caused by monoculture, because then you have to put some chemicals in the soil to grow it regardless of the season. You have to just get water, which is very difficult now because water is a challenge. So all of that is something we wanted to avoid.
Nora Ali: I think sometimes we have to be reminded how much marketing impacts our daily lives, because you market a certain grain, that's the one people demand, that impacts the level of production and agriculture around the world, and it all stems from what's being marketed to people. So I love that you're being intentional about the products you're marketing. But what happens when you get outside of places like New York or the west coast where we're, I think traditionally, maybe stereotypically, a little bit more open to trying foods from other cultures from around the globe? How do you spread that message, that awareness to more parts of the US, more parts of the world even, where they might not have the open eyes, maybe—I sound like a New York centric person right now. I do live in New York. I love New York. But to those who might not be as open to trying new things, how do you open their eyes?
Pierre Thiam: We have several tools. One is, we're a small company. We have very little means. So we are using social media. We have a social media presence, we have in our team, dynamic social media person who gets us now on TikTok, and Instagram, and all those things. But we also have the support, and very organically, support of influencers who just love the products. And those influencers come from different backgrounds. Some are nutrition conscious, or diet conscious who want to promote the gluten-free aspect for such a strong, strong community there. And those guys are promoting fonio and tagging us all along.
And we also, I personally, as a chef, have been fortunate to be able to write cookbooks. So my last cookbook was called The Fonio Cookbook. I dedicated it to the whole journey of fonio. And it's been great to see this book being distributed, to see great chefs like Massimo Bottura writing the introduction to the book. So those guys, they're not connected to the African culture but they're connect to the ingredient. And that's what the beautiful thing about food, it transcends borders. So outside of New York and Los Angeles, you have people in the Midwest who are also conscious consumers who are looking for that kind of connection. And we are reaching out to them through those different networks that we have access to. And that's beautiful. That's really beautiful.
Nora Ali: That really is. We're going to take another quick break. More with Pierre when we return. Pierre, you brought up your restaurant, Teranga, and by the way, you mentioned your social media team—the Instagram page for Teranga is absolutely beautiful. Beautiful photography. I encourage everyone to check it out. But what was your original plan for the restaurant? Do you have plans to expand, or is this just one small piece of the larger PR portfolio?
Pierre Thiam: No, no. Teranga was never a small piece. Teranga has plans to expand, actually. We have two Terangas as it stands. We have one in Harlem, and one in Midtown, 53rd and Lexington. The goal with Teranga was to be actually to scale into multiple locations. New York, again, was the place to begin such a dream, like Yolele, like the fonio. And we thought once you have a few locations in New York, then you have a proof of concept and then you can start raising funds and looking for ways to expand. We hope to open Teranga in other parts of the country, and in Africa, actually. And this is why I designed Teranga in this way. Teranga is designed in a way that is less intimidating.
Before Teranga I had two other restaurants, Le Grand Dakar and Yolele, called Yolele as well, differently, but this was restaurant. And those restaurants was sit-down restaurants. You would come and you would get a menu and you would sit down. It was obviously an African restaurant, and that was sometimes a challenge for some of the consumers, because some people just, when they're not familiar, when they're lost, they're afraid to enter. And Africa itself can be very scary for many people, because again, that same mindset that made us think of what comes from our own place is to be ignored. It's the same mindset.
People here too, were somewhat programmed to be afraid of Africa. The history of this country and Africa is a difficult one. So you have a lot of people who had this apprehension. And Teranga was designed so that those people, when they enter Teranga, they have the choice. It's not like you are imposed on a dish and you have it and then all your fears are coming to stop. But now you have a choice. You come and you see our board and you say, this is what I want on my plate. I pick this grain, I pick this sauce, I pick this protein, I pick this green, and you make your own bowl, but everything you are making you are part of it. And that's just what made everything different. If you got a chance to go to Teranga, or if you saw the reviews that we had from Teranga from all across—I mean, all mainstream media have been praising Teranga, but it's because that approach was different than the traditional restaurant. People actually are in control. They come to make it, and then they eat, and they're like, wow, these are like...And it's great flavors, and it's light, and it's just through food the message is so clear, and it disperses all the myths. And then people come back and they bring their friends. And you enter Teranga, especially before the pandemic, when all the tables were accessible, you have the world. People from so many diverse backgrounds, from Asia, to Caucasians, Blacks, and it's just what food does. And only food can do it in this way, so really I love that aspect.
Nora Ali: Great, well, this notion of introducing people to new food, but giving them control over their selections and doing it piece by piece, item by item, that's so wonderful and makes it more approachable. So you do say on your website here, our perception of ourselves starts with the food we eat. That's very poetic. I love it. What does that mean to you? How does this notion of our perception of ourselves tie in to your businesses overall?
Pierre Thiam: For me personally, that all began with when I realized that, I was working in the food business in New York in the late '80s, early '90s. That's when I really started working in the food world. And New York was like the food capital of the world at the time. And I wasn't part of it. It was missing Africa. And I felt like, wow, first of all, Africa has so much to offer, particularly where I came from. And I had much respect for the food that I was eating here in New York, but I knew that my food had a place too. So I wanted to belong. I wanted to also share, to bring what was missing to this food capital of the world, to make it really a food capital of the world. And we forget that food is really where it began.
Civilization, some people say, begin with cooking. When you start cooking and then you invite people around and that's sharing, that's where civilization began. And one can definitely argue that man mastered fire in Africa. So that's the first step to cooking, is a necessary first step to cooking. So from that moment, believing that we have started our first cooking moments in that continent, and then from that moment we started not only having a better way of controlling the crops, agriculture and all of those things, and mastering the grains, all of those things. So by that I want to say that, when you look at a plate today, that plate is telling your story. And that story is really the story of your people. The story of the ancestors who mastered those grains, who brought those methods of cooking. And today you are just continuing that story. Me, as a chef, I'm continuing the story. When I serve it at my restaurant, this is a way for me to tell the story, to share what I really have taken from my ancestors. I cannot even take the credit for it. Maybe taking a creative approach of presenting it, but it's really just, without the grains, without the method of cooking them, without all of that, there's no me, there's no story. So yes, it's a long way to answer your question, but it really is important to know that we are storytellers. That's what chefs are today. And that's what chefs have always been, really.
Nora Ali: I hear you. Food is everything to me, for my family and myself, culturally. I'm Bangladeshi, and we tell stories through our food, and we have traditions we've passed down for generations. So that resonates with me, for sure, Pierre. Okay. Before we let you go, we have one last segment for you, and it's called Shoot your Shot. So Pierre, I want to know, what is your moonshot idea? This is your wildest ambition, your biggest dream. It could be personal, it could be business related. This is your chance to shoot your shot. So go for it.
Pierre Thiam: Like I said, this mission began with me wanting to put up Africa in its place in the food table of the world. And this is my shot, really. I want to see Yolele products to continue to grow in this direction, including underutilized African crops, into the food system. And in doing so, really bring economic opportunities, support, to become really a path, the model of development for rural Africa. And that's what I see as my moonshot. I'd love to see our products in all the supermarkets around the world, and being in demand, and people really connecting with that. Finding it to be not only nourishing for their soul, for their body, because that's what food is about. And that's really changing the food system, because this food system that imposed upon us, only four crops. And my moonshot is to see a food system that brings all these other crops that nature has offered to us.
And there could be, not specifically from Africa, this is for Yolele's mission, but then also Bangladeshi crops, there also Indian crops, there also Qatari crops. Yes, and they need to come out. If they do not come out, they disappear. That's what we need to realize. So this model that Yolele is presenting, it should be duplicated. They should be a Yolele with a different name for Bangladeshi food, and elsewhere. It shouldn't be concentrated. And that's the problem we have, is concentrated in the hands of all big corporations. They're the ones who are controlling this food system. And today we are seeing the problem with that. Ukraine war, and we don't have wheat anymore. And it's like, oh wow. Why is the world depending on one region of the world? There are thousands of other crops. Let's bring them to the market. So that's my moonshot, is to see all of that, and to see Teranga restaurants in all the big cities of the world. That's the moonshot.
Nora Ali: Yes. Terangas everywhere. Yoleles around the world. It's about climate, it's about biodiversity, it's about economic opportunity, it's about so much more than food.
Pierre Thiam: Absolutely.
Nora Ali: That's a great moonshot, Pierre. Well, Pierre, we will leave things there. Thank you so much for joining Business Casual. I learned so much and really enjoyed talking to you. Thanks.
Pierre Thiam: The pleasure was mine. Thank you.
Nora Ali: Okay everyone, it's time for our favorite segment. We're going to play another round of a game that we are calling, for now, Brew's Tweets, featuring our very own super duper producer, Bella Hutchins. You know you love her, you know you missed her. Hello Bella.
Bella Hutchins: Hey guys, hello.
Nora Ali: The last time we played this game, you ended it by saying "I can't wait for this to be over." So obviously, we had to bring you back because we loved it so much.
Bella Hutchins: Feeling blessed.
Nora Ali: Okay, great. Me too, blessed that you're here. So the concept is simple. As a reminder, we choose a question that was posed by Morning Brew's main Twitter account and we discuss the answers, the comments that all of our lovely listeners and audience have submitted. Okay. So the tweet question is, what's been your worst Airbnb experience? Okay? I'm sure the responses were good. Here are the top three responses as curated by our production team. Bella and I have not seen them until now. So here we go. First one. We're clicking it. Would you like to read this one, Bella?
Bella Hutchins: I will read this one. Okay. This is absurd. Okay.
Nora Ali: Yeah.
Bella Hutchins: "Checked in. An hour later a tree fell on our car and the roof of our house. We had to leave in the middle of the night in a blizzard with a broken windshield and no mirror, and our hood crunched in. Owners still wanted to charge us, and Airbnb insurance declined to pay for anything."
Nora Ali: That is terrible.
Bella Hutchins: That is terrible.
Nora Ali: Yeah. Because that's probably because they don't have specific terms for if a tree falls on your car near the property.
Bella Hutchins: Yeah.
Nora Ali: It probably only covers things that happen in the house or in the property.
Bella Hutchins: Yeah. Jeez.
Nora Ali: That's really bad. This is from a person named Matt. Thank you, Matt, for submitting that.
Bella Hutchins: Sorry for your loss.
Nora Ali: We agree that it's horrible. Okay. Next one. I'll read this one. "Checked into a nice guest house on a posh property in Sebastopol, California." Is that a place? Sebastopol, California. "The next morning when I moved the coffee maker, thousands of ants poured out from a hole in the wall. The owner first accused us of bringing them in our suitcase."
Bella Hutchins: What?
Nora Ali: "And then said we left out food and attracted them." Oh my gosh. That to me is worse than the first one, because I cannot handle little creepy crawly bugs anywhere. What do you think?
Bella Hutchins: I think that's way worse. I think that's way worse. I also had an instance once with cockroaches in one of my Airbnbs.
Nora Ali: No. What'd you do?
Bella Hutchins: Yeah. And so, well it was my graduation from college weekend, and so my friends and I were just like, let's just roll with the punches and accept the roaches.
Nora Ali: No. You're not afraid they're going to crawl on your face when you're sleeping?
Bella Hutchins: We were afraid, but there was nothing to be done.
Nora Ali: Oh my gosh. That's horrid.
Bella Hutchins: Of course.
Nora Ali: You know the worst part of both of these is that the owners and/or Airbnb don't help to rectify the situation. And that was from someone named Jerry. Sorry, Jerry. Okay. Last one. Would you like to read this one, Bella?
Bella Hutchins: Oh, this is coming from a host.
Nora Ali: Oh.
Bella Hutchins: "As a host, someone left the fridge 100% full. Bags of trash and loose trash everywhere. Shoes, clothing, stuff in the shower and medicine cabinet. Little beads and other arts and crafts materials around the living room."
Nora Ali: That's pretty bad. But I think the other two are worse.
Bella Hutchins: I think the other two are worse too.
Nora Ali: Beads?
Bella Hutchins: And that's kind of what...Yeah, beads.
Nora Ali: What?
Bella Hutchins: And that kind of goes with what we were saying earlier, which is that an Airbnb is just a hotel with chores, because you could do that at a hotel and nothing would happen.
Nora Ali: Totally.
Bella Hutchins: You wouldn't have to clean up after yourself.
Nora Ali: The list of things that you have to do when exiting an Airbnb is sometimes really insane.
Bella Hutchins: Really insane.
Nora Ali: And then on top of that you have to pay a cleaning fee on top of your booking fee. So you're paying for a cleaner, but listen, I get it. People are opening up their homes to strangers. You don't want them to leave it like a disaster zone. So I get it.
Bella Hutchins: I think Airbnbs only work for when you're on a really big trip...
Nora Ali: Yes.
Bella Hutchins: ...with people.
Nora Ali: Yes. With a bunch of friends.
Bella Hutchins: You're not in a hotel and you're separated and all that.
Nora Ali: Exactly.
Bella Hutchins: But when you wake up on a trip and you're hung over, and then it's like, okay, wash all the sheets and dry them, and make all the beds, and mop the floors. It's like, what?
Nora Ali: Yeah. We're blessed that Bella's here. We're blessed for this segment. That's going to do it for today's Brew's Tweets. By the way, to our listeners, feel free to submit recommendations for a new name for this segment, because we don't particularly like Brew's Tweets. So hit us up. Okay, bye Bella.
Bella Hutchins: Bye. Thanks for having me.
Nora Ali: This is Business Casual, and I'm Nora Ali. You can follow me on Twitter @NoraKAli and I would love to hear from you. If you have ideas for episodes, comments, thoughts on episodes you loved, fun segment ideas, shoot me a DM and I'll do my best to respond. I'll at least read your DM. You can also reach the BC team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us. That number is 862-295-1135. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And if you like the show, please leave us a rating and a review. It really, really helps us. Business Casual is produced by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins. Additional production, sound design and mixing by Daniel Markus, and Sarah Singer is our VP of multimedia. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali. Keep it business, and keep it casual.