Last year, upwards of 65 million people from around the world flocked to New York City. And what is a visit to the City That Never Sleeps without the hospitality industry that powers the dazzling array of world-class hotels, bars, and restaurants that host visitors and locals alike every night of the year?
The workers tasked with caring for the needs of so many have been fighting a battle for basic rights and benefits: among them, a living wage, paid personal time off, and access to affordable, high-quality childcare to meet the demands of a work schedule that rarely operates within nine-to-five constraints.
It's a situation that becomes even more untenable when you consider that the average yearly cost of child care can exceed $16,000 in the New York City area. Though the industry has worked to meet the legislative mandates to provide paid family leave and health insurance to its employees, those benefits mean little if an employee is tasked with the impossible: choosing between the safety and well-being of their child and showing up for the job that pays the bills.
Camilla Marcus, the founder of Soho cafe Westbourne, saw her staff grapple with this choice firsthand, and she decided to do something about it. The restauranteur spent months compiling research on existing, employer-subsidized childcare centers for employees whose schedules demand they work weekends and late nights. She didn’t find any satisfying answers. "There's been no solution to date that is institutional, structural, professional and what we hope to be sustainable, which is just kind of amazing when you consider the size of our industry," says Marcus, who advocated with the Mayor's office to incentivize existing childcare centers to expand their hours and offerings. The problem was, those centers weren't interested.
She had reached what felt like the end of the road when a friend suggested she connect with Charles Bonello and Ben Newton, two entrepreneurs looking to expand the offerings of employer-sponsored childcare to create a more affordable and accessible option that includes flexible hours, a robust early education curriculum, and back-up care options for those whose existing childcare is unavailable on short notice. This led Bonello and Newton to develop Vivvi: a first-of-its-kind employer-sponsored childcare center.
Thanks to Marcus, Vivvi is also poised to meet the needs of hospitality workers and those in other industries whose needs are often excluded from existing offerings: from its location near the heart of New York City's biggest culinary destinations in the Soho, Tribeca, and West Village neighborhoods, to its after-hours and weekend availability for backup care.
"There are just not that many industries left where you don't need to have a certain degree," says Marcus. "You don't need to have a certain background and you can rise to a six-figure salary. We need to keep those pathways open and this [lack of accessible childcare] is a big barrier to that being possible."
Vivvi, which is now open, partners with local employers to subsidize up to 100 percent of the cost of regular full-time care and backup care for working parents of infants, toddlers, and pre-school-age children. Thanks to Camilla, Vivvi's backup childcare is equipped to meet the needs of hospitality workers, with hours ranging from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays and weekends.
"It isn't just a banker or a lawyer who is able to have access to this world class program," said Bonello. "It's also hospitality workers whose entire livelihood is tied up with being able to get to work and being able to get there during the times when it makes the most sense and it's most valuable. So it's empowering for us because our entire mission is honor the potential of work and families."
For Camilla, change begins at home: she's taken her founding partnership with Vivvi one step further to offer backup care to all of her employees at no cost. It's the beginning of a much-needed equalizing force in an industry that has long undervalued its workers.
Originally Appeared on Vogue