Atlanta chef crafts a culture of respect

Jarrett Stieber, a chef and business owner in Atlanta, Georgia, fights burnout by creating a work environment built on appreciation and better pay.

Brunette man with hat sits behind counter in restaurant.
Brunette man with hat sits behind counter in restaurant.

Diners at Little Bear in Atlanta, Georgia, will notice a theme in the decor: dogs. 

Head chef and founder Jarrett Stieber named his restaurant after his dog Fernando, affectionately known as a ‘little bear’ due to his size and fluffy fur. As for the food? Jarrett will be the first to tell you that the answer isn’t as easy as you might expect. 

While the 30-seat eatery is inspired by Jarrett and his wife’s dining experiences in cities like San Francisco and Montreal, Little Bear preserves the atmosphere and sensibility of Atlanta. The ingredients are locally sourced and each dish brings a fresh perspective to traditional Southern cuisine. 

“There’s a sense that artists can do whatever they want in Atlanta. The music scene is kind of all over the place stylistically, and that’s sort of how the food is here.”

With items like catfish and pork sausages with hoppin’ john fried rice, and a menu featuring ingredients named “adorable crouton” or “unnecessary garnishes,” Jarrett has put a level of personality into his food and beverage program that’s led to a full dining room and multiple awards. As a small business owner, he’s put the same level of ingenuity and thoughtfulness into creating a restaurant that delights diners and improves the lives of his employees and family.

If it grows together, it goes together

By sourcing ingredients locally, Jarrett ‌embraces seasonal menu items to bring new flavors, textures, and combinations to keep people coming back. Little Bear customers have come to expect the unexpected. 

With a Romanian dad coming from an Eastern European Jewish culture and a mother with roots in New York, Jarrett was exposed to a wide variety of food starting at an early age. He grew up eating Bangladeshi, Thai, and Ethiopian takeout instead of boxed mac and cheese. 

When looking at the Little Bear menu, there will be more ingredients that you don’t recognize than do. “I had exposure to all this type of food when I was a kid. I’m intrigued to try everything possible all the time.”

Leading customers on a culinary journey of exploration brings joy to the Little Bear team. “You’ll watch them smile when they eat something or take a bite and point at it with the fork and pass it to somebody else. You know they’re enjoying it and kind of makes the hard work go away for a little bit while you watch people happily eating the food.”

Five-star culture

With poor wages and worse managers through the start of his career, Jarrett strives to create a work environment that breaks the traditional “burn out” restaurant industry stereotype. He credits respect among one another as the backbone to his team culture. 

“We can’t provide a good guest experience if we don’t provide a good work environment first,” Jarrett says. “I want this to be a positive place where people can feel comfortable coming into work, where they can learn and grow.”

That message hits close to home for Jarrett too. He’s working to provide a stable life for his family and is proud that Little Bear offers its employees a chance to find that same security. He says, “I’m responsible, not just for my own wellbeing, but for all of their well beings. They depend on their paychecks and their job they have here.” 

The business of food and beverage 

Jarrett truly built his business from the ground up. In addition to accumulating two decades of culinary experience, he’s had a hand in everything from repairing floorboards and crawl spaces to choosing lighting fixtures and logos. 

“The business side of it, you kind of figure out on the fly. There’s no class for it in culinary school.”

Being dedicated to your business doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun–even during lean times. Jarrett’s constant is finding ways to let his personality show, from inventive cocktails to Fernando-themed decor and menus. 

Like every business owner, Jarrett has seen less-than-favorable reviews come through but he uses them as motivation.

By investing in people at every step of his business journey, he’s never alone when it comes to maintaining and exceeding high standards. Many people contribute to the restaurant’s success daily–from his wife and Fernando to his employees and the local farmers that keep them in fresh ingredients. 

“It’s still so surreal to just open the door and be like, ‘This is my restaurant.’ But at the same time too, you can’t lose sight of allowing yourself to appreciate and enjoy it because you’ve earned it.”