84 Hospitality tells us why it’s about more than just food

A late-night bite. We’ve all been there. You’ve just walked out of the movie theater after getting lost in the action for two hours. But you haven’t eaten – and most of the restaurants nearby are closed.

Or you’ve just got back into town on the last train home. You’re dying for a slice. It doesn’t matter if it’s ten o’clock. You need that slice.

Alternatively, you might have had a drink. Maybe a frozen margarita (or three). Just enough to whet your appetite. What’s open? Shucks.

It’s an all too familiar feeling for Rachel Cope, Founder & CEO at 84 Hospitality, an Oklahoma-based restaurant group known for Rev Mex, Empire Slice House, Goro Ramen, and Burger Punk.

“When we opened our first restaurant in 2013, we decided to focus on late-night dining,” she recalls. “Until then, it just wasn’t really an option in Oklahoma City. Those in hospitality – such as myself and other bar tenders, servers, and managers – sometimes won’t get off work until eleven o’clock in the evening, and it was always pretty frustrating not to be able to go and sit down with your friends and colleagues, decompress, and have a meal somewhere that wasn’t a generic fast-food joint.”

The name 84 Hospitality is derived from Rachel’s birth year: 1984. Far from the dystopia that Orwell envisioned, for Rachel the date signifies a robust kind of youthfulness and innovative spirit. Most of the team, she points out, share the same birth year (or are otherwise not too far off).

Oklahoma outlier

We can see that youthfulness in the group’s approach: identify a gap in the market (a late-night spot for people to converge and eat) and take it (hence the first restaurant opening). Wake up, Oklahoma City, 84 Hospitality seems to suggest, there’s a new kid on the block – and they’re hungry for more.

“With that first location, our hours of operation extended all the way until 2am – every night of the week,” Rachel goes on. “We were serving slices of pizza to the end, and I think that helped to set an alternative tone: we were building another way to do things in this industry. It has given us a really great reputation in town; we are seen as allies of servers and bartenders because, at the end of the day, we are them or we have at least been them.

“That community-driven spirit sets us apart,” she continues. “Being constantly involved with people, whether that means being a headline sponsor for Gay Pride, which we have been recently, means we can put ourselves out there and support causes that people tend to shy away from in our state. We are not afraid.”

Progressivism is built into the fabric of the group. Rachel takes us through her thinking: “Growing up, I never wanted to be the best girl on the team – I wanted to be the best player, whether others on it were girls or boys,” she remembers. “I translated that philosophy into 84 Hospitality: I never want to be seen as a female restaurateur. Why can’t I just be simply a restaurant owner?”

As our conversation demonstrates, for Rachel the food business isn’t just about food. There’s much more going on. Quite evidently, though, there is a necessary balancing act to navigate.

Charity support

With sponsorship of events like Pride, 84 Hospitality is signaling that political awareness and visibility is essential. However, Rachel points out that solely focusing on difference quickly becomes an act of othering.

“There are so many conversations going on all around the world about race, gender, and sexual identity – and that’s good,” she says. “Undoubtedly, education is the way forward; it’s so important to be in constant conversation.

“As a company, we continue to educate ourselves and support the education of others,” asserts Rachel. “In fact, and I’m not sure how many people know this, Oklahoma ranks near the bottom of the US in terms of our education system. Therefore, to me, that is our way forward – both as a state and then, in turn, as a nation.”

And 84 Hospitality is proud to put its money where its proverbial mouth is. In 2018, for instance, the group donated free meals to teachers during a period of strike action lasting two weeks. But it didn’t stop there.

Following the strike, 84 Hospitality decided to implement a permanent 25 percent discount for all teachers working at any level within Oklahoma. As Rachel explains: “Any teacher, or retired teacher, with a school ID will receive a discount as long as our restaurant remains open – typically for Empire Slice House, one of our pizza joints. In the past, we’ve given away $40,000 worth of free meals during strike action. It’s all worth it!”

The Oklahoma-based restaurant group is also proud to support charities for the homeless, including Homeless Alliance, as well as those benefitting the LGBTQ+ community. By putting itself out there – and by supporting progressive causes – Rachel admits that some view 84 Hospitality as an outlier in an otherwise traditionalist state.

“I like the term,” she counters. “I like to be different; it’s what makes us unique. We aren’t the only ones in the state doing this, but it is our mission to communicate that uniqueness and creativity to our customers. It’s part of who we are. I don’t think I’d be happy doing it any other way.