In 2020, nearly 1 million more women (2.65 million total) as men left the workforce from March to September, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women haven’t lost their jobs in a recession like this in decades. This “she-cession” has wiped out 30 years of progress and threatens economic recovery as the return of women to the workforce has been slower than men, even as vaccinations ramp up and the economy begins to reopen.
Hospitality workers have been the hardest hit by this pandemic, with dreams and careers derailed. But, if any group of workers is going to bounce back, it’s the women of hospitality—the women who worked their way out of the weeds on a nightly basis, skillfully surfed that perpetual wave of chaos, and never stopped striving to make all their guests happy. Here are the stories of five women who have leaned in and are rising back up thanks to side hustles, passions, and the embrace of the unknown.
Climb the Highest Mountain
Chef Maria Hines’ career highlights include being named one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America” by Food & Wine magazine in 2005; having The New York Times select her first restaurant Tilth, in Seattle, as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country, and winning a James Beard Award. However, with the last of her Paycheck Protection Program funds gone and her retirement savings taking a hit, nothing in her 30 years in the kitchen had prepared her for the harsh reality of handing back the keys to the landlord and closing Tilth on October 30, 2020, following a celebrated 15-year run.
“I was in shock, this couldn’t be happening to me,” says Maria. “But I didn’t mourn long before I got pissed off. And then it was a quick pivot to my side-hustle-self.” Admittedly one who easily succumbs to boredom, Maria has always had a side hustle as well as a deep connection to the outdoors—three ascents of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and countless hikes in the Cascade Mountains.
Five years ago, in the midst of running three restaurants and opening a fourth on the Microsoft campus, Maria realized that she was burned out. This realization led to her earning a Level Two Nutrition Coaching Certificate in 2018, and a newfound focus on food as medicine. In the spring of 2020, she published her first cookbook “Peak Nutrition: Smart Fuel for Outdoor Adventure,” co-authored with her climbing partner Mercedes Pollmeier.
Less than one month after closing Tilth, Eddie Bauer engaged Maria in a brand partnership to develop recipes for trail and camping meals. Next, she partnered with MiiR, a Seattle company that makes custom outdoor drinkware, and then with Cynergy Foods, a Kickstarter start-up, for whom she is developing organic energy and protein bars. “I’m busy and happy. And, hey, I’m a small fish,” says Maria, “so I’m a great fit with these local brands.”
This summer Maria will kick off a new partnership with REI focusing on outdoor food and wellness. Embracing the flexibility and creative outlet that her handful of side hustles gives her, Maria has set a goal to train for and ascend Half Dome in Yosemite National Park on her 50th birthday.
Laura Wagstaff has always been all in. She grew up helping her parents run a famed New England inn and graduated early from Boston University to go to work for restaurateur Danny Meyer in New York City. Not even a sarcoma cancer diagnosis and six months of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and countless blood transfusions slowed her down when she was the event director at the NoMad Hotel New York, overseeing 750 events a year.
“I couldn’t stop,” admits Laura. “Even immersed in this amazing wellness program at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, I was still on the phone helping to plan every detail of this over-the-top Hamptons 50th birthday party for one of our VIP clients.”
It wasn’t until 2019 when her bosses, Will Guidara and Daniel Humm, dissolved their partnership in Make It Nice—the restaurant group that ran the food and beverage at the NoMad Hotels, that Laura decided to slow down and take a real vacation for the first time in years. After several weeks of amazing outdoor adventures in Chile’s Patagonia and Atacama Desert, she returned to New York in January 2020 and quickly threw herself into a consulting gig that a former colleague had offered her.
But within weeks, the pandemic hit, the consulting gig was canceled, and after a mild case of COVID-19, Laura found herself finally accepting the fact that it was time to take care of her needs first. “We give so much of ourselves to make others happy,” says Laura, “that we neglect our own wellness. As a result, this is an industry where, too often, you end up sick or addicted. It was time for me to press pause and become the event planner without a plan.”
With a blank canvas of possibility before her, Laura is exploring how her own health experiences have changed her perception of the hospitality industry. An industry she believes needs leadership that does a better job of teaching its employees how to sustain their intense giving and crazy pace while also taking better care of their physical and mental wellness.
Back to the Garden
Keyatta Mincey Parker’s 16th birthday was also her first day on the job as a restaurant hostess. Two months later, with several servers calling out, she had to jump in and wait tables. The first of several promotions via trial by fire, Keyatta credits her mentors and her own strength as a woman and mother for the success she later found as a bartender.
Renowned for her boldly colorful cocktails incorporating fresh garden ingredients, Keyatta reached the finals of the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition in 2019 and spent a week in London competing. Greater success and recognition was just around the corner in early 2020, when she was tapped to head up the cocktail and bar program for a new three-level bar experience that her mentor Eric Simpkins was opening in Atlanta. She also began working with Katya Suh on opening a bar concept in Portland, Oregon.
Then COVID-19 hit and shut down the industry. “Suddenly, we were all out of work,” says Keyatta, “and it was clear that this was a dumpster fire that wasn’t stopping anytime soon.”
Keyatta threw herself into an effort that had been a key part of her Bombay Sapphire competition presentation—a community garden for bartenders. Obtaining and clearing an overgrown quarter-acre plot in East Atlanta Village, Keyatta staked out the individual plots, started raising money for the Sip of Paradise Garden, a 501c3 non-profit she founded, and began lining up bartenders.
When the garden opened March 1, 2021, there were 36 members and a waiting list of over 16 bartenders. “Gardening is much more physical than bartending,” says Keyatta, “but having bartended, we all know how to push through the pain and when to be there and help out when someone’s in the weeds.”
With a current membership that is overwhelmingly female and 90 percent BIPOC, Keyatta is happy that everyone’s partners have been showing up to help.
While very much missing the sound of ice rattling in a cocktail shaker and the buzz of a busy bar, Keyatta has coped by conducting pre-shift line-ups with her kids, welcoming her regulars who have helped raise money for the garden, and beginning to dream of opening multiple bartender community gardens around the country and even the globe.
“I’m focused on helping my industry,” says Keyatta, “by opening more gardens as a way to improve the lives of so many bartenders. We all need a healthy, safe, outdoor space to chill, recharge, and dream.”
Angela Kreuz was blindsided by the call informing her that she was one of the employees of the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane slated for redundancy. “I’d been with the company for 12 years,” says Angela, “I was one of the few female food and beverage directors in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Asia) region, so I thought I was safe.”
After the shock wore off, Angela decided to approach this new challenge positively. She chose voluntary redundancy and immediately reached out for help. “The best advice that I received,” says Angela, “was to stay active on social media, to grow my network and stay relevant by using LinkedIn as a platform to demonstrate and share my skill set and knowledge. The other advice, which at first I wasn’t eager to embrace, was from a headhunter who told me to be more open-minded in regard to jobs that might not fit the traditional luxury hotel career path that I had envisioned.” This latter piece of advice led to an interview with Auriens, a London-based luxury senior living start-up.
“I wasn’t very excited at first,” says Angela, “it didn’t sound like my thing at all. After all, I was a luxury hotelier. But then I met the team and became intrigued by the chance to take on responsibility quicker than I ever would have with Four Seasons, as well as the chance to learn the residential development business.”
Accepting the number two position at Auriens’ first property, scheduled to open later this year, Angela leaned in. She leapt at the chance to impact the development of the company’s culture while also building the product, systems, and standard operating procedures across multiple departments from the ground up.
“I’m stretching myself every day,” says Angela, “strengthening my leadership skills and learning how to manage up to investors and a board for the first time in my career. It is so satisfying to have my input listened to and valued.”
Doubling Down on Seafood
“I hated working for a bank,” says Savannah Jordan. “And when my friends complained that I did nothing but complain about my job, I knew it was time to quit and enroll in the Culinary Institute of America.” There, Chef Howard “Corky” Clark, the seafood instructor, took Savannah under his wing and set her on a path to Le Bernardin in New York, perhaps the country’s top seafood restaurant, and then onto Mary’s Fish Camp in Greenwich Village as chef de cuisine, definitely the country’s most craveable seafood restaurant, before she spent two seasons as the executive chef of Ruschmeyers in Montauk, New York.
“Ruschmeyers was wild—over 500 covers on a busy night,” remembers Savannah. “But the seafood we got, being so close to the docks, was amazing. My menu was over 70 percent seafood and that’s how I met Parker Hollinger, a former commercial fisherman, who was working at Gosman’s Fish Market and selling me fish.”
Two years later, both out of work due to the pandemic, Savannah and Parker began to brainstorm—Savannah had the people, and Parker had the access to the top seafood that restaurants were no longer buying—and Montauk Catch Club was born, launching in October 2020.
A membership in the Montauk Catch Club provides members in New York City and the Hudson Valley with first dibs on weekly seafood offerings but with no obligation to buy. Currently, 50 percent of what Savannah and Parker buy off the boats is sold to members, and the remainder at farmer markets. Selling directly to home cooks enables them to pay the fishermen fair prices, and Parker’s ability and willingness to jump on a boat and help out when the captains are down a hand further cements these relationships.
Quickly scaling from selling scallops out of her car to 200 and then to 1,000 members has been satisfying and a testament to the quality of seafood they’re offering. “People love being part of this weird little community and are really excited about the quality,” says Savannah. “And to help home cooks, we launched our own YouTube channel to provide recipes and demos.”
This summer Savannah and Parker plan to expand into more Hudson Valley farmers markets and increase their membership numbers as long as they are able to buy the quality seafood in the quantity they need. “My old boss, Mary Redding, the owner of Mary’s Fish Camp,” says Savannah, “gave me this advice when we started: Go big. Trust your ideas and your expertise. And never forget how much you’ve learned in your career.”