Beyond Cooks

Being a Mom in the Restaurant Industry; One Size Does Not Fit All

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Written by Kelly Daigle

The impending holiday has got us thinking a lot about what it means to be a parent working in the restaurant industry. Mother’s Day happens to land during graduation season and is often one of the busiest spring weekends that restaurants face. Restaurant workers dedicate themselves to taking care of and celebrating their guests this weekend, and every day. Before everyone spends the day going above and beyond for the mothers and families who dine at restaurants this Sunday, we wanted to take a moment to talk to a couple of moms who’ve made their careers behind the line about what it’s like to raise a family within the walls of a restaurant and back at their own homes.

While there is no perfect formula for parenthood in any industry, and certainly several points of view, these women share their thoughts and some valuable advice on being a mom in the restaurant industry.  Rachel Klein is the Executive Chef at Liquid Art House (LAH) and mom to Eva, 3, and Ethan, 7. Ana Sortun is chef/owner of Oleana, Sofra, and Sarma and mom to Siena, 9.

What does Mother’s Day look like for you, as a chef and mother?
Chef Rachel Klein: I usually work at the restaurant for Mother’s Day and my children and husband meet me later into service, and we dine as a family in a quiet part of the dining room. This year I will probably celebrate Mother’s Day with Ruta Laukien (LAH owner) and her children at the chef’s table, where our kids can have the run of the private dining room. We will probably eat family style, something we don’t usually offer. Being the chef has its perks.

Chef Ana Sortun: I believe mothers should not work on Mother’s Day!  The non-mothers should take over that day and the mothers should take hold of the schedules and schedule themselves off.  Mother’s Day for chefs should be like mothers day for everyone else in the world.  A special day with your family.

What do your restaurants do, if anything, for your employees who are mothers?
RK: Presently all of my kitchen staff are quite young (no kids yet). In the past I have tried to give as many moms as possible Mother’s Day off.

AS: We are addressing offering some kind of benefit to parents now, given the fact that both of our chefs are pregnant at the same time!  We are working on a plan that we can offer anyone (mother or father) to be able to take some time off when their baby is born and comfortably adjust the baby to their working lives.  Not sure what it is yet, but we want to set a great standard for others to follow.

How does being a Mom influence what your restaurant offers on Mother’s Day?
RK: We created a special Mother’s Day Brunch with Mom in mind. Since we expect a lot of families, I like to try to make the experience as painless as possible for moms with younger children that tend to fidget if sitting at a table too long. Serving the children’s food as quickly as possible and creating an environment where parents can feel free to move about the restaurant with their kiddies is KEY! LAH has lots of eye candy to distract and engage along as well as a lounge and kiosk for them to explore while mommy enjoys a cocktail. On Sundays we invite local artisans and vendors to peddle their wares and from what I hear, Moms love to shop!

AS: For mothers day at Oleana, we ALWAYS serve my mom’s strawberry tart recipe for dessert.  This is the 10th year.

How do you and your husband balance your careers with parenthood?
AS: Chris and I keep some time as sacred so that we know we always have some consistent and predictable time as a family together.  Chris’ work (at Siena Farms) makes the restaurant stuff look easy.  From May to November 1 we only see him one day a week – on Sundays. The rest of the year, we have both Saturday and Sunday.

As for me, since Siena has been born, I don’t work on the weekends anymore.  I was very nervous about not working on the weekends, at first.  I was thinking to myself, ‘What kind of chef doesn’t work on Saturday night?’  Well, after 20 years of working Saturday nights, it actually felt liberating, and no one is ever looking for me on the weekends (our regulars come in during the week and avoid the weekend madness) so it’s worked out well.  It doesn’t matter what days you take off, as long as they are consistent.  Then, it becomes a rule and easy to stick to.

What advice would you give to women in the restaurant industry who have or aspire to have a strong career and family?
AS: My advice to women is that they should consider if they want to do both, work full time and have children.  For me, there wasn’t a choice, but some people do have a choice, which should be strongly considered.  They should be in a position where they either have plenty of support (the child care kind) or can put the child first.

Women can do anything they want to do, but that does mean that sometimes it’s not easy or obvious how to do it.  Having a strong career (even in the restaurant business) and family are possible for both men and women.  There has to be a plan between the parents that works toanasortun-siena-chris-industrypress suit it, though.

For Siena, all she knows is the life of a chef and a farmer. Her friends mention sometimes that her parents work a lot, but she doesn’t know it any other way, and we always keep things on the bright side. I believe we are both setting great examples for her by loving our work and thriving in it.

I also think that this is a good example for other mothers and employees that there is no right or wrong; you make choices that are right for you and your family. You have to know that your kids won’t suffer as long as there is quality time with you and plenty of love.


About the author

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Kelly Daigle

Kelly is the Editor of The Industry Press and a co-founder of Clothbound. She loves cats, sparkly nail polish, and classic fiction, but none more than restaurants and people. She always roots for the underdog.