Introducing some of the incredible women leading restaurants in Australia...
Across Australia, women are powering restaurants like never before. From a restaurant owner who doubles as a physiotherapist in Sydney; to a smoothie-slinging, yoga-teaching new mother in Melbourne; to a restaurateur who’s raised over a million bucks for charity in Adelaide, women are overcoming the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry. They're redefining the way restaurants operate, turning competition into camaraderie and delivering outstanding food experiences.
Despite making up the majority of the hospitality workforce, women are vastly under-represented in positions of leadership; only 9.8% of hospitality CEOs in Australia are women (WGEA). In the lead up to International Women’s Day, EatClub is featuring some of the incredible chefs and restaurateurs of women-powered restaurants. They each set examples for hospitality hopefuls, irrespective of gender, who aspire to head up kitchens and run restaurants.
Calle Rey, Sydney
“Knowledge is confidence and the more you can learn, the better chance you have of succeeding in a male-dominated industry.”
As a qualified physiotherapist and co-founder of plant-based Mexican-Peruvian joint Calle Rey, Madison knows how important it is to be enthusiastic about what you’re doing. Her main passion is health and wellbeing, so both of her roles she finds highly rewarding. The biggest struggle for her is to be taken seriously. Customers at Calle Rey often assume she’s a host and are surprised to learn that she is, in fact, the owner. Her advice to women working in the restaurant industry? “Knowledge is confidence and the more you can learn, the better chance you have of succeeding in a male-dominated industry.” She encourages women to support each other, have the confidence to back themselves and never stop learning.
Ragi’s Spicery and Naancho Naancho Man, Adelaide
“Hopefully the ‘macho kitchen’ is a thing of the past.”
Author of three cookbooks, and owner of Naancho Naancho Man and award-winning restaurant and spice shop Ragi’s Spicery, Ragini is on a mission to prove that Indian food is so much more than just butter chicken. When she migrated to Australia in 1982, she began sharing her knowledge of spices for wellbeing through community cooking classes and then opened her first restaurant in 1989, which doubled as a cooking school. While she respects tradition, she’s not afraid of innovation, which led to her creation of the wildly popular ‘Naancho’ (nachos made with naan bread). She believes that women can achieve anything, and adds that “hopefully the ‘macho kitchen’ is a thing of the past”. As well as being enthusiastic about the health benefits of spices, she’s passionate about migrant integration strategies, having worked on projects with SBS and Poh’s Kitchen on the ABC.
Fort Green, Melbourne
“The culinary world has its ups and downs just like every industry. However, owning your own business is an incredibly empowering and fulfilling experience.”
Bannie Williams is a yoga teacher, nutritionist, author, new mother and the and co-creator of Fort Green. After completing her studies in nutrition and food science, Bannie published The Smoothie Manifesto in 2017 and following its success, opened up popular Northcote wellness institution Fort Green Cafe and Yoga Studio with her husband Nicholas. She says, “The culinary world has its ups and downs just like every industry. However, owning your own business is an incredibly empowering and fulfilling experience. I’ve learnt so much from our venture in hospitality and never take our community or wonderful staff for granted. I encourage all women who have a passion or a dream to explore it, take a risk and see what path it takes you on!”
Image courtesy of Shannon Powell
House of Chow, Adelaide
“...back then  it certainly was tough. It’s now becoming a lot easier for women in the industry.”
In 1971, when she was a new mother of two, Rosalind opened House of Chow with her husband. Back then, she says, “it wasn’t as much of a male-dominated industry, but it certainly was tough … it’s now becoming a lot easier for women in the industry.” She was thrown into the deep end at age 17 when her father passed away and she assisted her mother with the management of the family. She says the trick to 36 years of success in the industry is love and dedication, “otherwise the long hours will defeat you”. In saying that, Rosalind prioritises time with her children and grandchildren. Somehow, she finds the time to fundraise. Her team has raised over 1.7 million dollars to Variety Bash, a charity that supports children with special needs.
Gondola Gondola, Adelaide
“Love what you do and always be proud of what you have achieved.”
Annie believes that the key to running a small business is to value staff highly and accept support from friends and family. After completing her masters in marketing and management and working in marketing for News Limited as campaign coordinator, Annie decided to pursue her dream of owning her own business. Her hospitality expertise and marketing experience teamed with her husband’s background in food led to the opening of Gondola Gondola in 2015 - a super popular venue with punchy share plates and a creative sake-heavy drinks list. Her advice for women in the restaurant industry is to “love what you do and always be proud of what you have achieved.”
Upper East Side, Sydney
“Every person plays an integral part of the structure of the ever-changing industry regardless of whether they’re female or male, but now more and more women are taking the risk of starting their own business.”
During Julia’s most recent role as relationship manager for a funding space, her partner opened up Upper East Side and she says that she “instantly fell in love with everything about the restaurant industry.” She’s been working with him on the business ever since. She believes that “every person plays an integral part of the structure of the ever-changing industry regardless of whether they’re female or male, but now more and more women are taking the risk of starting their own business.” She’s always had a strong work ethic. At age 12, she started working in her family’s business before completing a hairdressing apprenticeship through Tony and Guy. She then moved into banking and finance. She truly proves that you can do anything you dedicate your energy to!
Ly Dan & Mary Dan
Lit Canteen, Sydney
“We see a bright future for women in any industry… we just need our goals to be tenacious.”
Co-owner of Lit Canteen, Ly Dan set up her vibrant Vietnamese restaurant out of a love for the way that food brings people together. “For me, it’s always been the most rewarding part about being in the restaurant industry,” she says. Her sister-in-law Mary left the stock broking industry to support Ly as the restaurant’s venue manager. “We see a bright future for women in any industry… we just need our goals to be tenacious,” Ly says. They’ve found success in the industry as women without having too many challenges on their plate, but are well aware of the struggles women face.
1933 Booze House & Kitchen, Sydney
“My friends literally call me Wonder Woman as I seem to tackle almost anything thrown at me.”
Charlotte took over the space of 1933 Booze House and Kitchen with her partner. Her goal is to be the CEO of a hospitality company, with numerous venues in operation. While she knows first hand how stressful working in the restaurant industry can be, she believes it’s important to relieve stress for wellbeing’s sake. Her approach? Boxing and gym classes. Honestly, we don’t know where she finds the time amid mothering a one year old, running a restaurant and working on other projects! She opens up the space above the bar to showcase the work of young artists of the LGBTQ+ community and plans to use the space for yoga classes, wine tastings and cocktail masterclasses in the future.
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