Calgary has many impressive fem-identifying women working in the tough but highly rewarding restaurant industry.
There needs to be a passion for it, and if that passion, talent, and knowledge are there, then the opportunity should be too.
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In what was once an extremely male-dominated industry when it comes to management roles, Calgary now has an extremely impressive group of women leading the change in the restaurant business.
Behind the bar, in management, in the kitchen, on the dining room floor, in the office, or otherwise, it’s important to recognize the hard work it takes and the accomplishments because of it.
Here are just a few of the female restaurant leaders we aim to shed light on and celebrate here in Calgary, and here are 15 more.
Raw by Robyn
Robyn Taylor, Owner and CEO
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Robyn started her own company three years ago and got her start in the restaurant industry as a hostess when she was 14. The main challenges Robyn has faced have come with the struggles of opening up a business, but different trends have made it easier.
“I think the ‘support local’ trend is stronger than ever, social platforms are really supporting female entrepreneurs, and females are supporting each other!” she told Dished.
“I currently have many female entrepreneur friends and that number continues to grow. Women aren’t as afraid to take risks anymore.”
Kayla Blomquist, General Manager
Priya Kaila, Bar Manager
Both Blomquist and Kaila started out in the industry when they were 14 years old. They’ve also both been with DOP since the day the doors opened in September of 2021. Another thing they had in common was experiencing how difficult it was to break into the male-dominated industry.
“There were men who weren’t as good at their jobs being given the opportunity to bartend,” Blomquist told Dished. “They used to literally say, ‘There always has to be a man behind the bar.'”
“I started to deeply feel the barriers that were in my way,” Kaila told Dished. “Bartending is seen as a man’s job in our industry and while I was seeing guys have the door to the bar opened for them easily, it took me years to finally find someone who was willing to teach me how to bartend.”
Both women see some great things from people in the Calgary restaurant industry, but they also struggle to see any real change happening. They are making a conscious effort to make a real change.
“Creating a team and environment of women supporting women during and outside of service,” said Blomquist. “The women of DOP are badass during service and outside of it, but we have each other’s backs no matter what.”
Ten Foot Henry
Alysha Tubera, Pastry Chef
Reese Mariano, Executive Sous Chef
Tannis Laporte, Assistant General Manager
Alysha Tubera has been with Ten Foot Henry since day one, and her experience has been mostly positive from the beginning thanks to a strong work culture.
“I was lucky enough to work in kitchens and bakeries where there was already a solid female presence and I found that even though the industry has been male-dominated, most were very welcoming and inclusive,” Tubera told Daily Hive in an email.
For Reese Mariano, who has been with Ten Foot Henry for four years, there were absolutely challenges. “There have been many times where I’d feel like it was difficult to navigate in environments that felt very much like ‘boys clubs,'” Mariano said.
“Of course, when I’d find myself in environments that felt like I was being disrespected and overlooked, the road to finding success was a hazy one.”
Tubera and Mariano see an encouraging change happening, but also with plenty of work still left to do.
“Women now are feeling more empowered and are being encouraged to pursue hospitality careers, especially since there are many great examples of trailblazers in this industry,” said Tubera.
“I have seen a shift allowing for more female representation, but I think there is still a long way to go. Addressing toxic masculinity and keeping that conversation going helps,” Mariano told us.
Ten Foot Henry is a much-loved spot in Calgary and Tannis LaPorte has been in this management position for almost a year. Like many successful people in management roles, her passion propelled her here.
“I have always enjoyed the energetic and dynamic atmosphere of restaurants and rapidly became passionate to learn more about elevated cuisine, wine, and human connection,” LaPorte told Daily Hive. She clearly has a love for the work, but it hasn’t always been easy.
“Over the years I have absolutely experienced my fair share of sexism, unwelcome comments, attention, and downright harassment in the workplace which is unfortunate to admit,” she told us.
“I struggle with receiving and responding to aggressive male energy which I often believe is confused as confidence,” she added. It seems like finding the right place with the right culture is the key, and hopefully, there is a change happening where more and more places are fair and supportive.
“I am grateful to have landed at Ten Foot Henry where I can be my authentic self, sharing ideas, and opinions confidently with my peers,” said LaPorte.
Nicole Rigaux, General Manager
Brittany Rondeau, Events & Marketing Director
Both Nicole Rigaux and Brittany Rondeau are in upper management roles at the incredible Teatro Restaurant and Group in Calgary. They both saw challenges at the start of their hospitality careers.
“At times I’ve been the only female leader on a male-dominated team,” Rondeau told Daily Hive. “But what I found success in, was not taking anything too personally, working hard and eventually earning mad respect.
“It was a challenge to move into leadership roles,” said Rigaux.
“Women were underestimated and assumed to be incapable of running a team or having knowledge outside of a traditional ‘waitress’ scope,” she added. Both of these impressive women now work at this restaurant group where four out of five of the head office members are female.
“Looking at the Teatro Group alone we are seeing a monopoly of women in leader and management roles,” said Rigaux. “I see this trend mirrored over restaurant groups around the city.”
“I have worked my way up in the company from Event Coordinator at Teatro Restaurant, to executing our events, catering, and marketing departments as Director of Events & Marketing,” said Rondeau.
“Teatro Group has provided a working environment for me to reach new milestones,” she added.
The Wednesday Room
Ashley Cay, Owner, Events/Operations/Marketing Manager
The Wednesday Room opened in 2017 and Ashley Cay has been there since the start. At the beginning, she felt it was especially challenging being a woman.
“Being the only female partner, but also with a male head chef, male marketing manager, and male GM and AGM, I found it difficult to have my voice heard,” Cay told Dished.
“I went through a period of ‘proving myself’ that no one else had to in the same way.” Cay now feels valued, heard, and supported, but it’s really a testament to the initial extra effort she had to put in. Now, she is starting to see a shift in the industry.
A1 Cafe and The Tea House
Pearlic Leng, General Manager
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Despite being “brushed aside so many times despite having the same, or better, skills than men in the same roles,” Pearlic Leng has now been the General Manager here for several years.
“I think a shift is happening, but we’re not where we should be yet,” Leng also said to Dished in an email.
“There’s work to be done with those in leadership, to guests choosing where to eat and support, and even for food writers.”
The industry has its unfair challenges, but Leng seems to have navigated it impressively.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky to work under some badass women and their leadership skills and encouragement have been defining in me continuing to grow,” said Leng.
Cactus Club Cafe
Gillian Evans, Chef at Macleod Trail Restaurant
Kirsten Dekur, General Manager at Macleod Trail Restaurant
Getting her start in Europe and working as a head chef in Switzerland, Gillian Evans has now been with Cactus Club for 17 years.
“As we see more successful and accredited female chefs break through the challenges and claim spots on television shows and open Michelin Star restaurants, these role models help other women in the industry feel confident achieving their goals,” Evans told Dished.
Also a mom of two small children, Evans was the first female chef and mother to be promoted to head chef within the Cactus Club organization. It’s something she feels very proud of.
“Now they are 10 and 13, and they respect their mom and her career,” said Evans. “In turn, they have been raised knowing they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.”
Kirsten Dekur has gone from hostess to general manager with Cactus Club and feels very fortunate for the support she’s received. That said, the pathway to get where she is now was still male-dominated.
“When I first got into management, most of my leaders and senior leaders were predominantly male, so honestly, it was sometimes intimidating,” Dekur said.
Dekur feels representation has improved since then, but she initially used it as motivation. “I think this pressure helped me to get where I am now: I stayed focused on my goals and became more self-driven,” she said.
Sidewalk Citizen Bakery
Brittany Bell, Bread Baker
“When I first started out in the restaurant industry, I felt I had to prove that I could handle the hours, heat, criticism, etc.,” Brittany Bell, a bread baker at Sidewalk Citizen, told Dished in an email.
“Not all restaurants are like this, but most tend to attract some toxic masculinity,” she added. With more female representation in the kitchen and on TV, Bell sees a shift in the industry. To Bell, change is happening, and it’s also what she loves about her specific role working with bread.
“As a bread baker now, I love that no matter what, the bread process changes daily, it’s a challenge and I learn new things every day,” she said.
Martina Borst, Head Chef
Heather Lauer, Manager
Martina Borst, who is the head chef at Brekkie Cafe, is a perfect example of how the industry can affect someone’s passion and career trajectory. The challenges of working within this male-dominated system took its toll on her.
“I’ve actually dropped out of the industry entirely before,” Borst told Dished in an email.
“I felt overshadowed, overworked, and underpaid, just to prove myself even though I was often more qualified than some of the male coworkers.”
In a return to the industry, the experience was entirely different, which is evidence of the importance of supporting talented women in the industry.
“I was able to work for incredible chefs who took me under their wings, had the faith in me, and reignited my passion, specifically the chefs at Bears Den and Rouge,” she said. She loves the people and the industry, and thankfully, Borst is starting to see a positive change happening.
“I definitely feel like the stigma that this industry is a man’s industry is starting to dissipate,” she said.
Heather Lauer has an “amazing staff, all of whom are women” at Brekkie. She loves the hustle of the job, is proud of her staff, and has had a great experience working her way up the chain to where she is now. “I have been lucky enough to be welcomed into the industry and work next to a lot of supportive and respectful men,” said Lauer.
Helpful support obviously goes an incredibly long way.