This Restaurant Month we thought we’d give some well-deserved attention to the notable female figures in the hospitality business, who through hard work and determination have created names for themselves and become role models for the next generation aspiring to make it in the industry themselves. From front of house managers to mixologists and restaurant owners, get inspired by reading a little bit about the ones shining bright here in the heart of the city.
Mandy Lusk | Co-owner of Vivace
Mandy Lusk is the co-owner of Vivace, located off Fort Street. Mandy started working in hospitality when she was 18 while studying psychology at university. Part way through, Mandy realised her passion was within the restaurant business, particularly being front of house. The knowledge from her studies undoubtedly helped manage social relationships and staff over the years and her experience in the industry now amounts to 35 years. Vivace opened when Mandy was 25, and over 29 years, Vivace has changed location three times. She credits loyalty as the most valuable trait for success in hospitality, and earning support from others to create a sustainable and thriving business.
On what she's gained from working in the industry: “I have made lifelong friendships with people within the industry, ranging in age from their 70s down to 18 year olds. We have staff working for us whose parents were amongst the first staff we had in those early years. We have so many ex-staffers who have met their life-long partners whilst working with us.”
Current favourite spots in town: Cafe Hanoi, Amano, Monsoon Poon and Ahi.
Gina Nicholls | Bar Manager at Parasol & Swing
Gina Nicholls has been working in the hospitality industry for around a decade with past experience seeing her work at events all around the world, from royal weddings to the Formula 1 track on Yas Island. These experiences saw Gina move onto fine dining restaurants and now bars, which ignited her passion for cocktail making.
On the people she's met in the industry: There are so many incredible and unique individuals working within it, who are deeply passionate about what they do.
Current favourite spots in town: Hello Beasty, Amano, La Fuente and Caretaker for a nightcap.
Sophie Beaton | Restaurant Manager and front of house at Hugo’s Bistro
Hugo’s Bistro Restaurant Manager Sophie Beaton uses her fine-dining knowledge to give diners at Hugo’s an unforgettable experience. Living in Wanaka for a few years helped Sophie gain invaluable knowledge on fine wines, before she added to her repertoire by working at Cassia here in the city centre before being asked to manage Sidart in Ponsonby. Many of the skills picked up during these experiences have been incorporated into her style and approach at Hugo’s. Hugo’s has a relaxed setting and atmosphere, and combined with the level of service, you can be sure to be well looked after and impressed every time you go. Because of this, Hugo’s has many regulars who pop in almost daily, which Sophie adds is a huge motivator for updating the wine list constantly, so diners have a new experience with each time they visit.
On what's important in the industry: Going that extra mile for the guest is of the utmost importance, where the guest's expectations and needs are always met.
Current favourite spots in town: Cassia, Gochu and La Fuente.
Jo Pearson | Executive Chef at Alma
Jo Pearson is the executive chef at Alma. Though it might be new, having only opened in late 2020, Alma is already highly acclaimed - bringing the tastes of southern Spain to Britomart, with its name translating to ‘feeds the souls, lifts the spirit’. Jo’s vast experience as an executive chef spans close to two decades, and includes the setup of the ever-popular Amano. Jo says she never wanted to do anything else but cook. With her parents being third generation Orchidists, her childhood was revolved around growing produce, the seasons and preservations of food. "I was eager to learn so when I was 15 I started as a Kitchen porter in a local cafe, 3 months later a chef resigned and I had the opportunity to step into a junior chef role...the rest is history!"
On what she loves most about being a chef: ''People! caring for people through food and service experiences so they leave feeling happier than when they arrived, nurturing, leading & having fun with the team so they want to come to work each day and give our guests that same feeling, developing mutually beneficial relationships with food producers. Its all about people experience.''
Other favourite spots in town: ''On my day off my go to is usually Grand Harbour for yum char.''
Poi Eruera is the Operations Manager at Odettes Eatery, with her day involving a little bit of everything, from event organising, hosting, waitressing, bartending, making coffee, polishing glasses, and fixing things when they break. Her career began as a 16-year-old in Italy, gaining her expertise from a young age where she stayed with a host family on a student exchange, who ran a 250-seat restaurant near Milan. She continued her passion as she arrived back in Aotearoa, combining her passion of beautiful food, wine, people, and style by working in many diverse establishments from fine dining, to tapas bars, pasta restaurants and cafes. To be an Operations Manager you have to be a bit of a jack of all trades, making sure everything is running smoothly and nothing is being overlooked.
On a highlight of the job: Trying the new dishes that the chefs whip up at Hugo’s and Odettes, and being part of such a great team.
Current favourite spots in town: "Gochu, if you haven’t eaten [chef] Jason’s modern Korean food, you are missing out. I recently had stunning meals at Mr. Morris and Cafe Hanoi, and I love a long Sunday yum cha at Grand Harbour.”
Olivia Carter | Commercial and Events Manager at Soul Bar & Bistro
Olivia Carter’s role at Soul Bar & Bistro is hectic, varied, and ultimately very fun. In charge of organising, conceptualising, and putting into action a variety of appealing events at Soul, Olivia has a lot on her plate. Olivia works closely alongside executive chef Gavin Doyle and operations manager Geeling Ching and has been lucky to travel the world through her work, enjoying amazing food, drinking wine and cocktails, and laughter with colleagues. Beginning in the business at around the age of 19, Olivia always loved the idea of event planning and bringing concepts to life so she completed a diploma in hospitality and tourism in Melbourne and began her hospitality journey waitressing at a friend's parent's restaurant. Moving onto London, and then settling back in Sydney, Olivia worked her way from waitressing to becoming a duty manager, and then onto events and marketing.
On working in hospitality events: ''Organising events comes easy to me, it’s my thing. I get so excited by details of flowers, photos, colour coordination and surprise performers, so helping people to create this was something that always appealed to me.''
Current favourite spots in town: Hello Beasty, Masu by Nic Watt, Ebisu, and Culprit.
Sonya Chan | General Manager of White + Wong's
Sonya has been a part of White + Wong’s on the Auckland Viaduct from the very start, when it opened alongside Sardine Bar in 2015. Coming from a large Chinese family with parents both involved in restaurants and catering, Sonya grew up with food playing an important role in her life, creating a future passion for hospitality. After taking some time out abroad, Sonya moved back to New Zealand and worked at the iconic VBG in Parnell until 2006, before moving onto Molten Restaurant in Mt Eden for 8 years.
On the best parts of the job: “One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is meeting people and building a unique social network from all walks of life.”
Current favourite spots in town: Prego, Baduzzi, Alma, Harbourside and Ebisu. For a late lunch, Best Ugly Bagels. For a drink, Sardine - ''where they make the best campari sours.''
Katie Cramphorn is the mixologist of Euro and Coley & Punch. Her career in hospitality started 12 years ago in Melbourne with Katie vividly remembering being shown how to make her first Mojito, starting an obsession of sorts in the world of cocktails. This started a fire within Katie, who became determined to be the best she could be, turning her passion into a career, becoming detail-oriented, fast, and immaculate. Even though the job is tough, with long hours and fast-paced demands, Katie knew this was her career path.
On the type of worker she is: “I have always been driven by structure, routine, & an organised environment and I love applying this experience into a busy bar space. I know some of my team would call me OCD but I feel most content when my back bar is immaculate!”
Current favourite spots in town: Parasol & Swing for a drink, Odettes or Williams Eatery for brunch and Hello Beasty for dinner.
Krishna Botica, alongside her partner Tony McGeorge, opened Cafe Hanoi in 2008, and since then it has been consistently popular, receiving rave reviews from critics and diners alike. Krishna’s mother was a baker and her father loved cooking, so international food was all around her from a young age, and she first entered the industry as a waitress at the age of 17. Before Cafe Hanoi, Krishna was one of the owners of Ponsonby's Prego, and is the president of the Auckland branch of the Restaurant Association.
Shelley Head, Auckland Key Account Manager and Angie Atkinson, Owner/Director | Blanc NZ (Restaurant Month 2021 wine partner)
Shelley Head currently works as the Key Account Manager at Blanc NZ, with her career beginning with a job waiting tables as she studied for a degree in music. The people, fun and creativity of the industry was infectious and from there she travelled to and worked in Los Angeles and New York City for 8 years in many hospitality roles. She opened a restaurant in Ponsonby upon returning to New Zealand before an opportunity to move into the Wine Distribution sector of Hospitality came about. Shelley has worked in roles for Negociants NZ, Redandwhite and Moet Hennessy NZ before her current role at Blanc.
On what she's learned about the industry over the years: "It is the people and not necessarily the brands that are the foundation of this industry. If it wasn’t for the strength of those that work long and hard, facing the ups and downs with flair, passion, laughter and some tears, the hospitality industry would not be such an invigorating industry to work in."
Current favourite spots in town: Baduzzi, The Grove, Sails Restaurant, Monsoon Poon, Oyster and Chop and Ortolana.
Angie Atkinson's love of wine started with a champagne tasting twenty-three years ago and evolved into a lifelong obsession. Her experience in the hospitality industry, including owning and operating her own establishments, exposed her to many wines, brands and wine experiences and ultimately, she knew this is where her career path lay. Angie’s love of wine has seen her visit many wine regions across the world and through Blanc NZ, she has put together an interesting and varied portfolio of NZ and international wines, including Capital Cider from Nelson, Champagne-Gosset, and a range of certified organic and vegan friendly wines.
On what she's learnt working in the industry: If at first you fail, try and try again!
Current favourite spots in town: Hello Beasty, The Poni Room, Hugo's Bistro and Ebisu.