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In honour of International Women’s Day, (IWD), we wanted to shine a spotlight on the #LeadingLadies that are dominating one of Toronto’s most prominent industries: the restaurant business. There are countless female restaurateurs, chefs, and entrepreneurs that are commanding some of the most popular and profitable operations in the city, yet they receive close to no media coverage in comparison to their male counterparts. We talked to three different women that’ve endured the upward-struggle that comes with attempting to climb the ranks, and they gave us some valuable advice on how to beat the odds. If you’ve been wading your way through the murky waters of the restaurant business for some time and need a little bit of inspiration to keep going, read on to uncover how-to make it big and support other women with the same dream.

Breanne Smart – General Manager, Virtuous Pie

Breanne Smart

Background: In 2018, Breanne Smart joined the Virtuous Pie team as a dishwasher. With support from her managers and the Virtuous Pie leadership team, Breanne quickly rose through the ranks, moving from Vancouver to Toronto to fulfill the position of general manager at Virtuous Pie’s new College Street location. As general manager, Breanne has built a fully woman-identifying staff. She’s challenging the status quo when it comes to gender representation in the restaurant industry and continues to support each individual’s growth and development on her team.

SC: What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to make it in the restaurant industry?

BS: Say yes to everything that comes your way. Any task or challenge posed by your boss, mentors, or colleagues is an opportunity to not only learn something new but to show your team what you’re capable of. The only reason I was given opportunities in the kitchen is because I made myself open and available to any new challenge my chef threw at me. Now, I love when new cooks are eager and hungry to learn things.

SC: What would you say to a person who’s at their wits end and wants to give up, whether it’s a result of rejection or the way they’ve been treated in the workplace?

BS: Keep pushing forward. As women, we have enough restrictions created for us. We don’t do ourselves any favours by adding to them. That doesn’t mean putting up with unfair treatment. Sometimes the hardest leap to make is to quit, to give up on something. I quit a secure job and dropped out of grad school to work for Virtuous Pie. The luckiest people in life are not the ones who got into med school, or law school. The luckiest ones are those who knew right away what they wanted to do with their lives. It takes a lot of saying no, changing your mind, and trying out new jobs, to find out what you actually want to spend your life doing. The important part is to keep moving forward towards finding out what that is.

Elia Herrera – Owner and Chef, Colibri/LosCo

Elia Herrera

Background: Inspired by a long lineage of strong women, Elia Herrera strives to be known not only as a great female chef, but as a great chef among chefs too. Herrera grew up in Veracruz, Mexico, and immersed herself in the richness of her grandmother’s cooking. She remains close to those recipes today at her two restaurants, Colibri and LosCo inside of Assembly Chef’s Hall. With no formal training, Herrera grabbed the opportunity to open a Mexican restaurant by the horns and both of her eateries are now known as go-to places for authentic Mexican dishes.

SC: What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to make it in the restaurant industry?

EH: Loving what you do will propel you forward in your career, but that must be balanced with self-care, self-love and treating yourself with the same respect you would treat another person with. Balanced with focus and a will to continue to better yourself and your skills, new and old chefs will become better in the long run.

SC: What would you say to a person who’s at their wits end and wants to give up, whether it’s a result of rejection or the way they’ve been treated in the workplace?

EH: The restaurant industry is very demanding when it comes to your personal time. What happens internally will ultimately affect how you perform outwardly, and it will show in the food you put out. It’s important you take care of yourself. Taking a break is OK. Strengthening my spirituality is helping me find balance. I practice meditation, exercise, take time to eat, and drink water. Making small adjustments so that you can treat and respect yourself well will help you to continue with your passion.

Amira Becarevic – Owner and Chef, Mira Mira

Amira Becarevic

Background: Amira Becarevic has led several established Toronto kitchens including Epic, The Chase, and Colette Grand Café before taking on an endeavour of her own, Mira Mira. At Mira Mira, Becarevic shares her motto, “eat well, be well”, in a fast-casual environment.

SC: What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to make it in the restaurant industry?

AB: Be tenacious and don’t give up on learning and adapting. But most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

SC: What would you say to a person who’s at their wits end and wants to give up, whether it’s a result of rejection or the way they’ve been treated in the workplace?

AB: Remember what part of this industry got you passionate enough to start. Remembering where your passions lie will keep you motivated and creatively focused. Take some time to reflect and do something nice for yourself. Make time to go out to eat, travel, and gain new perspectives. Gravitate towards opportunities that keep you learning and excited. Life is too short to not enjoy the thing you have a passion for.

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