Aoife Sweeney

Aoife Sweeney

Woman in Hospitality Interview

Current Position: Co-owner, La Choza

Please can you share a whistle-stop tour of your career?

In short: have been working front of house since I was 13. It’s in my blood. My business partner – Annie – had a dream to open a Mexican Restaurant; the rest is history.

How and when did you train in hospitality, was there a particular reason for this career path?

I trained on the job. Food was in my family as my father owned pubs rural Ireland and central London. After I flew the nest I went to do a degree in Visual Culture and Modern Arts but my roots where always deep in hospitality.

Describe your job in three words:

Fast, fun, fulfilling.

Favourite aspect of the job?

Got to be the people! From customers to suppliers and my amazing team, hospitality is a melting pot of some really passionate creative souls.

Also THE FOOD. Mexican food is my passion and there are so many regional dishes showcasing so many flavours; each region has its own indigenous dishes to explore. Come and try our new menu!

What excites you most about your role?

I love the team aspect of the job and the multitude of people that you meet as an employer. At La Choza we all run as a pack, creating an environment that has a real family feel to the place.

The toughest aspect of your job?

It’s such a close knit family at work, you invest so much time into your team it’s hard to take a step back from family life sometimes.

Is there a moment in your career that stands out above the rest?

Waking up on a Sunday morning to hear that Tom Park Bowles had reviewed La Choza , his quote in the newspaper made our year! Also winning the Observer Food Awards.

What are you most proud of?

It’s got to be (other than my Daughter) what Annie and I have created at La Choza. We travel every year to Mexico to immerse ourselves in the incredible culture and stay in tune with with new recipes.

Would you agree that hospitality is a male dominated industry?

I think it’s starting to change, we see a lot more women applying for kitchen positions these days, we have a very mixed gender team.

Can you summarise what it is like working in a male dominated industry?

To be honest in the hospitality sector in Brighton I do not see a great divide in gender inequality. The meetings I go to are very balanced, female restaurant owners and a gender-balanced team is the norm.

What has been your biggest challenge?

When we opened La Choza the first few years were pretty challenging, we have learnt a lot along the way.

Do you have children?

Yes an 18 year old daughter who also works in the industry

Has raising a family affected your career development?

Well, Annie Gelpey my business partner and I were both single mums with 11 year old daughters when we started La Choza so that definitely brought some challenges.

If so, how and why do you think that is?

Childcare, guilt about not being around enough, etc.

Who have been your mentors?

Well we have a few. A regular at Gloucester Rd La Choza – Tequila Phil we call him – has been a great support to us over the years. I must say Nick Mosley also helped us out a lot.

Who has inspired you along the way?

We get a lot of our inspiration on our trips to Mexico and eating a lot of tacos (we usually come back a few kilos heavier).

What has been your philosophy that has seen the successful development of your career?

Keeping a good sense of humour always helps.

What advice would you offer for women looking to embark on a similar career?

Go for it. What have you got to lose?

Do you have a go to or failsafe plate of comfort food?

It’s got to be a homemade fish pie or jerk chicken.

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