Current position: Mae & Benny Sullivan, sisters, co-owners of Chard Restaurant with Ciarán Thomas
How and when did you train in hospitality, was there a particular reason for this career path?
Mae: Benny and I had our first jobs in hospitality at 16 in Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland having recently relocated from Camden Town where we grew up. During studies at university, Benny in sculpture and me in law, we continued our hospitality journey ultimately deciding that opening a business together (with my partner Ciarán) was something we wanted to do.
Describe your job in three words;
Mae: Always multi-tasking
Benny: Two-hand kitchen
What excites you most about your role?
Mae: Creating a beautiful experience for people, to welcome guests warmly and have the craic.
Benny: Being able to create every day. Working with people I love makes my job easier.
The toughest aspect of your job?
Mae: Those stairs! Only joking, it is keeping an eye on all aspects at once. Being a control freak I struggle to delegate and then self-deprecate if I lose track of something that needed my attention.
Benny: Allowing myself to have time off. There is always something to do.
Is there a moment in your career that stands out above the rest?
Benny: Those first few months starting in Café Rust. Having no customers and still coming back the next day to try again. Never giving up.
Mae: Setting a target to open a restaurant in one year, with no investors, backing ourselves and making it happen.
What are you most proud of?
Mae: Benny and Ciarán for working so hard to make our business a success.
Benny: Mae and Ciarán for taking a chance on an underdog with an idea.
Would you agree that hospitality is a male dominated industry?
Mae: Yes, I would say that men are better represented in the higher positions and in the media.
Benny: Yes definitely.
Can you summarise what it is like working in a male dominated industry?
Benny: It’s not always been easy. But I’ve always worked as hard as I can, stuck to my guns and powered through.
Mae: Sometimes the descriptions of women’s craft can be belittling, suggesting a domesticity to the role instead of a professional one. Male chefs are afforded more qualified descriptors.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Benny: Moving to Igigi General Store.
Mae: Definitely, and when we first opened, we felt the need to be all things to all people. As time went on we had the confidence to draft an ethos and stick to it. That way we can stay true to ourselves and deliver our best.
Who have been your mentors?
Mae & Benny: Our parents. They instilled in us the value of perseverance and hard work by example.
What advice would you offer for women looking to embark on a similar career?
Mae: It’s a wonderful industry full of highly skilled people who will impart their wisdom to someone eager to learn. Stay on your toes, accept all training where it is offered and work hard.
Benny: Just power through, hold your own and let yourself be heard.
Words of encouragement for women who aspire to reach a senior position in hospitality?
Mae: Imposter syndrome is real and can be a serious deterrent when pushing forward. Recognising it is the first step, talk to colleagues and friends – try confidence on for size and it will be self-perpetuating.