Melanie Mann and the BRAVO Award winning team at Kujira

Melanie Mann

Woman in Hospitality Interview

Current position: Owner, Kujira

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

My career started when I decided hospitality was the industry for me. Prior to that revelation I had just moved to London for studies; institutional education and I didn’t click and I wanted to be active in the industry.

My first job was in Yauatcha, soho, as a receptionist. I continued to work in many different renowned Asian restaurants in London & Hong Kong holding various different roles from maitre’d to marketing & events manager.

In 2017 I decided to take that bold step with the experience and knowledge I had consumed. I believed in what I had planned and it was time to make the transition of my dream, into reality. 2017 was the birth year of KUJIRA.

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

My experience was gained through hard work and sleepless nights throughout my career. My family and I are foodies and this is a heavy influence on my interests. In my upbringing they transferred a lot of knowledge about food and I ventured to try a variety of cuisines. From my first opportunity to work in the hospitality industry I haven’t looked back.

Describe your job in three words:

Conscientious, Courage, Enthusiastic

Favourite aspect of the job?

People! From my team to my suppliers and of course my customers, they are all so important to me. I think human interaction is the core of business in hospitality. You really need to have passion in making people happy to succeed.

What excites you most about your role?

I hold myself and the business to a high standard. Therefore, from a teenager’s birthday to an adult’s work do, the aim is to provide every client the highest quality service and food. I find how unpredictable a client can be exciting and think it is paramount that we meet those needs. You just always need to make sure you’re giving everything to make your clients happy.

The toughest aspect of your job?

Kujira is my baby and as we all know a baby needs your undivided attention, so the question is: when does one get time for oneself? This is the toughest aspect of my job.

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

Making the decision to move to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is one of the top foodie places in the world and really opened so many doors to incredible opportunities. I believe without Hong Kong, I wouldn’t have been able to make this dream a reality.

What are you most proud of?

Kujira. Kujira is a complete reflection of me from the gold decor to our unique cocktail selections. Just everything…even the toilets!

Would you agree that hospitality is a male dominated industry?

Yes.

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

I haven’t had many negative encounters. However, when people ask ‘Who is the boss?’ they often expect it to be a male. When people are told who’s in charge of Kujira – it’s not unusual that I receive a confused expression along with an ‘oh?’. Unfortunately some people still have a mindset of expecting a male to be the “boss” and you just have to go “surprise!”. I don’t think that you need to feel disheartened by it. It’s been a long road for women across different industries to get recognised for our capability, but we are constantly changing the stereotype and you can see a big shift now more than ever before. I believe very soon it’ll become a norm when female leaders aren’t met with an “oh?”.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been starting up the business. Being a new business owner, there were a few occasions where I was just clueless. I had no idea what I had to do or how to do it but I just had to throw myself in and get it done.

Have there been any obstacles in the way of your professional development?

Of course! A friend actually sent this to me when I was going through some hardships “If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. Everybody has them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or around it.”

Do you have children?

No, but hopefully one day.

Who have been your mentors?

My dad has been my mentor. Although he’s not in this industry, he’s supported me so much throughout this whole journey.

Who has inspired you along the way?

I’m lucky that I’ve got to know so many amazing and inspiring people throughout my hospitality career. Quite a few tokens from precious relationships I’ve formed with kind and loving people I’ve met along the way are hidden in Kujira. For example, someone from Hong Kong, who is now a very close friend of mine, inspires one of the cocktails ‘Valarienella’.

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

Trusting your gut. Trust yourself and follow your instincts! Things may not always work out the way you hope but you have to take a leap of faith for what you believe in.

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

I have encountered some interesting experiences as a woman in this industry. My best advice I can offer is just to be confident within yourself. I’ve found that the combination of my age and gender has often left people second-guessing my knowledge. Stand your ground and just own it. Show everyone that you know what you’re talking about and just do it!

Words of encouragement for women who aspire to reach a senior position in hospitality?

Each and every one of us has different dreams and goals. Don’t define your success by what others have achieved. Create your own path and be proud of the outcome.

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

My mum’s Chinese soup.

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