A chance meeting with restaurateur and chef Claire Van Vuuren has helped transform the way Monica Luppi runs her tamale business, Lulu’s Hot Tamales. The insights and experiences that the duo shares over their regular coffee (or wine) catch-ups is a shining example of the true value of mentorship in hospitality.
Why did you decide to get involved in WOHO’s mentorship program?
Claire – I think it’s very important to be supportive of each other within the hospitality industry – not only to women. The game is hard and some guidance and wise words from people who have been there and done that before goes a long way.
Monica – I met Claire at the first WOHO event I attended. I was feeling really shy and not sure whether I even belonged there, but everyone was so welcoming. Claire and I ended up chatting and clicked, and I’ve always loved her food and admired her as a chef, so it kind of evolved from there.
How does the program work? What are the sorts of things you discuss?
Claire – The Mentorship program is designed to pair a mentee up with a mentor who would offer valuable skills, advice and knowledge. Monica and I were paired up because she was looking for help with menu writing, costings and construction of her menu during the opening of her pop-up business.
We meet over coffee or a wine for around an hour or so. The topics we cover are varied and range from giving Monica advice on suppliers, checking through her menus, making sure she has thought about work-flow during service within her menu. Monica is super passionate and full of energy, so our meetings always go longer than expected and we never run out of things to discuss.
Monica – It might be advice on menu planning and how to keep costs down, or even just a pep talk or encouragement. It’s been really good because running a small business is a terribly vulnerable experience, and having someone you really respect willing to put in time and believe in you is incredible. I’ve learnt so much and also made a friend.
Monica, how do you think the program has affected your business and the way you run it?
Claire definitely challenges me and helps me focus. I tend to be quite romantic about it all, and she reminds me to stay on track and tries to help me see the business side of it. She’s also the first one to remind me that I can do it; she’s very encouraging. She’s always there with practical advice and ideas, which is great coming from someone who’s been doing it, and doing it so well, for so many years. Any problem I might have, she’s already been through it a thousand times. So it’s really helpful – you go into things knowing you’re not just out there floating and having to make all the mistakes on your own.
Claire, what excites you about Monica’s business concept?
Monica’s passion and eagerness to forge her path in the hospitality industry is very contagious. I always feel motivated and inspired after our sessions and chats. She has a strong ethical standpoint, which is something I really like about her and her business model.
What are some of the best lessons you’ve learned or shared?
Monica – The best lesson is definitely to be ok when things don’t work out as planned. Also one can’t be around Claire and not be in awe of how much she gets done, so although I have a good work ethic I am definitely inspired by her.
Claire – My most important lesson to Monica is a constant reminder that it’s not personal, that it’s a business. Learning to leave your emotions out of certain decisions is that hardest lesson to learn when you first start out.
How important is mentorship in the hospitality industry in particular?
Monica – It’s such a tough field and most people that do it also see it as a lifestyle and a part of their identity, so mentorship and community are vital – otherwise it can be isolating. Most people are in hospitality to share their passion with customers, so being around like-minded people and getting that support is super important.
Claire – Very important! Mentorship forges relationships and builds a sense of community within the industry. I think it’s very important for younger chefs to feel that they have the support of their peers.
My relationship with my staff is one of the main reasons for my success. You need to keep learning and growing, and in a sense, running a restaurant is a permanent mentorship, where you guide and teach your staff, and I’m continuously learning from my chefs. It’s a give and take relationship.