We met recently with Camille Glass, co-owner of Sai Ying Pun favourites Brut!, Pondi and the newly opened New York–style bodega Fat Chad’s, to discuss being a female leader in the Hong Kong dining scene.
How long have you been in F&B?
My first-ever job was in F&B. It’s been nearly 18 years now! Wild…
What challenges are you facing in the current climate?
Honestly, I’m exhausted. One of the hardest things that I’m currently facing is personal productivity. It feels like we’re swimming upstream. The challenges are everywhere. I could break it down bit by painful bit, but truthfully, it’s too broad a topic. What I can say is help is needed – and fast. We need it from government, our landlords, the media, delivery platforms and from all who continue to support us.
I’m tremendously proud of our ability to work together as a team. Let’s now see if we can work together as a city.
How do you navigate being a female leader in this male-dominated industry?
It’s tiring. It’s frustrating to know that alongside having to fight for my businesses and my staff in a year like 2020, I fight for my position of influence, my credibility and my value, simply because I’m female.
People tend to refer to me as a “girl boss” or a “lady boss”. Frankly, these don’t feel like terms made up by women; they feel like a patronising way of inviting us into a club by giving us another title to use. There are no “boy bosses” – just saying. There’s no one way to navigate this industry, let alone this world, as a woman or a leader. I surround myself with good, like-minded people, and I am incredibly fortunate to have found the men and women who make up our team. It’s no secret that the F&B industry is riddled with misogyny; it’s fuelled by testosterone, so much so that you can quickly feel inferior. But I believe in myself, and in doing so, I’ve been rewarded three beautiful restaurants where my voice is heard.
Today I am celebrated by our team for my strength but also for my empathy. I’m a boss when I sit next to boy bosses. I’m a boss whether I work alone or collaborate with a team. I’m a boss, not a lady boss.
Is there camaraderie between female restaurateurs in Hong Kong?
There is, but our camaraderie presents differently. Still today, F&B is very much a boy’s club, encouraging late- night hangs, tequila shots and chest bumps. The women I know in the industry march to a different beat. We encourage each other through quiet wines on Monday nights, the occasional hike and by inspiring each other through different social platforms.
What are your future plans?
Future plans have certainly taken a back seat. This pandemic has brought a number of things to light. Going forward, a number of things need to change. One of those is Hong Kong’s relationship to food. We live in a city that relies heavily on imported goods, which tends to (at least in the Western community) take away the focus on local produce. I to see the city celebrating home-grown ingredients and encouraging agricultural programmes. We need to stop believing that the only way to dine safely is through the lens of Western approval. My aim is to be a part of the re-education of the city.
What advice would you give to a new restaurateur?
Immerse yourself in restaurants, in like-minded people and the parts of the industry that you want to recreate. Then… brace yourself.
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