4 Women Changing the Hospitality Industry

How these pioneers are making career defining moves with their side hustle

Bartender and Sip of Paradise Garden founder Keyatta Mincey Parker. Photo by James K. Holder II
Bartender and Sip of Paradise Garden founder Keyatta Mincey Parker. Photo by James K. Holder II

ByMichael Bonadies on 09.06.21

If any group of workers is going to bounce back after being hard hit by the pandemic, it’s the women of hospitality — who have skillfully surfed that perpetual wave of chaos, and never stopped striving to make all their guests happy. From a top chef to a bartender mixing her love of community gardening into her work, here are the stories of four women who are thriving thanks to side hustles, passions, and the embrace of the unknown.

Fuel to Climb the Highest Mountains

Chef Maria Hines’ was named one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America” by Food & Wine magazine in 2005; The New York Times selected her first restaurant Tilth, in Seattle, as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country, and she’s won a James Beard Award. But then the pandemic hit and she had to close Tilth on October 30, 2020. 

“I was in shock,” says Maria. “But I didn’t mourn long before I got pissed off. And then it was a quick pivot to my side-hustle-self.” Five years prior, Maria, an avid mountain climber earned a Nutrition Coaching Certificate and began to focus on food as medicine. In the spring of 2020, she co-authored her first cookbook “Peak Nutrition: Smart Fuel for Outdoor Adventure.” 

Less than one month after closing Tilth, Eddie Bauer engaged Maria to develop recipes for trail and camping meals. Next, she partnered with MiiR, a Seattle company that makes custom outdoor drinkware, and then with Cynergy Foods, a Kickstarter start-up, for whom she is developing organic energy and protein bars.

This summer she’s kicked off a new YouTube partnership with REI — Cookout with Chef Maria Hines — focusing on outdoor food and wellness, and is in training for her next big goal: to ascend Half Dome in Yosemite National Park on her 50th birthday.

Chef Maria Hines scaling a cliff’s edge. Photo by Dan Nordstrom
Chef Maria Hines scaling a cliff’s edge. Photo by Dan Nordstrom

Changing the Perception of Physical and Mental Health in the Hospitality Industry 

Laura Wagstaff has always been all in. She grew up helping her parents run a famed New England inn and graduated early from Boston University to go to work for restaurateur Danny Meyer in New York City. Not even a sarcoma cancer diagnosis slowed her down when she was the event director at The NoMad Hotel New York, overseeing 750 events a year.

“I couldn’t stop,” admits Laura. “Even immersed in this amazing wellness program at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, I was still on the phone helping to plan every detail of this over-the-top Hamptons 50th birthday party for one of our VIP clients.”

Then the pandemic hit, a consulting gig she was working on got canceled, and after having a mild case of COVID-19, Laura found herself finally accepting the fact that it was time to take care of her needs first. “We give so much of ourselves to make others happy,” says Laura, “that we neglect our own wellness. As a result, this is an industry where, too often, you end up sick or addicted. It was time for me to press pause and become the event planner without a plan.”

With a blank canvas of possibility before her, Laura is exploring how her own health experiences have changed her perception of the hospitality industry. An industry she believes needs leadership that does a better job of teaching its employees how to sustain their intense giving and crazy pace while also taking better care of their physical and mental wellness.

Laura Wagstaff. Photo by Sara Beth Turner
Laura Wagstaff. Photo by Sara Beth Turner

At the Intersection of Bartending and Community Gardening

Renowned for her boldly colorful cocktails incorporating fresh garden ingredients, Keyatta Mincey Parker reached the finals of the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition in 2019, followed by greater success in early 2020, when she was tapped to head up the cocktail and program for a new three-level bar experience that her mentor Eric Simpkins was opening in Atlanta. She also began working with Katya Suh on opening a bar concept in Portland, Oregon.

But when COVID-19 hit, Keyatta threw herself into an effort that had been a key part of her Bombay Sapphire competition presentation—a community garden for bartenders. Obtaining and clearing an overgrown quarter-acre plot in East Atlanta Village, Keyatta started raising money for the Sip of Paradise Garden, a 501c3 non-profit she founded, and began lining up bartenders.

The garden opened March 1, 2021, with 36 members, who are overwhelmingly female and 90 percent BIPOC, and a waiting list of over 16 bartenders. “Gardening is much more physical than bartending,” says Keyatta, “but having bartended, we all know how to push through the pain and when to be there and help out when someone’s in the weeds.”

Keyatta is now dreaming of opening multiple bartender community gardens around the country and even the globe. “I’m focused on helping my industry,” says Keyatta, “by opening more gardens as a way to improve the lives of so many bartenders. We all need a healthy, safe, outdoor space to chill, recharge, and dream.”

Keyatta Mincey Parker assembling one of her signature cocktails. Photo by Shannon Sturgis
Keyatta Mincey Parker assembling one of her signature cocktails. Photo by Shannon Sturgis
Keyatta in her plot at the Sip of Paradise Garden for local Atlanta bartenders. Photo by Rori Robinson
Keyatta in her plot at the Sip of Paradise Garden for local Atlanta bartenders. Photo by Rori Robinson

Doubling Down on Seafood

Savannah Jordan has worked for Le Bernardin in New York, perhaps the country’s top seafood restaurant, then onto Mary’s Fish Camp as chef de cuisine, definitely the country’s most craveable seafood restaurant, before spending two seasons as the executive chef of Ruschmeyers in Montauk. “Ruschmeyers was wild—over 500 covers on a busy night,” remembers Savannah. “But the seafood we got, being so close to the docks, was amazing. That’s how I met Parker Hollinger, a former commercial fisherman, who was working at Gosman’s Fish Market and selling me fish.”

Two years later Savannah and Parker brainstormed—and Montauk Catch Club was born. Launched in October 2020, the club provides members in New York City and the Hudson Valley with first dibs on weekly seafood offerings but with no obligation to buy. 50 percent of what Savannah and Parker buy off the boats is sold to members, and the remainder at farmer markets. Selling directly enables them to pay the fishermen fair prices, and Parker’s ability and willingness to jump on a boat and help out when the captains are down a hand further cements these relationships.

Quickly scaling from selling scallops out of her car to 200 and then to well over a 1,000 members has been satisfying, “People love being part of this weird little community and are really excited about the quality,” says Savannah. To help home cooks, they launched a YouTube channel with recipes and demos and this summer they plan to expand into more farmers markets and increase membership, as long as they are able to buy quality seafood in the quantity they need.

Originally published by Blueprint Future, a digital magazine by REEF.

Savannah Jordan. Photo by Parker Hollinger
Savannah Jordan. Photo by Parker Hollinger
Savannah prepping some Gravlax
Savannah prepping some Gravlax
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