Emily O’Connor had just taken over as general manager of Juliet Italian Kitchen when she had an idea. It was late 2017, and the new job was demanding and stressful.
“It was hard to find women that could relate to me in my position,” O’Connor says. “I had friends that I could talk to, but if you’re not in the service industry you just don’t understand.”
She discussed the issue with a therapist who encouraged her to find women in her life who could relate to what O’Connor was going through.
That’s when she decided to form Women of F&B ATX, “a group of women that would get together and we could talk about the things that we struggle with on a day-to-day basis in this industry,” she explains.
O’Connor discussed the idea with Carley Dunavant of Campari and Cassidy Mora of Still Austin Whiskey Co. Together, the trio decided to form Women of F&B Texas (F&B is a common industry abbreviation for food and beverage) to organize events, contribute to charities benefiting local women, and provide support and mentorship.
At a time when the hospitality world is grappling with issues like the #MeToo movement, workplace equality, and substance abuse, Women of F&B Texas offers support for Austin industry professionals — a key component in combating the often toxic culture of restaurants and bars.
Nationally, this conversation has reverberated in institutions like the James Beard Foundation. The foundation recently changed the rules for its prestigious annual awards, adding, among other things, considerations for diversity and professional behavior. Closer to home, Austin has seen a growth in support organizations like Ben’s Friends and Heard.
Like those local groups, Women of F&B Texas specifically focuses on the service industry, which differentiates it from Austin’s Les Dames d’Escoffier, a professional organization that includes members from any culinary related field.
Women of F&B group meetings aim to facilitate conversation on common issues, industry news, and upcoming events. They also provide members opportunities to give back to the community.
One of the most rewarding moments so far has been hosting a fundraiser to help a motorcycle crash victim pay her medical bills. Women of F&B Texas is also currently partnering with Periods ATX to collect feminine care donations that are then distributed to women experiencing homelessness in Austin.
Women of F&B Texas currently meets monthly, but is considering changing that to accommodate members and their busy schedules. O’Connor said the group also needs more representatives from the back of house, and they are working to recruit more members from that vital part of the industry.
But as it grows, the organization will keep empowering women as its central mission.
Says Mora, “I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in the coming years to support each other."