To celebrate this year’s Women’s History Month I wanted to shine a light on two amazing food and beverage based businesses run by two incredible women. Both of these individuals have not only shaped their local food and beverage scenes but have also personally inspired me in my own life.
First up is Kamila Bystrzonowska who runs Momo restaurant in Waterford City. Kamila began Momo with the hope of sharing world class dishes created with the very best of locally sourced ingredients. As stated by McKenna’s Guides “Some restaurants cook for you. And others feed you. Momo is one of those rare places that feed you”. The food here is nothing short of sensational. I recently had the chance to catch up with Kamila to chat about the inspiration behind Momo and what this restaurant means to her.
Firstly I wanted to ask what inspired you to create Momo and if you always knew you wanted to run your own restaurant?
“In the early 2000’s I was working in pubs around Kraków and I remember loving the job and thinking to myself that I would one day open my own bar or pub. As the years went on I ended up working in a restaurant in Waterford as a waitress. While waitressing and talking to customers, I could see that there was something missing in the restaurant – a link between the customer, the food and the restaurant itself. I began thinking about setting up my own business where this problem could be addressed. So my original idea began to change from a bar to a restaurant.”
That leads nicely into my next question which is what is the best part of running your own business – the freedom?
“Yes, it’s the freedom of being able to do what you want and how you want to do it. To treat staff and customers the way you want to. In the first pub I worked in for 3 years, I had the most wonderful woman as my boss. She taught me so much, she is my real role model and she taught me how to treat staff, how to respect people and how to look after customers – I actually have it in the back of my mind to reach out to her soon, 20 years later, and just tell her ‘thank you’ because I really learned so much from her.”
That’s so nice! It’s great to hear that you had an incredible woman as your boss 20 years ago, do you think that the food industry today is more male dominated and if so how do you navigate that world?
“It is male dominated, even when we look at it from the chefs point of view – a lot of the highly trained chefs are men. Even thinking back a few years ago when a young woman won Irish chef of the year, the presenter exclaimed you’re the first female chef to win, and we were all like she is the chef it doesn’t matter that she is female. She herself said it’s like being called the first left handed chef to win, it shouldn’t matter. I have also found it hard dealing with certain people who won’t take me seriously because I’m a woman. Over the years in Momo I’ve had people say that I don’t really own the restaurant and that I just run it for my husband – which is obviously very frustrating. At the same time there are so many wonderful chefs and restaurant owners around the country that are women, even here in Waterford you know we have Sarah Richards of Seagull Bakery who is one of my heroes as well as Nicola from Mezze in Tramore.”
I can attest to the amazing quality of food around Waterford, I’ve grown up eating in a lot of these places and they’ve really shaped my perception of good food! If you had any advice for someone looking to start their own business in this sector what would it be?
“You just have to be sure that you have a clear vision and that you know what you want to do. When opening any business it can be hard to stay focused and to believe in your idea, but when you have a clear vision it makes it so much easier. In the first year of Momo we struggled a bit to find our footing and a business consultant came into the restaurant one day suggesting we should pivot to selling burgers as they are very easy to sell! I know that you can make money selling burgers, but I don’t believe in that, and I can’t sell something that I don’t believe in. The bottom line is that if you really believe in something from the inside out, then you have a great chance to succeed.”
That is really great advice! Finally I wanted to ask what you think the future holds for Momo?
“I really want the restaurant to mature a little bit. If I’m honest I do have notions of opening something else in the future, but right now my focus is on improving Momo. I hope to continue to change the menu seasonally and serve locally sourced dishes to feed the people of Waterford!”
Next up is the founder of Beekon Batches, Karen O’Neill. Beekon buzzed onto the alcoholic beverages scene in 2019 with two flavours – classic and ginger & lime. Since then the brand has grown and the flavour selection has doubled. The drink itself is a carbonated “honey refresher” that has a light refreshing taste, contains only natural ingredients and is the perfect accompaniment to a summers day. Having followed Beekon since its launch I was thrilled to sit down for a chat with its founder Karen.
How did the idea for Beekon begin?
“I started my career in a corporate structure but always felt like I was the entrepreneur within that role, trying to do things differently. I eventually got to a point where my ambition and desire to do something different and dare I say better superseded my desire to grow my career within the corporate structure. I felt like things could’ve been more innovative and impactful and that’s where the idea of Beekon came along. You have to also keep in mind that the alcohol business is a very male dominated industry. Alcohol just generally is, so I decided that I was going to go and do something that imbues a real positive female impact and create a new category that a lot of the big players couldn’t or weren’t willing to do.”
What’s your favourite part of being your own boss?
“It’s total freedom. Ultimately I control my own destiny and at the end of the day success for me isn’t a bottom line but is quite personal – did I make an impact on customers lives or have a positive impact in any way on society, and if I did well that’s success to me. This freedom also enables me to bring out a new flavours, for example, without needing the approval of a nation.”
Yes that freedom must allow so many opportunities to come your way. You touched on it a bit earlier but how do find navigating the male dominated beverages industry?
“I’ve been around this business 23 years so you get used to almost always dealing with male buyers – but there are an influx of women coming through in recent years definitely. Interestingly for females in the business they are almost expected to have a male energy which is quite bizarre. Having learned how to navigate the industry I personally just try to show up authentically, to be myself and hope that all my years of experience and understanding can stand on its own as opposed to the fact that its male or female – so to take that off the table altogether and let my experience speak for itself. However a point I often raise is “When was the last time you had an Irish female founder in front of you who has created, developed and launched a new alcohol category?” – it hasn’t really happened before.”
The brand you’ve created over the last couple of years is really amazing, I have spent many an evening sipping on a ginger and lime Beekon in my back garden during the summer! What do you think the future holds for Beekon?
“I have to believe that I’ve created a space and product that people genuinely respect and believe in on a multitude of levels. I do have ambition to move beyond Ireland and take Beekon global, but ultimately for me I want to look back and have no regrets – and honestly if Beekon didn’t go anywhere beyond where it is today I’ve created a product that I truly believe in and hopefully anyone who’s been on this journey with me can see that, and have enjoyed it. I hope that I’ve inspired at least someone to go do something they love and chase their dreams.”