Hospitality is one of those industries where everyone has an opinion and everyone is an expert… you love it or you hate it. Or you love to hate it, or hate to love it. For these three women, hospitality is life - literally. From raising young families while working on the frontline to celebrating national recognition for their latest venture - 20 years laters, these women have helped shape the culinary identity of a provincial New Zealand town to world class standard. Dynamic, driven and the most infectious women we have ever met. Karen, Kate & Karyn caught up over a couple of glasses of Kiwi Rosé and reflected on 20+ years of all things hospitality. Interview by Georgia Macfarlane, eldest daughter to Kate. #hospoforlifebaby www.social-kitchen.co.nz The Social Kitchen celebrates a social occasion and shared dining and is recent finalist of the 2017 Cuisine Good Food Awards.
Georgia: So, what is it about the industry that you love? Or what don’t you love?
Karyn: I love that I get up every day to do something I genuinely enjoy and that’s to connect with people and provide them with hospitality. It’s a nice part of their day and I get to be a part of that.
Karen: All of our personalities like to please people. That’s one thing we all really have in common.
Kate: Absolutely! Our mission statement for our first business when we were 20 years old was that we would like to provide an experience for people that we would like to receive. It’s that simple. I think that’s why it’s important you go out into the world and experience things for yourself – you’ll then think ‘my customers would LOVE to experience this’. So you can come back to a small town like ours and try and emulate that and give people an experience beyond that status quo.
Karyn: Also, look at how many people have passed through our lives that we have had a connection with. People we’ve worked for, people that have worked for us, customers, suppliers. You actually get a real connection through this industry.
Kate: Yes I agree – for me, everything in life is about relationships. And that’s not just your family, your kids, your husband, your parents. It extends to everyone – friends, suppliers – they’re all important relationships. I think how we treat all those relationships is what actually makes the formula for a successful business.
Karyn: And a nice life.
Georgia: So going from being working Mums with babes in arms and now with daughters working for you.. how have you found that?
Kate: Well let’s just say that our daughters work with us, rather than for us.
Karyn: Our daughters have worked with us from the time that they were born practically.
Kate: I think every one of us has been through times of massive feelings of guilt and conflict with working so hard. Karen: But once again, if you were going to go back to your young mum self, you’d say ‘chill out – they’ll be fine’.
"Yes I agree – for me, everything in life is about relationships. And that’s not just your family,
your kids, your husband, your parents. It extends to everyone – friends, suppliers – they’re all important relationships.
I think how we treat all those relationships is what actually makes the formula for a successful business.”
The amount of times I cried myself to sleep thinking my kids are going to need therapy because I’m working and not doing playdough and lego with them.. but in fact, I think watching us work has actually lead to all of our girls to having good work ethics.
Kate: Yes I think we’ve done a good job of making sure that if we’re working, the kids have all been some how involved in what we do. Even if it was having to be out the back entertaining themselves, or folding napkins, or collecting buckets of dirty linen. It’s just instilled a subconscious in all our daughters of just keeping busy.
Karyn: Busy is not bad.
Kate: I know! Thank you! Working hard is not bad. And it’s not bad for our children to see that either.
Karyn: If you’re busy because you like being busy, then busy works.
Kate: Because all of our young girls, 6 of them in total, have been surrounded by mums being busy and have always had a job and been asked to help out. They’re some of the most capable young women I know. They’re also some of our best staff members because they have this overall awareness which they’ve grown up with. And not only that, it’s that they can communicate. They can talk to anybody and they probably won’t actually appreciate that until they’re older. The ability to communicate with people from all walks of life is really special.
Karyn: Yeah it’s almost that they can adapt to any situation because they’ve been exposed to so many different situations because we’ve had them with us. And that was just because that’s how our lives worked.
Kate: We’ve all been self employed, all the way through from getting married to having a family and there are huge challenges with that. It’s not like we got maternity leave in our day. There were certainly no Dads who could take a month off to help out.
Karyn: I was really lucky I had both my babies on Saturday nights.
Kate: I was meant to be working a jazz function that night!Karyn: But it wasn’t a hardship either.
Karen: I reckon there were some hardships.
Karyn: Yeah but I mean I’m not complaining about them.
Kate: Asking these questions does make you think… but we actually just did what we had to do without even thinking about it.
Karyn: If nobody went to work, we didn’t get paid.
Kate: And Karen if you had to roast coffee and the kids were crawling around you that’s just what you had to do. And if I had to get up at 1.30 in the morning to drop the kids off at Mum and Dad’s because I had to bake, we just did it. We didn’t think anything of it.
Karen: It was just for the greater good. I don’t think we ever got paid by the hour appropriately…
Karyn: And I ate a LOT of KFC. If it was on a plate, it could be called a roast.
Kate: I also think, hospitality as an industry is very tough for a relationship unless both parties fully understand it. Because it is very demanding. It’s really important both partners are supportive of it. It’s everyone else’s social time while you are working.
Karyn: Yeah it sucks when one of you can attend a social occasion but the other one can’t or has to come late. Karen: Isn’t that just the story of our life? But it’s actually also so demanding of you emotionally too. You give so much to your customers and sometimes when you get home, there’s just not a lot left.
Kate: Yes, and we were all working basically 24/7 with our partners. And that’s challenging in itself.
Karyn: And your conversations across the dinner table are like ‘hey, so about what happened today, I think I have a solution’ or ‘how are we going to deal with this’. You just bring everything home. And again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because what we do is what we enjoy, and it’s what we’re interested in, but there are times when one of you just want to switch off and it’s so hard. Your work and home life are all in one.
"Another glass of wine ladies?
Yes thank you
All around then?
Georgia: Any funny moments you can recall? Karen: We laugh a lot. They usually involve alcohol to tell you the truth.
Karen: The concrete in the sink when you opened Joe’s Garage?
Karyn: No that wasn’t funny.
Karen: Well it’s funny looking back on it!
Karyn: No that wasn’t funny. There was nothing funny about that.
Karen: The tradies washed the concrete buckets out in the sink and when they went to turn the taps on for opening day they were completely blocked with set concrete. Karyn: Literally, there was nothing funny about that. Waiter: another glass of wine ladies? Kate: Yes please
Karen: Yes thank you
Waiter: All around then?
Georgia: Yes please!
Georgia: How would you say hospitality and the eating experience have changed during your time in the industry?
Karyn: The range of availability. There was literally a KFC and then the likes of Andre’s and Gareth’s and the West End Hotel. But nothing in between.
Kate: When we opened Macfarlanes…
Karen: That was massive.
Kate: We wanted an espresso machine, but we were told just to get a dribulator.
Karen: That’s right.
Georgia: A dribulator?
Kate: Yeah like a filter coffee machine. It was like – would we consider an espresso machine? So I guess that’s an example of how underdeveloped the market was in terms of customer expectations.
Karen: And now everyone’s an expert!
Karyn: But now days, people go out once a day at a minimum. Whereas before, they went out for a birthday or special anniversary and that was it.
Kate: Just look at how people use cafes now as a workspace.
Karyn: It’s just part of their social fabric.
Karen: I think people’s expectations now are massive. Kate: Yes I think so too, partly because people are so well travelled compared to previous generations. They’ve been exposed to those different experiences and have something to benchmark against.
Karen: People have their own espresso machines at home now.
Kate: Who would have had an espresso machine at home? No one.
Karen: You couldn’t even buy fresh coffee.
Karyn: And they kept their coffee in the freezer! When I was at uni I had a dribulator in my room and I was really cool because Mum used to send me coffee.
Karen: Robert Harris special cream.
Karyn: Maybe, was Robert Harris around in those days? Yeah it might have been.
Karen: It’s changed hugely, worldwide. But how we eat at home has changed too.
Karyn: As in, we don’t?
Karen: Yeah! Even takeaway options. There was literally Pizza Hut.
Kate: Pizza Hut was expensive. $32 a pizza.
Karen: McDonald’s wasn’t even in New Plymouth.
Karyn: KFC was.
Karen: KFC was! Man that was a treat. Karyn: Cobb & Co for birthdays! Unless mum cooked schnitzel.
Georgia: I love schnitzel.
"It changed before our eyes. The whole industry....
We are living in a generation where things are radically changing...”
Karen: Worldwide it’s changed. The coffee industry especially… OK I’m having a moment here. How we are watching social media change before our eyes and how it’s changing businesses. That’s what happened with coffee. It changed before our eyes – The whole industry. Then beer followed. We are living in a generation where things are radically changing before our eyes.
Kate: We didn’t even have a computer when we opened Macfarlanes. Everything was done by hand.
Karen: Stamps! I remember you saying about Craig when he was writing out bills that it would be cheaper to hand deliver the bill than organise a stamp!
Karyn: Kevin and I used to share a cell phone. A Nokia. Karen: Our kids wouldn’t even know what a cheque book looks like!
Karyn: Hey the great thing about a cheque book though… you didn’t actually have to have the money!
Kate: True! You could write out the cheque on a Wednesday and it wouldn’t go through and then tomorrow it’s Thursday and Thursday’s are always fully booked in the restaurant! So true.
Karyn: Mum and Dad have been AMAAAAAZING. And my sister.
Karen: Oh gosh, without our parents..
Karyn: There’d be times I’d call my sister and say “I’ve got to go” and she would just say, “my door’s open”, so I’d drop the kids off and make a run for it. Then she’d call me, so I’d get back to give a feed. I had really amazing people to support me.
Kate: Oh look, Mum and Dad did it all. They were the only people I never had to call, as I say, I could drop the girls off in the early hours of the morning. Again, it was just what had to happen.
Karen: We would never have been able to do what we did, without our support network.
Kate: No. And I couldn’t have done it mentally without Mum and Dad.
Karen: Because no one loves your kids like family. When my kids were with my Mother in law, We’d call it the day spa – They were so well looked after.
Karyn: Yeah and they’d almost cry when you went to pick them up!
Kate: It was like: Yeah, I’d actually rather live with Grandma, can you visit me occasionally?
Kate: We all grew up with that work ethic ourselves though. Getting stuck in and doing what you need to do.
Karyn: They never begrudged it, they just did it.
Karyn: I feel lucky that I chose to do what I did. And the people I have in my life.
Kate: I do too. There’s nothing I’d change about the way we did it.
Kate: Would anyone like some pâte?