Industry Spotlight

Chef Jamie Malone on What Keeps Her Going in the Restaurant Industry

Chef Jamie Malone on What Keeps Her Going in the Restaurant Industry

Jamie Malone has always had a life that revolved around food. In this interview, the award-winning chef shares her personal experience opening her restaurant, what continues to drive her and what she wishes she could change about this industry.

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Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the foodservice industry.

I started working in restaurants at age 15.  I had been obsessed with food and restaurants since I was very little.  Once I got my first restaurant job I knew I was home!

What inspired you to take over the Grand Café, a beloved Minneapolis bistro, in 2017? Can you describe the process of starting your own business and some of the challenges you faced?

It felt very natural.  It wasn’t anything that I planned ahead of time.  In fact, I was working on opening a different restaurant at the time. It occurred to me that Grand Cafe was where I needed to be, and I never questioned anything after that.  I just put one foot in front of the other. Starting the business was very scary.  You suddenly realize how vulnerable you are.  And how responsible you are for the welfare of your staff.  How easily it could all fail.

Every day I am learning a new job.  I used to just be a chef.  Now I am an accountant, a marketer, a business person, a manager of many managers and the list goes on.  It’s hard for me to be constantly facing a learning curve, but it’s also very energizing to be growing.  Some days I wish I could just do the stuff I am already good at!

Since its opening, the restaurant has had tremendous success. It was nominated for James Beard’s Best New Restaurant Award. Food & Wine also named Grand Café one of the best restaurants in America and called your Paris-Brest dish the Dish of the Year (which appeared as the cover photo of the May issue). What has this recognition meant to you and how has it impacted your work?

I am very shy and before owning the cafe, I found attention that comes with awards to be overwhelming.  Now I am very aware of how good it is for a small business. And I am incredibly grateful.

What does being a female in the foodservice industry mean to you?

I can honestly say that I have never thought of myself as a minority or an outsider. I have been lucky. But it is pretty amusing to watch people come into the restaurant and look past me for the nearest man in charge. I just let them keep looking.

Have you encountered any challenges in the industry because of your gender? Can you speak to some of those and how you addressed them?

I try to focus on how being a woman makes me different and a chef, manager and owner.  I try to embrace what makes me different and allow myself to be me instead of conform to an archetype of a chef or business person.  The challenges are endless, I don’t focus on them.  I surround myself with people who enjoy working with me and vice versa.

What advice would you give to women just getting started in this industry or who are facing similar challenges?

Work hard.  Be you. Be honest, be vulnerable, act within your nature.  Don’t try to walk the same walk as the males around you if that’s not who you are.  You are powerful.

What are your favorite parts about the restaurant industry?

OMG- my people. I go to work every day to a big, weird, giggling insane and loving family. It’s the greatest thing.

Anything about the industry you wish you could change?

I wish cooks made money. They work so damn hard!!!!!!!