With the hospitality industry globally dominated by men, Panchali Mahendra, Managing Director of Atelier House is smashing the glass ceiling and proving women can do anything and everything and the UAE agrees!
Panchali has the honor of being the only female to date in the hospitality industry to receive this prestigious accolade from the UAE Government. We got to sit down with this powerhouse and talk to her about what it means and takes to be a woman in hospitality and the future of females in the F&B sector.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
I’m an experienced restaurant consultant with 18 years experience in food & beverage industry. I’ve worked and work in different aspects of hospitality including, concepts, feasibility, food & beverage, business planning, operations management, and turn key. I hold a post graduate focused in guest services management from The Oberoi Center of Learning & Development and I’m a gold medalist from University of Huddersfield, UK and IHM Aurangabad, India. I’ve been the MD of Atelier House Hospitality for over four years, which is an affiliate of Altamarea Group from NYC, whose CEO and Founder is Ahmass Fakahany, Altamarea Group has created flagship restaurants like Marea.
When you started as Managing Director at Atelier House Hospitality, what were your main missions and goals you set for yourself to achieve?
We were starting an International office from scratch and knew even though we have a strong hold in NYC, it was not going to be easy, every new venture needs time and patience. We didn’t just want to open our own restaurants and operate them, but wanted to bring my consulting experience and helping others conceptualize and do pre-openings too. I always wanted Atelier House to be niche and bespoke company that did unique projects. Quality over Quantity is my main work mantra. In four years, the company is almost 7-8 restaurants old now and I can proudly say we have done a remarkable job, choosing our projects and partners. I am very happy to say we are very close to our 5 years vision and road map.
What is the current situation for women in the hospitality industry?
The last decade I’ve seen a significant rise in the limelight thrown at women and their talents. This is fantastic news, women have always been a great part of hospitality and F&B, it was just that only a few got the seat. I feel we are getting now, equal opportunities and magazines like yourselves must be thanked for supporting us and giving us our due credit. There is still a significant gap but then again Rome wasn’t built in a day. Good news is that we are moving in the right direction. There is so much talent and Social Media is a boon that way as it allows women to showcase and share their talents on a public forum for a greater outreach.
As a woman, what are the challenges have you encountered in your career in hospitality?
Very simple – most didn’t believe in my capabilities; some did but didn’t give the opportunity. Even today with 18 years of experience and education from some of the best Hospitality schools and worked for some top-notch brands, I must ask to be included in a F&B council or forum. I have had to justify my pay scale. I am only asking for equality in opportunity, pay, respect and value. Thankfully, I found a great mentor in Mr. Fakahany who believed in me, and I see how he promotes and supports women in our company on all fronts from Chefs to GM to Operations.
How has being a woman helped you in the hospitality industry?
It definitely helps in a way to get a certain amount of additional attention as compared to men, women in consulting and operations are fewer. So, my credentials are valued tad bit more otherwise I think just like any other industry its only hard work, loyalty and passion that take you ahead in life and work.
What career advice can you give to young woman and how do you see the situation for women in the F&B sector?
Whether it’s hospitality or any other industry, I think for every woman (and men) it’s all about hard work and their passion what they love doing, they have to enjoy what they do or what they want to do. The moment it’s about money or getting into a career for a high salary, you won’t succeed. Everybody works very hard in this industry but there are very few who take a lot of love and passion and throw that into what they do. This is what helps you achieve your goals and rise u in life faster.
The situation for women in the F&B sector is on a positive roll, as the world becomes more aware of women empowerment and gender equality thanks to social media showcasing and giving the limelight to women in the hospitality sector. We now see people believing and pushing for women at the helm of F&B and even completely women driven concepts.