The restaurant industry is full of inspiring women who work tirelessly to pave the way for equality both inside and outside the restaurant. Among those leaders is Gloria Monroy.
As the manager of El Jardin — one of Chicago’s most renowned Mexican restaurants — Monroy’s career is a shining example of what women can achieve in the restaurant industry. Check out her story in the third installment of our blog series highlighting women in the restaurant industry.
How did you get your start in the restaurant industry?
I originally started out as a busser in the restaurant that my grandmother and her two sisters started 50 years ago. Within the first few weeks, however, I realized the job was not a good fit for me. I remember always getting anxious when I interacted with customers. One time I even dropped an entire bowl of guacamole all over a diner’s white shirt! Since then, I have helped out with everything except the cooking.
How important is it for women in the restaurant industry to have female role models to look up to?
I believe that the right role model can give any woman the confidence needed to achieve her wildest dreams. For me, those role models are my grandmother and her sisters. They were just three Mexican immigrant women with dreams of a better life. One day they decided to make use of a kitchen in a bar they owned together. They went out and bought 10 pounds of beef along with a few packets of tortillas. Within just a few hours, the tacos were completely sold out and half a century later their restaurant continues to make our family proud.
The fact that they were able to overcome so much still amazes. Nobody they knew had ever opened a restaurant before. In fact, they came from a family of tailors. The only people they ever cooked for were their families. Everything they learned came from trial and error. Even when things went wrong, they never gave up. Instead, they continued to learn and grow their business. Whenever I think back to those struggles, I remind myself that anything is possible. And I have them to thank for that.
How has the restaurant industry changed since the opening of El Jardin 50 years ago?
These days everything is online. My grandmother and her sisters used to rely on word of mouth or place an ad in the newspaper to get new diners in the door. Now, with a website and social media, we can constantly update our customers on what’s new, which is helpful. However, there are also times when it can become a little overwhelming. There is always something that needs to be posted or a customer you need to respond to.
On the plus side, getting our supplies is much easier! There are plenty of companies that sell food and equipment in bulk. When my grandmother and sisters first started the business they had to buy everything from grocery stores. They bought so much meat that the employees told them to shop at a meat market that could better meet their needs. With online food ordering, we thankfully do not have to worry about such problems anymore.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I have held just about every position there is in a restaurant, but the one I enjoy the most is being a server. There are diners that have been coming to our restaurant almost since it opened, and they have such interesting stories about their lives and the challenges they face.
I love being able to connect with the customers that walk in and learn about where they are from and what brought them to El Jardin. By offering good food and strong margaritas, we are able to continue the tradition of bringing people together.
What obstacles have you faced as a woman in the restaurant industry?
As a young woman, there have been times when customers have not always taken me seriously. My grandmother faced similar challenges. In the past, some vendors and customers actually asked to speak with a man instead of my grandmother, especially when things did not go their way.
We have both faced criticism due to our Mexican American heritage. Such incidents are few and far between, and it is important that women keep pushing for equality even when faced with adversity.
What advice would you give to a woman just starting out her career in the restaurant industry?
Never be afraid to ask questions. There are going to be times when you do not have all the answers, and that is perfectly fine. By filling in the gaps with other people’s help, you can continue to move your career forward.
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