Women in Hospitality: Q&A with Phia McDonnell of Ethan Stowell Restaurants
Celebrating women in hospitality year-round
As we wrap up Women’s History Month, we are highlighting women in the hospitality industry who are playing an integral role in shaping the evolution and success of the industry. This week, we’re highlighting Phia McDonnell, Events Director at Ethan Stowell Restaurants. Read on as we discuss her thoughts on the future of hospitality, her journey to hospitality and who her dream dinner guest is!
What does the future of hospitality look like for women?
Women serve as the fulcrum for hospitality. By having an enhanced level of empathy, intuition and balance, women can drastically (and statistically!) affect the success of a business in a positive manner. Full stop.
Furthermore, women intentionally invest in those around them, which is a vital attribute of a strong leader or mentor as well as a key to great hospitality. I believe the future of hospitality lies in recognizing the power of women in leadership roles on a broader and more diverse scale, specifically as sommeliers & cicerones, system operators, creatives, chef-owners, regional directors, accountants, designers, consultants, etc.
Women are truly the tastemakers of this industry and as soon as we start to provide more seats at the table for women by giving them equity and opportunity, it will only enhance the hospitality field as a whole.
Who or what inspired you to get into the hospitality industry?
I would say more than anything that hospitality found me. It was my harbor until it became my home.
I started working in restaurants, specifically as a prep cook in a catering kitchen, when I was 15 and then began facilitating events in the front of house not long after. Every summer during college I would work in restaurants or events in Seattle or NYC.
After graduating from Syracuse I struggled to find a space I was not only interested in, but also where I could excel. Recognizing the dichotomy between one’s passion and one’s inherent skills is a hard truth to grapple with, especially as an ambitious albeit, somewhat chaotic, 23-year-old.
Frankly, I was lost, but at my core I knew I wanted to celebrate people by making them feel seen and heard, while also exercising my own creativity from both a visual and strategic standpoint. Initially I did not understand that hospitality fundamentally leans into both of these creeds. Once that clicked mentally, my career flourished as I became enamored and impassioned by the critical role hospitality plays in empowering people to live happier and healthier lives.
If you could choose any women in hospitality to share a meal with, who would it be and why?
Just one would be too hard to pick! There are so many dynamic women that I would love to break bread with, MFK Fisher being one of them. A culinary pioneer in her philosophy and her writing, she is the author of one of our restaurant’s namesakes ‘How to Cook a Wolf’. She writes about food as a central part of life with wit, honesty, and compassion. It would be an honor and delight to have her at the head of my dining table.
Another woman I would love to dine with is Niki Nakayama, Chef and owner of n/naka in Los Angeles. I discovered her on the first season of Chef’s Table. Not only was her culinary presentation fantastic but the care she put into the guest experience was truly unmatched. After each guest’s experience she would comprehensively write down every dish they enjoyed, what flavor profiles they were most keen on, what wine they drank, etc. All of this to provide the guest with an enhanced experience the next time they dined with her. This level of hospitality is truly remarkable, and I’d love to talk to her more about her philosophy behind creating such unique guest experiences. That passion for detail is also why I am such a fan of SevenRooms and the customization they are able to provide through their tech stack. The opportunity to understand our guests’ preferences is an immense superpower and this technology allows us to have that information readily available, which is a remarkable gift.
Finally, I’d love to have dinner with Ina Garten. Mostly to talk about Jeffrey, denim tops, martinis and what quantifies a quality roast chicken. These are perhaps not the weightiest conversations to have but I feel that this is her gift and when combined with a disarming charm, is on par with the greatest comforts that hospitality can offer. She delivers unbridled joy to people’s lives. I admire that.