The new Group GM of Sydney’s Odd Culture Group talks workplace conditions and making hospitality a sustainable career.
When Jenna’s mum threw her a uniform and a pair of shoes in 2006 and told her she had teed up a job gig for her, she never thought it would end up like the cliché saying: the rest is history… We chat with Jenna about her expansive hospitality career, future goals, what it’s like to be a woman in the industry and how she fell into the world of hospo.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you landed in hospo?
Funnily enough, I was politely asked to leave high school in year 11 (2006) by this crappy principal I had at the time where I grew up in the Hunter Valley. The very next day my mum came into my room threw a pair of black pants and a collared shirt at me and said “get up, you start work in an hour”. I strolled into my very first hospo gig that day at the local fish ‘n’ chip shop. 16 years later I’m still here after moving through different roles from restaurants, cafes, cellar doors, nightclubs, pubs you name it! Turns out I didn’t need to do my HSC at all…
You’ve just been promoted into a new role with Odd Culture Group, tell us about working in this group and your new role?
Odd Culture’s a really special place to work. I think there’s a few reasons for this — we’re a smaller, kinda strange crew who share the same love for good times, good food and good booze. Each one of our venues are unalike the others, all unique in their own way and certainly ‘Odd’. Each and every person in the group has something to offer and it’s evident the second you walk through the doors. I am so thrilled to be moving into the role of Group GM and heading up the next era of our humble group.
The last few years there’s been a huge focus on improving the hospo workplace for everyone but women especially. What are your thoughts on this?
There has been significant progress on several workplaces conditions, however in the last few years I’ve still seen serious misconduct towards women in the workplace in the form of harassment from patrons and unfortunately sometimes within the team itself. I know some very incredibly resilient women that have dealt with these situations with grace, but that’s not the point. They shouldn’t have to be dealing with it in the first place.
What are some other changes/ improvements you would like to see?
I would like to see hospitality become a sustainable career option for more people. Our industry has come a long way from the rostered 50+ hour weeks and many groups like Odd Culture are supporting a healthier work/life balance for their staff — however I think we still have a way to go. At Odd Culture we have a people first approach. Over the next 6 months, we’re looking to implement subsidised access to health and mental health services to support our staff.
“Odd Culture’s a really special place to work. I think there’s a few reasons for this — we’re a smaller, kinda strange crew who share the same love for good times, good food and good booze. Each one of our venues are unalike the others, all unique in their own way and certainly ‘Odd’.”
What are some of the things you love about hospitality?
I love the people and I cherish everyone I’ve met in this industry. I met some of my closest friends in hospo and we’ve worked beside each other for 10+ years. It’s a super creative industry which is paramount to me personally, I get very invested in some VERY left of centre ideas that come into my head. I love watching them come to life, whether it be a one off event or the scope for a new bar concept.
Some of the things you hate?
Do you have any mentors that have helped shape your career?
I have had so many mentors along the way, both in and out of hospitality. My biggest mentor is undoubtedly my mum, Charlie. I reckon there isn’t a thing she can’t do. From the day she threw me into my first job until now, she has given me nothing but support and guidance. I am very lucky!
It’s International Women’s Day in March, a little bit of a light shining on women’s issues. What does this mean to you?
Wait, every day is international women’s day isn’t it? In all seriousness it’s incredibly important to elevate the issues and inequality women are still facing even in this modern day. In this industry, I still read job ads and hear people’s conversations all the time referring to people in senior roles of hospitality as “he” purely from assumption. More than once a patron has said to me “tell the head chef he did a great job” I took great delight in responding “She will be pleased to know”.
What are you drinking right now?
I’ve got a cuppa of Bushells black tea right now, but if it’s a go-to staffie you’re after – I’m a Jameson and Reschs kinda girl!
What are your hopes for 2022?
My biggest hope this year is to see our industry back on its feet after going through what feels like a never ending game of Jumanji. Get out there and support your local waterholes and eateries.
Top 5 tips for climbing the hospo career ladder:
1. Always ask for what you want.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t be afraid to make mistakes
3. Do your research, read books, go to bars, make industry mates
4. Let your freak flag fly, originality will take you everywhere
5. HAVE FUN!
The Odd Culture Group of venues includes Odd Culture Newtown, The Old Fitzroy Hotel, The Duke of Enmore & The Oxford Tavern. Visit oddculture.group