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The Women of Hai Hospitality: An International Women’s Day Special

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In honor of International Women’s Day– a commemorative day that began in 1909 when a group of women went on strike demanding better pay and working conditions in a garment factory in New York City-we’ve asked several of the fantastic female leaders within the Hai Hospitality family to answer a few questions about themselves.

The women of Hai Hospitality are a diverse group who have a couple of things in common. On the surface it’s clear that they all work for the same company. But in a few questions, we found they share a few more things.

Responses featured in alphabetical order.

Kayla Ates

Kayla Ates
Uchi Houston Pastry Chef

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

Currently nothing is on my nightstand; however, I’ve been reading two books on and off: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

Tokyo, Japan. I’ve wanted to live there since I was a kid. When I got to finally visit Japan a little over a year ago, I was floored by the experience and have been longing to go back.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Graduating with my associate’s degree the same time I graduated high school. That was pretty nifty.

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

My mother, my mother-in-law, my sister and sister-in-law. Each of them have such inspirational lives and stories and I’m so happy and proud we’re all part of the same family.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

Perhaps to be fluent in another language? Most skills I have now have been such work and I’m just happy for the process of it all.

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

Probably the Hirame Usuzukuri. It was one of the first dishes I enjoyed at Uchi with my husband on our 1st anniversary.

Bridgid Berrena

Bridgid Berrena
Uchi Austin Manager

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

I am currently reading the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. It is one of those books I should have read long ago in my studies but never did. It looks daunting but so far I love it. We’ll see what happens in the next 700 pages!

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

This is a hard one! I would travel anywhere in the world, honestly anywhere. But if I had to move somewhere today I would choose Italy. Some small Italian town on the coast with some local flavor.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

It’s going to sound cheesy but one of my proudest professional accomplishments is working here at Uchi. I am also very proud of my ability to conquer and control depression and anxiety throughout my life. There were some dark moments, and I have come out the other side wiser and much, much happier.

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

One of my heroes is Anna Ahkmotova, a Russian poet who was persecuted relentlessly under Stalin. Her poetry is elegant, yet strong- just like her.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

If I could gain one skill it would be the ability to learn any language.

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

I cannot pick just one!!! My favorite dish from Uchi is the Hirame Usuzukuri, from Uchiko the mushroom nigiri piece keeps me up at night, and at TK I love the fennel and apple salad.

Pamela Cantu

Pamela Cantu
Uchi Houston OG

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

Just Kids by Patti Smith, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus, and rotating cookbooks.

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

I went to Japan almost two years ago and have been daydreaming about it ever since. I’ve never felt more at ease and safe in a foreign country before. The level of hospitality and the organized chaos was mesmerizing. I fell in love with Kyoto – It’s the perfect blend of old romantic architecture with modern culture, and the whole city smelled of incense.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Renovating my house – from assembling kitchen cabinets to tiling a backsplash. I love being hands-on and learning / building things. Very close runner up: playing music and going on tour with a band across the midwest and east coast. Driving was quite possibly the best way to experience that part of America.

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

Definitely my mother. Both of my parents are from Mexico and have been living and working here for 40+ years. She made a great life for herself, but also is the most strong-willed and hardworking woman I know who has had her fair share of obstacles to overcome. There are of course some historical women that I admire, but none that inspire so close to home.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

To be able to speak and understand any language! Houston is an international hub and a very diverse city.

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

In the five years I’ve been with the company, I still love the Machi Cure. Sweet, salty, crunchy. There will definitely be riots in the streets if we were to get rid of that dish.

Allison Catalano

Allison Catalano
Uchiko Manager

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

I’m currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir. Next up is Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I also keep my copy of Understanding Wine Technology by David Bird next to my nightstand, in case I wake up covered in sweat because I can’t remember how much sulfur dioxide the European Union permits in red wine.

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

I think my next US cities would be New York or Chicago. I’d work in a winery pretty much anywhere in Europe at any time. I’d love to go to Spain or Mexico and learn Spanish.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Most recently I ran the Austin Half Marathon with Hai! I’m also pretty proud of my degree, even though I graduated about five years ago – it took me six years and four majors but I graduated with a degree in Math and minors in French and History.

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

My mom is a pretty badass lady. We didn’t get along at all until I moved away, I think because she’s always been a very ambitious, no-bullshit kind of person. Those qualities are now what I really appreciate in her. I really admire the women I get to work with in this company as well. There are a lot of subtle, surprising challenges that go along with being a young woman in a management position, and if I didn’t have the ability to commiserate with other women I really respect, it would be that much harder.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

Sweet dance moves!

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

My favorites at Ko are the Sakana Mushi and the Koviche. The Sakana Mushi might be my favorite dish anywhere. I also thought that pretty much everything I tried at Top Knot was amazing, although the Yucca Fries really stood out (possibly because Chef Ariana at Ko talked about them for days before we finally got to eat there).

Emily Davis

Emily Davis
Uchi Austin Executive Pastry Chef
1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

Pacific Northwest, probably Portland. I love the vibe of the city, the food is incredible, and Willamette Valley wines are some of my favorites.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Receiving my first Executive Pastry Chef title shortly after culinary school at age 23

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

This tends to be a pretty cliché answer, but my mom. She worked incredibly hard to get where she is in her career and didn’t get anything handed to her. I’m lucky to have parents that pushed me to work hard for what I want.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

I tend to overthink things, so I’d love to wake up and be more comfortable in speaking my mind and not thinking so much about what other people will think.

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

The avokatsu!

mjensen

Melissa Jensen
Topknot General Manager

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

I have about 13 or 14 books on my nightstand right now- I have a book obsession. I go through spurts of reading, but I mostly read fiction with a little non-fiction in there too.

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

If I had to move somewhere permanently right now, I’d move back home to Michigan. But, if I could do brief 6-month stints places, I’d probably go back to Europe for a bit and then Australia and New Zealand.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Buying my first home before I was legally able to drink!

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

In a sense, I think any woman I’ve ever met has inspired me in some way – either what I strive to be or what I want to avoid becoming. But, my number one inspiration is definitely my mom.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

The ability to heal people.

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

Tough one. That’s like picking a favorite child! The Top Knot chicken karaage is one of my faves. Whole fish would be second I think.

ht_shea

Shea Popa-Wood
Uchi Dallas Supervisor, Soon-to-be Manager-in-Training

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

I’m truly mostly an internet, short-read person and these books are more of an as I go along instead of trying to conquer the books all at one time.

Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia- more a secondary book about how to get people on board for your team and create value in their work.

Dare to Prepare: How to Win Before you Begin by Ron Shapiro, which was a gift from Zach and Stevie and has been a really rad read especially during a time of transition.

Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff- just life, bro. This body sucks.

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

Uh, I’m going to steal a nod from Chris Whitman and his dad’s favorite place – the Turks in Caicos. I could really use some beach and no other humans.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

That’s a really hard question because I’ve lived a few different lives so far, and there are accomplishments within each that have catapulted me to where I am. But most of them center around organizing, leading, and directing a group of humans to create something or to reach a common goal. I have a habit of biting off more than I can chew, but it feels really good when it’s with people I love and doing something I’m passionate about.

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

The first female inspiration I can remember outside of my family was Amelia Earhart- just seeing what one person can do with boldness and hard-headedness and determination.

But what inspires me most daily is the women that I am in community with- that can even be people I’m friends with on Facebook that I don’t necessarily live life with every day- how they pursue life and their passions. There are so many women doing amazing things right now and I want to be one of them- or at least amongst them.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

Math. I don’t wanna learn it, I just wanna understand it. Numbers, accounting, you know- equations. It would be the missing link to my life. Especially in how it relates to computers.

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

At Uchi, it’s the Hama Chili. At Uchiko, it’s the Komaki roll. At Top Knot, I mean.. I get the karaage every time. It makes me so happy. I would say though that my favorite thing is really my sushi girl meals- nothing makes me feel more special than dining at the sushi bar and have them create things for you.

Larry Seward

Larry Seward
Uchi Dallas Manager

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

2001 by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (annual reading ritual), The Joke’s Over by Ralph Steadman, Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper, and Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff.

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

I would move to colonize Mars. I put my name in the hat for the next mission but I don’t think there is quite the demand I had hoped for possessing skills in bad dad jokes and interpretive dancing. However, hope remains.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

My biggest accomplishment so far was finally watching all the Indiana Jones movies. Took me forever and I realized, no one trusts you if you haven’t seen them.

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

My great grandmother rarely said a word but when she did, it was always the most poignantly sarcastic remark. You almost had forgotten she was in the room until you realized she just made fun of you in a way that also made you feel adored. I respected her greatly for it. That and the fact that she raised 6 kids through the Great Depression.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

To be a “morning person”.

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

Save the hardest question for last. My favorite dish would have to be the first dish I ever tried at Uchi in Austin, which is the Hirame Usuzukuri. I know it’s a fan favorite but the play on texture and flavor with each bite I think exemplifies what we do.

Aimee Winkler

(from Aimee: “I like this photo of myself ‘cause I’m riding my bike, which is one of my favorite things to do- and you can tell I’m genuinely happy. It also happens to be from the Livestrong ride two years ago when I rode for Team Uchi.”)

Aimee Winkler
Uchi Houston OG / Sauce Trainer

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

Thailand!

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I think I’m most proud of my accomplishments in regards to music. I’m a classically-trained flute player and I was first chair all-state for three years on piccolo in high school. I started college as a music education major and played in pretty much every ensemble at the University of Houston.

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

I’m probably most inspired by my mom. She has been paralyzed from the waist down since she was 15, but it never stopped her from going after anything that she wanted. She is probably the most positive person I know, and she has this great ability to see the silver lining in situations and laugh even when things get tough.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

I would want to be able to fly. Who wouldn’t?

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

I have always loved the Branzino cool tasting from Uchiko. Zach Knight told me to get it the first time I ever at ate Uchiko, and I’ve ordered it every single time since. After that, I’d pick the Hirame Usuzukuri.

Hannah Yerby

Hannah Yerby
Uchiko Sous Chef

  1. What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

I love reading, and wish I had more time for it.  Right now, there are two: Heston Blumenthal’s Historic Heston, which is a bit of a dive down the rabbit hole of culinary history that I’ve been absolutely fascinated by lately.  I’m also reading Helter Skelter by Curt Gentry and Vincent Bugliosi, the account of the Manson family murders.

  1. If you could pack your bags and move anywhere right now- where to?

Austin is a wonderful city, but I would like to live in Spain for a while.  Particularly some of the southern cities close to the Mediterranean.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Mostly the fact that I’m still alive.  I did a lot of dumb things that I’m not too proud of at this point.

  1. What women in your life or in the history books inspire you?

There are too many to narrow this one down.  If I have to pick just a couple…

Shirley Chisholm is definitely one- The first African American woman elected to Congress and also the first woman to run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in the 1972 election.  Her story from being a first-generation American and daughter of immigrant parents to inner city school teacher to Congresswoman to Presidential nominee is incredibly inspiring.  She came up against discrimination every step of the way and made no apologies for being opinionated, ambitious, and tenacious.  I think her autobiography ‘Unbought and Unbossed’ should be required reading.

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow and magically have gained one skill, what would it be?

I wish I could sing well.  My singing voice is terrible, really.

  1. What is your favorite dish from Uchi, Uchiko, or Top Knot?

My favorite dish here varies depending on the day, but always in the top three is the coffee bacon.  I love that it’s unique to Uchiko and speaks to our own identity and style.

Thank you to all of the powerful and unique women who represent Uchi, Uchiko, and Top Knot. 

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