SERENA SHARES HER SECRET INGREDIENTS FOR RUNNING A SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT (OR TWO!)
by Chené Koscielny
Being an entrepreneur is tough, but being a woman, a foreigner and a minority with no experience in the male-dominated restaurant industry is biting off more than most women (or men) would be able to chew.
To coincide with International Women’s Day on Sunday, 8th March, We ask Serena Shamash, founder and managing partner of Eat Me Geneva (and Eat Me Lausanne), to share the special ingredients you need to succeed in this industry “against all odds.”
FOOD IS ABOUT SHARING STORIES
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of dining at Eat Me Geneva, you’ll know that it is not so much about going for a meal as it is about going on a culinary journey – you’ll enjoy inspiring, creative dishes from around the world, served on small plates for sharing.
The concept was inspired by Serena’s own travels – her “food souvenirs” – and this concept has been embraced and re-imagined with the chefs’ imaginative interpretations.
“Food is about sharing, and through our dishes, we share the stories of our travels and our food souvenirs. We add our individual touches, sometimes staying close to traditional preparation methods, and sometimes transforming a dish with our contemporary twist. Then, we tell the story of our creations with our special sense of humour mixed in.” explains Serena.
This is illustrated by some of her favourites on the menu:
The “New Age Gyoza” – a dumpling, made from scratch filled with Asian-marinated veal brisket, pineapple chutney, and roasted cashews, and served with a teriyaki demi-glaze – an elevated interpretation of what is essentially an Asian street food.
The “Kanafeh Canape” – testimony to their playful menu names – is made with aubergine, sun-dried tomato and feta cheese wrapped in a middle-eastern pastry, Kanafeh. The pastry is usually served as part of a dessert in Palestine, but in Eat Me’s version, it is used to accentuate a savoury and mouth-watering vegetarian treat, visually resembling small canapés.
WHAT IS THE MAGIC INGREDIENT FOR SUCCESS?
This creative spark is the secret ingredient in the Eat Me concept, and it is what Serena was missing in her former corporate life. Through Eat Me she is able to channel her creativity to guide the menu development, stories, and special events. It also allows her to share her passion for good food and travel.
“I created Eat Me not to be just a restaurant, but to be a place for sharing discoveries. One of my main jobs is to inspire our team of talented chefs and mixologists with the larger purpose of “The World on Small Plates.” In a way, I believe that I built Eat Me as a platform to enable and foster creativity.
“I believe it is the authentic soul and imagination that we put into our dishes and cocktails as well as the ambiance that keeps our guests coming back for more,” she says.
The restaurant business is notorious for its backbreaking hours and highly pressured environment.
“There are positives and negatives to every job and you have to take your inspiration from the good things and manage the things you don’t enjoy,” she says.
While the creative side keeps her motivated, there are some more challenging aspects as well. Serena and her husband Mark, work in shifts to manage the difficult schedule. “Mark has always been fully behind me. I couldn’t have done it without him.” They also take turns to look after Tsavo, their 10-month-old son, who came along a bit unexpectedly just as Serena was opening Eat Me in Geneva in 2018.
“It was not the best timing,” she laughs, “but, now I have an even bigger reason (and inspiration) to continue creating!”
SWISS RESTAURANTS – A MAN’S WORLD?
Serena is Kenyan of Indian ethnicity, who studied biology in the US before deciding to go into the business world. She moved to Switzerland in 2007 to do an MBA at IMD.
Afterwards, she worked for The Boston Consulting Group before following her life’s dream of developing her own restaurant concepts – with no experience in what is still a very male-dominated industry in Switzerland.
“My experience has been very positive, but it takes a lot of persistence. I worked full-time for over 2 years just on building the connections and doing the groundwork before starting the business.”
“I was often under-estimated in negotiations, but I managed to use my perceived disadvantages to my advantage. I may look young and be a woman, but people soon discovered that I was usually the toughest person in the room.”
When she started Eat Me Lausanne 7 years ago, the restaurant was a breath of fresh air among a sea of conservative restaurants offering typical Swiss fare.
She knew within a week of opening Eat Me Lausanne that she was onto a good thing.
“One of my mentors who had many years of experience in the industry told me that I’d know within a week whether it will work, and, luckily, I did.”
The Swiss restaurant scene has changed a lot since then, but Serena believes that people are still hungry for new ideas, and she has more creative concepts up her sleeve.
SERENA’S FAVOURITE FOOD
She loves eating out and her favourite restaurant in Geneva (other than Eat Me, of course!) is Pachacamac – a Peruvian restaurant near the train station, where a fellow female restaurant owner Cecilia prepares some of the best ceviche in town.
But maybe not for long… the new Eat Me menu coming later in March will include a new ceviche twist made by chef Francesco Mauri. His recipe will include a touch of smoky Mezcal to bring a unique twist.
SERENA’S TOP TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS
- Find a mentor who can guide you, especially if you are new to the industry you’re interested in
- Leverage your network
- Earn credibility by showing that you’re willing to put everything on the line.
- Most of all – Believe in yourself
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT EAT ME AND SERENA