Employer Branding Specialist || Zoku
Hospitality always has something to do with purpose because you get so much of it by interacting with people, passion, as well as a little bit of frustration to be honest because the industry is not adapting fast enough to the new generation and time. I’m super purpose driven and even though I was very successful in my life as a chef and received a Michelin star as the youngest woman ever in Austria, there was still something missing for me and that is how Zoku and I matched.
The co founders at Zoku did a lot of research, conducted interviews and asked business nomads what they were missing when living in hotels for a longer period. Zoku’s concept and purpose is based on loneliness of these people and on the frustration that also resonates with my career path. I was frustrated by people in the industry constantly complaining about the staff shortage or saying that employees are not motivated anymore. I really wanted to make a change and I didn’t have the feeling I could do that as a chef. So shortly after I received the Michelin star, I decided to leave the restaurant industry and started to study Human Resources to focus on corporate culture where I definitely found my purpose. In my last semester I joined Zoku, as it allows me to stay proactive, get my hands dirty, think differently, inspire people, employees and companies to move forward and that is what makes my job so great.
Zoku is a BCorp, which not only has to do with ecological, but also with social and economic sustainability. The organization checks into all processes, the company has to reach a minimum score and they check if you are working towards the sustainable goals you set as a company. What makes our concept so worthwhile is first of all how we use every square meter. Our lofts and social spaces are hybrid and can be used for living, working and hosting events. The main goal next to this is not only to provide a hotel for business nomads, but also a feeling of being at home.
In my former studies I came across Frederic Laloux, who defined purpose driven organizations with three pillars: evolutionary purpose, self-management, and wholeness. Without knowing it, Zoku had been applying this all along. For instance, we combined F&B, Front Office and Bar roles to one position, called Sidekick. It’s a rotation role, which allows employees to focus on another “department” every day and to give more meaning, responsibility as well as trust to employees. This results that Zokus, which we call our employees, return back to the host role as they understand whole processes and the operation. In this position they get the most purpose and passion for hospitality.
In addition, we have a no door policy. We actually do not have doors or offices, and everyone works on the same floor, namely the social space as we do not want to hide or portray an old-fashioned way of hierarchy. Zooming into the evolutionary purpose, we are always in the change process, which also helps us in complex situations to make very fast decisions. As nothing is set in stone, it can at times be exhausting but it makes our processes more sustainable and lastly fun. Naturally, we also focus on growth and development by working on new trainee programs or internship possibilities because we strongly believe in taking responsibility in educating our newest generations.
I do not like the word work-life balance as your work should be balanced and there should be no difference between work and life. Before starting my journey in HR, me and my partner founded “Kochnomaden” which started with the idea to do fine dining pop-ups and it quickly turned into a proper company. I feel alive during work, whether it is for my own company or Zoku. Maybe I feel like this because I get so much independency and can work very flexible, which also makes it possible to work some days in the kitchen as a chef while having a fulltime job at Zoku.
Working as a chef, definitely shaped me and how I lead my teams. I’ve faced some difficult situations, from sexual harassment when I was only 16 to having to convince people that I have talent to become a head chef even though I am female. I still needed to face it even when had a Michelin star. Once, there was a supplier coming in and was asking for the Head Chef and just didn’t believe that it was me. I also experienced it, when me and my partner received our rewards, and I was still only seen as the plus one and was sent to the coat check instead of the stage. People really try to put you in these stereotypes even though I think they actually don’t want to, but they are just so used to it.
A tip for every female chef is to just not let people bring you down. It is funny when you are successful these people will come back and tell you that they never doubted you, so don’t let them get to you. Another advice is not to rely on other people, just do your thing and be confident about your skills, because you are leading your own career path!
However, I have also shared so many beautiful moments in hospitality which make it all worth it. I will never forget this touching moment I had when I worked as a Sous Chef at Restaurant Mesnerhaus in Salzburg. There was one guest that had cancer and he couldn’t taste anything anymore after all his chemotherapy. I don’t know if it was just luck that it was exactly that day, but he had the whole menu and at the dessert, which was my creation, he told me that he tasted again. He was crying, I was crying, it was so emotional, and it was so precious to have made an impact on his life. That is what hospitality is all about and I hope I can also make an impact through my role at Zoku to inspire companies to reflect upon their corporate culture and rethink our industry!”