15 women in the Scottish food and drink industry share their stories and advice

To celebrate International Women's Day this year, we've chatted to a host of women across Scotland's food and drink scene.

Published 7th Mar 2020
Updated 9 th Aug 2023

From managing directors' to a butcher and chef patron, here 15 women tell their story of how they got into the industry and give advice to anyone starting out.

Mercedes Herkess, The Gate bar

women food and drink
Picture: Mercedes Herkess

"I'm from Sweden, but I started out bartending when I was 19, in Spain. I've since worked in Stockholm, London, Edinburgh, and most recently at Gleneagles and now finally settled in Glasgow at The Gate. I feel like the industry (and guests!) have become more and more open and accepting to women with every year that's passing.

"There seems to be less judgement towards women in the industry now than when I started out, which I think is fantastic, and also the fact that successful women in hospitality are getting more airtime, and are allowed and able to inspire the rest of us.

"For women starting out in the hospitality industry, my advice is this: absorb as much as you can from every single place of work. Ask all the questions. Don't be afraid to be loud and to take up space. Be your own biggest fan and supporter."

Rachael Rafferty, group general manager, Six by Nico Restaurants UK

women food and drink
Picture: Rachael

"I started in hospitality in 2014 when I travelled to Australia on a working holiday visa. Little did I know at this time, that the restaurant industry is where I'd build my career in.

"On return to Scotland, I worked at Cameron House Hotel as a food and beverage supervisor and was quickly promoted to a management role.

"I've been working with Six by Nico since we opened our first restaurant in Glasgow in 2017. With good old fashioned hard work, learning as much as I could as our brand grows as well as seeking every opportunity has lead me to where I am now - as General Manager for all seven our Six by Nico sites.

"There are some incredible opportunities for young women in the industry. I genuinely believe that the basics are best learned by exposing yourself to as many situations as possible and learning the value of listening to colleagues, customers and industry peers.

"I'm a typical example of a girl who has worked in the industry for only 6 years, who started as a waitress but with ambition, drive and a determination to succeed has worked my way up to Group General Manager with one of the most exciting restaurant brands of my generation."

Julie Lewis, Managing Director, The Adamson Restaurant and Bar and NEXT DOOR, St Andrews

"I graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management with have played a key role in the development of with some of the most exciting restaurant brands in the UK from TGI Fridays, Mitchell and Butlers, The Scottish Galleries, Coffee Republic, Living Ventures and Martin Wishart.

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"I am driven by health and sustainability and I have a passion for food, drink, service quality and delivering excellence to guests through great people, great product and great personality.

"I opened the Adamson in St Andrews 2012 and I am so proud that the business has been recognised by a number of awards over the years. I believe that complete commitment to leadership and the relationship to guests, people, suppliers, community & shareholders has been the success of our career so far.

"Being a women in the industry can at times be challenging as we try to juggle family and business life but with a strong team around me and a hunger to succeed within me, I think that there is no better industry to be a part of."

Nicola Moir, co-founder of Atomic10 and creator of Glasgow Cocktail Week

Picture: Nicola Moir

"I’ve been working across the industry for almost 20 years, from starting out in bars to promoting brilliant Scottish brands and everything great about tourism.

"The industry is changing. It’s definitely become more open and inclusive now than say five years ago, and there are more women in industry leadership roles which is a positive sign. More work is needed, of course, but attitudes are shifting.

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"Women celebrating women is a powerful thing and my advice would be to network, reach out to those who inspire you and always keep learning."

Erica Moore , founder and managing director of Eteaket

“As the founder of speciality tea company, eteaket, I’m on a mission to encourage people to ‘brew life on purpose’ through the pause for tea.

"I’ve carved out a career that works for me that I can balance around my family, travel, surfing and other fun things. With so many great networking communities, there has never been a more supportive time to be a woman in business.

"My advice for anyone stuck in job they hate…. You have the power to make changes, start with a small step and connect with other women who can help you on your journey.”

Beth Clark, business development manager, Loch Fyne Oysters

women food and drink
Picture: Beth Clark

"On completing my MA Degree at Dundee University, I secured a job working in Head Office for a UK supermarket, and I was then invited to work for a major manufacturer in the Seafood industry.

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"My job in Business Development is varied and involves working with the UK's finest retailers and wholesalers, selling sustainable Scottish seafood and developing products and packaging to suit the modern conscientious customer's requirements.

"Every day at Loch Fyne is different; I enjoy a challenge and am passionate about Scottish food. We have a wonderful larder - our provenance, sustainability and seasonal foods are the best the world. I feel very privileged to work in Scotland for a fantastic company with a brand values, philosophy and integrity that I believe in.

"It's also great to be a part of a thriving Scottish seafood business that's leading the way by providing the finest sustainable produce to our customers at home and abroad.

"Women are diversifying into roles that would traditionally have been male dominated in all industries. I consider myself very lucky to have worked alongside professional, highly skilled and inspirational women in roles including new product development, technical, finance and operations.

"In my experience, mixed gender management teams perform better and are more creative, better at problem solving and negotiating.

"My advice for anyone starting out is that the Scottish food and drink industry is dynamic, fast paced and can offer a wide range of roles for motivated, passionate people. I would encourage anyone looking for a career change or anyone setting out into their career to consider working in this thriving sector - there are so many exciting opportunities out there."

Sophie Cumber, butcher at Bowhouse Market and chef

women food and drink
Picture: Sophie Cumber

“Traditionally butchery has been a male dominated industry but it is a great career choice for women too, as more people are discovering. Everyone has different skills and I think women can definitely bring something different to the butchers block.

"At the end of the day it is about passion, determination and developing your own skill set.”

Virginie Brouard , owner of both Le Di-Vin wine bar and La P’tite Folie restaurant

“I was very young when I first started out in the industry, just 19. I learnt so much very quickly and I have had to work so hard to get to where I am now.

"I feel the industry has changed so much and when I first opened my wine bar and restaurant in the city it certainly wasn’t as common but nowadays there are so many strong independent women in the industry and lots of healthy competition.

"I think it is amazing to have so many women follow their dream within their careers. My main passion is all of the charity work in which I am involved in through my wine bar and restaurant and of course my family which is why I do what I do.”

Kaori Simpson, chef patron of Harajuku Kitchen

women food and drink
Picture: Kaori Simpson

“My mum owned a restaurant back in Japan and then she opened a restaurant when we moved to Manila, I helped out when I was younger. During this time I really developed a love for cooking.

"I have worked in the industry for 22 years and it’s completely changed since I first started out. The kitchen is no longer dominated by anger and swearing, now there’s more women in the industry, the kitchen is a friendlier place to work. It’s like being part of one big family”.

Rosie Jack, markets and events manager, Bowhouse Market

"Having graduated with a First-Class degree from Glasgow School of Art in Textiles Design, I wanted to return to my farming family roots in agriculture.

"Joining Bowhouse meant that I could combine my passions for events management with food and drink production.

"I think the industry has changed for women in a positive way, we’re seeing a lot more female led, independent businesses at the market weekends. My advice for someone starting out would be, be determined and have a thick skin – give it a go!

"To be involved in the food and drink industry doesn’t necessarily mean being a chef is the only option."

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Helen Chalmers, co-founder of Seven Crofts Gin

Picture: Helen Chalmers and Robert Hicks

"I’m originally from a farming background and studied agriculture at Aberdeen University. Growing up I worked at Perth Show every summer and that’s where I combined my love for events and farming. I went on to run The Wickerman Festival for seven years before becoming self-employed.

"Having a keen interest in food and drink, my partner Robert and I decided to create a distillery in the village of Ullapool, where we live, with an initial focus on gin.

"After eighteen months of experimenting, Seven Crofts was born. I’m involved in all aspects of the business from the packaging design, which has gone on to win several high-profile design awards, to marketing, accounts and of course sampling.

"When I’m not working, I’m a mum to two year old Ella and Alfie, seven months.

"My advice for women starting out today is to go after what you want, if you look too hard for obstacles you will always find them and you will never progress."

Roberta Hall, chef patron Little Chartroom

"From a really young age I’ve always had a huge interest in food. When I was 15 we had to do a couple of weeks’ work experience and I managed to get a placement in a restaurant and just fell in love with it.

"I’ve worked in restaurants ever since, on days off and evenings whilst I finished school and catering college.

"Kitchens have changed quite a lot, there are more female chefs in more prominent positions than ever before plus the working environment has changed.

"There’s a better work life balance and the old-school aggressive nature of kitchens are now very few and far between plus roles in kitchens have interchanged, there are now more male pastry chefs and female chefs doing more demanding roles in the thick of service.

"In terms of advice I would say stay focused, take advantage of every opportunity and be fearless in any challenges that come your way."

Sarah Heward, co-owner of The Real Food Café in Tyndrum

Picture: Sarah Heward

“I came across the Little Chef totally by chance. I was looking to start my own pub company in central London but ended up buying a derelict Little Chef in the remote Highland village of Tyndrum!

"I was very familiar with Tyndrum because we had a holiday cottage near-by and it sits right on the West Highland Way, also, it lies within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and is the gateway to the Highlands and Islands..”

“My advise is keep things simple to start with, develop as you go along. Don’t get carried away with enthusiasm. Do your research thoroughly and listen to advice from people who will challenge your thinking.

"Make time for yourself and keep your mental and physical health in good shape. Your business will only be as healthy as you are.”

Judith Thurlow, co-founder of Seasgair (formerly Handpicked Lodges)

"I’ve always had an interest in property and customer care, so after moving from Edinburgh to the Cairngorms, everything fell into place to set up our own holiday home management business.

“My business partner Tanja and I have a similar work ethic which involves working extremely hard with unfailing integrity, supporting each other unconditionally and always going the extra mile for our owners and guests.

“For someone starting out, I would wholeheartedly encourage them to find their niche, believe in their offering and never for a moment let being a woman stand in their way.”

Christine McCafferty, Diageo archive manager

women food and drink
Picture: Christine McCaffery

“I was fortunate enough to get my opportunity to work within the industry in 1997 over 22 years ago and I have loved every minute of it. Everyone who works in the industry is so passionate and proud, it’s a privilege to be a part of it – and everyone has some great stories to tell.

"I am the archive manager for Diageo and get to spend a big chunk of my time working on the Johnnie Walker brand.

"I’m a historian and archivist and love the history and heritage that sits behind great scotch brands like Johnnie Walker, and across the industry as a whole.

"It’s fascinating to be able to spend time with historical documents and materials that give us a real insight into the origins and development of the brands and industry, and all the people whom have made it so special.”

“We have always seen women involved in the industry. Outstanding characters including women like Helen and Elizabeth Cumming who pioneered the distillery at Cardhu to artists such as Doris Zinkeisen who created some stunning designs for Johnnie Walker advertising in the 1920s.

"However, historically, the majority of women would have showed up in pretty traditional roles, mostly on the production lines. I am very pleased to say that we now see women at all levels in all aspects of the industry achieving great success.”

“My advice to women starting out in the industry would be to embrace and immerse yourself in it. Take the opportunity to visit as many distilleries and sites as you can and meet as many people as you can. Build up your experience and knowledge. Find your own voice and share your own story. But most of all, enjoy!”

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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