Femme Fatales In The Food Scene – Hamilton’s Culinary Business Women

Culinary Business Women

The culinary scene is often thought to be a largely male-dominated industry. And the restaurant business is notorious for the long hours, tight margins, and stresses of an entrepreneurial life. But, like everything in our modern world, the winds of change are coming… and women are making waves in the food industry and are being recognized for it. Though there are many in the Hamilton community, here is an introduction to a few of our female makers and shakers in the city’s hospitality industry.

Christine Mitton & Sara Bond 

Toast Wine Bar

Christine started working in hospitality through necessity but quickly acquired a passion for the industry and a love of food. She studied at the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and, after gaining some experience and in a search for knowledge, she opened Toast Wine Bar with her friend, Sara. Christine finds they always get to try something new and learn something each day. “It’s definitely not boring!” she says. Her favourite new creation at Toast Wine Bar is the Crispy Fried Polenta topped with Savoury Leek Salsa. Sara has always loved cooking, baking and hosting parties. As a fellow wine and food lover and an observer of how food and wine interact through culture, it made owning a wine bar a natural fit. She loves to challenge guests to try something they normally wouldn’t. Her current obsession: Toast’s Sweet Beets (roasted sweet potato and beets with marinated chickpeas, pomegranate, red onion and dill tahini dressing).

10 John Street North, Hamilton

Layal Haidari

Jonny Blonde Kitchen – Food Truck

Though the business is named after her partner (in business and life), Jonny, Layal Haidari is an integral part of the small business. Jonny focusses on the creative dishes, and Layal organizes things, talks to people, and handles the admin side. Layal has been in the food industry since she was 16, throughout her undergrad in Journalism, master’s and post master’s degrees. After a short hiatus, she missed the fast pace of the food industry. In came Jonny in 2012, and she knew immediately she wanted to join him in his new food venture. Her biggest lesson learned along the way? Have the guts to take risks!

Based out of Jonny Blonde Kitchen, 664 Concession Street, Hamilton

Dahlia Ishak

Salty Espresso

Dahlia Ishak, owner and operator of Salty Espresso, takes much of her cafe culture inspiration from Australia (where she lived for many years), learning that they treat coffee, food and atmosphere with equal importance. The typical cafe in Australia offers top quality beverages and fresh seasonal food; this became engrained in her and she decided to open something similar in Hamilton, and Salty Espresso was born. One of Dahlia’s favourite things about owning Salty is her regulars who visit – the relationships they form with customers is why she works in hospitality.

175 John Street South, Hamilton

Josie + Nickey

Cake & Loaf

Partners Nickey and Josie are well-known in the city and beyond, mixing up deliciousness and community change (google their gay cake) within their small bakery. Though Nickey originally pictured herself in Kinesiology, that quickly faded into the background after she made her first lemon curd. And Josie knew she wanted to feed people from the first time she made a big family meal and felt the comfort it engendered. For Josie, the food keeps her coming back everyday, with their bakers always inventing her new favourite thing. Nickey’s biggest lesson: evolve, roll with the ebb and flow no matter how hard. Perseverance will pay off.

321 Dundurn Street South, Hamilton

Erin Dunham

The Other Bird Group

Erin Dunham, CEO of The Other Bird Restaurant Group, got her start in the food scene as a dishwasher when she was 13. Seeing it as an easy industry to start out in, she found herself falling in love with the business and worked in just about every position possible. In her travels through the food industry, she eventually met her business partner Matt Kershaw and from there, The Other Bird Group was born. Her mantra: “I’ve always believed that if you’re good to people, that will be returned to you.”  With no fewer than six establishments, ranging from the chef-driven and meat-focused Rapscallion Rogue Eatery, to the playful taco bar The Mule, or the elegant Arlington Hotel in Paris, Ontario, there is something for everyone on this group’s menu.


Katarina Poletto

Dolled Up Desserts

Katarina threw herself into the industry blindly with a mission for radical change about the way we communicate inclusivity with dessert. So far, it’s been a huge success. With 16 years under her belt in home baking, it was always a dream of Katarina’s to one day open a bakery – she never expected her dreams to come true so soon. Though she loves living her brand, and dedicating herself to her passion, her favourite thing about being in the food business is collaborating with other food entrepreneurs and sharing the love of food.

Kitchen Collective, 811 King Street East, Hamilton

Georgina Mitropoulos

Quatrefoil Restaurant and Brux House Craft Beer & Kitchen

Georgina was always interested in nurturing others and quickly learned that with simple ingredients she could make her friends and family happy; this led her into the culinary industry. After culinary school, she started out her training in Europe and cooked at three of Marco Pierre White’s restaurants, where she was taught to appreciate classical French cuisine and methods. This set her personal standards, and taught her to appreciate the finer things in life, exemplified in her two restaurants. Despite its challenges, Georgina finds restaurant ownership fun. She loves the social aspect of ownership and loves sitting at the bar with colleagues and tasting beautiful local wine, cider and craft beer. When Georgina wants something to really satisfy her cravings, her favourite meal is a handmade pasta dish to start followed by duck confit for the main course.

Brux House Craft Beer & Kitchen
137 Locke Street South, Hamilton

Quatrefoil Restaurant
16 Sydenham Street, Dundas

Gabrielle Gwyn-Neumann

Nique Restaurant

Getting her start in a kitschy restaurant complete with belly dancing shows every night, Gabrielle (Gaby) quickly fell in love with the camaraderie amongst staff in the culinary world, which she still cites as her favourite aspect of the industry. From her first role in hospitality, her connections and hard work landed her a role as a bartender, and then a move to a popular restaurant in Toronto (where she met her partner Harrison), and one year later moving to Hamilton to open Nique. The most important thing she’s learned in the industry is to take chances! Gaby had always considered herself a cautious person, but in the hospitality business, she was pushed out of her comfort zone. Gaby suggests trying Nique’s Poblano Hummus, which is her personal favourite!

30 Vine Street, Hamilton

by Heather Peter


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