This week, we’re sitting down with Lori Granito, who heads up Go Gourmet Catering and Cooking Studio and authentic New Orleans-style private dining kitchen Magnolia. She’s also the co-founder of Little Burro, the popular San Francisco ‘Mission Style’ burrito eatery, and Kitchen Sync, Hong Kong’s first culinary incubator for start-up food entrepreneurs. In addition to sharing her Cajun and Creole culinary roots with hungry Hong Kong’ers, Lori is mum to a sprightly teenager, Nia (13). Here, she dishes on her tips and tricks of the trade and advice for budding restaurateurs!
What inspired you to introduce Cajun and Creole food to Hong Kong?
Honestly, it was a fluke. I was working in retail when I first got here and a friend of mine who I’d cooked dinner for told me about two women who had started a catering business from home. I thought, “I’ve got pots and pans, I’ve got fire, I can do that too!” So I put an ad in the SCMP TV magazine and people started calling. I lived in a tiny apartment in Causeway Bay at the time and started with two burners and a rice cooker. I eventually ‘upgraded’ and bought a counter top oven to cook my pies in. The second party we catered (unbeknownst to me) was for the food editor of the South China Morning Post. This was in November and about a month later we woke up to an article awarding us the ‘Best Catered Private Dinner Party of the Year’. The rest as they say is history!
Have you always been a foodie and what do you love most about working in the F&B industry?
I grew up in the kitchen and around food, but am not a formally trained chef (I worked in retail before coming to Hong Kong). I absolutely LOVE creating new menus/dishes and organising parties.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
I guess I realised that everything is not an emergency at work and sometimes you just have to say no. I’m also moving more towards mentoring and helping other people pursue their foodie dreams rather than being the front person or ‘face’ of the business. I’ve tried to stay more in the background with our burrito restaurant, Little Burro. Our new culinary incubator, Kitchen Sync, is more focused on mentoring and helping other people achieve their foodie dreams.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post kids? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
Before having Nia, I worked like a maniac. I was running two restaurants and completely stressed. After she was born (and after the financial crisis) I decided to get out of restaurants and only do outside catering. When I launched Go Gourmet, we only catered lunches so that I could be home at night with the family. As she got older, I expanded the catering company to do evening events, but I always try to manage the number and type of events we take on so that I can be home a few nights a week. Magnolia came after moving into larger premises, but we keep it to three nights a week so I can still have a life! Having an amazing team also helps!
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I have definitely become a morning person. I try to do my hardest, most challenging work early in the day to get it out of the way. I must confess that I am still a paper and pen gal – I need to hand write a ‘To Do’ list daily to keep myself on track! I’m also one of those throwback folks who refuses to get a smart phone, so I’m not constantly on my phone checking emails.
I wish I had more time for…
Reading. I love to read, but don’t have the patience to read a book over several weeks. I like to devour it all in one go and can easily tuck in and read a good 300-page novel in 8-10 hours. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen very often! I also wish I had more time for throwing my own dinner parties. I only do a few each year now.
I always feel saner after…
A walk on Bowen Road.
Favourite restaurant in Hong Kong (other than Magnolia!)?
Wagyu on Wyndham Street. It’s good value for money and always consistent (and when my daughter was 5, they never questioned why she wanted blue cheese AND goat’s cheese on her pizza!)
Favourite holiday spot in Asia?
Activity that I don’t love to do but do it anyway because my children love it…
None! I do help to coach my daughter’s basketball team which is something I don’t really have time for in my busy schedule (showing up at an 8am tournament after finishing work at 2am is brutal!), but she loves playing and I love watching her play, so it works out well.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
My husband and I have been together for close to 30 years. We try to get away on our own a couple of times a year (usually when our daughter has school trips) to spend time together without worrying about work.
Favourite date night restaurants?
We don’t really have favourites as we’re always keen to try out new places!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Schedule school and other activities on the calendar first and treat them like ‘can’t miss’ business meetings. I’ve never missed a game/concert or activity of my daughters – even if I have to turn away big events.
My essential mama advice is…
Try to be nice to other mums and don’t judge. Being a mum is tough enough on its own and I think if we’re all kinder to each other, it would be a lot easier.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Organising. I don’t have a helper, so my house is always a mess! Thank goodness my husband does the laundry (I gave up on ironing about a year ago!)
My most humbling mama moment was…
Christmas three years ago with my husband’s family celebrating his grandmother’s 90th birthday. I realised then how fortunate my daughter was to really know her grandmother and great grandmother (who’s still going strong at almost 94) and how grateful I was to see all the generations there together.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Making Sunday morning waffles and ‘board game night’. Corny, but fun!
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
Parties! I’m very detail oriented, so if I have an event going on, I’m always running through the details in my mind. I keep a pad and pen close by so I don’t forget things that I’ve thought of during the night when I wake up.
Even though my child is older, I still…
Sing to her. This is usually after she’s fallen to sleep, so I don’t get the ‘MOM!’ eye-roll.
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
Girlfriend time! My friends are my sounding boards/reality checks/fun time. I love my girlfriends!
My favourite moment of the day is…
Enjoying a glass of wine in the evening with hubby.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Hong Kong?
Stop beating yourself up if you can’t be super mom and don’t feel guilty if you can’t do it all. When in doubt, get a foot massage!