The World of Patachou Blog | Martha Hoover’s IU Women’s Conference Keynote Speech
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Martha Hoover’s IU Women’s Conference Keynote Speech


Click here for a link to the Q&A and video

I spend an embarrassing amount of time in my off hours in bed watching Netflix. As frivolous as that sounds, occasionally I watch something worthwhile — including the fabulous documentary The Ascent of Women by gender historian Amanda Freeman. Freeman opens her multi part documentary with the very quote “there has never been a better time to be a woman.”  Well, she had me at “hello.”   Freeman’s second line in the series?…  “there are more female heads of government and more women leading organizations and running businesses than at any other time in history.” It’s true.

“There has never been a better time to be a woman.”

We are currently witnessing an unprecedented unraveling of cultural narratives that have kept women in the footnotes of history, on the side lines of politics and out of the C-suites in corporate America, hanging somewhere between the cult of domesticity and the modern age of gender equality.

I want to thank the organizers of today’s conference, particularly Indiana University’s First Lady, Laurie Burns McRobbie, for spearheading a conference that is of the moment, a conference by women and about women helping us as we navigate  gender issues that impact our professional and personal lives. I am remarkably appreciative of being asked to be here this morning and I look forward to attending many of the sessions.

I am indebted to Indiana University. I graduated from IU in the seventies, at a time when the women’s liberation movement was front and center. During my stay at IU, I witnessed the formation of the National Organization of Women, its sponsorship of The Equal Rights Amendment, the Women’s Strike for Equality. I saw the launch of MS Magazine, read the works of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinman, and, probably most importantly to a soon-to-be although somewhat reluctant law student, I read and applauded the historic Roe vs Wade decision. Even the television shows I watched during my college years-shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Marlo Thomas’ That Girl, Alice- were liberation themed showing for the first-time on television main characters that were independent women in charge of their own lives.

I left the comfort of higher education with the impression that I had equal opportunity in the world and that my gender would define me without also defining my limitations.

After graduating from law school, I fell into a job as a sex crimes prosecutor in the newly formed sex crimes division of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. The sex crimes division came on the heels of rape being legally defined as a violent crime. If ever there was a more transformative period of my life, this was it. Being part of an all-women department given authority and power to redefine the way the justice system classified women and children was almost a religious experience. There is probably no one here who hasn’t seen at least one episode of Law and Order SVU, with its scenes of sex crimes cops and prosecutors busting open doors to a perp’s seedy NYC apartment. Well, truthfully we never referred to suspects as “perpetrators” let alone “perps” but that was us except we were busting open the doors of the courtrooms, of emergency rooms, of police stations making sure that people in charge understood that women and children were worthy of protection against predatory behavior.  Having never before been in a police station, let alone an interrogation or courtroom hardly stood in my way of acting like I knew what I was doing-which actually was perfect practice for marriage, motherhood and the opening of my first restaurant.

I opened my first Café Patachou in 1989, never having worked in a restaurant. I was not a trained chef; I had no formal business training and I had never supervised any staff. I opened my first café not knowing that I was pregnant with my third child. What should have been a complete recipe for disaster, 29 years and 14 restaurants later, is a formula that seems to have worked. And, because it’s Patachou, where we go through nearly 25,000 farm fresh, free range mostly organic eggs a week, everything is referenced by “eggs”-we don’t have a lot of balls in the air, we have a lot of “eggs “in the air. For a little over 29 years, I have spent my days making sure that all of the eggs stay up there and figuring out what to do when one or two of them falls on the floor.

But, really my primary focus over the last 30 years has been on how to scale a people-focused company.

Patachou started small, grew slowly and strategically with an emphasis on being a bar setting organization and the brand Patachou cannot be separated from its internal culture. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, spoke at Bloomberg’s 2017 Global Business Forum where he stated:


Insert “organizations”, insert “institutions”, insert “branches of government” for “companies”: all should and do have values, spoken and unspoken. It’s the gap in what we claim to be and what we are that interests me; and that gap is what can keep me up at night. I don’t delude myself at all: Patachou and Apple are light years apart and the distance between myself and Tim Cook is great, but my main responsibility, as founder and president of Patachou, has always been to set Patachou’s company values.

Patachou culture was built on the premise of being a radically different and radically better company-and we used the term “radical” some 25 years before it became back into fashion. We work daily under the guiding principles of being a bar setting company that values quality of product, quality of customer experience, quality of employee experience, with a critical eye toward sustainability and commitment to community. We have been committed to those values since the day Patachou opened its door at 49th and Penn. Scaling a people-centric culture that happens to serve damn good food has been my paradoxically simple and complex over-arching goal.

Patachou restaurant number 14,  our third Public Greens, is opening in the Cummins headquarters in downtown Indianapolis by the end of the year. Several additional locations of the mothership brand are in the works, including a location hopefully in Bloomington, along with our own bakery, Flour Market. And I am working on two pet projects. One a shared office and laboratory for all Patachou staff to use, referred to as the SUFA — a student union for adults, which is our trademarked tagline for the company — a line, incidentally, I created in honor of the time I spent in and around The Union on Bloomington’s campus. The second project is The Box Office, an intentionally named shared feminist work space. I say intentionally named because every time I mention the name, there is one man pulls me aside to ask if I understand what the name refers to.

Currently, with over 400 employees, an intact company culture and an industry-defying lack of employee turnover, I am often asked: how I got the soufflé to rise in the first place. But I think the real question should be how, after over 28 years, we keep the soufflé from falling. As all of you cooks in the audience know, a soufflé may be mostly egg whites, but it takes as much magic as it does science to pull one off.

I came to the industry with totally fresh and naive eyes. Several weeks after opening I angrily questioned the highly regarded commercial kitchen designer I hired, for what I thought were massive design mistakes, including not having a professional dish-washing system in place. His response:” I didn’t think you’d be successful and I didn’t want to waste your husband’s money.” Only open for three weeks and I embarked on a major remodel — this time designing it myself.

I came from the professional world and didn’t understand that restaurants paid at the very bottom of the pay scale. I offered a salary consistent more with that of a young lawyer than a line-cook to a man I was trying to hire, someone who had previously only worked for minimum wage at a Dairy Queen. His response: “The money is great, but I don’t want to work for a woman.” He ended up working for my company for 18 years.

Last year, a repair person was called to our administrative offices which also house our production kitchen for routine maintenance. He looked around the room abuzz with activity and asked one of the production team members “so what guy keeps this all going” to which my staff answered “Stephanie, our production kitchen director”. “No”, said the repairman, “who is the guy who makes sure things go from point a to point b.” “Oh”, said the production team member, “that would be Angie, our delivery person”.  Exasperated, the repairman then said,  “who is the man in charge of the company” to which the team member answered, “His name is Martha”. I personally called his boss the next day and asked that they conduct some cultural bias training before being allowed back into our premises.

And, just as I was writing this speech, I got a highly unusual text from one of our Crispy Bird servers asking for permission to go “full throttle” on a customer, an owner of a media company asking for free food in exchange for exposure (a common practice in food world but something we do not do) who, when advised of our strict no food for publicity stance, referred to me as a “cold bitch”. I told the server to thank the customer for calling me a goddess.

I was just as naive when I opened my business as I was when I left the bubble of Bloomington or went into court that very first day at the Prosecutor’s office. I thought that my restaurant, like all other restaurants, would be judged based on its food, service and atmosphere. Never did it occur to me that my restaurant would also be judged based on my gender. Here I was running a serious enterprise and there were people who assumed I was a hobbyist. Meeting with real estate brokers, heads of construction companies, especially as I began expanding Patachou’s footprint, were tremendously frustrating experiences for me. Proposals and estimates went directly to my husband who has always been remarkably supportive but extremely uninvolved in my business. An owner of a construction company  interrupted me mid-meeting to tell me to smile. In that same meeting, as I was pointing to an area on the blueprints, the same owner of the same construction company grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze.

My husband has his own business, and one of his partner’s significant others asked me if it worried me that people would think their business was not successful if I were working full time.

But I prefer to diagnose myself with Pollyanna Dysmorphia,  a term I am certain I just invented, as I refused to give into anything or anyone that devalued what I was I doing or how I was doing it. It’s a sure personality disorder. I have always possessed an unwillingness to believe that failure is a real potential. Having a keenly defined vision for the company I wanted to create, including a vision for the type of work environment I wanted to create, was a significant factor.  Patachou might have quickly become known to the outside world for its cinnamon toast and omelets, but it also quickly became known internally for its forward-thinking workplace practices. These practices included having a non-negotiable requirement to treat others with respect (no pan throwing allowed), zero tolerance of sexual harassment. .Patachou paid livable wages, treated people equitably and created careers instead of jobs. Having good food was critical (duh, we are a restaurant after all), but so was having a safe place for staff that encouraged growth and big picture thinking; a company that valued both collective responsibility and individual accountability. The company was infused from day one with what were considered to be “soft values”, but equally as critical to our long-term success was that the company was infused with women or what we refer to as female capital. Even though it was 1989,  years before me too and times up, there were women in our industry who fully understood that they were being devalued, held back, objectified because of their gender. We may not have had the language to describe how we felt living in the patriarchal restaurant world, but we fully understood what we were feeling. Fortunately for me and for my company, lots of women found a home at Patachou.

It does not matter how you define diversity: whether its defined by nationality, race, religion, age, education, thought or gender and gender identification, the facts are as clear today as they were to me in 1989 when Patachou was created.  Diversity adds dimension and is good for business. Organizations, whether they are corporations, small businesses such as Patachou, institutions such as Indiana University or governmental entities do better when diversity and inclusion are embraced. In fact, organizations with inclusive cultures are three times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets. Organizations with inclusive cultures are three times as likely to be high performing; they are 6 times as likely to be innovative and agile and they are 8 times as likely to achieve better outcomes.

My own industry, the restaurant industry, is one of the most representative if not the most representative industry in our country and it is one of the most important industries to our economy. Nearly 50% of all adults have at some point in their lives, at least once, worked in a restaurant and over 25 % of adults worked their first job in a restaurant. According to the NRA, 4 out of ten restaurants in the United States are owned by minorities and half of all restaurants have women as owners or co-owners.

Ten percent of the American workforce works in the restaurant industry — meaning that over 15 million people work in restaurants — and this year alone, national restaurant industry sales are expected to exceed 800 billion dollars. The industry impacts many lives.

I myself started a restaurant thinking that restaurants were merely places to get meals but I now know that restaurants are much more than that. Restaurants are where world changing ideas and revolutions have been sketched. And, in case you think I am referring to pre-Revolutionary France, think about this: nearly 60 years ago on September 17th a group of students in New Orleans sat down at McCory’s whites-only lunch counter, refusing to leave until they were served. The students’ subsequent arrests would be overturned by our US Supreme Court in the landmark decision Lombard vs Louisiana. But, as if that luncheon counter meal wasn’t historic enough, the students originally organized over spicy gumbo at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.  “Elvis’ first Las Vegas contract was written on a restaurant tablecloth.” We’ve seen house plans and business plans hatched on our napkins. There is a rumor, which I will continue to perpetuate now, that Peyton Manning had lunch at Patachou after signing his original contract with the Colts.  Coach Brad Stevens came into the Café the morning after Butler’s NCAA loss — to a standing ovation. People gathered in disbelief the morning of 9/11. Sure, restaurants are places where poets, writers and would-be-revolutionaries hang out, but they are also places for first dates, post-funeral lunches, marriage proposals, major life-cycle events and daily cups of coffee with slices of cinnamon toast. Since fire was discovered, people have gathered around food. There is nothing new in this, regardless of the year or the cultural moment or the technological cycle we are in.

Still, as critical to our nation’s economy as the restaurant industry is, women, people of color and immigrants occupy the bottom rungs of the restaurant industry in far greater numbers than their white, male counterparts.  Fortune Magazine cites that women and minorities get the worst jobs in this industry and according to a report from the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a labor advocacy group: “Women and workers of color are often pushed into the lowest-paying jobs in the food service industry. Workers of color earn 56% less than equally qualified white workers, controlling for language proficiency and education.

White male food industry workers are often channeled toward the highest-pay management, bartender and server jobs in fine-dining establishments. Women are pushed toward lower-paying jobs at more casual restaurants, and people of color are channeled toward even lower-paying jobs such as bussing and kitchen positions. And, today 81% of managers are white and male.

Gender bias is real. I mean, that is why we are here.  In 2015, a mere 12% of venture capital went to support women founded businesses-and the percentages since then have not improved That percentage decreased by half to 6% in 2016. This year it is projected that a mere 4 percent of VC money will go to a female founded business, 4% will go to male founders of color meaning that, in total, 96% of all VC funds get funneled to male founded businesses. And while Venture capital is not the sole way to raise funds, it is a barometer of how our culture values women.

Using the restaurant industry as an example, food journalists, award organizations and publications disproportionally reward and report on white male members of the industry over women, people of color and immigrants. The New York Times published an article nearly five years ago that is ground zero for debate on this subject in the food world. The article was on top chefs in the US and the growing food scene. It failed to mention one female or one person of color. The James Beard Awards only recently began to include women and people of color as nominees in any noticeable manner, as have the major food magazines including Food and Wine and Bon Appetit. Immediately after the 2016 top 50 restaurants in the world list was released, Eater, the most prominent food culture blog, asked this question:

“What’s wrong with the World’s best 50 List? Their sarcastic answer: Nothing for a guide that almost entirely overlooks an entire gender.”

And we haven’t even scratched the surface of the #MeToo movement. In its wake comes the ugly realization that gender bias, misogyny, objectification and predatory practices permeate our corporations, our institutions and our media. The week after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, the Huff Post conducted a survey that revealed that nearly one in four men thought it was fine for bosses to expect sex from an employee.

Any view of America as one thing — one color, one gender, one religion, one nationality bears little resemblance to reality. America is diversifying and so inevitably must its institutions, workforces,  government and, lastly, its culture and even its restaurants .  And with diversification, comes change.

But it takes more than counting heads for population studies to make our institutions, our schools, our businesses, our cities and our halls of government truly representative.  Diversity is a fact, but what we miss so often is that INCLUSION IS AN ACT.  Inclusion is good for organizational health; it is good for bottom lines and it is good for outcomes. All of that is scientifically proven. For inclusion to occur, the way we value people has to change.

Diversity advocate Verna Myers states it best: diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. Patachou has since its beginning in 1989, benefitted from openly embracing inclusive practices.

Patachou is not immune from the outside challenges and we too operate with the same pressures of our local market. There are many factors outside of our four walls that we cannot control.  It is what we do control that has allowed Patachou to differentiate itself and to grow and prosper. From day one, we refused to adopt industry norms: we made food differently, we treated people differently, and we treated our community differently. Patachou’s norm busting values not only defined our company culture early but it did so without sacrificing quality of food, quality of staff opportunity, quality of our customer experience.  Our norm busting values strengthened our commitment to product, people and place.  And, addressing the industry’s main challenge: Patachou has attracted and retained staff. It should not be seen as disruptive  to create collaborative leadership and career opportunities for those on all rungs of the ladder, yet it is.

Today, we have an executive team that is 90% female, a leadership team at the café level that is 50% female. Our Director of Operations is female. We have managers who started off as bussers, lead concept people who started off as servers. The Patachou Foundation’s Executive Director was just recently recognized as 30 under 30 in Philanthropy by Forbes Magazine; last year he met with members of United States Congress regarding farm and school food policy. Last month he and I had breakfast with one of our US Senators to discuss  food insecurity in our state. He started off as a part-time host. Our production kitchen employees 6 cooks, three bakers and two delivery drivers. It is in operation 7 days a week, nearly 20 hours a day. It is co-directed by a woman, who started off as a receptionist, and a Hispanic man who started off doing prep work, part time.  And, critically important, the men in our organization add to, benefit from, and participate in the Patachou culture as much as the women do. I knew that my daughters would likely be feminists: to paraphrase poet and author Maya Angelou: they are females, they’d be stupid to not be on their own side. But, I made sure that my son understood his responsibility and role, too, to be a champion for gender equality. I would be a hypocrite to not ask that, no —I’d be a hypocrite to not demand that  — all the men in my personal and professional life be champions for gender equality, including those who are part of the Patachou team.

But, it’s also what I demand of myself, and like most people, I am my biggest critic. As actor, comedienne, producer and writer Amy Poehler stated: “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry about”. It also takes years to unlearn what culture tells you about people.

Jennifer Aniston came to mind last week. Hers is a household name; she is still referred to as America’s sweetheart, the ultimate girl next door. Who doesn’t know the cultural reference to “the Rachel haircut”? Despite being one of the two highest paid women in television history, she is more famous now for her failed marriages to Brad Pitt and Justin Thoreau, and for her single status – and, still, most of all, for the haircut! Despite being self-made, hard-working, independently wealthy, the head of her own production company,  someone who is leading an active life,  just last week Huffpost reported that the public perception is that the “facts” “that she cannot keep a man, and that she refuses to have a baby bc she is too selfish and too committed to a career have left her sad and broken”. The star responded ,“when was the last time you read about a divorced childless man referred to as a spinster? There is pressure on women to be a mother and if they are not they are damaged goods”.

Its none of my business-kind of none of my business- who you voted for president last election, but how can we talk about including women in institutions when arguably one of the highest educated and the most experienced candidate in history was openly judged, and sometimes solely judged, on her appearance, what she wore and how she looked too serious?

Going back in my personal history once again, someone who influenced me greatly when I was young was Shirley Chisholm. She was a true hero of mine growing up. I was in high school when Shirley Chisholm first came into the collective national consciousness and her impact on a generation of young girls, such as myself, was immeasurable although she is now greatly forgotten. In 1968, Shirley Chisolm overcame being poor, she overcame being female, and she overcame racism to become the first black woman elected to the United States Congress. She stated, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: It’s a girl.” Her rise to political prominence and her ultimate staggering influence did not come without sacrifice: there were three assassination attempts on her life. Yet, even when faced with extreme societal opposition and mountain like barriers, she also managed to say: “Be as bold as the person who first ate an oyster. You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

Sarah Soule is a professor of gender studies at Stanford. She spoke at a women’s restaurant industry event several years ago. Over and over again, she tested controlled groups. The groups were told that they were there  to figure out how to price a soon to be released consumer product; a beer. This beer was literally made by Nubians, it was that perfect of a product. Some of the controlled subjects got descriptions of the beer that clearly said that the beer was made by Robert; some got descriptions of the beer that clearly said that the beer was made by Betty. Time after time, the majority of the groups said the beer made by Robert was worth more than the beer made by Betty and priced Robert’s beer at a higher price than Betty’s beer. Wait a minute she thought-beer is kind of a “male drink”. Let’s retry this but this time instead of beer, let’s say that Robert and Betty are making cupcakes. Guess what? Same results. And, equally as disturbing, women in the test groups devalued both the beer and the cupcakes made by Betty with the same frequency as the men in the test group.

It is 2018. Believing that women are equal to men should not be a radical idea. In a pre-#metoo Gallup poll regarding male versus female bosses, women responded equally to men and stated that they preferred male bosses even though they had never had a female boss. In a company with a heavy female executive and managerial team, I find that poll just depressing.

How can we challenge our institutions, our companies, our government to be more inclusive, if we are not at the same time challenging our own cultural biases?

There is pressure on women that is not equally applied to men: pressure to be everything: mothers, partners, beautiful, skinny, young, sexy, and now add brilliant and successful to the list-and if they miss one of those things, there is something wrong with them. And, that pressure is not just applied to women by men; it is applied by us to us  One of my favorite quotes is from of all people the ultimate sex symbol Marilyn Monroe: “You’re always running into people’s subconscious”.  I have been fighting my own subconscious for years-who am I kidding, at 64 I’ve been trying to unlearn what I have been taught to feel sorry about for decades. And, not just unlearning it for myself, but for my childbut for my children, my grandchildren, people in my workplace and in my private life. After all, “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted in a profoundly sick society”.

Alvin Toffler first published the Future Shock trilogy in 1970 and it was wildly successful series for years to follow. Admittedly I think that I skimmed the first book-I was young and I got bored, but I did read his 2016 NY Times obituary which describes it as a “prescient forecast of how people and institutions of the late 20th century would be forced to contend with the immense strains and soaring opportunities of accelerated change”. His quote “the illiterate of the 21st century  will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn” has more meaning today than when first uttered.

A few years ago, I was having a catch-up dinner with an old friend visiting town. She reported that her son and his wife were happily expecting their first child, her middle child was engaged but, oh, was she worried about her youngest. Elaborating, she continued “Well, she finished her masters and moved to Denver for this fabulous job which she loves. She bought a condo downtown and has a puppy”. The issue: my friend continued, but “she can’t find a man and we are worried that she will always be alone.” Worried that her super independent, highly educated, highly functioning daughter with a job she loved in a city she chose, was not leading her best life because she was unattached stopped us both in our tracts. Just what messages are we communicating to our daughters, let alone the women and the men in our workplaces? Here we have told our daughters that the world is open to them; we have encouraged independence, education and opportunity…as long as it fits within our neat cultural norms. For inclusive behavior to occur, we have to unlearn a bunch.

The documentary on Hedy Lamarr ends with her reading a beautiful poem by Kent M Keith that she read to her children :

People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.

Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honestly and frankness make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway,

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.

Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.

Fight for the underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed over-night.

Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if help them.

Help anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll be kicked in the teeth.

Give the world the best you have anyway.

Yes, there has never been a better time in history to be a woman, but let’s not let that get in our way of creating a better future. Thank you for providing an opportunity for all of us here to not just come to the party, but to dance.

Thank you. MSH