Today was Toklas x Boston, dedicated to mentorship for and by local women in both the front and back of the house. At the ever-magical o ya in Boston’s historic Leather District, it was an electric afternoon of warmth and wisdom, and the first gathering of its kind in Boston.
Toklas Society is based in New York. A newly-minted 501(c)(3), the non-profit serves as a network for women in food and hospitality. Their ranks include entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, chefs, event planners, writers, editors, bartenders, assistants, accountants, buyers, and distributors.
Forty of Boston’s finest were invited to meet, mingle and reconnect in o ya’s cozy dining room before Jody Adams (Rialto, Trade), Nancy Cushman (o ya, Hojoko, Roof at Park South) and Theresa Paopao (Ribelle, Strip T’s) took to high stools to share their thoughts. Toklas co-founder Sue Chan served as their moderator.
“You’re here on what for most of you is your day off,” Sue opened the conversation. “We want this to be valuable for you.”
Toklas’ stated mission is to help women leaders find inspiration, mentorship, and community. They certainly did that today.
Sue offered up beautifully crafted questions that elicited rich anecdotes and refreshing candor. The conversation that followed touched on everything from entrepreneuring through fear to navigating fraud complexes to building and leading teams to protecting time for self-care. Jody, Nancy and Theresa were unflinchingly honest, often hilarious, resonant and empowering. Their words gave this Examiner chills more than a few times.
So many food events today are either command-and-control conferences that leave the attendee feeling like a cow in a feedlot or processless networking fishbowls where she’s on her own to find and create value. In a third universe, where we need to be headed, lies the sort of gathering that the extraordinary women behind Toklas x Boston pulled off: beautifully intentioned, masterfully curated, and full of heart.
Today was a rare and precious thing, which makes it even more important to name names. (Far too often, finger-pointing is reserved solely for critique.) Rising stars Chrissa Yee and Sam Appel of Toklas and Alyssa DiPasquale, Maria Beaudoin and Kate Gilarde of o ya led the charge. Their outcomes were superlative, and event designers, tone-setters, and entrepreneurs of experiences would do well to learn from them.
This Examiner recalled the 2012 piece in Fortune on mentors versus sponsors. In it, fellow Boston woman leader Heather Foust-Cummings powerfully observes: “A mentor will talk with you, but a sponsor will talk about you.” The spirit of shared sponsorship, palpable in the room today, offered a taste of what’s possible when true leaders truly commit to entrepreneuring, engaging, and excelling together.