Quick Q&A With Martha Hoover
On February 22, the Patachou owner speaks at the Propylaeum, where her talk will be as much about women in business as food. We chatted with her about both before the event.
What would you have done if you hadn’t become a restaurateur?
I couldn’t begin to tell you. By the late ’80s, I had such a high interest in food that I never wanted to do anything else. Perhaps I was naive about the fact that a lot of restaurants fail. And yet, when I started, it never occurred to me that it might not work. I guess I’ve never been a Plan B person.
Are there any advantages of being a woman in this business?
It’s a double-edged sword. For our internal operations, it brought me nothing but advantages. I was free of the bro kitchen culture—very top-down, with a little too much ego. From the beginning, our restaurants have been tolerant and respectful. I think that has worked to Patachou’s advantage.
What are the disadvantages?
Food journalists and award organizations tend to reward and report on white male members of the industry over women, people of color, and immigrants. About five years ago, The New York Times published an article on the top U.S. chefs, and failed to mention one woman or person of color.
What about sexual harassment? Is that a thing in restaurants?
Of course it is. But I hope that people are starting to understand how uneven the power structure is. If you’re aware that your behavior is not in step with the times, you’re more likely to stop. So I’m hoping change is afoot. There already have been some remarkable “outings” nationally.
Given your success, why haven’t you taken Patachou national?
We have a lot of offers to go elsewhere, but I’m not someone who says yes to everything, no matter how profitable it might be. We often ask ourselves, how big do we get before we get bad? I think there’s tremendous potential for Patachou outside Indianapolis. But I believe in strategic growth that allows us to populate whatever location we’re in with the right culture.
Your son is the executive chef at Bar One Fourteen, and your daughter is Patachou’s director of sustainability. What’s managing your own children like?
Honestly, I don’t manage them. They answer to other people in my organization, and they are looked at the same way any staff member is. Once they walk through the front door, I’m Martha, not Mom.