Women builders vital to 'vibrant food scene' in Waterloo region, says Aura Hertzog

Aura Hertzog of Ambrosia Corner Bakery in Kitchener says she hasn't experienced any discrimination for being a woman in the local food industry. On the contrary, she says women and men are equal when it comes to building a vibrant food scene in Waterloo region.

'I knew what I wanted to do and I worked hard,' Aura Hertzog says

Aura Hertzog is the owner of Ambrosia Corner Bakery in Kitchener. (Suresh Doss/CBC )

Women have played, and continue to play, a significant part of the food and restaurant culture in Waterloo region. 

Aura Hertzog of Ambrosia Corner Bakery in Kitchener joined food columnist Andrew Coppolino and The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris to talk about the local food scene, Hertzog's experiences and the role of women in it. 

Craig Norris: You've been part of the food scene here for 15 years. What's your take on the contributions that women have made?

Aura Hertzog: It was interesting because Andrew asked me that question and I thought about it and I never really look at it in terms of like what do men do, what to women do. I just feel like we all work together. We've been working really hard together to create a really vibrant food scene here. 

CN: Right so you don't even think about it? 

AH: No, I don't. I don't think "well,  I'm a woman and I do this." I just, you know, I work hard in this industry and I've worked with great women and great men in it.

CN: So what about changes?

AH: I think the biggest change that I'm seeing now is exactly more women in the industry because there are more men that are taking roles in delivery food service, right? 

And so we're seeing a shrinkage I think in that front and women are not driving cars.  So I think that ... like my staff, and whenever I put out applications for staff, it's always women that I'm getting.

Long history in region

Andrew Coppolino: I think that one of the things that I've noticed so much is that there's just a long history when you start to dig down and look at who is around.

I go back and think about 15 or 20 years ago, you got people like yourself, you've got Kirstie Herbstreit, Jody O'Malley Carly Blasutti.

And you think about Hannah's Bella Bistro back in the day, Hannah Santo, she trained so many different chefs, both men and women. And that mark is still here … She's gone from this region now but all those women are still working in the industry and in many capacities.

Laura Umbrio at Proof [in Waterloo] has a full female management staff that she runs through her business. 

Remember Deb McFadden, the late Deb McFadden, at McFadden and Verses – she trained a lot of a lot of people in the industry.

I go back to the writer's side of things and I think about people like Edna Stabler and Rose Murray who's still producing, you know, those are Canadian voices from a women's perspective about food. 

The [Waterloo Region] Record had a column called In Good Taste with Pat Hughes and Eleanor Cameron that goes back decades.

So, the long history we have that involves these women who have started off in the industry and then gone to grow and build their own businesses like yourself. They're entrepreneurs not just cooks.

CN: When you put them in a whole group like that, you're like, "wow we're doing so well here," but Aura, let's look at this in a wider context. With your experience in major centres in food like Vancouver and Toronto, how do you compare that with the region when it comes to women and food entrepreneurs who are women?

AH: Those are really big metropolises. So it's there are so many people and so many businesses compared to here, right?

AC: Do you think we hold our own in terms of a population base compared to some of those bigger centres, on a sort of per capita basis.

AH: Maybe percentage wise, for sure. I think so. I mean, and there's some very strong women like you have Jen Agg in Toronto, she's been a very strong voice for the food scene and there are other strong women that own businesses in those cities.

'I just worked really hard'

CN: Do you think that it's a welcoming community for women, Aura?

AH: Oh absolutely. Yeah. There are women and men working really strong in the food scene here. 

AC: Then they have really nice connections together, that's what I've noticed, too. People that have worked together in the past while they were training now have gone their separate ways with different businesses, but yet they come together for events, they share each other's clientele, they share each other's customers. And it's kind of interesting to see how it's grown up like that.

It's certainly, 15 years ago I wrote for a newspaper and it was a very small, little field but I've really enjoyed watching how it's grown and expanded and people have … stayed in the region, too. A lot of them have stayed in the region - there's been a few that have left but for the most part it's people that have grown up here that continue to to grow into this region and enrich in that fabric.

CN: Aura … are there specific challenges for women who want to move up or into leadership roles?

AH: I don't know … I just worked really hard in the industry. I knew what I wanted to do and I worked hard.

I worked front of house. I worked back of house. If I wanted to learn something, and this is what I tell anybody that walks into my bakery that we're training it's like, you need to get your job done and if you want to learn something it's up to you to really like push and ask the questions and that's what I did. I just said, OK I want to learn that so I'm going to learn that. 

CN: And you never encountered [someone saying] 'when you're ready, Aura'?

AH: No. Everywhere I worked was really welcoming and was like you work hard, yeah let's help you ... I mean I worked for a really large multinational supermarket and they were really, really great with empowering and fostering growth for me and that's where, you know, I did a lot of growth with them and it was fantastic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Listen to the whole interview here:


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