By Elle Asiedu, The Re-seasoning Coalition
Ashley Virtue’s career history has criss-crossed between the foodservice and healthcare industries. And while these two paths may not seem complementary, her passion for supporting and socializing with people of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities was the driving force behind her industry transitions.
But the one thing she no longer has energy for is not being cared for, not being valued, and not being able to be her authentic self, a bubbly and colourful Black woman who loves front-of-house roles.
She’s ready to be valued for being Ashley, not for just being a server or a host.
It’s a dilemma echoed by Black staff across the spectrum of independent, franchise, fine dining, and quick service restaurants. And one that will need widespread industry change to find a solution.
THE FRANCHISE EXPERIENCE
Virtue recalls her first job at a Pizza Hut in Brampton, ON and seriously considering middle management, but supervisors who looked like her didn’t seem to exist and if they did, there certainly weren’t enough at her location to serve as inspiration and show her the ropes of moving up.
A stint as McDonald’s soon followed where she enjoyed the team camaraderie but was unsure of how to advance while still being able to leverage her operational savvy and love for customer service.
“I’m nosy,” she says, laughing, “I’ve always been nosy and will forever be nosy and foodservice allowed me to talk to people from different walks of life. That ability to connect made me want to continue working in the industry after I left Pizza Hut.”
But a hosting role at her local Eastside Mario’s turned the tables on what had been a stressful, but mostly fun series of jobs as the micro-aggressions she’d dealt with throughout her time in the industry finally came to a head.
“That was the one place where I didn’t feel seen at all,” she remembers. “I was quite large as a teenager, so there wasn’t a uniform to fit me. I was the ‘dark’ person and I was the hostess, but I didn’t ever work because I didn’t fit how they wanted their waitresses and hostesses to look.”
Virtue tears up reflecting on the pain of being treated like at outsider. “That experience was the reason I left the food industry; I didn’t want anything I did to be associated with my weight and how I looked.”
After more than a decade spent in healthcare, Virtue has returned to foodservice and the atmosphere at her current company Boukan, a Black-owned Haitian restaurant, is a world away from that of her franchise employers. It’s also become a driving force for Virtue’s vision for a future in foodservice.
After more than a decade in the industry, she finally sees it as a place to nurture a successful career with her sights now set on restaurant operations.
What’s the difference between these management aspirations and the ones initially stirred at Pizza Hut? “The owners here are real; they’re humble, down-to-earth, and they have not created that barrier that business owners and executives often develop between front-of-house, back-of-house, and operations,” she explains.
“Working at Boukan has shown me that I’m more than just my designation as a nurse, that the things I want to achieve for myself are wholly attainable.”
The Re-Seasoning Coalition is dedicated to increasing the representation of Black Canadians in foodservice through research, programming, and sharing real stories like Ashley’s. Stay tuned for more profiles on menumag.ca.