WOMEN ARE INTEGRAL PARTS of making Edmonton’s downtown scene as rich and vibrant as it is. But the contributions of women like Lynsae Moon and Mai Nguyen in the establishments that provide our third spaces, as well as our nourishment and entertainment, are often under-sung. Here’s a needed celebration.
Lynsae Moon, co-owner of The Nook Café, says the way she is perceived depends on what people are expecting.
“Being a woman in hospitality is pretty palatable and common,” she says. People accept her in a servile role,
she says, but less so in a business role. She says many who go to The Nook on business still tend to look for a male manager.
Moon first started working in a café when she was 16, and soon developed a deep connection to the industry. “It’s an extension of who I am,” she says.
Establishing a café of her own was something that was “brewing” in her for a long time. About a year ago, she asked her mother, Marnie Suitor, to co-own the business with her. Suitor, a businesswoman by trade, handles overarching business affairs for The Nook; Moon deals with “day-to-day operations.”
Moon says one thing she sees as a unique detriment to her experience as a woman in the hospitality industry is social media. While she does see valid criticisms of her work online, she has also faced personal attacks. She says these kinds of attacks would not be happening if she were a man.
Nevertheless, Moon persists. All of The Nook’s staff are marginalized in some regard, many because they are women. That kind of intersectionality and inclusion is something Moon considers integral to her business model. She cites the café’s reputed suspended coffee program — which allows people to buy coffee in advance for someone who needs one — as being a part of that.
Going forward, Moon says she hopes to grow The Nook and the core that it’s located in. “I’m excited to be a part of that.”
When Mai Nguyen attended Gold Medal Plates, a high-level culinary competition, in 2017, the lack of women caught her attention.
“I remember this one MC on the stage saying he was so proud of the diversity on the stage,” she says, “but I was just like, ‘You don’t have a single woman on there.’”
Nguyen, who was a contestant on season four of Masterchef Canada, on CTV, says Edmonton’s downtown food scene thankfully does not suffer the same problem. Many of the area’s restaurants have many women in senior positions, she says.
Nguyen started out studying general sciences, with no inclination toward food. When that didn’t work out, she pursued a double major in food technology and nutrition. The jobs in the field weren’t creative enough for her, though, so she changed paths.
Upon receiving a health and safety diploma from NAIT and working in that domain for a year, Nguyen applied for season four of Masterchef Canada. That’s where she found her true culinary calling.
“I had such a blast on the show; I decided to basically change my life,” she says. She came in fourth place on the show and into a new vocation in life.
Coming back to Edmonton, she looked for any restaurant who would take a chance on a relative newbie. Arden Tse decided his Prairie Noodle Shop could take that chance. Nguyen’s dumplings have proven to be a hit at the restaurant.
Nguyen recently incorporated her own food company, Gourmai. She also blogs and hopes to one day become a private chef making canapés. For now, though, she’s doing some time as a line cook. “Just learning the trade, for me, is really important,” she says. “You just want some credibility.”