In July 2020, Erika Chou, co-founder and partner of New York-based Rivers and Hills Hospitality Group (Kimika, Wayla, Wan Wan), gave birth to her first son. After experiencing her own challenges as a new mom in the industry, Chou was excited to connect with pumpspotting, a baby feeding and lactation support platform, to offer its services to 100+ employees across her organization.
We sat down for a conversation with Chou about motherhood in the industry, the challenges of breastfeeding in a restaurant, and how she’s using pumpspotting to support and retain her employees.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Erika Chou: Actually, never. It’s definitely hidden, and the industry has historically not been very friendly towards mothers. Especially new mothers.
Without a lot of prior experience or role models to look up to, I’m sure you had some fears about becoming a working mother in a restaurant.
Oh, absolutely. I think our industry is particularly demanding — it’s not a traditional 9 to 5 lifestyle. Trying to figure that out as a family balancing a baby’s needs and working with my partner has been both different and difficult.
I do think the industry has taught me how to be very flexible and adaptable, so I wouldn’t say I was scared. But I didn’t have a structured plan for going into motherhood and running the restaurants at all.
Industry Tip: Resy x pumpspotting for Restaurants
Chou is using pumpspotting for Restaurants, a version of the app specifically designed to accommodate the fast-paced environment of the restaurant industry. Kalamata’s Kitchen, the platform that teaches kids about the world through adventures with food, is covering the cost of pumpspotting subscriptions for all restaurant workers through 2023. Restaurant workers can learn more and sign up for a sponsored subscription at www.pumpspotting.com/restaurants.
Resy restaurants that want to customize their own workplace lactation program including promotional assets, a workplace milk expression policy, and access to workplace lactation experts can subscribe to pumpspotting for Restaurants for $99 for the first year (usually $499/year) at www.pumpspotting.com/pumpspotting-for-resy-restaurants by using the discount code “ps4Resy”. Offer valid through 11/15/22.
How did breastfeeding factor into your day-to-day experience as a restaurant operator?
I ended up breastfeeding for a year. My situation is a little different because this was mostly during the time when we were in lockdown, and the restaurants were closed to diners. But I was still breastfeeding when I started going back to the reopened restaurants, but by that point, I had started pumping more.
We really didn’t have a dedicated space for me to pump, so I would just find a corner, let people know what I was doing, and ask them not to come in. At Kimika, we have a private dining room so I would pump in there. One time, someone who wanted to set up the PDR walked in, saw me pumping, and said “Uh…” I just replied, “Hi!”
Aside from helping to minimize miscommunications like the one you just mentioned, why have you decided to bring pumpspotting to your restaurants?
Knowing that there is a resource out there for new mothers is super valuable. Knowing where you’re able to go and having an area set aside for pumping, and for new mothers to take a break, is so important. Your body is going through so many changes postpartum. You need to take care of yourself and as an employer, especially in such a physically demanding industry, I think that’s very important to prioritize.
I’m also really excited about the specific forum that pumpspotting offers for working parents in the hospitality industry. Being a working parent is already difficult. Being like a hospitality working parent is a whole other thing. Building a specific community around that to have other people to talk to and get tips from is really essential.
Being a working parent is already difficult. Being a hospitality working parent is a whole other thing. Building a specific community around that to have other people to talk to and get tips from is really essential.— Erika Chou
Beyond offering pumpspotting to employees, is there anything you would like to see more of in terms of support for parents in the industry?
I think a lot of people imagine restaurant workers, especially in the front of house where I’ve worked, as just students or younger people looking for a summer job or a temporary position. But it’s important to remember that there are people with families and more diversity in where they’re at in their careers. It would be great to have more awareness of that and to start talking about what’s needed to support them.
Two-plus years into your journey as a mother and restaurant operator, what’s the most surprising part of your experience that you didn’t anticipate?
Now that my kid is a little older, I’ve brought him to work with me a few times. Seeing the staff play with him and integrating him into part of our restaurant family has been really sweet. It’s another way to build our community that’s been so fun. I think sometimes people see motherhood as a negative thing that can have a negative impact on your career. But being able to figure out ways to integrate my two families has made us all even closer and had a positive impact.