Aurelija Sovaite: 10 Years of Delivering Hospitality with Harts Group
In an industry with an annual employee turnover rate of 74%, what makes some workers decide to stick around for years, or even decades? You’re reading Why We Stay, a regular interview series with longtime staffers that aims to answer this question by learning from those who are living it. Find inspiration from their stories to enhance your company culture and boost retention in your restaurant.
Name and Current Role: Aurelija Sovaite, Operations Manager
Restaurant: Barrafina, Parrillan, and Bar Daskal, London
Year Joined: 2013
“People assume I’m Spanish,” says Aurelija Sovaite, the Lithuania-born operations manager for eight Spanish-themed properties in London. “Not only because I work here but because, well, I’ve become a little Spanish. I was once quiet and polite. Little by little, they brought my Spanish spirit out. Now I am loud.”
Restaurants have a way of changing people. Sovaite moved to England for university from Mažeikiai in northwestern Lithuania. She always intended to return to Lithuania when she finished her studies, but while in school in Nottingham, she started working at Hart’s Hotel and Restaurant. When she considered a move to London, the owners of Hart’s put her in touch with their sons, who then owned the first of now-five tapas-style Barrafinas in London. “I started at the first Barrafina in January 2013 as a waitress,” recalls Sovaite. “I thought it would only be for a few months. Then it kept being more and more months. And I’m still here.”
One of my personal values is fairness, when things are done fairly and people are treated fairly. And fairness and transparency are valued here.— Aurelija Sovaite
During those compounding months, Sovaite became first an assistant restaurant manager, then opened the second Barrafina location as its manager. In 2016, she became group general manager for what was then three locations of Barrafina. Now, in late 2022, she oversees eight properties: five Barrafinas; two grill-your-own–style Parrillans; and the Spanish wine and cocktail establishment Bar Daskal. When asked why she stays, she pauses. “I’ve been asked this question various times. And I give a bit of a different answer each time. Right now, the reason is that one of my personal values is fairness, when things are done fairly and people are treated fairly. And fairness and transparency are valued here.”
It helps, too, that Sovaite is proud of Barrafina and its siblings. “There’s a certain element—I don’t want to sound cocky—but Barrafina is quite well-known, and for good reasons. There’s pride in working somewhere that is well-respected.” She references the high-quality product, the singular method of service, and the uncommon synergy between back-of-house and front-of-house.
“Guests sit around a bar that faces the kitchen, so front-of-house works right next to the chefs,” Sovaite explains. “It’s quite interesting and different for both the staff and the guests. Very fun, very loud, very immersive. Not your traditional Michelin-starred restaurant.” She understands that not every restaurant can be set up similarly, but she has seen the horsepower of a well-synced staff. “I’ve heard of strong division and infighting and blaming each other at some restaurants between waitstaff and the kitchen,” she notes. “That causes a lot of drama. We of course have some of that, too, sure but it’s much more of a team and a unit. I believe that’s a key reason for our success and why people stay.” Even when staff has left in the past, they often return to the restaurant group.
A near-decade spent working in a Spanish idiom has changed Sovaite. Falling in love with a fellow Barrafina employee and having a child together has as well. “The schedule with a two-and-a-half year old in childcare can be quite difficult,” says Sovaite. But restaurants are now in Sovaite’s blood. “It’s great that so much of the spare time I do have involves eating out, primarily for work reasons. ‘Sorry, honey, I can’t come home to watch our daughter tonight. I have to go to a restaurant. It’s for research.’ That’s a lot of fun.”