One of the greatest pleasures for me as a business owner has been being in a position to empower women. My interior design business is staffed by women, and often I refer work to highly-skilled women contractors, artisans, and artists, in the process of developing and executing interior design projects.
While seeing a woman at the top of an interior design firm may not feel surprising, women at the helm in the trades and at the workbenches, that is still less common.
Similarly, many women have ascended the ranks in the culinary industry, as chefs and restaurateurs, and yet, percentage-wise, this is still a fairly new phenomenon.
So, you can understand how much I have personally enjoyed designing for and becoming dear friends with superstar local chef Tanya Holland, as we created the perfect space for her new flagship location of her restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen, on Broadway in Oakland. For me, Tanya is an expander. She is someone who shows me in a new way, what is possible. She inspires me with her drive, her strength, and her passion. We have had so much fun together bringing her vision forward, realizing her dream design.
If you know Tanya well, you may know that back when she launched the first iteration of BSK, she envisioned something more upscale, a Creole/French bistro. But doors closed in her face back then, in large part, she feels, because she is female. She saw other chefs less experienced and acclaimed than her receive opportunities for spaces, and financial backing that were denied to her.
The brunch concept that she launched in West Oakland in 2003 was a response in part to the location’s limitations; limitations which inspired her to create something new, but also postponed the manifestation of her larger vision, until now.
Many career recognitions along the way have led to the opportunity to open the doors of her new restaurant on Broadway — a more upscale iteration of BSK that is her heart’s-desire.
On June 5, 2012, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan declared “Tanya Holland Day; in 2013, Tanya was named “Restaurateur/Chef of the Year” by the California Travel Association and she was elected co-president of the San Francisco chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier; and then there was her appearance on the Bravo series “Top Chef” in 2017…
Which is where I came in. You can imagine how excited I was to deploy the many amazing women on my team and in my referral network, in the process of bringing the newest iteration of Tanya’s vision to life.
For this project, those women included Arana Craftsman Painters (co-owned and managed by Catherine Baldi) to paint the interior windows, and Annie Kantor and her company Modern Metal to create the gorgeous, custom metalwork, stamp-cut semi-privacy screen for a section of the dining area, inside.
If you have been following my columns for a while, you know I am no stranger to designing for high-end restaurants owned (or co-owned) by women: Wood Tavern, Southie, and The Wolf — for my sister and brother-in-law, Rebekah and Rich Wood. And before I was ever an interior designer, I worked for many years in restaurant management in San Francisco, time well spent as it has served me in my design career over the ensuing decades, bringing me to this shining moment for the new BSK!
A version of this article appeared in the Piedmont Post
Photo Credits: All photos by Meyer Sound