I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Dorsey, Founder of Wednesdays NYC & Studio ATAO.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you for having me! I’ve definitely taken a bit of a strange path to where I am today. After graduating college, I started out in management consulting working with luxury and fashion goods. For most of my adult life, I thought I wanted to go into fashion and marketing but as soon as I got the things that I had been working so hard for, I realized I hated who I had become. That was really terrifying to admit, especially when my life looked so glamorous and cool on the outside.
As a way to get out, I decided to apply to Columbia Business School while I was figuring my next step. I was admitted early and I had some time to spare. Since I had always been enamored with food, I enrolled in culinary school as a ‘creative sabbatical’ of sorts. I ended up learning so much about myself by the time I was to start at Columbia, I realized that once again, I was not where I wanted to be and this time I needed to do what felt right to me, not what sounded good to everyone else.
So after a semester, I took a scary step to leave my MBA and instead start working in the food and beverage space. I started in restaurants, primarily fine dining, before moving into corporate food research & development and starting my own consulting, popup, and nonprofit businesses.
Why did you found your company?
I originally founded Wednesdays to create a space where people could get together on a deeper level and intellectually connect. My husband, our mixologist, and I started it together after meeting at Columbia and commiserating about how difficult it was to really get to know the ‘true selves’ of our peers and classmates. There was nowhere for us to be vulnerable, to be open, to maybe meet or interact with someone new. So Wednesdays is our way of creating something we feel is missing in our lives and in the social conscience.
My new venture is a non-profit studio called Studio ATAO, a culinary production studio that fuses food with emerging technology (especially AR/VR as I have an interest in that right now) within the context of social good.
It’s definitely an extension of the Wednesdays idea — I wanted to create a place where people can introspectively engage with big social themes like income disparity, racism, appropriation and explore those abstract concepts in a judgement-free zone through food and tech. I hope when people walk into the experience, they can perhaps have a few minutes to truly think about what governs their worldview and make a conscious decision if they want to keep it that way.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Creating dining experiences that marry food and technology is new and interesting, but I think the most important part of my work is shining a new perspective on how we look at, interpret and interact with food altogether.
I’m the biggest proponent of food being a medium where we can showcase all of our emotions, so therefore food isn’t supposed to make you feel good all the time. Maybe it makes you feel ashamed, or sad, or pensive…or shocked, elated, joyous. All of those emotions are worthy stories to be told through food.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I don’t have mentors specifically in my field, but I’ve been able to work with some great women throughout my career that I learned a lot from their leadership style. The chef I worked for at Atera, Yelena, is the perfect example of a food industry woman who leads with love instead of trying to be ‘one of the boys’.
How are you going to shake things up next?
I’m working on 2 events for the end of 2018 / early 2019. One is titled “Hidden” and it’s a collaboration with a choreographer as we explore the pieces of ourselves we hide away through VR, immersive dance and food.
The next is “Truth//Reality” which forces guests to reconcile their cognitive dissonance while eating and listening to virtual intimate, uncomfortable conversations around them.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
I used to fence, and after a pretty nasty defeat my fencing colleague told me a short parable about a woman who keeps walking into a hole in the sidewalk. After she falls in the first time, she tries to jump over it, walk around it, or climb out of it in a different way. Eventually, she realizes the best thing to do is literally to turn around and walk the other way. It’s a rather silly sounding story, but the message is powerful — sometimes, we try to make things work that just don’t work. I actually have a little piece of this “strength is walking away” tattooed on me now.
A while ago, I met with a supperclub-turned-restaurant entrepreneur who said something I repeat constantly: There’s never going to be a great day to wake up and say, “You know what, today is the day I’m going to completely disrupt my life and change my career!” He’s right. There is no perfect situation. There’s always going to be some reason why you can’t start or need more money before that someday occurs. But the more you delay it, the farther away it recedes until it’s just a sad, empty echo you hear when you get up in the later years and wonder if you had lived the life you wanted.
My corporate friends hate it when I say this, but it’s a real luxury to be told what you are supposed to do. As an entrepreneur, you have a million different paths, a thousand different opinions from friends/family, and countless articles from places like Forbes or Inc. trying to sway you with some clickbait “5 Things You Should Think About Before X”. But all of that is totally irrelevant, because you need to make the decisions you believe are right, and sometimes that’s going against what everyone else is saying.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
I love Hidden Brain. I think Shankar is one of the few men in podcasting that deliver information in a way that engaging, thorough, balanced and respectful — and he doesn’t make me feel like some student listening to a teacher waggling their finger at me while talking pedantically. I have my own podcast, Why Food? on Heritage Radio Network, and I aspire to interview people the way he does.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to have a dinner with JK Rowling. She’s my hero. In fact, I would love to cook for her. So if she’s reading this, please tell me if you’re free and what you like to eat!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me at @chefjennydorsey on FB/Twitter/IG and @WednesdaysNYC and @StudioATAO.
Originally published at medium.com