The Specials is an ongoing series of interviews with the unsung heroes of hospitality — from managers, waiters and sommeliers to dishwashers, farmers and foragers.
Ewa Janowska is the general manager at Cadence and The Sixteen Twelve, two modern, health-forward restaurants in Copenhagen which serve “next-level brunch”. Originally from Poland, she spent seven years at Cock’s & Cows, a Danish gourmet burger chain, where she was a restaurant manager and a brand ambassador.
I was originally going to be a lawyer in Poland. I dropped out of law school and went to live in Copenhagen with my boyfriend and he persuaded me to go into hospitality. After we’d hosted some parties, he said: “You're perfect for it, it's exactly what you should do.” We agreed that if I got into the programme I wanted, I would run a half-marathon. Eight years later, the half-marathon is still waiting for me.
Copenhagen is where I fell in love with the service industry. Restaurants here aren’t that uptight. As much as I like fine-dining restaurants, I'm more of a casual diner. After studying service hospitality and tourism management, my first job was at a restaurant called Cock's & Cows. I loved that you could be yourself and that your personality actually mattered as a server. I started as a waitress with few skills and my English wasn't the best, but they gave me the space and tools to grow and learn
When I joined Cadence in 2021, it was a steep learning curve. I went from a restaurant where we had a person for bookings and a person for HR to one where it was all me. I had to learn the law concerning salaries and sick days and so on, and I started working closely with all the systems we use, like the bookings platform and the POS system. I spent a month at our sister restaurant to learn their ways and to feel the vibe around brunch because that was also something new for me.
At Cadence, we’re trying to take brunch to the next level. Our menu is a little different and needs more explanation. Guests are curious about it and ask lots of questions. So it’s important my team knows exactly what they’re serving and that they understand and can explain the dishes. Like, what fermentations are, why ingredients are “activated”, what cultured butter is and so on. That makes it much easier for guests. We don't have awkward situations, like “Hey, give me a second. I'm going to go ask my chef what the allergens are.”
I believe in leading by example. When we opened Cadence, I was here everyday, working with the guys and showing by doing. Nothing works better in this industry than just being with people and showing and explaining every move you’re making. If I ask someone to do something, I won’t say, “Hey, can you do this or that?” I’ll always try to give the reason behind it.
Having a network is gold in the service industry. I hired a couple of people I’d worked with before. I knew I could trust them and I knew how they worked and that they were going to bring a lot of value — especially at the beginning — so I could let them do what I know they're best at without having to teach them things. That meant I could focus on the rest of the team and build it in the way I wanted.
If you want to build a great team, focus on personality not experience. I can teach skills and I can develop a lot of things in my staff, but personality comes from them. During the recruitment process, I always focus on people — who they are and what they can bring to the table — not what they've done previously. And I try to lead the conversation in a relaxed and loose way, asking lots of personal questions, like “where do you go out in your free time” or “who is your favourite movie star?”
I've learned that everyone is different and has different motivation factors. I try to get to know my team not just as employees but as human beings. I want them to feel at home here, to come to work with smiles on their faces. And if they have a problem, they should't be afraid to talk to me about it. Keeping people curious and giving them responsibilities motivates them too. I always try to give my team responsibilities so they can develop their skills and get better.
My advice for anyone who wants a career in the industry is simple. Don’t aim for the highest position at first. Start low and go through all the positions if you can. You’ll learn about them all and be able to expect the best from your employees. I had some shifts as a dishwasher and, in that way, I really respect it. And I know how difficult it is. Going through all the steps will make you a better leader.
I chose this path because I love people — not only people as guests but as employees. That's why I'm curious about who my team members are and how I should adjust my leadership style to get the best out of them. When it comes to guests, you have it or you don’t. Either you love to please people and be around them or you don’t. I love seeing guests leave with huge smiles on their faces. It makes me smile, too. If someone comes in and says, “Hey, Eva, how are you today?”, there's no better feeling.
As told to Superb. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.