Moms in the Industry: Alex Raij of La Vara on Adventurous Eaters, Breakfast Rituals & Owning Your Own Business

Moms in the Industry: Alex Raij of La Vara on Adventurous Eaters, Breakfast Rituals & Owning Your Own Business

Fact: being a parent in the restaurant industry is challenging. The hours are long and the work is hard, but what better way for a chef or restaurateur to share their passion for cooking and community than with their children? With Mother’s Day coming up, we’ll be celebrating inspiring moms in the industry.

Today, Alex Raij — chef and owner of La Vara, El Quinto Pino, and Txikito in New York City — talks cooking with kids, pursuing your passions, and the future of the industry.

What’s the most important thing you’re teaching your kids about food?

To enjoy it. That there aren’t bad foods, just bad habits.

Do you cook with them?

We cook. My daughter Maayan especially loves it. They both like eggs and pork chops, rice and black beans. My daughter who is six loves all sea critters and vegetables, from oysters to octopus and broccoli to green beans — and pickles, olives, and snails.

Lucien my son is not fun to share food with, as he refuses most things.

Moms in the Industry: Alex Raij of La Vara on Adventurous Eaters, Breakfast Rituals & Owning Your Own Business

How did your food rituals change when you became a parent? Have you found any creative ways to keep up your passion and incorporate the little ones?

Breakfast is our family time, so waffles, cereal, and eggs are big with us. My daughter loves savory breakfast and often has what I’m packing in Lucien’s lunch: cold chicken, seaweed, etc. Weird, I know.

What’s your approach to balancing career and family life in this business?

We are not that balanced now and never really were, but we have gotten better at taking Sundays for family.

Moms in the Industry: Alex Raij of La Vara on Adventurous Eaters, Breakfast Rituals & Owning Your Own Business

What are the biggest challenges about being a parent in the restaurant industry? The biggest rewards?

The biggest challenge is not having the same schedule as your kids or anyone you know. 

And the best part is owning our business, pursuing our passion, and enjoying creative freedom. We enjoy the best customers and that’s great, and we shape the lives we want as best we can and dictate our own priorities.

What evolutions are you seeing in the industry today when it comes to having a family? Do you think it’s becoming easier?

No. I think the demand for this industry to bend is going to ensure that only corporate restaurants survive.

It’s a “be careful what you ask for” scenario… because you can’t require small, family-owned businesses which are labor-intensive and price-inflexible to offer the benefits of a large company, just because they are in the same industry. It’s not the same animal at all.

Moms in the Industry: Alex Raij of La Vara on Adventurous Eaters, Breakfast Rituals & Owning Your Own Business

What tips do you have for other moms in the industry (or someone thinking about having kids)?

Own your own place. Shape your own life. If that’s not an option, define your personal success based on how closely you achieve the quality of life you desire. There are always compromises.

How do you typically celebrate Mother’s Day?

With breakfast with my kids and handmade cards.

Photo Credit: Penny De Los Santos