The FHA-Food & Beverage is celebrating International Women’s Day by spotlighting the amazing female leaders in the F&B industry. This is an opportunity to recognise the women who have worked hard and achieved success. This week, we will focus on the stories of the women who have been trailblazers and mentors in the F&B sector. These inspiring women are leading the way, and we are grateful for their dedication and commitment.

In this IWD series, we were honored to connect with Mei Yong, the Director and Chief Executive Officer of Plantco Holdings, Turban Chopsticks, Gelavo, and Real Oats. She is an experienced entrepreneur and a female leader driving force in the F&B industry. She discussed her experiences, struggles, and most significant achievements thus far.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the F&B industry?

Born in Malaysia to Chinese parents and raised in Australia by a full house of bakers, chefs, restaurant owners, food businesses, home cooks, and (some say extreme) food lovers, I was always exposed to a bold variety of cuisines and exotic ingredients. During my childhood, there would be fresh croissants baking in the oven and simmering pots of curry on the stove weren’t a special occasion, but a daily affair, where food is the highest expression of love and care. As I transitioned into work, I decided to pursue a career in the mining industry where I would work away for weeks at a time. After a long day, the last thing I wanted to do is spend hours in the kitchen. But, I still wanted a meal that was healthy and tasted amazing. I knew I wasn’t the only one who craved authentic home cooked meals – the kind I grew up with – but also didn’t want to use prepackaged food with suspicious ingredients and origins, or have the time to source and cook everything from scratch. In our busy multicultural family life, it wasn’t the glue that held us together, it was the curry and satays, and stirfrys, and dahl…the food! I was inspired to share my love of food with the world hoping it would bring as much joy to someone elses life. Thus Turban Chopsticks was born.

What are some of the obstacles you have faced to reach to your current success?

Starting up a business is not easy. You’ve got to put in the hours and make some compromises with your personal life at times. It has always been a juggle having a family and looking after my daughter whilst running a business full time. Work doesn’t stop outside of the workplace and it’s difficult not bringing it back home. Being a female in a male dominated industry, there are barriers to funding too. Less than 3% of venture capital funding goes to women businesses. This has not changed in years and in fact it’s trending downwards. Women’s businesses are most often misunderstood and undervalued. My goal is to change the narrative and stand up and speak for female entrepreneurs.

What do you think is the most important skill?

Communication. Understanding and listening to not only your clients but your staff and suppliers. Being clear with what you want and having a clear vision. It helps being present and actively listening when someone is talking to you. Get to the bottom and always ask Why? You’ll solve problems quicker and have successful solutions in place.

What has been your greatest accomplishment till date?

Recently winning the People’s Choice Award at the WA Good Food Guide 2022 Awards was a huge testament to the hard work and commitment of the Turban Chopsticks’ team. I believe sustaining a business through COVID can also be seen as a great accomplishment. They were tough times and riding that wave was nothing we have ever experienced. Also creating our parent company My Plantco Group with new plant based subsidiaries is an exciting phase we are moving into.

What has been your most memorable experience in the F&B industry?

The most memorable experience would be cooking a Christmas brunch for over 200 homeless people at Tranby House. We rallied over $25,000 and 30 volunteers to help with the cook up. We also bought everyone gifts so they could open up a present on Christmas Day. Giving back is something that is very close to my heart. I believe we should always give back where we can and support our community in need. Another memorable experience was being invited up to Gascoyne Food Festival in Carnarvon as a guest cook. We were taken on an amazing tour of all the local farms and picked fresh locally grown produce. We got to meet the farmers and their families and hear their stories. It was a really touching experience to see how our producers grew the food, that we then supply to domestic and international markets.

What advice would you offer to young women interested in entering the field?

Jump straight in! Don’t wait around sitting and thinking about things too much. Take action. Create your own opportunity. It’s important to stay connected and to build a solid network. Reach out to people and mentors to assist you to get started and gain experience immediately. You’ll grow day by day and reach your dreams, it’s a journey you will not regret!

We hope that our conversation has been inspiring and that it will continue to foster dialogue about the empowerment of women. 

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