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Meet Aditi Sonajirao: Powerhouse GM at Fish Cheeks

Naomi Banks | 13 March, 2024

            Meet Aditi Sonajirao: Powerhouse GM at Fish Cheeks

For Women's History Month, we interviewed Aditi Sonajirao, General Manager at Fish Cheeks, originally from New Jersey. With nearly four years at this restaurant, Sonajirao reflected on her journey from Floor Manager to GM and navigating the challenges of COVID with owner Jenn Saesue. Leading a predominantly female team, Sonajirao emphasized the importance of diverse experiences over gender diversity and fostering a supportive environment where each member brings unique perspectives. Inspired by her parents' work ethic, Sonajirao acknowledged her pride in overcoming adversities and celebrating achievements.

Her responses have been edited for length and clarity. Check out the interviews with owner Jenn Saesue and managers Christina Stopielo and Pud Dechkla by clicking on the hyperlinks.

Purchase the only print signed by the owner to support a worthy cause. 100% of the proceeds of the signed print benefit the Brooklyn Community Service's Transitional Living Community women's shelter.

What does it feel like to work at Fish Cheeks?

Sonajirao: We've curated a strong team of managers with a similar goal – we want to make sure that our guests are getting the best experience possible. We work hard to train the team towards the same goal and the food speaks for itself. Every day is a little bit different. We get to meet some great people. A lot of wonderful regulars come through, so I’ve made a lot of connections and had the chance to make some new friends along the way.

Talk me through how having a women-dominated staff impacts the flow of the restaurant.

Sonajirao: I've been in the industry for over seven years; back and front of house. Understanding the effort that goes into making the food makes it easier to support the kitchen. One thing I would love to kind of see more of is more support systems for females in management. It's great that we have each other here, but it'd be great to see more of that. There are generally a lot of groups out there for career improvement, but I don't see many for women in the culinary world.

It was extremely difficult being a two person team, but also very fortunate to get to work with our owner Jenn. Two years in, I was able to hire Christina, and then the next year after, we promoted our other restaurant manager Pita [Pad] from a server. They've been able to bring their valuable experience and different perspectives. We all come from different backgrounds – cultures,  ages, and experiences. You don't necessarily need gender diversity to have a good team. Having a team with diverse personal experiences is really important. 

We've all had our hard days, but we're at a really strong point where we're able to support each other. I would say it’s a deeper understanding than family. 

But being in an industry where we're dealing with guest’s needs and employee’s needs, that high emotional IQ is extremely important. And I know that my team has that. Working for a woman like Jenn, who has been able to be our Guiding Light in what she wants out of her restaurant, she always gives great advice and she's a badass business person. We get to kind of see both sides of it. How do we manage the business and the money, as well as take care of our team and guests?

Christina is usually the person that I go to when I don't know what to do. We balance each other out very well. I play devil's advocate, seeing the worst case scenario because I have to prepare for that. She helps me be a realist. Christina’s a great person to practice difficult conversations with. 

Pita is very direct.  She wants and is not afraid to ask for it from our staff. We hold our team at a high standard. For example, if Christina and I are not seeing where that employee needs to improve with a checklist of what needs to happen, or what they're doing well, Pita’s already got that covered.

Who are the elders that have influenced your work ethic?

Sonajirao: I’ve had good managers and not great managers in the past that I've been lucky enough to learn from. I’ve learned what I do and don’t want to do. 

As for my family, definitely my parents. My parents have worked hard to make my life easier. Modeling after them has always been important. More recently, they've gotten to see the person I've become and their biggest concern with me is to focus on what's going to make me happy. 

How proud are you of yourself?

Sonajirao: Women are expected to be humble and, since we are celebrating Women's History, I'm choosing not to be humble. I'm really proud of myself and what I've accomplished. It was just me and Jenn here through COVID. Every week felt like two months of time with the amount of changes that were going on. Considering what we had to go through and that we’re still here four years later, I just take it in stride. There's a place to be humble, but today's definitely a day I feel proud that we're here.

Fish Cheeks is located at 55 Bond St,. New York, NY 10012 and is currently open on Sunday through Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to 10:15 p.m, and on Friday and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 11:15 p.m., with happy hour from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00pm. (212) 677-2223

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