It's been 10 years, but Gjelina, a vegetable-centric restaurant that encapsulates the epitome of modern California cuisine, is just as crowded as ever. Between the wood-fire grilled pizza and the inviting outdoor patio, it's not hard to see why people are still lining up around the block to snag a seat at this Venice hot spot.
Recently, we met up with one of the women responsible for the restaurant's resounding success: Shelley Kleyn Armistead, Gjelina Group's chief operating officer. Dedicated to managing every detail from the structural design of the restaurant to the ceramic plates the food is served on, Armistead is the architect behind the ambiance of the eatery.
"It is a lovely feeling to watch customers enjoy themselves and know that you had a hand in shaping the experience," she told MyDomaine. Given the success of the group's flagship restaurant, Gjelina, and casual cafe, Gjusta, the decision to launch a homewares shop, Gjusta Goods, was not only a logical one but also one that Armistead is deeply passionate about. "The happiest moments for me include finding really great makers around the world that I can work with to create ceramics, cookware, and textiles," she explained. You can browse the full line at Gjusta Goods' permanent location in Venice, or if you're on the eastside of Los Angeles, head to the brand's pop-up shop in Silverlake to shop the homeware goods through the end of May.
In this installment of Second Life, a series that shines a spotlight on successful women who've made major career changes, we ask Shelley Kleyn Armistead all about her 25-year long career in the hospitality industry, including working her way up from waitress to chief operating officer, finding a time management system that actually works, and learning to trust her gut.
Tell us about your first career path.
Over the past 25 years, my career path has run through all facets of the hospitality industry. I started out bartending and serving tables to pay for my first degree at university in South Africa. Then, I served tables as soon as I graduated, to pay for a plane ticket to the UK to travel through Europe and North Africa.
While in London, I served tables at Mezzo and The River Café to pay for my second degree, a bachelor of science in homeopathic medicine. In my 20s, serving tables allowed me to afford to travel. When I was 28, I was offered my first management job while serving tables, at The River Cafe, and the rest is history.
I received a call from Soho House and spent the next 12 years running and opening properties and traveling the world for an extraordinary hospitality group. My knowledge about finance, legal, inventory control, kitchen operations, and design grew exponentially. My time with them brought me to L.A. to open up their West Hollywood operation. After four years in L.A., the opportunity to become the COO and a partner in the Gjelina Group arose.
How did you make the transition from restaurants to the home décor?
It was never a definitive move away, but rather an expansion of my passions into my existing career. I am still the COO of the Gjelina Group and oversee operations of the hospitality spaces. The companies I previously worked for all nodded to design as well: Terrance Conran as an industrial designer; The River Café is owned by Ruth Rogers, wife of Lord Richard Rogers the architect, and the café sits in among the architect practice; and Soho House speaks for itself. It's hard not to run a private members club or hotel and not get involved in design.
Tell us about your current career path/business.
When I joined the Gjelina Group, I wanted to bring design in-house, so we now have an in-house architect as well as a graphics team. The gift of having it all in-house gives us the ability to move on a project with more agility and working with them to come up with everything from restaurant layouts and furniture designs to bowl and cup shapes has been super fun.
What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers, and why?
I think my primary challenge is that of the majority of working parents around the world. It's the constant balance of spending as much quality time with my beautiful children; being a present mom, daughter, sister, and friend; and following a career path that I love deeply with what can sometimes seem the rather crippling anxiety of financially supporting my family.
What triggered your need for change this time around?
It was less of a change and more of an expansion of what I was currently doing. The evolution of creating a ceramics line and napkin line that is ethically and locally made created the need for Gjusta Goods, our pop-up retail store, which sells these items. It is only the beginning of the story, and I am so excited to continue the expansion. I am now working with makers in Oaxaca, some of whom are family members of our current staff. This has been the most rewarding moment in my career to date.
Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
My mind jumps to ideas all the time—usually around the topics of people, food, design, art, and business—and my current path encompasses all those aspects at all moments of the day.
What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
Following your passion is more freeing than the fear keeping you within the constraints of your current path, even if it means an adjustment in your earnings. The new relationships and conversations I have been able to have by surrounding myself with like-minded people following the same path have been worth their weight in gold.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
I am super lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who believe in me and are very forthcoming with their opinions. I know that any time I feel fear in pursuing anything new, I can reach out and be steadied by them.
What are some valuable things you've learned along the way that have helped your success?
Creating a system of following up. I found that I would delegate a task and then forget about it, assuming it was taken care of. Creating a system of checking in with my colleagues means the four restaurants and lifestyle store can move along relatively efficiently without me dropping the ball too many times.
The most valuable tool I was taught, which allows me to be more effective with my time, was not to separate my to-do lists based on my work life and my personal life—they're all equally important tasks. Before I go to sleep, I mark items on my list with an A, B, or C. A items are imperative and are the first items I tackle straight after our daily team check-in. B items can be done within 24 hours, and C item later in the week. It makes tackling any tasks incredibly fast.
What do you love most about your current role, and why?
I love that is it not stagnant; no day is the same. I get to move between each property, each with its own personality and set of needs. My mind is constantly racing about how I can add value not just from a service perspective or a financial business perspective, but aesthetically too. I love the humans that work in all the properties. They add to my day, every day.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
I am sure there are times over the years that I should have shown more patience with certain employees that needed more guidance, particularly in my early years of stepping into management.
I could quote that life is too short for regrets, and while that might be true, it would not be honest coming from me. There is only one decision in my entire career that I truly regret. My gut was screaming not to do something, and I took the risk regardless. It's the kind of decision that, whenever I think about it, still makes me feel ill. After that, I have always gone with my gut.
For more inspiring stories from successful women who've made major career changes, tune into MyDomaine's Second Life podcast.