When I was trying to find my way immediately after closing my restaurant, Cowin reached out. And hasn’t stopped reaching out. “As a mentor, I think of myself as someone who brings compassion, empathy, and a strong opinion to every conversation. I start with the belief that my mentee is smart, talented, and human. My job is to listen, and then reflect on what they know to be true deep inside themselves and help bring it out. I encourage creativity and self-knowledge and ask each mentee to come up with a compelling idea of what success looks like to them, and then see the best way to support them on the way to achieving it. I like working with people who have an open mind and can absorb and, if they are aligned, act on the recommendations that result from our conversations.”
Cowin’s most recent project puts her mentorship back onto the page, in the form of the Speaking Broadly zine. “My zine is partly a result of my own journey, from feeling stuck in the world's greatest job, to unsticking myself; figuring out how to hold onto the things I loved about my past, while creating an opportunity to communicate what I learned about carving a new path. Some of the personal growth came from my business of coaching others; some came from being coached. I wanted to channel those insights into the zine so a portion is dedicated to mantras, motivations, lessons on how to school yourself to do a job you don't know how to do, paying it forward to other women… and part is pretty classic lifestyle.”
I have a years-long habit of hopping into Ellen Yin’s Ubers. She’s only become aware of this in Charleston, but if I’m in the same place as Yin and she’s calling a ride, I’m there. On each of these rides, she’s dispensed valuable insight that I needed to hear at those precise moments in my life and career. I’m not alone. She says: “I am so proud of all our alumni [at High Street Hospitality]. Every person who comes through our group is my responsibility to mentor.” As a cornerstone of Philadelphia’s pandemic-nurtured movement Sisterly Love, she takes on more people as responsibilities, but the benefits are mutual. “Sisterly Love Collective is a group of female restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs in Philadelphia coming together for collaborative action and support. The group provides the venue for people to get to know each other – one of the first steps of developing relationships – and identifies women who are seeking advice and mentorship.” Growing from informal meetings and pop-up markets, the collective has grown and Yin hopes to see it develop further. “One of my dreams is to establish an accelerator program for Sisterly Love Collective that combines mentorship, formal training, and networking opportunities with access to capital.”
Yin notes that the mentor-mentee relationship isn’t linear. It’s not coaching. “I think mentorship takes on many forms that run the gamut from formal programs to informal relationships – short and long-term, intermittent, or consistent. Regardless of the type, true mentorship requires both mentor and mentee to get to know each other and develop trust. Without that, it isn't true mentorship. Mentors not only listen and advise the mentee, but they also open doors and are an advocate for the mentee. But here’s the thing: mentors also learn from their mentees, which is why it should be a mutual conversation, not just sharing your personal story – that is a small part – but the beauty lies in figuring out some things together. Two heads are better than one.”
Something must be said that the first mentor was indeed female. In the Odyssey, Athena assumed the guise of the character named Mentor, whom Odysseus had placed to take care of his son Telemachus and his palace in Ithaca. Athena appeared as this trusted character to both Telemachus and Odysseus (amongst some of the many ways she guided the latter in the epic). This concept of Athena-branded mentorship hasn’t changed much since the Odyssey. If there’s something we can extract from Homer to examine relationships in today’s food industry, mentorship is a non-linear relationship with twists and turns. It can morph into many forms and benefit both mentor and mentee.