Get Behind These 8 Female Foodies Who Are Totally Killing It In Auckland

By Beau Johns
8th Mar 2021

Deanna Yang of Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar stands in front of her cookie bus. She is also wearing a shirt with cookies on it.

It's International Women’s Day, so we’ve been exploring confidence and success, and you need look no further than the women behind many of your favourite hospo joints and food ventures.

These eight female owner-operators are making waves in an industry with more businesses you can shake a fork at, and have taken the time to discuss the hard truths as to what it takes to run the show. 

Whilst there are no shortcuts or hacks—dreams are free, and so is this advice so if you’ve ever needed the push to start something for yourself (hospitality or otherwise), here it is on a figurative silver platter.

Deanna Yang

Moustache Milk & Cookie Bar

Moustache is such a damn good (and delicious) idea, we wish we’d come up with it ourselves. Starting her business at age 21, the year was 2012 and Deanna gave the people what we so desperately needed—a milk and cookie bar. After moving from their OG digs in the CBD, they travelled around in a crowd-funded cookie bus, eventually moving to Karangahape Road in 2016. With multiple stores throughout the country, the demand is unreal, so they're on the move again to Manukau to allow for much needed space in order to service the country with more of the snacks we know and love—COOKIES. 

What would you say are the most important things women who want to run the show need to know? 

From my own experience, women are often people pleasers or peace makers. We often put others opinions before our own. It's important to understand that you can't please everybody. You could be the juiciest most delicious peach and you'd still have someone who hates peaches. Women's intuition? Sixth Sense? Whatever you wanna call it, trust your gut even if there's haters—and there will be. This is your journey, not anyone else’s, so back yourself. You might not always be right, but thats all part of the journey and the learning. 

Have you ever struggled with confidence?

Everyday. People always see Moustache and think I'm immune to fear. But I'm just as scared and doubtful of my own abilities as everybody else. I just don't let the doubt become more important than my dream. When I first told people about my dream of opening a milk and cookie bar, even my loved ones didn't think it was a good idea. If I had let their opinions dull my shine, Moustache wouldn't exist today. You have to believe in yourself until others have no choice but to believe in you too.

What advice would you give to others about gaining confidence? 

When you lack confidence, just keep showing up. You'll get far just by showing up each day. I try to not take myself or life too seriously and just enjoy the ride. Remember that everything in life is temporary, so when you have a good day, enjoy and embrace it fully because it will pass. And when you have a bad day, know that it too will pass and a brighter day is coming. 

What does being a woman in These times mean to you?

People always tell women that we need to find our other "half". I disagree, what you really need is for yourself to be full. This year being a woman means self-love. Being kind to yourself doesn't mean being complacent. It means being the very best version of yourself. When you love, love fully. When you work, work passionately, it's about being unapologetically you.

Follow @moustachenz on Instagram 

Yeshe DawaYeshe Dawa

THE Midnight Baker

Yeshe Dawa is The Midnight Baker, and after suffering from eczema her whole life, she implemented a lifestyle change to heal from the inside out. Altering the ways she prepared and consumed food, she cut out gluten, dairy, alcohol and refined sugar. But there was one thing that was going to be harder to do away with. Bread. After many trials and tests, she created the recipe for the Freedom Loaf and has helped countless people in the process. Nowadays, you can grab her loaves online or at a bunch of stockists around the country. As for Yeshe, you’ll find her in her cafe in Mt Eden, serving up delicious, nutritious Midnight Baker toasts and toppings. 

What would you say are the most important things women who want to run the show need to know?

That they’ve got everything it takes to succeed. To believe in their talents and strengths and not be afraid to take the next step. That sometimes we’re going to have to work twice as hard for the opportunity or lead which sucks.  But if we bring others with us on the journey, we’re creating more opportunities for equality and equity. 

Have you ever struggled with confidence? 

Absolutely. I struggle with it often, some days more so than others. There’s a strong correlation between it and my overall mental and physical wellbeing. I have more tools in my kit these days though which help get me through the tougher ones. More lived experience and assurance that all things come and go. 

What advice would you give to others about gaining confidence? 

My mum used to say to me “fake it till you make it” which at the time I hated because I thought she was telling me not to be myself.  But then I realised she meant for me to project the version of who I wanted to be and was deep down, to manifest and live it even if I didn’t necessarily believe or feel it yet. And in doing so it became real.  


I saw a quote by Jonathan Van Ness recently which I really liked. “Someone else’s success doesn’t take away enough room for you to have yours. There is room for everyone.”  

Follow @themidnightbakernz on Instagram

Renee is laughing whilst her daughter drinks waterRenee Coulter


Rome wasn’t built in a day, and in saying that, Coco’s Cantina has been a labour of love since the beginning. Started a decade ago by sisters Renee and Damaris Coulter, Coco’s has gone from strength to strength and is highly regarded as a Karangahape Road institution—a title which isn’t given out often, but one that is 100% deserved. The family run restaurant with a social conscious has been serving up Italian inspired eats and filling up prosecco glasses for countless happy hours since 2009, and has amassed a loyal following of diners who’ve been looked after by one of Auckland’s longest-serving hospo teams. With Damaris going on to helm another social enterprise, The Realness, you’ll still find Renee on the floor making sure we all have a kai and a great space to thrive for many more evenings to come. 

What would you say are the most important things women who want to run the show need to know?

Woah, massive question! There are so many things. Perspective. You need to be able to look at a situation from all the angles and then make a call. You need to be able to soak up pressure and knowing when it’s okay to stress and when it’s not. Today's trending comments are literally yesterday’s old news, and no one gives a shit. As long as your people are good, you are good and if you happen to make a mistake, own it. You don’t need to do things alone, so trust you gut, but definitely have a core group of trusted people to bounce things off, and talk Netflix with everyone else. Finally, know when to take a step back—your key people can't truly step up until you move out of the way.

Have you ever struggled with confidence? 

At times. I find if you don’t read the comments or reviews, then the confidence tends to do OK.

What advice would you give to others about gaining confidence? 

Start small or within areas that you know and love, then you’ll be able to build an amazing platform or build on your confidence. If things do go bad, you get to look back on all the good stuff you've done, and that gives you the confidence and motivation to move on to something more out of your comfort zone.


It’s a huge responsibility, especially as a leader. I try to lead with honesty, but let my team know when I need help. I also acknowledge young people are dealing with a lot of stress, and acknowledge that we’re in a really challenging time.

Follow @cocoscantina on Instagram

Adele of Catroux stands in the kitchen of her cafe which is whiteAdele Jenner 


From super yachts to superstar owner and operator, tucked away in Westmere you’ll find Adele and her wonderful neighbourhood cafe, Catroux. Having worked her way around the world as a chef, she eventually traded her sea legs for higher ground, opening an eatery named for Betty Catroux. Her offering is well known for serving up incredible food, coffee and catering, and as well as being being the boss, she’s also a mother. Life is now, more than ever, a juggling act, but Adele is the proof in the pudding that hard work truly pays off. 

What would you say are the most important things women who want to run the show need to know?

Confidence is key. So many told me not to do a cafe, that the market in Auckland was too risky, that one in three cafes don’t make it. I brainstormed for at least a year, wrote a business plan and kept reassuring myself I could do it. My girlfriends who knew me well boosted my confidence, so I designed the cafe and followed my gut. Ultimately it paid off.

Have you ever struggled with confidence?

Yes, of course. I remember one client on a yacht I worked on judged me. As a young woman, he thought I wouldn’t be able to cook. The next day I blew his mind with the food and continued to do so for the rest of that week. Eventually, he begged me to move to LA with his family and be their chef, but I turned it down as I loved my yachting life.

What advice would you give to others about gaining confidence? 

Generally I’m a lot more confident. The only area I do get nervous is offsite events—weddings or big dinners. This is all about doing your homework first, making sure we’ve ticked every box and planned a great menu that is actually yummy. I used to overthink food and struggle, now it comes naturally and I go with my gut. Ultimately it’s about doing what you feel is right.

What does being a woman in 2020 mean to you?

I have a six week old baby and a two year old, so for me, this year is a balancing act. As a mum you become faster at what you do as time is precious. I know I’m good at what I do and I feel I've worked so bloody hard at Catroux, so this year I am all about improving our systems, training the right people to help us grow as a business to be successful.

Which woman or women inspires you the most and why?

My mum is my absolute biggest inspiration. She provided for me by herself for a long time and didn’t let anything stand in her way. She’s always been such an incredible role model growing up, and her strength and resilience through the ups and downs has really shown me that I can do anything.

Follow @catrouxnz on Instagram

Meena, the Executive Chef of Oh Calcutta stands in front of her restaurant smiling with a bushel of herbsMeena Anand

Oh Calcutta

If you’re after the best Indian food in Auckland, you need look no further than Oh Calcutta. It’s currently the oldest Indian eatery in our city, and for over 25 years has amassed awards, praise (from none other than Black Sabbath) and a cult-like following for Executive Chef Meena Anand’s family-inspired cooking. From humble beginnings in India, Meena arrived in New Zealand to establish the famed Oh Calcutta in Parnell and it was pretty clear there was something special about her restaurant. Within 12 months of opening, Meena was awarded multiple gold stars at NZ culinary competitions, and the following year, crowned the top Indian Eatery in the country. For more than two decades, Meena and her team are proving time and time again that the best dishes are made when you cook from the heart. 

What would you say are the most important things women who want to run the show need to know?

The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal has a timeline and an action plan. What has worked best for me is to surround myself with people who support me. Own, rather than complain about how people treat you. Learn to renegotiate your relationships to have what you want.

Have you ever struggled with confidence?

Yes, but I always remember that your level of confidence does not reflect your abilities. Shift to an equal mentality. See yourself as a being equal to everyone. They are no better or more deserving than you. Manage your mind and learn to pick up and defeat the negative self-talk. Trust yourself.

What advice would you give to others about gaining confidence? 

Confidence can be learned, practiced and mastered. Once you master it, everything in your life will change for the better. I think it’s important people learn thought awareness and rational thinking. Positive affirmations need to be done daily. Praise yourself!


In 2020 I am looking forward to empowering, supporting and celebrating women's achievements. The 2020 International Women's Day focus was on the theme “Each of Equal” meaning that an equal world is an enabled world.

Follow @ohcalcutta_kitchen_theatre on Instagram 

Bronwyn and Jessica Payne, owners of Hoppers and Elmos sit in a courtyardBronwyn and Jessica

Hoppers and Elmos

Sisters Jessica and Bronwyn Payne have a recipe for success when it comes to hospo. Having opened the Pizza Library at the Mount a few years back, they set their sights for Auckland, moving in and taking over Ponsonby’s bar and eatery scene. In 2018, they quickly established themselves as ones to watch after opening the uber popular garden bar Hoppers, and just a year later, fired up the ovens at Auckland’s latest gourmet pizza eatery and bar, Elmos. Looking back, there have been a number of well-known former establishments in the two Ponsonby places they’ve since transformed, but one thing is for sure—whatever Bronwyn and Jessica do is here to stay. 

What would you say are the most important things women who want to run the show need to know? 

Running the show sounds easier than it is, but regardless of gender, it truly is all or nothing. You must give 1000% percent, 24/7. There are no compromises, no wavering and no short cuts. A success formula is addictive and there becomes no room for contentment at all. The disappointments are plentiful and always painful, and your skin grows to be a lot thicker in a short period of time. It’s so important to surround yourself with people you admire and respect, and a mentor is key to help inspire you when you feel stuck, blocked or frustrated. Lastly, it can be a lonely journey, but it’s extremely rewarding when you get to watch your ideas come to life. 

Have you ever struggled with confidence? 

Yes absolutely, underestimating your capabilities is very normal. Some days you feel confident and strong and other days you feel worn down and insecure. Life can be intimidating, note how many of us hide in a crowded environment behind our cell phones? However, we are lucky to have each other in business to help give one another that lift when we need it most. 

What advice would you give to others about gaining confidence? 

Starting out on your new venture is a daunting challenge for anyone, there are so
many unforeseen events. We had no choice but to take on things we’d never done before, and I think that’s how you grow in confidence, when there’s that moment of “I’m not really sure I can do this,” and you push through. That’s when you have a breakthrough and magic things happen. Growth and comfort do not coexist and it goes back to the famous saying “fake it till you make it.” Confidence grows as we progress in any shape or form, in business this is developed by hours and hours of working at your craft. We believe luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. 


Being a woman in 2020 to us means being healthy in mind and body, finding passion in your life and continuing to keep curious. As Walt Disney once said, “we keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” 

Follow @hoppersgardenbar and @elmosnz on Instagram   

Rebecca Bradley is the owner of Viaduct Yacht Club. She stands behind the bar surrounded by her cheering staff

Rebecca Bradley

Viaduct Yacht Club

Serving up quality fare and libations, Viaduct Yacht Club is a welcome newcomer to Auckland’s waterfront, situated in prime real estate with the views to boot. You’ll spend many an afternoon enjoying a seasonal menu sea-side, gawking at some of Auckland’s largest launches whilst tipsily crafting conspiracy theories as to how boats that big can actually stay afloat. Rebecca Bradley dreamed of owning a business since she was a child, and after a very successful career in the media industry, she took the leap and made that dream a reality. 

What would you say are the most important things women who want to run the show need to know?

I think one of the most important things is to surround yourself with a great team. One that celebrates everyone’s success and supports you. The other thing, which can be challenging as a woman, is the ability to seperate your emotions and make rational business decisions guided by logic instead of your heart. This was not an issue for me when I worked in a corporate job, but now that I have created something myself I struggle not to take the knocks personally. This is an area I am trying to work on, but I come back to point one having a great team helps to balance the emotions and not feel like you are all on your own. 

Have you ever struggled with confidence? 

I had a long career in media and never struggled with confidence in the workplace, however I always wanted to have my own business. The reason it took me so long was fear. Fear of failure, fear of stepping outside my comfort zone, and fear of the unknown. I took the leap last year and no matter what, I will never look back and regret that I didn’t give it a go. 

What advice would you give to others about gaining confidence? 

Success is what we all strive for, but fearing failure can stalk you in the night. Confidence comes when you accept that failure is not a failure, but a step in your journey. Everything we do we learn and grow from. Most successful people have had many attempts and failures. They just keep trying and it’s OK. 


I am eternally grateful to live in a time when women have choices. We can strive for our dreams and be whatever we put our minds to. But as a woman, I am, more than anything, a mother, and that is the most important thing I will ever do in my life. Juggling all the aspects of life can be challenging; work, family, stress, demands on your time. But it is my choice and one a woman in 2020 is lucky to be able to make for themselves. 

Follow @viaductyachtclub on Instagram 

Danielle Butler owner of The Pie Piper and door nuts stands smiling with a rolling pin in her handDanielle Butler

The Pie Piper & Doornuts 

Pie and happiness. What more could you ask for? Well, that’s a loaded question. Started by mother-daughter duo Danielle and Suzanne, they saw a giant pie-sized gap in New Zealand—and a lack of American style desserts. What begun as the opportunity to allow us to indulge in our wildest sweet-toothed fantasies (and allowed the writer to live out out their Twin Peaks pie-in-the-sky), it has grown to be so much more. There’s now two stores, baking classes, an even bigger spread of delicious desserts and a donut delivery service on offer. Suzanne has since headed overseas to explore a new frontier, but you’ll still find her Mama Danielle in the shop, leading the charge to deliver The Pie Piper & Doornuts’ legacy of handmade desserts for the masses. 

What would you say are the most important things women who want to run the show need to know?

Hire enlightened people! Surround yourself with people who help you be a better person. At The Pie Piper & Doornuts, I have a wonderful crew who not only do a great job, but also have a personal investment in our success and in each other. I get the most reward out of the relationships with the people I work alongside.  

Have you ever struggled with confidence?

I consider myself a work-in-progress when it comes to confidence. Some days are better than others. I doubt myself constantly. I had a life coach for a couple of years, and she knew how to ask the right questions, so I could look inwards and truly consider my fears, frailties and re-frame my self-doubt. To help change that habit, my daily routine includes a commitment to act on ideas that make my life and the lives of those around me better and to put aside hesitancy and replace it with courage, which often pushes me outside my comfort zone. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you push yourself. I find it fuels my creative process.

What advice would you give to others about gaining confidence? 

I believe confidence is something that needs to be practiced daily. I have a policy of saying 'yes' to opportunities that may at first seem frightening, but in reality when you break them down they become more than manageable and turn into a rewarding experience. I've learned the most from those moments. Ten years ago I saw a wanted ad for baseball umpires. I'm a huge baseball fan, and decided to say yes, and went to the first training. I was the only woman taking part, and it was an awkward, uncomfortable session. I didn't know any rules, but I was keen to learn and take part. Although I'm still the only female umpire in New Zealand, I've developed some fantastic relationships and networks with the baseball community, which would never have happened if I said no.  


For me, I'm looking at the whole decade, not just the year. I refuse to be halted or stopped by the gender gap. It's not a factor in my business, but is a factor in my industry and I want to eliminate that thinking. Often I think about my mother who was in business through the 70’s, 80’s and 90's and all the gender challenges she faced, from bank managers refusing to even meet with her about lending to an all-female business and others judging her for not being at home with the kids. Change should have happened faster, but now I feel the momentum and this decade should accept nothing less than the elimination of inequities.

Follow @thepiepiper on Instagram 

Meet 13 women who are leading the charge with these cool female-led businesses.

Image credit: @ansgardsfotografie (Moustache Cookie Bar), supplied

Get our top stories direct to your inbox.

Get our top stories direct to your inbox.

You May Also Like