It's working for Fiona Lewis, Co-Owner of The District Fishwife
Greenbelt , MD
My husband is my partner in life and business, and I think we mostly complement each other really well.
I think every expectant mother is on their own journey, and none of us should judge each other for the things we did or didn’t do. I think we owe ourselves grace and understanding during a very difficult and challenging time, especially for first-time mothers. The only advice I would offer is to look for networks of support among existing friends, family, or new friends who are also expecting. Share your experience and don’t be afraid to talk about how you’re feeling and seek out support when you need it.
In Asia, where I traveled extensively before moving to the US, families of even modest means tend to have nannies and other employees that help with housework. This is viewed as almost a social responsibility, in terms of providing jobs for people who would not otherwise have work. What that means for parents, though, is that they can focus on parenting and are not as distracted by housework as we are in the US. Although in some cases it’s been portrayed as a negative (e.g. Tiger Mom), in my experience with my students in Myanmar, I saw a group of well-adjusted, bright children who were engaged and curious about the world.
At the time, my husband Ben was working full time and had just changed jobs and taken on more responsibility, so it was really a challenge for us to juggle everything at home. Thankfully, my mother-in-law came to live with us and helped with childcare while I got the business up and running. Eventually, my husband was able to move full-time to helping manage the business and take over childcare duties at home, and we’ve found a really good balance.
Since we are first and foremost a fish market, we have been able to stay open basically the entire time during COVID as an “essential business”. When we opened seven years ago, we were doing about 70% of sales in fresh fish, and 30% in prepared food from our kitchen. As Union Market evolved over time, however, we had shifted to about 70% prepared food, and 30% fresh fish. When the pandemic hit, we were fortunate to already have an online marketplace set up on Mercato.com where our sales exploded. We saw it happening and did our best to bulk up our ability to handle those orders, and after a few weeks of adjusting we got our systems worked out and have steadily increased what we’ve sold online, not just fresh fish, but also flour, yeast, and toilet paper at the height of the shortages. It’s been a real boon for us to have that outlet. At the same time we expanded what we were offering in terms of ready-to-cook items such as Salmon Wellingtons, deli items such as our Asian pickles and house-made sauces, and added a freezer case to offer retail packs of shrimp, crab, and other items that are great and keep well in the freezer.
To be very honest it’s been a rewarding journey, but we have had our share of challenges over the years. My husband is my partner in life and business, and I think we mostly complement each other really well. There are some things that he is really good at, which I hate doing or will take me much longer to accomplish, whereas I think he would readily admit that there are many things that I am able to do much better than he can. The best advice I can give is to keep communication open, but also set boundaries for when talking about the business should be limited—such as in front of the children or at bedtime when you’re half asleep and a random question sets your mind racing again (Ben would NEVER do that).
I’d say my two issues are more Aquaculture and transparency in seafood value chains
Well, it certainly hasn’t been easy, and it’s taken a while to get there, but I’m grateful that after seven years I have a solid team who can run the shop without me, and my husband who looks after the administration of the business. That’s given me the space and time to focus on both professional growth and passion projects. In 2019 I was honored to be named to the Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) Fellowship and traveled to Boston to participate in a weeklong business seminar. That experience really crystallized for me the importance of engaging with other women in the restaurant industry for mutual support and development. You can pretty much draw a straight line from WEL to the Women’s Food Fest, which we started up this year in DC after connecting with the Let’s Talk group of women from Chicago.
After WEL, I was also asked to cook at the Beard House and participate in a number of panels and events at SxSW and the 2019 Seafood Expo. That gave me the fantastic opportunity to share my thoughts on the importance of Aquaculture for a sustainable food system, as well as issues related to transparency and changes in the global seafood supply chain.
On days that I work late, I’m often asleep on the couch within about 30 minutes of getting home, so I generally get plenty of sleep, which I think is critical to self-care. I don’t spend much time on social media so I don’t really get sucked into the endless scrolling on my phone which comes with that. Otherwise, I do my best to work in yoga as much as I can, and I like to curl up in bed with a good book. I also think family time is a really important piece of self-care, so we also try to get outside together at least once a week for a hike or a bike ride, and weekday evenings we play games or just have quiet reading time together on the couch (when I’m home).
We were lucky because my mother-in-law was transitioning into retirement and had been thinking about moving closer to be able to see our son more, so the stars were aligned for her to move here and help out. The business was also something we always considered as a ‘next phase’ in terms of our work, so it was a natural progression for my husband to quit his office job once the business was turning a profit. We consider ourselves fortunate that things worked out as well as they did.
As a working parent, I never expected getting my son to eat fish would be so hard and getting him to work at the shop would be so much easier.