Even though she’d spent years working in restaurants, Maureen Kalmanson never thought she’d open her own. When she’d worked as a hostess before college, she’d asked for a waitress position from one of her managers.
“She told me, ‘You need to just keep going to school, doing what you’re doing, [and] don’t get involved in all this mess,’” Kalmanson told Goergia Voice. “So, I took her advice and went to college.”
But even at college, something kept pulling her back to the culinary world. While taking classes, Kalmanson’s side job was always at restaurants, usually working as a hostess or a manager. She said she had no intention of opening her own restaurant and was preparing to take the LSAT to go to law school when she finished college.
“I was going to be a lawyer, or maybe a psychologist,” she said. “I had two majors and one, two, or maybe even three minors. I couldn’t really decide who I was then.”
Maureen had plans for her future, and restaurants weren’t a part of them. Then came Harry’s.
Opened in 1978 in Athens, Georgia, Harry’s was a two-story location, with a pub-style restaurant downstairs and a bar and music venue on the upper level. Kalmanson said that she chose Athens because she was living in Tallahassee before she moved and was looking for a town that wouldn’t feel too different.
Kalmanson didn’t stop her projects in Athens and continued to move around the country, opening and managing restaurants along the way. After moving from Athens to Atlanta, she opened Peasant Bistro, which they kept running in downtown Atlanta for seven years before eventually closing it to focus on other projects.
From Atlanta, she moved to Fire Island, New York, where she opened another restaurant in collaboration with a business partner. Next came New York City, where Kalmanson helped oversee several restaurants. Everywhere she went, Kalmanson was involved in the local restaurant scene.
After several years of moving around, Kalmanson moved back to Atlanta, where her already-opened restaurants were waiting for her, which were soon followed by her current restaurants, Henry’s Midtown Tavern and Campagnolo.
“So yeah, I’ve been in this business forever,” she joked after recounting her story.
Her career has come with ups and downs, but Kalmanson says that she’s been happy with her career in the restaurant industry. Even though it wasn’t planned, she said that once she landed in that career, she found that it worked with her way of thinking. Beyond that, she says she loves the interpersonal aspect of running a restaurant.
“I love bringing lots of different people together, and I love making people happy,” she said.
While Kalmanson has watched her career evolve and grow, the restaurant world has followed suit. Reflecting on when she started working in the business, she said that women weren’t often seen taking leadership roles in the same way men in the restaurant business were. Where a man’s directions would seem like good management, a woman’s would have been interpreted as bossy or controlling.
“Back in that time, women were not expected to be in charge,” she said, adding that she didn’t accept these double standards as fair or normal. Kalmanson remembers thinking to herself, “I can’t behave the way they want me to behave, I can’t be that person, because that’s not who I am, and I’m not gonna pretend to be someone I’m not. They’re either gonna get used to me, or I’m gonna leave.”
Now, Kalmanson’s career has lasted for more than three decades, and she says that the attitudes around women in leadership positions have changed. She says that she’d enjoyed her career because of all the places it’s taken and all the people she’s met and befriended along the way.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” she said, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”