July is the quintessential vacation month, and, like many of you, I’m taking the opportunity to do some traveling this month. Over the course of my career in retail store operations, field leadership, and learning and development, I’ve been able to travel to many different places for work, leaving just three states in the U.S. that I have yet to visit: Alaska, Iowa, and New Mexico. My trip this summer not only checks off one of those states, Alaska, it adds another area of North America I’ve yet to explore, British Columbia. With MOHR Retail being based in Miami, it’s been a perfect escape from the heat, humidity, and storms that make up a South Florida summer.

We began our journey by flying to Seattle and then driving with friends to Vancouver, Canada, for a few days of biking, eating, and exploring. A highlight was Stanley Park, which is a beautiful area to bike (and yes, that’s the Stanley, namesake of the Stanley Cup, which the Florida Panthers just won, much to the disappointment of many, especially our Canadian neighbors!).

Speaking of highlights, as a self-confessed foodie, I always seek out great restaurants and, if possible, the opportunity to meet the chef while I enjoy their food. A friend and business colleague made a chef introduction for me before I arrived in Vancouver, and we enjoyed a spectacular experience at celebrated restaurant Viji’s Bib Gourmand. The evening included a tour of the full restaurant, front and back of the house, followed by a private dining experience with the award-winning chef and owner, Vikram Viji.

During our time at the restaurant, we met and talked with Chef Vikram’s entire staff, from wait staff and bartenders to bread bakers, cooks, and the sous chef. He explained that it was important to him that we met all of them because everyone contributes to the success of the customer experience. He wanted each of them to personally introduce themselves and share what they do, why they chose this career, and how long they have been doing it, both at his restaurant and in the industry as a whole. To a person, they were highly engaged and authentic; nothing was for show. Having spent a large part of my life and career developing leadership training to create this type of culture in retail organizations, it made a huge impression on me.


We heard many stories — Meghan and Harry had recently dined and entered through that same kitchen — and vivid stories were revealed in other ways, too. For example, the details of Chef Vikram’s upbringing in India are depicted in the ceiling full of chai bowls and the intricately designed terrazzo handcrafted tile welcome table. It was clear that history, culture, and customer experience were important to Chef Vikram, and it showed in how he managed his restaurant.

I was struck by his background and expertise, and, mostly, by how humble and appreciative he was for his restaurant team, where he is today, and the loyalty, pride, and appreciation each of his team members shares with the diners and customers. One sign of just how powerful this culture is: Most of his team have worked with him for over 20 years!

The parallels to retail are evident: Treat your team/employees well, empower them with skills and confidence, and instill in them a sense of ownership and pride, and they will ensure your customers are well taken care of. It is the employee-customer profit service chain that I have followed my entire career. When you engage and empower people, they will deliver their best work for your customers. And they (and your customers) will stay with you for the long haul.

As we dined, Chef Vikram sat with us and explained every ingredient — lamb, goat, samosas, kebabs, chicken schnitzel with an Indian sauce (a nod to his Austrian culinary education), vegetables like eggplant, cauliflower, house-baked Naan, chickpeas, saffron ice cream, and rose water Gulab rice pudding, not to mention the best chai tea ever!

We discussed sustainability, which is a key priority for him, sourcing fresh local ingredients, and supporting farmers and anglers in the area. He told us about his childhood and how he got to be a chef after dreaming as a child of becoming a Bollywood star. He shared wonderful stories about fellow chefs, and also discussed discrimination in the restaurant industry and chef world, which he says remains a persistent issue today with people of color and women. It’s top of mind for him, and one of the reasons two out of three of his restaurants have all-female staff in the kitchen, from head chef to sous chef and cooks.

The lessons here: Follow your passion, be a good person in your time on Earth to the communities you serve, and protect and sustain for the future — by building bench strength and ensuring there are people and resources available to continue your legacy and sustain your culture. Be inclusive and create a culture that protects the heart of your business while building trust. A strong leader must have pride while balancing it with humility.

We left Vancouver filled not only with incredible, delectable food but also so much meaningful food for thought. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

We next took a picturesque ferry ride to Victoria, where we spent two days before heading back to Seattle and catching a round-trip cruise to Alaska. In fact, I’m writing this newsletter as we sail from Seattle to Juneau, basking in the gorgeous sunny weather, with highs in the 70s, a welcome break from what we left behind in Miami. We are looking forward to even cooler temperatures — and more awe-inspiring vistas — as we head north toward Alaska.

I hope that, wherever your plans take you this summer, you are safe, savoring new adventures, and soaking up the times with your loved ones, family, and friends, and maybe some new friends your travels have introduced you, too. I’d love to hear about what inspired you on your summer vacation!


About Mary Beth Garcia

Mary Beth has worked with a variety of retail and hospitality clients as a strategic partner, delivering leadership, communications, retail programs, consulting, and executive coaching for such diverse companies as Academy Sports and Outdoors, Altar’d State, Amazon Fresh, Advanced Auto Parts, Bvlgari, Cardinal Health, Compass Group, Darden, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Foot Locker Group, Haggar Clothing, King Ranch, LVMH, Michaels, Saks Department Store Group, SMCP, Southeastern Grocers, TBC, TJX Companies, Ulta Beauty, and Whole Foods Market. Prior to her consulting work, Mary Beth spent more than 20 years in retail management and operations for companies such as Macys, g.Briggs, The Bombay Company, and Sunglass Hut International, holding numerous leadership positions in sales, store, district, and regional management and corporate communications, training, and operations. Based in Miami, FL, Mary Beth served on the Executive Advisory Board for the University of Florida’s Retail Education and Research Department from 2003-2014. She holds an A.A. Degree in Retail Management and Fashion Merchandising from Bauder College.