WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – EVA PAU, COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR
Eva Pau very literally grew up in the Asia Market store on Drury Street, Dublin, that is owned by her parents, Helen and Howard Pau, and which last year celebrated its 40th anniversary. When she was a child, her mother worked on the shop floor as a Cashier and in her formative years, the store became Eva’s playground – popping out every now and again to say hi to the customers.
She grew up in the business, spending a lot of time around her parents and becoming immersed in their work. When she was old enough, she was encouraged by them to go off and study and plan for her own future. Eva subsequently gained an MA in ICT at Trinity College Dublin and an MSc in IT Management & Organisational Change at Lancaster University in the UK.
If you live in Dublin and if you’re anything like me, you will have spent an unreasonable amount of time and money at Asia Market in Drury st or in their Ballymount location. I feel like I owe Asia Market a huge debt of gratitude. When Covid hit and we were all under locked down, their Ballymount store kept me safe and sane. It was within my allowed limit to travel and the alleys are wide, the cleaning protocoles were outstanding and every thing was managed superbly. Given that all the food there is Asian and I’ve never been there, it allowed me to go on pretend holidays when there was nothing else to do. Throughout the pandemic, I discovered so many products by sheer luck of the draw and sometimes by asking the floor for their recommendation. A place I love dearly, and I too, get excited when I spot the yellow bags!
Right now, as it’s coming up to the Chinese New Year, Eva Pau is busy overseeing the many different ways Asia Market are celebrating. They have organised family friendly food experiences, the Ballymount store is to host a one of a kind Chinese New Year Market on the 3rd of February, cookery lessons and demonstrations, tastings, online talks and a lot more. You will find all details on their website and I for one can’t wait to head in. The New Year Market in Ballymount has my name all over it. I’m excited to see the Dragon Dance!
All this to say that it’s fierce interesting to hear from someone who as grown up in and developed one of what I feel is an absolute Dublin institution.
How did your career path bring you here?
I started my career as a private banker in Hong Kong. I decided to move to Hong Kong after I graduated as it was a place I had spent a lot of summers in as a teenager and I always thought people in Hong Kong were very business savvy. It is a place with a wonderful energy and a feeling that it is a land of opportunities. It always seemed to be at the forefront of trends and I wanted to be in that environment.
I remember my Dad telling me before I left for Hong Kong to find a job as soon as possible so that I wouldn’t have a long gap in my resume between when I graduated and when I started work. So, I applied for jobs when I landed in Hong Kong and within two weeks, I was working in FedEx as a data analyst. I remember the partitions between each cubicle were very high and although there were about a hundred people working on my floor, it was hard to meet or talk to anyone. It made me realise that I didn’t enjoy a job that was just in front of a computer. I needed to be meeting people.
My next job after FedEx was with Rabobank for a 3 month internship. That was my first step into banking and I really enjoyed working with a team and getting an insight into world banking. I specialised in their food department analysing world food trends and how that affected the buying market. It was a real eye opener as we would often have global meetings with 15 people from all over the world preparing food reports and data for customers.
From Rabobank I moved to work with Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong in their property department for 5 years. We worked with high net worth clients looking at investment properties in the UK. There was a great culture working in the banking industry in Hong Kong. It was all hours, fast paced and I loved the buzz.
Hong Kong is a wonderful melting pot of people from all walks of life. Friends that I met there are still my best friends now. They have a high turnover of population with people who would spend a few years there as an experience before they would head home to settle down. I was no different, after doing some travelling with my parents to visit their food suppliers in Southeast Asia, it reignited my interest in the family business that I grew up in. I felt that I had now gained good commercial experience and I decided after 7 years in Hong Kong it was my time to move home
How does your career fulfil you?
What I do now is really my dream job. I don’t have time to stay still which really suits my personality. My parents have always been hard workers and that has really been instilled in me. My title in the company is Commercial Director, but as a family business, my role is a lot broader. I oversee all departments and ensure that they run smoothly and effectively. That requires a lot of communication which can be challenging with the diverse and multicultural background in the company. I am lucky that I am fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin which certainly helps with interdepartmental communication.
On a given week, I would be analysing product sales data to identify trends to make sure we have products customers want, looking at sales reports from retail, wholesale, online and our restaurant to identify how we can improve our sales, looking at our online social media statistics to tailor and keep our marketing activity relevant to our customers, working on expanding our range of home brand products, thinking of design concepts that will give our supermarket a fresh look.
I’m passionate about food and people. My job combines these two elements and no two days are the same. I have a management team that I work with daily and they are gurus in their fields which makes my life a lot easier. Their advice and professionalism provide me the insight to make decisions about the business.
I used to travel a lot to different food exhibitions pre covid. I loved this as It was a great way to see exciting new products in the market but I really enjoyed building relationships with all my suppliers. My coconut milk supplier as an example, is also a second generation family business. Their whole family are vegan and from a coconut milk factory they have developed a full range of coconut based caramel sauces and plant based foods like jackfruit confit that is often compared to pulled pork. They are amazing and I am always inspired by their constant innovation.
Over the past two years, Covid has presented a lot of challenges. When it first hit two years ago, I remember a lot of my staff were too scared to come into work especially in the retail stores. I knew we needed to stay open as we were an essential service and we were so short staffed that there weren’t enough staff to operate the till. So I hopped on a till and had the best time working alongside my retail staff. Some of our staff members have been with the company for 15 years and I feel they are really part of the family.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Eva Pau?
My ambition is to update the backbone of the business and bring it into the 21st century. I want to continue to grow Asia Market as Ireland’s one stop shop for all things Asian. I’m working on a series of exciting projects to enhance the Asian experience for our customers. I plan to setup more food concepts like our Duck restaurant on Fade Street.
With my travels to Asia I have seen so many food ideas that I want to bring to Ireland. My challenge is to decide on which food concept best suits the Irish market and find the best people to do it. I like the idea of a simple menu, not too confusing or too many choices. It needs to be authentic and delicious. Something that you would have a craving for.
I absolutely love cooking and have a huge collection of cookbooks that I have been collecting for the last 15 years. One of my personal ambitions is to create my own cookbook for Asia Market. I would like it to include authentic, home cooked recipes and Asian cooking techniques. Also, being a mother of two kids under the age of 5, It has sparked a strong interest in infant nutrition and how we can expose our children to more food ingredients and experiences at an early age. I’m not sure if this will be a second book or maybe an Asian baby food range. It has yet to be decided.
We have a thriving B2C website that I launched 5 years ago, next step would be to launch a B2B website and app. Everyone is constantly on their mobile phones these days and the next logical step would be to offer more services to our wholesale restaurant and takeaway customers so that they can get access to ordering from us more easily.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspires you and why?
My mum Helen is my inspiration. I’ve seen her grow the business from strength to strength. She is so hard working and dedicated to her job. She is fast, efficient and has a great approach to work and sets an amazing example. She knows each part of the business inside out.
Nothing phases her and she is a constant pillar of strength.
What do you think can be done to raise the profile and visibility of women in the industry?
I am delighted to say that 70% of Asia Market’s top line managers are female. When I think of the representation of women in the Irish Food Industry as a whole, I feel that we have some fantastic role models such as Rachel and Darina Allen, Clodagh Mc Kenna, Domini and Peaches Kemp, Fiona Uyema, Catherine Fulvio, Pamela and Lorraine Fitzmaurice from Blazing Salads. These women are an inspiration to us all and I would urge young women reading this to look to the food industry as an exciting career path, full of opportunities.
The more women we have in the industry the better.
What is the proudest moment of your career so far?
One of the first things I worked on when I came back from Hong Kong was to firmly establish the Asia Market brand and to grow the recognition of the brand within the market. This took the form of revamping both retail stores, taking part in food exhibitions like Taste of Dublin, branding our fleet of delivery trucks and creating our bag for life. I still get a kick from seeing our bag for life in use on the street. I’m proud to say that our yellow and black branding have become very recognisable.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would probably tell myself to have more confidence in my decisions. Listen and go with your gut instinct. When we were planning to open our Duck restaurant, a few senior managers in the company thought that It was probably too authentic and that it wouldn’t appeal to the local market. It should be more like a normal Chinese takeaway with a broader menu, make it more appealing to more people. I remember deliberating over it but decided that I didn’t want the menu to be confused with a lot of options. Our main product was authentic Hong Kong style roast meats. That is what everyone should be ordering when they go in. I’m delighted to say that it was the right decision and Duck has proven to be very popular.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Running a company of 160 people, you need to be able to work with all departments. They are your arms and legs. You need them to function smoothly. So, you need good people skills, be understanding and compassionate. You need to be able to see things from other people’s perspective. You need to be a good leader. Be able to identify the next steps for the company. Make good decisions to grow the company in the right direction. Be ambitious and take risks at the same time.
You need to have a good work life balance. It is hard to switch off when you run a business, but I think the key to be able to make good decisions and correct ones is that you need to have a healthy mind. To have that mentality, you need to work at finding something that relaxes you and that you enjoy doing besides work. For me it’s spending quality time with my family.
Are you a savoury or sweet kind of person? Please tell us about a real treat?
I’m probably more of a sweet type of person. I love baking. I love desserts. I lovemaking things look pretty! I have a second stomach for sweet things. I would say afternoon tea is definitely my downfall. My husband bought me an ice cream machine for Christmas which I think says it all.