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Q&A: Balancing the Grind with Heaven Leigh

Vegan entrepreneur, third generation female restaurateur, and owner of Bodhi Restaurant Bar in Sydney, Heaven shares how she's survived through 20 years of running a restaurant through global crises like the GFC and Covid-19, and how she manages to balance a successful business with family and "me" time.

1. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I grew up in a world of restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs – my family has been in the hospitality industry for three generations.

Over the years, I’ve worked for both my family’s businesses and for others in the industry, including restaurateur Stan Sarris and his Australian group Eaternity and in notable overseas restaurants Hakkasan, Nobu and Gilgamesh while I was living abroad.

My family opened Bodhi Restaurant Bar in Sydney in 1988, pioneering vegan yum cha (dim sum) in Australia at a time when vegan food was not very common. 32 years on, and Bodhi is the country’s longest running and largest plant-based restaurant.

I took the helm at Bodhi in 2000, when the restaurant moved to its current location overlooking Cook + Phillip Park. I’ve been growing and evolving the restaurant, its brand and the Bodhi community ever since.

Between us, my family has owned a total of seven plant-based businesses. My husband and I have also invested in multiple start-up businesses in several other industries. But for me, my passion and heart has always been in the eco and plant-based space.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Since the Coronavirus crisis, everything has changed and, to be honest, has become more challenging. But it has also been more exciting in many ways, with opportunities to reflect, collaborate and focus on new projects.

While every day is different, one thing that remains constant is my search for work-life, family balance – which I don’t always get right!

Each morning, I wake up before my two children and take 10 minutes to quietly do some journalling – or what I like to call written meditation. Journalling is an invaluable tool. It allows me to set my intentions for the day, to stay focused on my goals and to find gratitude in my life. (I’ve written more about how important journalling has been in my life in a blog here).

I then squeeze in a yoga or meditation practice.

Then it’s time to get the kids ready for the day. Even during lockdown, I’ve maintained the “get up, go to work” routine, which has helped me feel focused, professional and ready to tackle the day ahead.

Once everyone is ready, I check in with my EA and right-hand-woman Leticia who runs me through my agenda and keeps me on track with everything that I need to juggle.

I have always worked better with other people, so working collaboratively with her is incredibly helpful for me. Much of my day is spent bouncing from meeting to meeting, and ensuring I carve out time to action my to-do list

With both my kids currently home-schooling due to Coronavirus restrictions, I also make sure to schedule time in each day to spend with them, helping out with their school work or just focused on family time.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

As a business owner, I have a good degree of flexibility. I can often work from home or on the go while travelling.

However the reality is, a restaurant business can’t be run remotely in its entirety.

Although I’m not managing the day-to-day operations anymore (that was me in the early days when we were growing the business!), I do spend a lot of time supporting my team. I meet with them face-to-face (currently via Zoom!) on a regular basis, checking in with them, to see how they are and how they’re getting on.

Building and fostering a team of people I can trust, work with and rely on is absolutely vital to the business’ success.

I believe long-term success comes from focus, resilience, the lessons you learn and your ability to pivot and bounce back when things don’t go to plan.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

To me, work life balance means knowing what’s important and being able to prioritise those things during the course of a day.

The key to achieving work life balance is ensuring time is carved out in a way that is optimised for everyone in the business and in my family, including myself.

If I don’t look after myself, then I’m not giving the best version of myself to the people around me. This has always been a work in progress for me.

As a mum, mentor and business woman, I often put everyone else first and I tend to overlook myself, but I’ve learnt over the years that this leads to burn out and that doesn’t help anyone.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

Self-reflection, gratitude and adaptability have been crucial to my success.

There are a lot of highs and lows in business. I believe long-term success comes from focus, resilience, the lessons you learn and your ability to pivot and bounce back when things don’t go to plan.

I try to look at every obstacle as an opportunity, to never stop challenging myself or stop learning. There’s always new tech, a different method or a younger generation waiting in the wings with new ideas, so I believe it’s important not to get stuck in your comfort zone or in patterns that over time may slow your growth and ability to adapt as a business owner.

My advice to others is not to be afraid to change and course correct to ensure you are either still working towards your goals or acknowledging if your goals have evolved and then purposefully redirecting yourself (especially if you are involved in multiple projects).

For me, my journalling routine has been crucial in keeping a check of my goals and reflecting on lessons learnt.

Support from my partner has also been invaluable. We both work in busy, intense jobs so good communication has been absolutely essential to our relationship. My partner and I make sure we check in with each other regularly, to ensure we are supporting each other in the way the other needs.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I used to be a voracious reader but to be honest, with small children I don’t have as much time for reading as I used to.

However I’ve always been a huge fan of autobiographies – learning how different people deal with different real life situations.

Also, I’ve had a habit of reading the newspaper each morning at breakfast since I was in my 20s (these days, I do read it online) to keep me up-to-date with business, politics and current affairs.

And I love trying out new fitness and wellness Apps. (I wrote a blog about my favourites for Covid-19 lockdown here).

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Check my diary and speak to my EA about my schedule and agenda for the day.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I draw energy and ideas from a range of people of inspiration, be it spiritual, political, business, adventure, adversity, music or cultural. Sometimes they’re people I can relate to and empathise with, and sometimes they’re so far removed from my reality that I’m entirely fascinated by the difference.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

In life, there is the dream and then there is the reality. We need to embrace both.

Life can be messy and complicated. It’s never perfect. Don’t be too tough on yourself when you don’t get it right. And don’t think that everyone else has got their shit together, because they don’t.

Balance is something that needs to be worked at constantly. Keep at it and take the time to self-reflect. If something’s not working, know that you can change it.

Get to know yourself, figure out what works for you, play to your strengths even if they are quirks, don’t be afraid to put yourself first. Don’t let the naysayers, critics and people in the peanut gallery affect what you do, or stop you from fulfilling your potential.

Surround yourself with good people, respect them, listen to them, learn from them. Let them guide and inspire you. And if there’s something out there that you really want to do, as a famous sporting brand says, Just Do It.


This article first appeared on Balance The Grind.

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