"It's very difficult for the two people who work in restaurants to both do service if they want to have a family. So in some ways, my role as a mother has definitely influenced how my role for the restaurant has formed.”

It's for this reason you won't find Emily Acha Derrington working tables at Manteca or Smokestak, the former being co-owned by her husband Chris Leach. “As much as I have done service, it's not what I do now because I also have two very young children,” she tells me via Zoom from Sicily, where she is visiting the winery who are producing the very first Manteca-branded house wine for the restaurant.

Acha Derrington’s pathway into wine didn’t start via the hospitality industry. After graduating from Edinburgh with a Masters degree in business, she realised that food and drink was what got her out of bed in the morning – something she partially attributes to her heritage and upbringing; her dad is Mexican, and the first few years of her life were spent in countries like New Zealand and Canada.

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“With my dad being from Mexico, the food that we had on the table as children was different to the food that my friends had,” she tells me. “For me, Sundays were all about having chilaquiles. We would go on holiday to Mexico, visiting family, and we’d go to markets and it just sort of becomes instilled in you that there are different foods in different places, and the same goes for drinks.”

As they got older, this attitude extended out to wine, when Acha Derrington’s parents would let her try what they were drinking. The fire was lit; it continued burning during her time at university, and turned into a full-blown inferno after her dad encouraged her to do her WSET exams after graduation when she was struggling to find direction. First taking a role at online retailer Slurp in their buying team, Acha Derrington went on to join fine wine broker Fine and Rare, working in marketing, PR and events.

After building a successful career in the business side of the industry, Acha Derrington made her first move into more traditional hospitality in 2016 when she helped Neil Rankin open his restaurant Temper in Soho. She had met her now-partner Chris Leach a short while before this, and suddenly found herself in a relationship where both members worked in hospitality – and were having to manage the unique hours that come along with this. A few years later, they had their first child, and the problems posed by these hours were thrust into the spotlight.

“When I first had Cillian, which was four and a half years ago, Chris was in the process of setting up the first Manteca, and he was also working at Petersham nurseries. It was really difficult because when you do a double there you start at 7am and you wouldn’t be home until after midnight,” she tells me. “And when you are a first-time parent and you have a little baby it’s so hard because you’re basically by yourself.”

Hospitality is that place where it makes people feel like it’s ok to just wander in and sit down, it’s part of being hospitable

She found herself attending toddler groups and failing to find support in the other mothers, who couldn’t relate to her reality of juggling these often extremely difficult hours. And so, she began visiting friends in the industry. “I remember I would go and see Nick from The Drapers Arms and I would have lunch and he would look after Cillian while I ate, and the staff would feed me and get me a glass of wine and it was just one of those moments where I realised that hospitality is that place where it makes people feel like it’s OK to just wander in and sit down. it’s part of being hospitable.”

She met up with her former colleague and fellow new mum Merly Kammerling, and the pieces all fell into place. “It just clicked. Why don’t we do something for other people who are in this situation? A place where you can go and you feel like everyone understands what you’re talking about,” Acha Derrington tells me. And so, Parents in Hospitality was born. The group provides a range of services for parents working in the industry, from social events like wine tastings and lunches with childcare, to information services such as sharing job postings with benefits suitable to parents.

“We do get people as us for a coffee here and there, basically people who are stuck, who want advice or, I suppose, our experience,” Acha Derrington says. “I think previously no one really talked about the experience of being a person that had a child and was struggling and finding it a bit difficult. And so people thought they were by themselves. I think it’s really important to talk about these things because there are lots of people that want to have a family and lots of people where both of them work in restaurants, and then one has to stop working in restaurants. There are a lot of changes happening, but I think this is just the very start of that kind of conversation.”

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For Acha Derrington and Leach, they’ve managed to find a way to make it work – although that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy, or straightforward. When I ask Acha Derrington what has been the pinnacle of her career, her answer is immediate. “The one thing I’ve been proudest of is doing the wine list for Manteca, because I basically wrote it in the three months. My youngest was born in August 2021, and Manteca opened in the November,” she tells me. “We had planned for a wine list that was going to start from the summer, but with the delays we had to change it. So I did all the tastings and wrote the whole thing with her essentially as a newborn in a sling. She came to all the tastings, all my supply meetings, just sitting in a sling. It was just one of those things where I was like, 'You know what? This is what you can do when you’re a mother.'”

Now, she stresses that she's built a role that very much allows for the time and space motherhood demands. “​​My email signature is not wine director, it's wine buyer, because it's important for me that people make the distinction,” Acha Derrington tells me. “I think people think that wine directors have to be in the restaurants for service. I'm in the business all the time in the sense that I know what's going on, but I do everything remotely.” This distinction doesn’t stem from any kind of snobbery or pedantism, but rather from Acha Derrington’s work highlighting what it really means to be a parent in the hospitality industry.

It is no small feat, especially given the quality of the Manteca wine list – one that manages to continue to excite and delight with every month that goes by, whether that’s through cracking open special magnums to pour interesting wines by the glass, or offering affordable yet interesting entry-level bottles on the wine list. But largely, Acha Derrington’s time curating their vinous offering exhibits how superhuman hospitality workers who have kids are. And with the support provided by Acha Derrington and Parents in Hospitality, they may finally be able to juggle both.