For Women's History Month, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade is celebrating prominent women in the Greater Vancouver business community. The next profile in our series features Vancouver Foodie Tour's Chief Experience Officer & Founder, Michelle Ng.
What inspired you to pursue your line of work?
It was a combination of factors that motivated me to pursue my current profession. Firstly, my love for Vancouver is something that has always been close to my heart. Being an immigrant from Hong Kong, my family and I were welcomed with open arms when we moved to this incredible country. I believe that I was given the same opportunities as anyone else in Vancouver and I feel incredibly fortunate to live in such a diverse and welcoming community. Starting Vancouver Foodie Tours was a way for me to pay homage to the city and its vibrant food scene, which I have always admired.
Secondly, I am a passionate foodie who loves trying out different restaurants and cuisines. I believe that every restaurant has a few standout dishes on its menu that are a must-try, and I wanted to share these hidden gems with locals and visitors alike. Vancouver has a great variety of high-quality restaurants, and I wanted to showcase the best of the best by curating unique food experiences that highlight each restaurant's specialties.
What do you enjoy most about living and working in Greater Vancouver?
One of my favourite things about living and working in Greater Vancouver is the access to diverse and excellent food establishments. I love the transformative power of food. Food has the ability to bring people together, break down barriers, and create common ground. Whether it's sharing a meal with friends or meeting new people on a food tour, food creates happiness and simple joy. I feel that in Vancouver, there is a strong sense of community and togetherness that is fostered through the love of food. It's truly remarkable to see how food can unite people from all walks of life and create memorable memories.
Is there a female role model or mentor who helped you in your career?
Absolutely, my mom and grandmother have been the most influential women in my life. Both of them are incredibly strong and resilient women who have taught me invaluable lessons that have shaped my career and personal life.
My mom instilled in me at a young age that there are no limits to what girls can achieve. She encouraged me to explore my passions and choose actions that bring joy. Despite facing challenges as an immigrant unable to transfer her professional designation to Canada, my mom persevered and found success in her own way. She even organized multicultural food festivals at shopping malls, where I helped her after school and during the summer, which sparked my appreciation for Canada's diverse cultures and inspired me to share this with others.
On the other hand, my grandmother was an extremely strong women, and an excellent cook with a sharp palate. Her culinary skills have greatly influenced me. She also had an unwavering resilience that I deeply admire.
Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the strength and resilience of these women, which has instilled in me a natural admiration for strong, courageous women who live life on their own terms. They have been instrumental in my career and have shaped me into the woman I am today.
What is the biggest challenge facing our region right now?
Over the pandemic, we have witnessed much resilience, creativity and positivity in the midst of suffering, confusion and fatigue. So much has changed over the pandemic. We are just starting to understand the changes our society has faced and how it has evolved over the past few years. In comparison to the past few decades, things have changed probably the fastest over the past three years. As a business owner, the needs and opportunities have definitely changed over the past few years. Now that we can travel again, more and more people want to have an authentic connection to a place. As an employer, how we attract and retain employees has changed. Employees are now looking for a deeper and much more meaningful connection and relationship to their employer, something which is similar to what we are seeing with respect to our guests. Businesses have a lot to learn as they think about this and how their business seek to meet the needs of their guests and employees.
What do you think Greater Vancouver needs more of?
I would love to see more small group networking opportunities with facilitators helping members build deeper relationships with one another.
What is the biggest challenge for women in the workplace today?
I have been pondering this question lately as well because, at Vancouver Foodie Tours, we have built a reputation for ourselves as a company that offers consistently memorable food tour experiences. Forbes Magazine named us as one of the top food tour operators in the world, and while that is for our customers, I want to bring the same level of experience to our employees as well. I am extremely passionate about supporting women and helping women thrive, enabling them to live their lives on their own terms. Right now, we are building our Gastronomic Gastown tour and reaching out to the community to understand what the needs of the Gastown community are and how we can leverage the tour to support the community and in particular, the women in the neighbourhood. I have been thinking more about this question to find ways to leverage our tours to better support the women in our community. A few obvious ones would be the natural bias which comes against women in the workplace. There comes a natural bias when you look at women in their careers in comparison with their male counterparts – how they are looked at by banks and VCs for example.
Girls are often labelled as bossy when they showcase their strong leadership skills, something which makes them shy away from showcasing their stronger characteristics – something which doesn't hold true for our male counterparts. It's a systemic cultural challenge that can be removed with heightened awareness through education. When these challenges are embedded in us at a young age, it becomes very difficult to change.
This is something that I think about because I see future women leaders being discouraged. I am fortunate to lead the mostly-women team at Vancouver Foodie Tours and leverage the business to make positive changes that empower women.
Have you seen how women are treated at work change as equality is discussed more openly?
I see organizations being more conscious about carving out opportunities and giving the spotlight to women.
What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
What is the most important lesson, business or otherwise, life has taught you?
I've learned to see challenges as opportunities - opportunities to grow, to be creative, and to push past my limitations. This philosophy is rooted in my core purpose to generate happiness and appreciation. It's really about choosing to focus on the positive because we always have a choice. No matter how dire the situation may seem, history has shown us that many others have faced greater challenges and been able to see the positive and rise from it. So surely, we can too.
One example of this was when the pandemic hit Vancouver in March 2020. We at Vancouver Foodie Tours were supposed to have a meeting to celebrate our 10-year anniversary, but instead, we found ourselves discussing whether we should pause the business, and how and when we should do it. Two days later, we were asking ourselves what the community needed and how we could be helpful by utilizing our skill sets. That's how Granville Island Delivery Co. was born - we built a one-stop e-commerce shop for multiple Granville Island merchants to have an additional online revenue stream.
Even in the most dire situations, something good can come out of it. It's all about how you choose to see the world and how you choose to approach challenges. At that time, my husband was scheduled to have brain surgery, so I had only two weeks to get the new business up and running before I had to step back to support my family. It was definitely a rollercoaster ride for me, but I was also fascinated with what was going on in the world. I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn and grow. I wanted to see if I was up to the task.
What do you know now that you wish you had known at the start of your career?