Wealth manager turned restaurateur, Sharon Lee is bringing a dynamic and passionate voice to the Orange County food scene with Pueblo. Popular for their authentic and mouthwatering tapas, Pueblo has quickly captured the hearts of those seeking delicious eats. We sat with Sharon to dive into her career, thoughts on being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and of course - love of good food.
Name: Sharon Lee Go
Managing Partner of Pueblo
So, let's start from the beginning. What were you up to before delving into Pueblo?
Sharon: I actually started my career in banking - specifically wealth management. I was a client manager for what is now known as Merrill Lynch. I realized that banking was definitely not for me, and I wanted to pursue something I was more passionate about.
Where did that realization take you?
Sharon: I heard about this hospitality group called Hillstone, and that their management program was amazing. Although I had no hospitality experience, I decided to take a chance and apply for the program regardless. They took a chance on me, and I became a manager for the group.
Was working with Hillstone your first foray into the food industry? Sharon:
I actually owned two Yogurtlands that I've since sold. I had been running them while studying business at UCLA. How did you transition into opening Pueblo? Sharon:
My husband, Adam, founded Pueblo in 2014. I actually knew Adam through Hillstone previous to him opening the restaurant. We ended up reconnecting, and I became involved with helping in the business. What would you say is the greatest difficulty in running a restaurant? Sharon:
The restaurant is such a fast-paced and dynamic environment. Being an owner, you have the responsibility of handling everything that goes on in the business. That means you end up being HR, marketing, operations, etc. Wearing all of the different hats, especially in a restaurant where you can be faced with two hundred unique guests with specific needs, can be a huge struggle.
On the flip side, what is the most fulfilling part of owning your own business?
Sharon: For me, it's always the people. The people you meet, whether it's guests or employees is so fulfilling. Especially at Pueblo, mentorship is so important to us. To see a staff member grow into a shift leader or supervisor or manager is so fulfilling. If we can be part of the growth in their career, then we've done our job.
Speaking of growing careers, what's your take on the celebrity chef?
Sharon: I'm not somebody who chases after the celebrity chef. I think that there are a lot of celebrity chefs who create great concepts and amazing food, but there are just as many amazing mom and pop restaurants that can have equally great food and culture.
Do you have any favorite mom and pop restaurants you'd recommend?
Sharon: We go to Tabu Shabu a lot! There's one location in Costa Mesa, and another in Huntington Beach. LSXO isn't really mom and pop, but we go there a lot as well!
Do you feel any pressure as a female business owner, or as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Sharon: It can be difficult because a lot of chefs and upper management tend to be men. But I do believe that your frame of mind is incredibly important. For example, if you think your hurdles are arising because you're female, you'll feel powerless since you can't change your gender. Rather, I think of my obstacles as just problems I can overcome through hard work and motivation.
Do you have any advice for those looking to stand out in their field?
Sharon: I think that as long as you're confident in your abilities, educate yourself, and are proficient in your business - these positive traits will just shine through.
How would you suggest individuals find this confidence?
Sharon: Self-confidence comes from knowledge. If you're entering a new industry, or tackling a project you're unsure about, you always research, learn, and prepare yourself. If you're armed with knowledge, you'll become more comfortable and feel more confident facing your issues head-on.
Where do you see your business and personal development heading in the future?
Sharon: Well, hopefully Pueblo is still thriving! We want to be one of those restaurants that stands the test of time. That's why we haven't been very trend oriented with our foods. We just want to be a place where people feel comfortable that comfortably fits into your life. In the next five years though, we're definitely working on opening more restaurants, and talking about our next concept!
At Pueblo, do you have a favorite dish you'd recommend to first timers? Sharon:
In general, we recommend ordering two to three tapas per person. Our paella is also incredibly delicious and great for sharing. During dinner, it's made-to-order! I also like the bone marrow right now. With all of the stresses of running a business, how do you like to stay balanced? Sharon:
I go to the gym all the time, and work with a trainer! I also love red wine, and I have a dog as well. Her name is Miso!
With your marriage, how do you find balance working with your husband?
Sharon: It definitely helps that we both worked for the same company prior to opening Pueblo. Because we were trained by the same company, we have the same distinct operating habits and systems. There wasn't really an adjustment period for us.
How would you describe your personal style?
Sharon: I would say that my style is diverse, and it's mood dependent. My favorite look would definitely be something modern and feminine, and I always try to put some sort of flair in my look!
Find out more about Pueblo here