Through the portraits, we share the rich and diverse personal stories of women and non-binary folks, shedding light on their journeys and accomplishments. Using their contribution to the food industry as an entry point, we touch on their journeys, philosophies, and accomplishments—creating conversations with staying power.
Ruth Bartlett’s way of relating to food speaks volumes about how she interacts with the world around her. In fact, everything that Ruth does communicates in volumes. As a creative with a bold persona, if she works on a project, you can expect she does it big or not at all, harnessing the dynamism of life and community in each of her projects and endeavors.
Using intuition to guide her, Ruth has the uncanny ability to cultivate vibrations and sensations in the spaces she designs and inhabits. Food itself, along with all the social, cultural, sentimental significance that comes along with it, is perhaps one of the meaningful mediums in her repertoire of creative expression. It functions as a source of collaboration and cohesion in myriad interesting ways, with feminist consciousness at the fore.
No doubt, this mentality and the importance of building community around food was influenced by her London upbringing, “I guess every culture has it in different way, but in U.K., Sunday roast is such a time for people to come together, specifically once a week in a home or at the pub—maybe even more so in the pub because traditionally, you have that social‐cultural community base within the public house. It doesn’t matter how long you’re gone, the community is still present, and it’s really special.”
After facing burnout working round the clock to support herself in her home city, however, Ruth was embraced by life in Berlin with open arms. Friends convinced her to take an extended vacation there four and a half years ago, and with things lining up rather serendipitously, she never left.
“I really feel like Berlin is the kind of city that if you really need it, it will feed you.”
Nowadays, as a gastro designer with 18 years of experience in the hospitality industry under her belt, Ruth has reciprocated what Berlin has given to her many times over in creating spaces that bring people together in harmonious ways. “Knowing how to design a space is one thing, but it’s mixed with the knowledge of what it is to work in these kinds of spaces, and how best to make them flow for people. If you’re dining and you can feel the peace within the system as it just moves around, then the staff is relaxed and happy, and you’re relaxed and happy. Make it flow for the staff, and you will make a comfortable space through that process. Then, you can top that with whatever aesthetic you see fit.”
“I like to say I’m a warm designer because I have to spend a lot of time in the space and really feel it.”
One of Ruth’s latest projects is designing and operating the café Sweethearts Berlin as the establishment’s creative head, along with her partners, executive chef, Kate, and business mastermind, Isa. The feeling Ruth sought to communicate in Sweethearts is fully evident in the space, which is done in soft hues of white and pink, illuminated in abundant natural light. Since its opening earlier this year, the café’s German visitors have aptly described it as gemütlichkeit. Yet, experiencing the sense of conviviality and coziness encapsulated by the term while enjoying brunch at Sweethearts doesn’t require any linguistic or cultural background because the feeling itself comes across so viscerally in the space.
The special essence of Sweethearts is at least in part the result of the fact that these three women came together to cultivate an environment centered on values that they have expressed through a dynamic predicated on mutual respect and understanding. For example, Ruth notes, “we wanted to improve [Berlin service standards] as something that’s very important to all of us. We’ve also been very lucky as we managed to slowly amass a really amazing group of people to work for us who really get everything that we want to communicate and the hospitality we want to offer our guests, which is absolutely key, and it’s just such a pleasure.”
The café has had a powerful social impact, too, without ever even having to be overtly political as a feminist initiative. “Having two female business partners and a mostly female staff, we’re very aware and really trying to give them the space and support and nourishment that none of them have necessarily had [elsewhere]. I think that’s one of the things you can do to redress the balance. I mean, you can read and you can talk about all the issues facing women today, but when it comes down to it, the one‐to‐one on the ground interaction is probably the most effective way to express better values and effect change.”
Sweethearts Berlin has since become the kind of communal space that Berlin has been waiting for, but Ruth doesn’t segment her creative visions unilaterally. The space also doubles as a women’s centered gathering point, perhaps even the modern feminist rendition of what the London pub means for women in Berlin. Along with her friend and colleague, Mary Scherpe, founder of Stil in Berlin, Ruth identified the need for another form of community that Berlin has been lacking by establishing the Feminist Food Club. “The first meeting we had, we did an introduction round, and everyone stood up and was like ‘Hi, I’m so and so. I just have this little restaurant…,’ and we were like ‘you own that place!? That is amazing! You’ve been slaying it in this town for 10 years and you’re still not shouting it out…’ So we really try and encourage a policy of zero modesty!”
At the Feminist Food Club, the Berlin culinary scene’s brightest and most badass women join forces on a monthly basis to form dialogue about topics of importance to their work. “We sit together as 30-40 people and everybody can hear each other, and we just discuss openly how we feel about stuff. We talk a lot about cultural appropriation in food, and there was a really great talk on the cutesifying of women in business. We look at all the aspects of how we are and can be, the problems and solutions of being women in and around the food industry and the place we hold within the greater social and political landscape. ”
In being wholly herself, Ruth has helped enrich the connective tissue for community to flourish in Berlin. This is especially true with regard to how she has been able to strengthen the supportive network of the city’s femme food scene. Ruth uses gastronomy to bring people together by constructing the havens within which we gather to enjoy meals and share dialogue, which is “…something that so many people do not even for one second consider, but to me, it’s the most important; it’s fundamental.”