Karina Jadhav & Ben Wilkinson

Inspiring & Honest Interview: “I’m still finding it really hard to juggle” 

By Lolo Stubbs, Editor-in-chief

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Inspirational entrepreneur and Mum of two, Karina Jadhav, has continually made waves in the business and hospitality world over the last decade; after first stepping into the hospitality industry in 2010, as a bartender and as a waitress. Then, after years of successfully building businesses, from a food truck to award winning restaurants, Karina has firmly cemented a name for herself within the notoriously challenging sector.  In 2015, Karina embarked on her biggest career achievement to date when she launched Menagerie Restaurant and bar, making her the north west’s youngest independent female business owner.

Menagerie immediately stood out with its innovative concept, dazzling interiors, amazing menu and immersive entertainment, quickly making it Manchester’s hottest restaurant, and attracting international celebrities including Justin Timberlake, Perrie Edwards and many more.  When Karina met her husband Ben Wilkinson – the Manager of Manchester City Under 18’s squad – Karina’s passion for her career and business was all consuming, before the couple went on to have their two children – who it’s clear to see have completely stolen their hearts!

Ben led his Manchester City Under 18’s squad to a historic Premier League National title win in his first season as head coach; carving out a name for himself in the world of football. Ben, a former professional footballer, was submerged into the world of football, from an early age, as his father is the legendary football manager, Howard Wilkinson, and Ben was just five years old when he watched his father lift the league title at Leeds United, so Ben knows all too well the impact of watching your parents achieve their goals, and how much that can inspire and influence our children.

So, we sat down with this impressive and extremely humble couple – after a fun, slightly chaotic, and very entertaining photoshoot with their adorable boys, Henry 4, and Beau 21 months, to find out just how they manage to juggle the pressures of having such successful and demanding careers,  alongside bringing up their beautiful brood! Ben had to dash off straight after the shoot to take Henry to school, and joined us again to chat as we were putting the world to rights with Karina, with Beau pottering around the studio with us. 

Ben Wilkinson and Karina Jadhav

Ben Wilkinson, Karina Jadhav and their children  © Tom Pitfield Photography for BROOD Magazine

BROOD LIVE

At what point in your career did you become a parent and how did you find that transition?

Karina – “I became a mum way into my career – when my career was my entire life! And I had kind of got to the point where it was like, ‘Right it’s now or never. If I don’t make the decision to do this, it’s never going to happen for me’. And I never really knew how it was actually going to work out, because my career was so consuming. But I think that the universe always has a plan, because we went into lockdown when Henry, my first child, was only 6 months old. So everything stopped and that meant that I got time with him that I wasn’t going to have. Which was obviously not great for the world, or for the business, but for us as a family it meant that we had a lot of quality time together that was really, really special. I say that so reluctantly because for so many people it wasn’t great. But because the hospitality industry is just not an industry that is set up for women to have children, I was really grateful to get that time.”

Of course, the hours are long and classed as unsociable hours in hospitality. How have you found balancing family life and work life since the pandemic ended and things have returned back to normal?

Karina -“I’m still finding it really hard to juggle. How to keep the restaurant where it needs to be, and to put myself into it the way in which I need to be. It’s supposed to be a party venue. It’s very vibrant. It’s open until late into the night and at the same time I’ve had two children that have had a lot of health issues, and don’t sleep well, and so I’ve been sleep deprived for years and they are up between 5 and 6am every morning – actually if they sleep until 6am that is a lie in and we have the biggest celebration ever! [She laughs] So I’m still trying to figure everything out and it’s a constant daily juggle…it’s just chaos basically, [she laughs] constant chaos! And I don’t know if I’m doing a great job at either thing really. [She lets out a slight sigh] I just try and take each day as it comes really.”

You most definitely are doing a great job, but I think we all feel like that at times. You are running an amazing business, and you have two adorable little boys! How different was it for when you had Beau, your second child as obviously we weren’t in lockdown then. Did you manage to take any time to have some form of maternity?

“Well, I had made this huge plan, I made a calendar in advance. I planned everything in the lead up to my c-section – as I had to have a c-section with Beau, and I had such a bad birth with Henry that I was actually terrified in the lead up; I redid my will – I know that sounds crazy, but I was so scared! So I did as much planning as I could and everything was in place, and I had actually booked a night nanny – which is like crazy now when I think about it, because I don’t know what I was thinking, but I had this idea because my friend had a night nanny and it had worked for her because she had twins, and I just thought well, ‘I’ve got Henry who doesn’t sleep, I’ve got the business and I’m going have a newborn too!’ But anyway, when Beau was 3 weeks old he developed sepsis, so we ended up in hospital with him for a week and he was so, so lucky because he was given the right treatment straight away. He had a course of really strong antibiotics, but then as he was coming out of hospital he started with something called bronchiolitis – well that’s what they said it was and it wasn’t. He was constantly vomiting every time he had a bottle of milk. Long story short, everything I had planned went to pot, so I had a maternity leave of sorts, but it wasn’t what I had planned and hoped my maternity leave would look like. And since then I’ve been trying to claw back all the mess that had happened within the business whilst I was away from it, because I was completely absent and that had just never happened before. It was just one of those times in your life where you have to choose what is your top priority, and obviously your baby is always going to take priority. I didn’t really care about anything else and I just thought I’ll figure that out later. But cleaning up the mess after everything had calmed down with Beau’s health and getting back into the business was really hard, because it was a shambles. I feel like I’m still kind of tidying that up now and he’s nineteen months old.”

Ben Wilkinson & Karina Jadhav Menarie and MCFC

Karina Jadhav & Ben Wilkinson images © Tom Pitfield Photography for BROOD Magazine

Sarah Jayne Dunn Brood

“I’ve always been a massive perfectionist and since having children, I’ve had to try and let go of that. “

Luxury Outdoor Furniture

That must have been so tough, nothing is worse than seeing your child poorly, and on top of that your business had been your baby for so long it must have been very hard.

Karina – “Yes, in the past I would have been sending emails at 2am in the morning, because I really felt that by being a female in that industry, that I had to keep trying new tactics to keep people on their toes, so that they would take me more seriously – at least that’s what I thought I was doing at the time. And so I was so used to that 24/7 way of life, that then having children, I found it very difficult and obviously I couldn’t maintain that. It was just all consuming! I’ve always been a massive perfectionist and since having children, I’ve had to try and let go of that. I actually said to Ben this morning that I’ve realised I’ve become a much calmer person, because I’ve realised that there’s so much you can’t control. That applies with the kids and in the business. I keep saying to myself I can only do my best, and that can be really hard for somebody who likes everything just so.” 

What do you think is one of the hardest things about being a working parent, specifically being a parent who runs their own business?

Karina – “I think the hardest part of being a working parent, especially running a business, is finding the time to do your work. I find myself sometimes really resenting my work as I want to be able to spend more time with my kids, but then when I’m with the kids 24/7 I really miss work! It kind of feels like one big contradiction and I almost always find myself feeling like I should be doing something different to what I am actually doing at that time. When I go to bed at night I find myself feeling bad about all the things I haven’t done or that I feel I’ve not done well enough on. It’s very overwhelming at times – I’m really not selling this am I? [We laugh]

And as I’ve gotten older I’ve learnt a lot about how my brain works. I’m a really, really creative person and I’m also very analytical, but I have to be in the right frame of mind for one or the other, and that’s really hard because when you’ve got kids you’re given an allotted amount of time where you might have to work, but you might get interrupted and I can’t get into that head space, just because it’s like ‘Right I better do that now!’ If I’m not in that head space, I just can’t switch that on. So, I always have to do the work when I’m inspired to do so and then I become possessed. I keep saying it’s hard, but it’s not necessarily that it’s hard, it’s more that it’s not organised, and I guess that’s life when running your own business alongside having two small children! It’s just a constant juggle and trying to figure things out as you go along!” 

[Ben joins us again after taking Henry to school]

The Padel Club
Sarah Jayne Dunn, The Padel Club Wilmslow

Ben, just to catch up with you, at what point in your career did you become a dad and how did you find that transition?

Ben – “I became a dad during my second year at Manchester City. I’ve loved the transition, although it certainly has made life more challenging in terms of managing schedules and trying to keep all of the various plates spinning – I think that’s probably been the biggest challenge, but in terms of the other side of it, I’ve absolutely loved it. I’m just trying to be present, as becoming a dad is something I’ve absolutely loved and it’s taken centre stage in my life really.”

Karina obviously, we’ve discussed the challenges that come with running a business, but what would you say has been your career highlight to date?

Karina – “ I think the fact the business still going strong after 7 years, is my biggest career highlight, because before I opened this business hospitality was on a complete high, it was at its peak, and people thought it was easy and people were opening places left right and centre, that are no longer open and we’re really weathered the storm. I mean we’re in a recession and having an independent business when there are big London brands coming to Manchester and opening all the time, that can bring its challenges. But I’m really proud of how we keep evolving, we keep up the moment and the creativity that we need to keep people coming back. I’m also really proud of how the team stays with us, that we have a high staff retention rate too. The fact that I have an amazing team of people that I like, and trust is a massive achievement for me, as well as managing to stay open and ticking over – and even though it’s not maybe a glossy, glamourous career highlight, I feel like that’s huge!

Sarah Jayn Dunn, Lux Sol & Padel Club

“I think you need to be kind to yourself and others, and not be so quick to judge other people’s situations.”

Ben, being a football coach is renowned for being high pressure, how do you manage to switch off from that  and go into dad mode when you’re at home?

Ben – “I’m lucky actually with the job I’m in at the moment for a job in Football, we tend to get most Sundays off and something in the week which allows me to spend quality time with the boys and i feel like in those moments i can be really present. ,           

Karina – “Ben’s job is perfect for our family. And we think it’s really important for him to just enjoy this job and focus on that rather than look to try and move into first team management at this time, because if he took a job abroad or somewhere else in the UK as a first team manager then we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. I know I would really struggle.”

Ben – “Yeah, I think I’m really aware of what does come next. I am studying for my Pro Licence at the moment and there’s a module on current problems In the workplace and probably 50-60% of the people who are on the courses are managing a first team, and they all talk about work life balance and how they really struggle with it. I have witnessed it myself,      especially as you’re not always blessed to have a job that’s close to home, then you have to move your family, and it often involves travelling, so we’ve spoken about it loads.  I’m really blessed to be at City it’s an amazing place to work and learn, and in terms of growing my knowledge and skill set there’s no better place to be.  I think people can be too quick to jump to the next thing, and always thinking right what’s next, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing and I feel content with where I am.”

Karina – “It’s so nice for the kids as well, they do loads of stuff for families. I do look at his job and I envy it at times, because mine is so chaotic and Ben’s job is so orderly. [She laughs]”

What impact has becoming parents had on your relationship? There’s so much to navigate through, it can be really challenging to remember to give time to being a couple. How have you found that side of becoming a parent? 

Ben – “I think it’s just different. We’re lucky that we’re on the same page. With everything that you have to manage daily, we are always on the page as to what we should prioritise, so that really helps in a relationship.”

Karina- “I always say to Ben, I’m so glad that the universe sent you to me, because it was like he was just plonked right in front of me and honestly having children     , I don’t think I would have coped if we weren’t the team that we are. Especially as we’ve had so many health issues with Henry, it’s pushed us even closer together. I think prior to having kids we did whatever we wanted to do, and then you have a kid and it’s the biggest life change and it will either make you as a couple or it will break you. And with us it’s brought closer.”

Ben – “I think the fact that we’re both content in how our lives have changed and that we’re happy just sitting down in front of the tele and having a couple of hours together in the evening, really helps too. And it also helps that we’re both understanding if one of us has to open the laptop etc as well”.

Do you have stand out BROOD moments that you can share?

Karina – “Oh there are so many things that happen each week. But I was delivering a team meeting the other week and I was letting them know certain things that I wasn’t happy with. Listing things that needed to be better and all the while, Henry was shouting ‘Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!’ Totally undermining my assertive delivery!” [She laughs]  

Ben – “We were trying out one of them walking baby carrier chairs, the ones that you put on your shoulders, and we were taking a picture and Henry just started throwing up everywhere! So in the photo you just see me smiling with Henry in the carrier on my shoulders and then the sick coming out in stages and me ending up covered in sick!” {We all laugh]  

What do you think the benefits are of your children seeing you have a career that you’re passionate about?

Ben – “Henry is really proud of where we both work. And even though he’s only 4, he is really aware of what we do. If we’re in the car and anywhere near Spinningfields, he’ll say, ‘Are we going to Mummy’s restaurant?’ And he’s always telling people about Mummy’s restaurant. And he absolutely loves coming to city.     . Henry has just started to get into Football. In the last few weeks, he has wanted to play every day, loves putting his City kit on and has also started collecting stickers which he is really passionate about and does not let anyone near!! He also thinks anyone who has anything to do with football is my friend. [He laughs]

Karina – “Who is it that he thinks you are on the football cards?”

Ben – “He thinks I’m Kevin De Bruyne on the football cards. [We laugh] And I’ll take that all day!

What advice would you give other parents who are following their career dreams whilst juggling parenthood?

Ben – “The biggest thing that I follow and what I say to people at work is enjoy the time being a parent – especially the early years, because you don’t get it back. We had someone who went off a few weeks ago and when the baby was around 3 weeks old, they were fretting about coming back to work. I just said, ‘      You’ll never get this time back and it’s amazing, don’t feel like you have to rush back into work.’ So I think just try and enjoy every moment that you can with the kids and then just work really hard at managing your schedule so that you can still maintain your career.”

Karina – “I think it depends on what stage of your career you’re at as well though, as we were further into our careers when we had kids. And even though I was further into my career I still have found it hard to deal with the change in pace, because in my industry a lot of people are men and they will be opening this, doing that and for the last 4 years I’ve felt like I’m a step behind, people will say ‘What’s your next step?’ ‘What are you doing next?’ and I’d be like, ‘I’ve just had a baby.’ But it’s almost like you have to whisper it because of how that is met within the industry, because it’s a male dominated industry and it’s not set up for women to have children. I really regret with Hen not saying, ‘I’m taking this time’, because I didn’t give myself any maternity leave. I thought I would just keep working, and I feel like I missed things because I was so stressed about work at times. One thing I’ve come to realise now that I’m 7 years into this restaurant, is that it doesn’t even matter, because you can spend your time really worrying about something in your business, but then a few weeks later it won’t’ even matter anymore, but when it’s your own business you get so caught up in it, because you feel like it’s make or break, but a lot of the time it’s not and the things you do remember are the things to do with your kids. So you do need to be kind to yourself.”

Ben – “Yeah, and sometimes you don’t have a choice, because you might not be in the position to have that time, because financially you have to look after your family. It is so expensive to have children, even putting them in a nursery to enable you to go work is a massive undertaking alone – not to mention all the other stuff that comes with it. So I do think it’s really tough. We’ve found it hard to find the right dynamic and we’ve been lucky enough to have help and support from people too. To juggle all the plates, you spin as a working parent, and feel like you’re getting enough time on everything is a massive challenge.”

Karina – “I think you need to be kind to yourself and others, and not be so quick to judge other people’s situations.”

JMW Solicitors

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