A tale of sucess, strength and empowerment

Few describe a greater gratitude for life in Tasmania than restaurant co-owner Bianca Welsh. Her journey from South Korea to suburban Launceston is one of survival and lofty success.

“As an adoptee you can end up anywhere in the world,” describes Bianca Welsh perched on a chair in Stillwater Restaurant, one of Tasmania’s most awarded restaurants. “I’m so grateful I ended up in amazing Tasmania; from access to nature to such business opportunity. I’m so fortunate.”

Bianca doesn’t just co-own Launceston’s Stillwater Restaurant and the lush accommodation Seven Rooms above, but also upmarket steakhouse Black Cow Bistro nearby. She’s been named 2015 Young Restaurateur of the Year in Australia’s Electrolux Appetite for Excellence program and Tourism Minister’s Young Achiever in the 2019 Tasmanian Tourism Awards. The awards go on, as do the seats across some five not-for-profit boards. Also passionate about mental health, Bianca is a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and has launched her own business in this space, From Experience. More on that later. Smiling from her morning brekkie, Bianca takes us back to day one.

“The doctor got the scan wrong and told my mother that I was a boy. It’s the only reason I’m here,” explains Bianca. “She’d had five abortions between my middle sister and I because they were all girls. She kept this pregnancy thinking I was a boy. In Korea at the time, it was very much like China; if you had more than one girl, you got rid of them or adopted them out. Girls were basically seen as worthless, unable to earn money or carry the family name. The more I learned about Korean culture, the more grateful I am for the freedoms I have here in Tasmania in terms of equality for women and work opportunities.”

At five months old, Bianca left South Korea to begin life with her Launceston family. She grew up in what she describes as, “classic, middle-class Australia. My older siblings had freckles and strawberry blonde hair. I was definitely the black sheep of the family growing up in Launceston’s northern suburbs attending public school.”

Her first foray into the hospitality industry was through a fast-food chain during her college years. Thinking about a career in hotels, Bianca enrolled in a Diploma of Hospitality Management but when she hit the floors of restaurants as a casual waiter, she was hooked by the adrenalin and atmosphere. Securing work at Stillwater Restaurant, it didn’t take long for her to move up the ranks to a management position and by 21, was offered to partner in Black Cow Bistro.

Husband James is the highly regarded sommelier at Stillwater Restaurant, and also suffers mental illness. In a mission to help James and other staff members across her 50-strong workforce, Bianca decided to embark on a psychology degree at the University of Tasmania to better understand mental illness. She managed this studying part-time for seven years while raising her young son Claude and running multiple businesses.

“I wanted to be able to help James and arm myself with knowledge because mental illness in hospitality wasn’t going away; it was only going to increase,” explains Bianca. “I’d also had a great staff member whose behaviour went from being really engaged and reliable, the type of person you’d want to clone, to becoming really forgetful and disengaged. We soon discovered they were suffering from an eating disorder. Typically, in hospitality they’d be cut from the roster and disappear into the ether. Through a simple conversation, though uncomfortable, I was able to help. If I could make a difference just by checking in for 20 minutes, this gave me confidence and buoyed me to learn more.”

With her study and role in Human Resources, Bianca has since supported her team members through everything from grief and trauma, to suicide ideation, substance abuse and sexual assault. Across her businesses, this has resulted in the industry’s typical 80 per cent turnover rate dropping to around 10 per cent for her staff. Passionate about sharing her knowledge to help others navigate an often-complicated space, she launched From Experience and today assists other employers through tailored peer-to-peer sessions.

“The Tasmanian Hospitality Association is the only hospitality association in the country that is offering a targeted mental health program. To have my own mental health business included in this program has been incredible. I do workshops and presentations for workplaces, targeting the leadership team. In my mind the fish rots from the head down, so unless leadership understands the importance of mental health and what mental illness looks like in the workplace we won’t get anywhere.”

Bianca has big plans for the mental health space in Tasmania’s hospitality industry, but naturally, she won’t just stop at her island. “My dream is that Australia-wide, every hospitality venue has a Mental Health First Aid Officer and it’s recognised with the same importance as a physical first aid certificate because I believe it can save a life in equal measure.”

Are you interested in making a move? Make it Tasmania.

Find out more about the Stillwater Restaurant, Seven Rooms, Black Cow Bistro, and From Experience.

For information on starting a business in Tasmania look through our stories or visit Business Tasmania.

Top image: Alivia Riley-Dell