I had heard a thing or two about Jen Agg's memoir I Hear She's a Real Bitch before I was able to get my hands on it. Agg is a Toronto restaurateur, a successful woman in a testosterone industry, so I figured she'd be smart and tough and not really someone to trifle with. And all that is true. But what I didn't know is that's just the beginning of the Jen Agg story.
First, a couple of disclaimers. This book is not for everyone. She holds almost nothing back of her history, so anyone who is squeamish about language, sex, art, feminism, or brutal honesty should probably steer clear. This memoir does not come with a PG rating. And secondly, as Jen and her amazing restaurants are in Toronto, her book came out there first. It's only the international edition that is out now; it won't be out in the States (or on ebook) until September. But don't worry--I'll remind you when the time is near. This is not a book to be missed.
So back to our story. I Hear She's a Real Bitch starts with Jen running her cornerstone restaurant The Black Hoof, noticing every tiny nuance that exists in the space. She knows with a glance what is happening on the floor. She sees which server needs a whispered reminder of how to serve her signature charcuterie board. She sees which water glasses are low. She knows what's happening at the bar. She sees the food that needs to be run to tables. She picks up the lonely dropped fork on the floor and glides through the crowded space to rectify everything that is slightly out of place or askew. Nothing escapes her razor-sharp notice or her exacting standards.
After the introduction to the masterful restaurant runner that is today's Jen Agg, we get transported back to her childhood in Scarborough in Onatario, where she climbed trees and jumped off the roof of her family gazebo and experienced life in a vibrant way. That unblinking attention that she gives to every detail of her businesses she turns to her past, and takes readers on a raucous journey of alcohol, sex, friendship, heartbreak, manipulation, and education. While traditional book learning may not have been her thing when she was a teenager, the things she did learn helped turn her into the unique, outspoken, successful businesswoman she is today.
Her memoir continues through her years of bartending, her "starter" marriage, and her first restaurant partnership that ended with Jen having to declare bankruptcy or pay off $300,000 of debt she didn't have. But she takes those experiences and uses them to work smarter. Today she finds herself in a very happy marriage and owner of The Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar, Rhum Corner, Grey Gardens, and Montreal's Agrikol. Although she is not without controversy (what brutally honest woman isn't?), she thrives on social media and speaks out for women everywhere.
With sardonic wit, biting honesty, complete openness, and the intelligence of a successful entrepreneur, Jen Agg tells all, personal and professional, intimate and public, and she does it with style. If you're a fan of hers or not, you have to agree that she has guts. And if you want to know just how gutsy she is, read the book.
Galleys for I Hear She's a Real Bitch were provided by Doubleday Canada through NetGalley.com. with many thanks.