“It’s like we had a bunch of balls that had different things written on it, like food and comedy, and we threw them in the air and then we caught different things,” Maria K Georgiou, half of Mam Sham, tells me when I ask her to tell me about exactly what she and her business partner/best friend Rhiannon Butler do.
If you haven’t heard of Mam Sham, I recommend looking them up – they’re worth being on your radar. The question was necessary because Mam Sham is one of those companies/enterprises/initiatives that have their finger in several pies, so to speak. Whether they organize their own events – not quite supper clubs, not quite comedy shows, more “theater” as Georgiou puts it – or catering and event planning for companies, Mam Sham has a particular approach to food and experiences.
“When we started Mam Sham, we didn’t have a business plan or a strict vision of what we were trying to achieve,” says Butler. “We wanted to create something honest, something different from a lot of commercial nights that are very money oriented.”
Their very first event was described by Butler and Georgiou as “too complicated”. “Our first was for about 70 people, and looking back, I think the sound was so bad, the lighting was bad, we had under-budgeted for everything. But it was so much fun. It was amazing. And that’s where we started,” says Georgiou. “We’ve been best friends since we were 11, so 20,” Butler adds, “and so we can’t help but put ourselves in and out. as they grew, they increasingly represented me and Maria and our interests. and the comedy we love to see. Everything was very selfish, everything was based on our personal tastes, our integrity and the creative freedom that we gave ourselves.
Georgiou addresses the dichotomy between London restaurants and experiences in general, explaining how the city is flooded with incredible restaurants that put producer and provenance first, but that has failed to connect with the incredible array of city events. “It’s this weird thing like, the two are never going to collide. But you want to do something fun where the focus is on quality,” she adds.
If you were to strictly define Mam Sham, and Georgiou and Butler’s work in general, they say the intent is to entertain. And entertain they do. While Mam Sham’s paid events (those they organize themselves, where all proceeds go to charity) used to be themed, these days they build the menu around the numbers of comedy and their set for the night. “The first thing we’ll do is talk to the act and find out what they’re talking about,” says Georgiou, “and then, actually, it normally starts from a packaging perspective, and then we get into the food.”
Both Butler and Georgiou have experience in the world of graphic design and art – Butler worked at a vinyl press when they started Mam Sham – and that experience has shaped how their events work. “We’re both very visual and we’ve always been surrounded by things that are interesting outside of everything like the food on the plate,” adds Butler. “We were talking to Missy (Flynn) about Ritas last week, and we were using the example of watching The Sopranos and eating him cold lasagna from the fridge. That’s the feel of it, not just the lasagna. It’s like, how do you create these very special experiences, because all of our stuff is in props – it’s very interactive.
Both Butler and Georgiou talk about being underestimated by some of their peers – ‘a lot of guys who come to our events, like guys with big social media followings, sort of chefs, they’ll be like’ it was actually really good.’
Not that it’s ever been a barrier for the couple – and, in fact, they say being often women in the industry has guided and shaped their careers in very specific ways. “Almost every time we’ve had something big, it’s been because of a really good connection with another woman,” Butler says. She refers to their first corporate booking – an event for ASOS – which happened thanks to a journalist who attended one of their previous events and wrote about it. A woman who works at ASOS read the article and decided to reach out and get Mam Sham involved. “We had only done two events when we had this,” says Georgiou.
Of course, they both experienced the negative side of being a woman in hospitality – as most have. “I’ve worked in some really shitty places where I’ve been very harassed and made very uncomfortable,” says Georgiou. “I was very lucky in my last job at Bad Sports because it was a very safe space; Unfortunately you can’t always control the customers, but I was really lucky to have support there. Everywhere else I worked, I was increasingly harassed.
Butler the second. “I’m very lucky that in the last three hosting positions I’ve held, the people around me have never made me feel unsafe,” she says. “But I think that’s one of the biggest job differences in hospitality. I’ve been working there for 10 years and at first I wouldn’t have made this change in my life to get out of a dangerous situation. Whereas now I would never work in a place where I didn’t feel safe.
As women in the industry, the conversation inevitably comes up often in their professional lives – sometimes organically, and other times when they bring it up themselves “Whenever we talk about it on Instagram, the number of people getting in touch is pretty overwhelming,” says Butler. “You almost have to set aside a day for everything if you want to start that conversation online. Because there are so many people messaging you. It’s a huge problem. They both address how safety issues go beyond just the safety of women in the workplace, but also generally to health and safety in high risk areas of hospitality. “There’s a huge lack of training. You work in an industry where you have to work with knives and wet floors and difficult members of the public and you’re just trusted to have your own intuition with that, which isn’t really fair.
It’s safe to say that Mam Sham is unlike anything else in the hospitality and events world right now – and for good reason. Butler and Georgiou possess an enviable level of creativity and industry knowledge that is extremely necessary to not only run events of this scale, but to do so with such resounding success. It’s not hard to see why after talking to them – the two bounce off each other, their long friendship helping them develop a complementary sense of humor that’s so good they hardly have a need to employ comedy numbers. Despite all the jokes and frivolities, these are two women to be taken completely seriously. Make no mistake; a ticket to a Mam Sham event is the hottest ticket in town right now.