2023 40 Women to Watch

This honor recognizes the creativity, leadership and contributions of women across all hospitality industry sectors. The first class included honorees from restaurants, bars, caterers, hospitality venues, purveyors, educational institutions, advocacy and tourism groups, and care facilities.

Thank you Delta Dental for sponsoring the 40 Women to Watch in Hospitality!

As General Manager of a 15-screen multiplex theater, with full-service restaurant and bar, 10 fulltime managers and 150 employees, Alison Meyer is always on the move—and she loves it. She relishes the opportunity to be part of someone’s “evening out.” Alison was a teen when she got her first job working concessions at a local theater and now sees firsthand the unlimited career opportunities for women in the hospitality industry. She is especially pleased  she’s able to mentor so many terrific teens. “It’s a privilege to be part of an industry that is so diverse, yet so inclusive, for young people,” says Alison.

Alison Meyer

The Palms Theatres & IMAX


At 14 years old, Allie started working at the local Maid-Rite. Her mom had worked at the same location while Allie was growing up. “She was the hardest worker there,” says Allie. “She knew every customer and they knew her.” Allie is described by those around her in much the same way, saying the energy she brings is “the picture of positivity.” After working in restaurants and bars for more than two decades, Allie recently moved to a sales role with Johnson Brothers where she’s collaborating with bars and restaurants to help excel their liquor program. She encourages other women to not be afraid to ask others for help and get comfortable being uncomfortable because that is where growth happens. “I will always have this industry to thank for my drive and knowledge of the world,” says Allie.

Allie Andrews

Johnson Brothers Wirtz


Like many independent restaurant owners, Alysia Bowers is a jack-of-all trades. She was the eatery’s only server when they opened in 2019. As they grew, Alysia’s role evolved to include nearly everything, “except cooking.” The restaurant’s fare has caught the attention of everyone from the Best Burger judges to food bloggers.  However, it’s the environment Alysia has created for her team and the commitment she has shown her community that many admire most. Wrote her nominator, “She works with local farms, promotes other local entrepreneurs, and offers classes and healthy meal options. She is a beautiful person inside and out.”

Alysia Bowers

Foodie Garage Eatery


Amanda Miller never envisioned herself becoming the “head lunch lady” feeding 30,000 students daily. However, her love for serving people through healthy delicious meals is deeply rooted. “Food is a connection through all cultures, races, and religions,” says Amanda. “It’s a great way to touch lives.” Now in her 7th year as Director of Food, Nutrition & Logistics for Des Moines Public Schools, Amanda’s work is receiving statewide and national attention. “There is no glass ceiling within this industry,” says Amanda. “There is a plan for each of us.  We just need to be brave enough to get on board.”

Amanda Miller

Des Moines Public Schools

Des Moines

Amber Broeker says while it was not necessarily the easiest path, opening her own restaurant was the best decision she’s ever made. She gambled on herself and bought an old two-story house with her retirement savings, used her car as collateral, and leaned on the help of friends to convert the home to a restaurant. Located on a major intersection of I-80 and highway 169,, Ambro’s Roadhouse quickly became a favorite for locals and bicyclists alike. In less than a year, the bar and grill outgrew its 700 square feet, so Amber expanded another 850 square foot. She’s just getting started. Her long-term plan is multiple locations across central Iowa.

Amber Broeker

Ambro's Roadhouse


Amber Gable married her high school sweetheart, and together they pursued their dream of owning a winery together building Back Country Winery in Stratford. You know it’s a family business when you see Amber in the barn carrying her baby in a carrier on her back.  The mother of three daily does everything from pick grapes to market their award-winning vintages. In fact, Back Country Winery has been voted Best Wine, Best Live Entertainment, and Best Kept Secret by Daily Freeman Journal and boasted Best of Show White Wine and the Governor’s Cup Winner at the Iowa State Fair.


Amber Gable

Back Country Winery


Amelia Nickle is the Food and Beverage Director for both the Highlander Hotel in Iowa City and Hotel Grinnell in Grinnell. She is also the General Manager at Hotel Grinnell.  According to the properties’ owner, Amelia works tirelessly to ensure the rural luxury hotel with large event center, entertainment venue, restaurant, bar and patio succeeds. During the pandemic, she  kept labor costs remarkably low while maintaining superior service, consistent flavorful food, and the cocktail menu fresh and innovative. From technology, to menu development, to staff training, Amelia manages the resources of the hotel as if they were her own.

Amelia Nickle

Hotel Grinnell


Angela Lochmann-Guzaman’s says cooking and entertaining are her love languages.  She believes her desire to work in the hospitality industry dates back to first grade when she would make her friends play restaurant.  Today those who work for, and with her, describe Angela as a “force.” Whether she’s coaching staff, managing inventory, creating fresh baked goods, or stepping in as the pitmaster, she uses her 30 + years of experience to encourage everyone to do and be better.  Says Angela, “You can’t achieve success in this business without helping those around you grow as well.”


Angela Lochmann-Guzman

Sugarfire Smoke House

Cedar Rapids

Angela Ramos says the hospitality industry is not just for women—it’s for people who are ready to work hard and want a great career.  She does add however, “Women can be very determined and I am one of those women.” Angela faced significant obstacles getting her business off the ground. She started with a food stand, moved to a storefront, and is now back to a mobile unit.  She is thankful for the strong local following she now enjoys. Her business success has also afforded her the ability to create 4AllKids, a local nonprofit organization which provides meals to school children.


Angela Davila Ramos

Hot Tamale Catering

Des Moines

Anjuleah Knutson is co-owner as well as manager and chief barista of KaffeGeita in Story City. The coffee shop opened in 2012 and employs 15 part-time workers. A native of Oregon, Anjuleah has been working in coffee since she was 17 and has proven herself to be an expert in reading national trends and translating them into innovative drinks. She had succulents on tables, avocado toasts, and cold brew before they were cool. Her nominator says Anjuleah is not just a woman to watch but a woman to model and emulate. Calling her, “An amazing manager, mother, wife, barista, mentor, and friend.”


Anjuleah Knutson


Story City

Anna Suttie loves to honor traditions.  That’s in part why she jumped at the chance to purchase an iconic local supper club. “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to preserve and restore Maxie’s,” says Anna. “I want families to continue their traditions of gathering and celebrating, as well as make new memories, at a place they love.”  Anna’s many fans say from the menu, to the service culture, she’s brought the supper club back to life.  Said one nominator, “The passion she has not just for Maxie’s, but the entire Des Moines restaurant scene is immeasurable.”


Anna Suttie

Maxie’s Supper Club

West Des Moines

Ashley Bowers is fearless with flavor and creativity.  Serving customers in a 100+ year old building, which also houses the Iowa Distilling Company’s production, she leads a time that is changing the perception of small-town bars with unique craft cocktails and a downhome spin.  Ashley and her team spend hours dreaming up cocktails that complement the flavors of each season. They pull notes from specific processes delivered by the IDC spirits and work with flavors that often go under-noticed. People often leave wondering just how someone came up with the tasty mix (eg Pickle juice and Prairie Fire Cinnamon Whiskey).

Ashley Bowers

Iowa Distilling Company


A former college culinary instructor, Brenda Windmuller is a consultant with the Iowa Department of Education Bureau of Nutrition and Health Services. Using her background in culinary arts, business, and education, she supports child nutrition programs across the state by championing scratch cooking in schools and early care centers. A former culinary educator, she leads staff trainings for schools, helping them incorporate freshly made meals into their menus. Brenda serves on the advisory board for the Culinary Institute of Child Nutrition (CICN) has recorded a series of culinary skills videos for school nutrition departments.


Brenda Windmuller

Iowa Department of Education

Des Moines

Carina Cavagnaro is chef/owner of La Rana Bistro, an intimate 34-seat restaurant located in a historic building in the heart of downtown Decorah. Her menu incorporates French, Mediterranean, and Asian flavors into local favorites. Carina brought nearly 20 years of experience to La Rana when she purchased and refreshed the popular local eatery. She is committed to creating a thriving community where local farmers, businesses, staff and patrons feel celebrated and enlivened. She encourages women with a passion for food and hospitality to jump in, start young and stick with it. Says Carina, “Most skills and knowledge are best learned by doing, rather than studying in a classroom.”

Carina Cavagnaro

La Rana Bistro


Carrie Stier is one of Iowa’s greatest hospitality ambassadors. Co-owner of the Riverboat Twilight, each year Carrie tours nearly 6,000 people down the Mississippi on a riverboat with overnight stays in Davenport and Dubuque. Carrie is an incredible steward of her community as well as other Eastern Iowa tourism hubs. In the past two years she has helped a dozen groups apply for nearly $100,000 of reimbursement  to assist with their tour costs through the  Meet in Iowa Program from the Iowa Tourism Office.  This has resulted in more cruises booked, more overnight hotel stays, and more visits to Iowa tourism attractions.


Carrie Stier

Riverboat Twilight


Hospitality professional, public speaker, entrepreneur and self-described “salad architect” Clair Williams-Vavra has worked in many of Des Moines’s top hospitality establishments.  Today, she puts her Masters in Mass Communications from UNI to use daily as a consultant as well at her company Green Mason, a ready to eat mason jar salad company.  Her mission is to help people feel better and get time back by offering 10 variations of 32oz salads all under 500 calories that last up to 7 days.  Says Clair, “Everyone should be a server at some point in their life… it’s humbling and you learn how to navigate people.”

Clair Williams-Vavra

Green Mason

Greater Des Moines

Courtney Yeazel has helped create a true “Cheers” type atmosphere for patrons of The Royal Mile in Des Moines. As the General Manager, she treats her staff, regular guests, and first time enjoyers like part of the family, from the moment they step foot into the British-style pub. Her creativity and organizational skills draw and deliver community events such as Premier League watch parties, Farmers’ Market breakfasts, and whiskey celebrations to the Royal Mile. Most recently she coordinated a “welcome back day” for former bartenders as part of the pub’s 20 year celebration. Those who work with, and for her, describe Courtney as a “force of goodness.”

Courtney Yeazel

The Royal Mile/Full Court Press

Des Moines

From the time she was a girl, Dorian Larson, owner of La Petit Patisserie, dreamt of owning her own bakery, but she felt it was necessary to pursue something “more sensible.”  After starting college, she realized she could support herself having the meaningful hospitality career she wanted. Dorian worked full-time in a Cedar Falls restaurant and was later able to purchase it, along with two co-workers. In July, they added a French-inspired patisserie and café in a historic building downtown. She encourages women to consider hospitality for a career, “Having strong, independent women in the industry will have a profound impact for generations to come.”

Dorian Larson

La Petit Patisserie

Cedar Falls

Every month Ellie Rastetter, bar manager for Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, creates new spirit forward cocktails.  She is constantly honing her craft through both experimentation and professional training. She wants everyone to feel welcome in and thrives on the opportunity to express her creativity through alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages alike. In fact, Ellie was one of the category winners at the 2023 Iowa Mixology Championships. Says Ellie about opportunities for women in the industry, “The hospitality industry pushes women to be a boss. You can learn so much about managing situations, speaking confidently and really pushing yourself.”


Ellie Rastetter

Cattlemen’s Steakhouse

Sac City

After serving as the Operations Director at FilmScene, a non-profit cinema that also hosts community and filmmaker discussions, Emily Salmonson struck out on her own and opened The Green House.  The “plant-based” drinking establishment is not a typical Iowa City bar, rather it’s “an oasis of greenery ” using “local tinctures, herbs and bitters to create specialty cocktails with a botanical twist.”  The Green House is a hub for business meetings, student groups, and community connections. Emily believes everyone should work in the hospitality industry at some point in their lives because it requires you to “approach a stranger with the same amount of care you would a friend.”

Emily Salmonson

The Green House

Iowa City

Fran Maus is co-owner of Me & Billy Kitchen & Bar, in downtown Davenport. Since opening in 2013, Fran has been an integral part of the restaurant’s success. She is involved with nearly all aspects of the business, from social media to payroll to menu creation and everything in between. Fran stresses how much they love witnessing and being part of the resurgence of the downtown community. However, she is also a “date night enthusiast.” Fran and her husband can be spotted all over Iowa supporting local businesses while searching for craft cocktails, delicious food, and fun events to highlight on @iowadatenight.


Fran Maus

Me & Billy


Haley Scarpino worked in the tech industry for a dozen years but always felt like she was “living someone else’s dream.” So she enrolled in the Iowa Culinary Institute, graduating in 2021 and soon after, starting her own business, Valentine Kitchen. Specializing in hearty meals for two, her weekly menus regularly sell out. She is a strong supporter of local businesses and an advocate for LGBTQ causes. Haley’s food takes inspiration from personal memories, favorite restaurants, and cookbooks. She is a moderator for a zoom cooking class called Sundays With Julia, along with Julia Turshen.  It’s a safe, welcoming space for queer people to come together and cook.

Haley Scarpino

Valentine Kitchen

Des Moines

Hope Hancox manages Tangleberries Cafe and Suites, a coffee/gift shop located on the Historic Centerville Square. In addition to selling specialty coffee, lunches, gifts and home décor, Hope manages  three fully furnished hotel suites above the store front. They are available for nightly or extended stays. Her mother and she have invested heavily in the business and are currently leveraging a $100K Main Street Challenge Grant to restore the building next door to expand the suites and create an event space. Nominated by another hotelier, Hope is widely respected for her support of, and involvement in, the Centerville Community.


Hope Hancox

Tangleberries Café and Suites


Jess Robertson has worked in fine dining restaurants all over the world from Des Moines’ Baru 66 to Eleven Madison Park in New York to The Peat Inn in Scotland. The mother of three is currently the Executive Pastry Chef for the soon to be opened Oak Park Restaurant, a fine dining establishment that will extend the Ingersoll restaurant corridor in Des Moines. She graduated with a business degree, focusing on entrepreneurship, last year and passed the Introductory Sommelier Course earlier this year. Her advice, “Focus on your craft, make connections, never stop learning and encourage others to do the same.”


Jessica Robertson

Oak Park Restaurant

Des Moines

After three years as the bar manager for a popular Des Moines area restaurant, Kasey Sheldahl made the move to purveyor, taking a position as a wine consultant for on premise accounts for Southern Glazers Wine and Spirits. Kasey is continually looking for ways to expand her knowledge and has earned her WSET Level II credential. Her team and customers describe her as a passionate advocate for the industry—whether it’s fighting for pricing or getting unique new items into the state.  In a fun twist of fate–one of her first assignments at SGWS was sampling wines to attendees at the 2021 Awards Ceremony honoring the 40 Women to Watch.

Kasey Sheldahl

Southern Glazers Wine and Spirits

Des Moines

Katie Fararo started working in the industry at age 14. The proud mom loves that she gets a chance to make a difference daily when people come through the door of Urban Grill.  She also appreciates that the restaurant industry provides women flexibility and control by allowing them to make great money and still time at home. Today she finds joy in building up the people she meets and works with at Urban Grill. “Sometimes we become the tribe that surrounds a person who is struggling,” says Katie. “There’s no judgement. We’re all in it together.”


Katie Farao

The Urban Grill


For Kimberly Dunn it all began with an idea for a hand pie. She saw a need for more quality handheld comfort foods that were portable and “tasted good with beer.” As a result, Kim started Domestic Bones, a savory hand pie and apron business. Her unique hand pies include flavors such as Chicken Sausage, Vegan Samosa, and Iowa Corn. She partners with Peace Tree Brewing, the Iowa Food Co-op and others to get her pies into the marketplace. Kim regularly collaborates with local bakers organizing events to help showcase everyone’s talent.



Kimberly Dunn

Domestic Bones

Des Moines

Kimberly Hartkemeyer is the General Manager for The Fun Station in Cedar Rapids. Each  year, she helps the company welcome and entertain more than 150,000 guests who do everything from play laser tag to climb one of the 7 indoor climbing walls. Offering wholesome activities for all ages, the Fun Station also has a full food and beverage program. Kimberly started as a part-time supervisor and fell in love with the business of entertainment, quickly rising to the ranks to her current full-time role. Nominated by the owners of the company, Kimberly is credited for much of the company’s accelerated growth over the past five years.


Kimberly Hartkemeyer

The Fun Station

Cedar Rapids

Leah Jensen worked in restaurants while earning her Masters in Social Work from the University of South Dakota. She was using her degree in a position at Blank Children’s Hospital when the owner of Maxwell’s Beach Café approached she and her husband about buying Maxwell’s. They took the leap. With 80 employees, primarily students, Leah she still gets plenty of use from her degree. This mom of two appreciates that integrity and hard work still shine through in hospitality. “I encourage young women to stand firm in their beliefs and believe in who they are,” says Leah. “We can show our communities that women can successfully own and run restaurants even with a family.”

Leah Jensen

Maxwell’s Beach Café

Arnold’s Park

Lorena Maria Alvarado knows that the first thing any customer notices in a restaurant is its cleanliness.  For her, this fact is both a challenge and source of pride. Her commercial cleaning company services some of the Des Moines area’s most popular restaurants and their owners are some of Maria’s biggest fans as several nominated her noting that she is a crucial part of their team. Maria, was previously a school teacher, but her entrepreneurial drive led her to start her business. Says Maria, “Women are born leaders and the hospitality industry gives us an opportunity to grow and show it.”


Lorena "Maria" Alvarado

Maria’s Commercial Cleaning, Inc.

Des Moines

Mary Lewellin truly believes that one good cup of tea could solve a lot of the world’s problems.  “Tea can bring someone joy, comfort, and healing,” says Mary.  The mother of four children, Mary has worked tirelessly to build her family business Red Dragon Herbs & Tea. She started at the Des Moines Farmer’s Market, then started selling in local storefronts, and now has a brick and mortar location in Polk City. Mary has drawn inspiration from other women entrepreneurs.  “I’m starting to think that just about everyone has at least one  interest that’s unique to them and that they could build a business on it,” concludes Mary.


Mary Lewellin

Red Dragon Herbs & Tea

Polk City

May Thompson was born in Bangkok, Thailand and came to the United States in 1996 at the age of 15 as an exchange student. She finished college in the US and worked as a web and graphic designer for 12 years. She left her full-time career to stay home with her children and began making cupcakes as a pastime for friends and families. In 2017, she started Parinda Cupcakes a business that allows her to blend her passions for design, cooking, baking and desire to serve others. May calls cakes and cupcakes her “canvases” each created uniquely for the individual.


May Thompson

Parinda Cupcakes

Des Moines

“When you say donuts, people smile,” according to Paula Feltner, owner of Bricktown Bakery in Nevada. She says they make people happy and bring back memories. Paula, who was nominated by 6 of her 14 employees, must be right as she is beloved by the community as well.  Case in point on a typical Saturday, Bricktown Bakery, which is in a community of only 7,000 people, will sell about 1,500 donuts ranging from long johns to old-fashioned cake donuts. Last year Bricktown expanded and opened a gourmet popcorn shop in the historic corner building next door. Paula is also a photographer with a studio in the building behind the popcorn enterprise.

Paula Feltner

Bricktown Bakery


Megan Whyte is the front of house and banquet manager for Isle of Capri. She manages the activities in two separate convention spaces and assists in the operation of a steak house, quickservice restaurant, ice cream shop and marina. She handles everything from writing schedules for 50 + team members to hanging drapery and ensuring the coffee is hot and beer cold. Says Meagan, “I am grateful to the mentors who have shown me the way and feel privileged for the opportunities I have been given. My goal is to be the type of mentor and leader I have been lucky enough to have met on my journey.”

Megan Whyte

Caesars Entertainment/Isle of Capri


Michelle Hansen believes the dynamic nature of the hospitality industry empowers women to not only lead in traditional roles, but also to shape the industry’s future through innovation and inclusivity. As Director of Operations for Johnson Brothers, she is a valued partner for hundreds of restaurant and bar owners across the state and Midwest. Michelle believes that a combination of determination and assertiveness will pave a path to success for professional women. Says Michelle, “The hospitality industry welcomes women with open arms, recognizing their innate ability to create genuine connections and cultivate memorable experiences for guests.”

Michelle Hansen

Johnson Brothers Liquor Company


Shana started as a part-time server when Toppling Goliath Brewing Company had fewer than 30 employees and no restaurant. Today, Shana serves as general manager for the company’s 100 hospitality employees spread across a two-level taproom, full-service restaurant  and catering operation.  Shana is described as a servant leader who passionately cares about team members and customers alike. She is also Toppling Goliath’s wellness champion and was a spokesperson for the company during breast cancer awareness month when the company brewed a beer called Witches Broom with a portion of proceeds going to a local research foundation.

Shana Meyer

Toppling Goliath Brewing Company


Sofia Hernandez has grown into her role as leader in the kitchen at Gilroy’s in West Des Moines.  A native of Mexico, she attended classes to receive her GED. She worked her way up from a DMO, to line cook, into her current role of kitchen supervisor. Sofia ensures the back of house operations at Gilroy’s runs smoothly. Her bilingual skills allow her to aide in connections between English and Spanish speaking staff, foster friendships with coworkers and give her a great advantage for leadership opportunities. Her nominators shared that Sofia’s “determination and drive are bound to take her to her to the next level.”

Sofia Hernandez

Gilroy's Kitchen + Pub + Patio

West Des Moines

Had someone told Temeshia Bomato five years ago that she would no longer be a nurse and instead own a combination plant shop and craft cocktail lounge, she would have laughed aloud. Yet many of the same attributes that made her a great healthcare worker have helped her build her popular West Des Moines business.  For Temeshia it’s all about building relationships. The mother of four is described by others as fierce, but she is also reflective. “We got one life,” says Temeshia. “Don’t count the hospitality industry out as a chance to do something different with your life—it could change it.”

Temeshia Bomato

Pots and Shots

West Des Moines

Teresa Lancaster, along with her husband Willie are the owners of Timbukbrü, a brewery located in the scenic city of Iowa Falls.  Teresa’s mantra “Do Epic Shit”, along with her passion for helping people maximize their potential, has helped create a small-town brewery that delivers big city impact for their community.  Aside from providing a unique environment where you can enjoy a selection of locally crafted brews, cocktails and non-alcoholic options, Teresa enjoys finding ways to promote and support her community.  This has been recognized many times, most recently when she and her husband were named Ambassadors of the Year, by the Iowa Valley Community College.  “We brew beer, which pays the bills at our establishment where we get to do what we’re passionate about – building meaningful relationships!”

Teresa Lancaster


Iowa Falls

Trisha Goode is described by her many supporters as a serial entrepreneur, an inspiring leader and a passionate member of Iowa’s hospitality industry.  Her Early Bird Brunch is “a modern take on a classic diner.”  They serve chef-forward indulgent brunch dishes all day in two Des Moines metro locations. According to Trisha, there’s nothing like the perfect blend of breakfast and lunch paired with brunch-centric cocktails. She believes brunch is equal parts the company you keep and the food and beverage you enjoy. “Brunch is an experience best shared,” says Trisha. “We’re delighted to be part of people’s get togethers.”


Trisha Goode

Early Bird Brunch