Twenty-five-year-old Alexis Lundgren traveled the US as a trainer for a national restaurant chain before returning to Peosta to be the Operations Manager for her family’s establishment Trackside Bar & Grill. She is already an equal partner in the business, charged with human resources, inventory, catering, marketing and entertainment. She notes that hospitality requires, “a level-head, strong work ethic, the ability to multitask and great people skills.” But she’s also stresses the importance of supporting the community and giving back, “Being successful isn’t just about you, it’s about how you share your success with your neighbors.”
Recent Kirkwood Culinary graduate Chef Allie Lanham received the school’s first Chef Basil Culinary Scholarship. She holds degrees in both Dietetics and Culinary Arts and is the lead line cook at upscale Mexican eatery Caucho. She has won, or placed, in several renown culinary competitions and considers her knowledge of nutrition and cuisine a “double whammy.” Says Allie, “What I love most about being a chef tis teaching others how to cook amazing dishes that are also healthy … I want everyone to discover the versatility of food and not feel left out because of their dietary needs. Everyone can experience something special.”
Born and raised in Yucatan, Mexico by a renowned chef mom, Lion Bridge Brewing Company co-owner Ana McClain is making her own mark on Iowa’s food and beverage scene. She’s pushing the envelope with award-winning food and brews, but is equally passionate about creating a unique customer experience. “People come to Lion Bridge to celebrate life’s important moments, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I love we’ve created a place that is part of making memories in so many people’s lives,” says Ana. Quick to credit an amazing team, Ana is able to find time to share her talents and enthusiasm with a number of Corridor nonprofit organizations.
Supporting herself as a server and bartender while in school, Anne Audo made a career in hospitality and is now tearing it up as a District Sales Manager with Sysco Foods Iowa. “There are so many upward advancement opportunities for women in this industry,” says Anne who was promoted within Sysco after only two and a half years. Her advice to other women, “Be bold, find a mentor, and lean into your natural strengths.” She points out women need to be comfortable asking for growth opportunities. She says, “Be a problem solver and advocate not only for your company and team, but the restaurant owners and employees.”
Chef Austina Smith is as inspirational as she is talented. After a cancer diagnosis, esophagus removal, and 9 months with a feeding tube, she relearned chewing, swallowing and tasting food. But this survivor is a thriver. Now the Executive Chef at Grand Living at Bridgewater, she delights residents daily, and encourages all who know her. Says Austina, “Walk with confidence and smile, it’s part of your profile. Don’t be discouraged, you might need to go the unconventional route, but there’s no timeline on learning or pursuing your goals, if this is your passion, stick with it and it will pay off.”
Like many restaurant owners, El Fogon’s Blanca Plascencia wears many hats. A business owner, wife and mother, she is just as likely to greet customers at the door as be in the kitchen. A native of Mexico, Blanca has created a restaurant reminiscent of her childhood where life centered around the kitchen, and her mother, aunts and grandma worked together expressing love through food. Says Blanca, “The restaurant team has become an extension of my family. We spend so much time together.” Customers feel it too, as Blanca is careful to ensure that everyone who walks through the door, is treated like a guest in her home.
Brittany Quaid, General Manager at Pullman Bar & Diner, has always been drawn to the hospitality industry—whether it was cooking, baking, serving, or bartending. With every new restaurant position, her passion for creating great food, drink and ambiance, grew. Now a young mom, Brittany is managing one of Iowa City’s hottest new establishments and is thrilled with the flexibility and growth opportunities the industry offers. “Hospitality provides a unique community and a family for the people working in it” says Brittany. “It’s hard work, but it’s all worthwhile because I get to be the best part of someone’s day, or become part of their traditions.”
After eleven years as a Professional MMA fighter, Cassandra Rodish, owner of Fuel’D Cafe and Beef Cake Fuel Restaurant, perfected original entrees that satiated her inner “foodie as well as helped athletic performance. In 2015 she took her “healthy food with a twist” to the streets—with a food truck and soon after opened a bricks and mortar restaurant. In 2019 she added a second location in the Wellmark YMCA. She has two full kitchens –one traditional, the other vegan. Her advice to young women, “Don’t be scared. Walk into the kitchen like you own it. Failing isn’t failure, it’s learning. You can do anything.”
Christina Moffatt and her dessert lounge Crème Cupcake + Dessert boast a dozen+ awards including runner up on The Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Moffat left a successful corporate career with a mission to “make people happier.” She expanded a home-operated bakery into a commercial kitchen and was soon filling orders for thousands of desserts. Moffatt is quick to elevate and credit women within her organization for Crème’s success. “This industry has allowed me flexibility to be a mom and pay it forward in our community BUT most importantly it’s given me the Crème Crew which is 90% women and an amazing team,” says Christina.
In 1995, waitress and single mother Cindy Bosley drove through a blizzard to bid on a failed restaurant with money from a second mortgage on her parents’ home. She soon opened BozWellz in Storm Lake. In the 25 years since, Cindy has been the heart of the restaurant—from daily making homemade desserts and soups, to operating a successful catering business. A true community philanthropist, she started a program called “Caring-is-Sharing” to provide Thanksgiving dinner to people in need. Deliveries were made to the homebound. Last year, the program served over 900 people. Her dedication and grit make Bosley is an inspiration to all who know her.
Darian Everding of London Underground in Ames is passionate about helping professionalize the bartending community. She was elected the first president of the recently formed Des Moines Chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild and also received the national organization’s Rising Star Award. She holds a degree in physics but knew she needed to serve her community in a personal and interactive way. On women’s ability to succeed and advance in the hospitality industry, she notes, “In some ways, this industry actually rewards and recognizes us for the emotional labor that women are so often called to perform in our society”
Fabiola Carlin, co-owner of Panka Peruvian Restaurant in Des Moines started her culinary career in Peru, where she trained under several renown chefs. She immigrated to the U.S. and recently opened her first restaurant. She daily delights patrons with unique South American flavors, fresh ingredients and an upscale casual ambiance. Says Fabiola, “Women can thrive in this industry. We are natural leaders and great at paying attention to people. This industry comes with big challenges, but the rewards are endless and the pride of sharing your creations and passion for food with patrons makes it all worth it.”
Faye Swift has a gift for recognizing, encouraging and developing leaders in the hospitality industry. The real estate professional/ restaurateur was owner of Sluggers Neighborhood Grille in Coralville, before it was destroyed by a flood in 2008. But that didn’t’ slow her down. She partnered with the people she knew best to open some of the Iowa City’s biggest hotspots including St. Burch Tavern, Big Grove Brewery, Blackstone and Red’s Ale House. According to the hordes who consider Faye a mentor, the “matriarch of Iowa’s City restaurant scene” taught them three key principals. 1. There’s a difference between hospitality and service so do the former. 2. Provide good product—always. 3. Operate your business as a family. Invest in people. They are the biggest assets you have.
Gwen Page, President and Co-founder of Fong’s Pizza, one of Full Court Press’ most popular operations; enjoys the dynamic nature and family environment hospitality provides. A single mom of two young sons; she also loves the inspiration she can give them through hard work and kindness. Gwen recommends working in every capacity to find your passion. “Passion helps create success,” she says. “It’s contagious and will build a loyal and inspired team of champions. Hospitality is a very challenging, but incredibly rewarding career that offers the opportunity to leave a legacy through your kindness, work ethic, creativity, service and dedication”
Twenty-five-year-old Hanna Burkle, General Manager and Co-Owner of Rolling Smoke Barbeque in Pleasant Hill is daily putting her degree in Sociology (the study of people) from the University of Iowa to good use. “It’s not what happens around you, but how you respond that matters,” says this student of people and natural leader. Having worked in nearly every capacity in a restaurant, she now runs the front-of-house, employee scheduling, vendors, and catering portions of Rolling Smoke. Hanna thinks hospitality is a good industry for women and men. “It builds leadership skills, confidence, and allows you to work with your hands,” says Hanna.
A commercial real estate professional who then apprenticed in the original Molly’s Cupcakes in Chicago, Jamie Skinner opened the first Molly’s Cupcakes franchise in Iowa City in 2012, and later added the Des Moines location. An entrepreneur through and through, she most recently opened and co-owns Dodge Street Coffeehouse in Iowa City, a place welcoming to children as well as coffee drinkers. Dodge Street supports other local restaurants by selling their food offerings. Jamie takes her role as a woman restaurant owner seriously, supporting and mentoring other women in the industry and collaborating with many women-owned restaurants.
Joni Bell, owner of Great Caterers of Iowa, Inc., is a self-taught chef and business owner who is “all about the details.” She is well known for her multiple recognitions as a vendor at the Iowa State Fair including “best new food” honors. She has also been awarded a Bronze Medal from the U.S. Army for “service, product and commitment” in serving troops. Her secret? Knowing what she wants. “Hospitality happens every second! I give 100% daily to prove myself and my companies to each and every person we serve! I strive for perfection and lots of smiles,” says Joni.
Julie Schoenherr, owner-operator of SoHo Kitchen & Bar in the Historic District of Sioux City, is recognized across Siouxland for both her restaurant and her philanthropic endeavors. SoHo has stacked up a slew of state and national awards since its opening in 2009 and Julie is a regular on IPTV’s Iowa Ingredient. Julie says the restaurant industry is an “open field” for women who are ready to work hard to pursue their passion. Her impact is far-reaching, 26 of her 27 employees support their families with their restaurant jobs. When she’s not at SoHo, she gives her time to multiple nonprofit boards including the Downtown Partners.
Chef Karla V. Boetel, an instructor at Iowa Culinary Institute in Des Moines, has influenced hundreds of aspiring chefs. An alumnus of ICI herself, she also attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. She has worked across the country, as well as internationally. She served as Executive Chef for Iowa State University, before returning to teach at ICI. Says Chef Karla, “Our industry is ever-changing and women can lead the way.” Always finding teachable moments she advises, “Read everything you can get your hands on and never stop learning. One is a student all their lives when they choose a career like this.”
Freelance writer Karla Walsh established her “foodie” credentials as a food editor for Better Homes and Gardens, as well as serving as the “Datebook Diner” restaurant reviewer for The Des Moines Register. Today, her work can be found on EatThis.com, WomansDay.com, FoodNetwork.com and more, plus in dsm Magazine. She also uses her talents to help locally-owned restaurants create high-impact marketing campaigns. “I choose a career that supports the hospitality industry,” says Karla. “Reporting on the food and dining scene and doing the (not-so-tough) ‘research’ dining out to keep up with trends and new openings is my tiny way to try to support local businesses and people who truly care about their craft.”
After a performance career, Kate Willer knew she couldn’t take a 9 to 5 job. She climbed the ranks of the New York restaurant scene including the famous Gramercy Tavern. In 2016, she returned to Des Moines to serve as GM of Bubba – Southern Comforts. She is passionate about the role restaurants play in people’s lives. “People come to us in their best and worst times. They come to celebrate births, weddings, deaths, reunions, birthdays, anniversaries and so much more. They come to be nourished not only in body, but to be given that warm hospitality of someone else serving and taking care of them,” says Kate.
Described by those around her as a “force of nature,” Katie Greenfield, co-founder and operator of the award-winning Jefferson County Ciderworks & Food Plot Tap Room, leverages her background as a West Coast business consultant to startups and other venture capital funded companies, to manage her growing business. She returned to her Iowa roots to help create and put the local cidery on the map— spearheading the restaurant’s summer food truck program and farm-to-table dinners. Katie works with the chef to design new menus and special events at the taproom—drawing crowds of 300+ through their doors.
Chef Kerri Rush is a true trailblazer. The award-winning vegetarian chef has competed head on with meat –based dishes and won. She credits her diligence and drive to succeed to a long line of food-focused hardworking women. Known by many as the “wheatgrass girl” she is owner, farmer and chef at Fresh Wheatgrass Girl Farm in Carlisle. She also owns Fresh Café & Market and a Fresh Juice Stand at the Downtown Farmers Market. Kerri’s philosophy? “Provide products that are alive and over flowing with positive energy and nourishment…. I support local, small farmers and raise up my neighbors even if they are across the globe,” says Kerri.
Krista Kay, Owner of Go Fish Marina Bar and Grill in Princeton, is a champion for the entire Iowa hospitality industry. She rallied Eastern Iowa operators and traveled to the statehouse multiple times to help bring about significant DRAM reform. Her riverside hot spot has been recognized for its ambiance and food, and she is just as quick to promote the entire region through her work with the Mississippi River Parkway Commission. Krista grew up working at her family’s hunting and fishing resort. She shares, “I learned from my mom that every detail matters, every time, with every guest. I still use that philosophy today.”
Lauren Doll-Sheeder is a third-generation member of the Doll Distributing, a business her family grew from 7 accounts in 1965 to 4,000+ today. “I grew up attending events, visiting customers, and spending my weekends among the stacks of beer in our warehouse,” says Lauren. “I knew I wanted to be in this industry because it’s constantly evolving which means we have to be adapting and growing too.” Lauren made her mark outside of the company before bringing her unique perspective and skillset to the Doll team. She is now a Sales and Marketing Specialist. “Our business motto is building brands; building relationships, and that is what I intend to do!”
Whether setting up a test kitchen, traveling the globe representing a commodity group, or arranging press events for chefs, Linda Funk, Executive Director of The Soyfoods Council, has always been an innovator in Iowa, and the Nation’s, food scenes. Recognized by countless groups for her contributions to advancing the notion that nutrition can be an integral part of great food, Linda’s advice to women looking for expanded opportunities in the hospitality industry is straightforward. “Follow your passions. Serve on committees. Take on leadership roles and create an informal community of peers and other contacts who inspire you, support you and serve as a sounding board.”
New mom Lindsey Wallace started a serving job because she needed flexible hours, but she quickly discovered she had a passion and knack for hospitality. She worked in concepts ranging from sports bars to fine dining establishments, finding mentors and role models who helped lay the foundation for her decision to complete a degree and pursue a career in hospitality. In 2018, she landed at Pete’s Thai Kitchen in Dubuque’s up-and-coming North End neighborhood. Now a partner in the restaurant, which has earned both best new business and best new restaurant awards, Lindsey is a rising star in the Eastern Iowa restaurant scene.
Chef Lisa LaValle, owner of Trellis, which is in the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, has been part of elevating the Des Moines and Iowa culinary scenes for more than 20 years. From judging culinary competitions in Loire Valley in France, to participating in the National tapas festival in Spain, as well as extending her “chef diplomacy” to China, LaValle has found creating healthy, locally sourced dishes and menus to be an artistic outlet. “Sharing food is the most enjoyable way to learn about a culture,” says Lisa. She and husband Michael are sponsors of Iowa Ingredient, an IPTV program, featuring food growers and chefs in Iowa.
Liz Ramey, Asst. GM for Gilroy’s Kitchen + Pub + Patio, West Des Moines, knew the hospitality industry, where creative skills are valuable, was the perfect fit for her Communications and Graphic Design degrees. She started working in a concession stand at 14 and continued through the ranks of restaurant concepts and roles while she completed her education. Upon graduation, she knew she could build a career in hospitality. She’s most excited about mentoring others. “I’m proud of the people I’ve had a small hand in developing, whether they continue in the hospitality or not,” says Liz. “A minute spent in the hospitality industry is never a minute wasted. The possibilities are endless.”
Washington, Iowa native Lorraine Williams moved to Italy at age 19 and returned to her hometown (pop. 7,500) three decades later to open Café Dodici, a fine dining restaurant in a renovated historic building in the downtown square. Her restaurant quickly became a “destination” helping revive the once-dying downtown, but Lorraine was just getting started. She also renovated an adjacent building for a coffee gift shop, converted upper level areas into luxury suites and co-founded a nonprofit art center. Her action was the catalyst for nearly $25 million now invested into the downtown. Members of the community call Lorraine a “beacon of light.”
Martha McAninch worked her way up the ladder from cashier to General Manager for the busiest Gusto Pizza Co location in Des Moines. But beyond her work in the Metro hotspot, she’s become philanthropy champion. She serves as the event coordinator for the company’s annual “Take a Slice Out of Hunger” campaign, running lead on a golf tournament which raises tens of thousands of dollars for Joppa, a local homeless outreach program. Says Martha, “Hospitality is a like a group project; what are you bringing to the table? Express your creativity and work with those around you to grow together.”
Michelle Booth, Operating Partner for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, West Des Moines says being in the hospitality industry let’s her “throw a party every day.” She has received multiple operation awards but beyond her daily work in the fine dining establishment, Michelle is a visible part of the community, working with the leukemia lymphoma society, mentoring DMACC students and supporting ProStart high school programs. She thinks the possibilities for women in the industry are endless. “It’s a fast-paced, creative thinking, multifaceted industry. there’s so many different areas you can go into, I don’t think the glass ceiling exists in this arena for women anymore,” says Michelle.
Natasha Sayles, Executive Director for Winefest in Des Moines is passionate about her community and ensuring others see and enjoy all it has to offer. She helped expand the focus and benefit of Winefest, increasing donations to its primary benefactor Bravo, but also creating a scholarship fund for sommelier certification and Iowa Culinary Institute students. Recognizing the symbiotic relationship between her organization and the hospitality industry, she has created wine education opportunities for restaurateurs in conjunction with the industry’s annual EXPO. “For Winefest, and many other events and festivals in Des Moines, the hospitality industry is at the core of what makes our events possible,” says Natasha.
Sara Hill worked alongside her chef husband at their award-winning restaurant for years, before fulfilling her unique vision for an establishment. Harkening back to her small-town roots, Hill created The Hare & The Hound in Earlham, a casual restaurant in a renovated historic building. Committed to local ingredients, Hill works with Iowa farmers including her father, who supplies many of the tomatoes for her brick oven pizzas. Once a custom jewelry designer, Sara, found a natural segue into becoming a restaurateur. Says Sara, “You talk to somebody about their food or cocktail, see what they like and turn around and make something better than they expected.”
Sarah Pritchard, owner/operator of Table 128 in Clive, appreciates the dynamic nature of the hospitality industry. “It requires so many different skillsets, whether it’s taking care of guests, juggling schedules, managing people or budgets,” says Sarah. “Women multi-task well and can thrive in this environment. Although the hours are somewhat non-traditional, you can more easily achieve a balanced schedule while maintaining a career and caring for a family,” says the new mom. Sarah is a visible leader and voice for the entire industry, often traveling with delegations of restaurateurs to DC to lobby Congress, as well as testifying at the statehouse and serving on working groups to the benefit of all.
Sneh Chopra, owner/operator of Melting Bite at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids may seem an unlikely restaurant owner. She holds degrees in Business Management and Computer Science from University of Iowa and worked in software. But she always had a passion for introducing people to new things, including vegetarian and Indian “street food.” Initially she hosted parties for fun, then she started an in-home bakery. Once she decided to move into the industry full time, there was no stopping her. Sneh sells made-from-scratch, authentic, made-fresh Indian food and truly embraces the notion of her business tagline, “There is Something for Every Palate.”
Stacey Wertzberger put her industry expertise to work for students at Iowa State University where she is a Hospitality and Event Management Academic Advisor. She has worked in nearly every facet of the industry from the management and culinary team at Marriott to Catering Manager and Retail Chef for HyVee. She daily offers advice to young women choosing hospitality careers. “The hospitality industry is very versatile and can grow with you depending on where you are at in your personal and professional life,” says the mom of four young children. “There are so many careers paths and options in the industry that the sky is the limit.”
Stephanie Sellers, Owner of Baked Beer & Bread Company, got her start making cupcakes for a local farmer’s market and soon realized her passion for creating beautiful and delicious desserts could be a career. Her Davenport restaurant reflects the fun environment she wants to work in. Unique events and creative marketing grew the first ever bakery/brewery quickly. Stephanie thinks more women should look to hospitality for their careers. “Women have the opportunity and skills to build teams and companies by utilizing their fearless natures,” says Stephanie. “The more women we get into Chef and upper level management positions the better we can be.”
Taylor Weiss, Head Baker at Crème Cupcake + Dessert in Des Moines, has always enjoyed creating things that are beautiful and delicious. During culinary school, she interned in France and upon her return quickly put her creative skills to work for the local bakery and runner-up in The Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. She is credited by Crème’s owner and fellow 40 Women honoree with the creation of several unique offerings including patron favorite “Crème Pops.” Says Taylor of the industry, “I believe in hospitality, more than any other industry, women are on the same footing as men. Your gender does not define what you can accomplish in this field.”
Chef Terrie Kohl worked in Des Moines as a food service broker and buyer before pursuing her dream and attending The New England Culinary Institute. She interned across New York state before returning to Iowa to work in some of the Des Moines area’s best restaurants. In 2003, Terrie struck out on her own, establishing Country Club Market, a “from home” business that offers culinary arts classes, customized catering, and baked goods. She is regularly featured in local media, gives her time judging food competitions and most recently launched her first cookbook Bringing Friends and Family Back Around the Table which features many of her family’s passed down and most treasured recipes.
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