25 Top Women in Foodservice and Hospitality: 2023 Edition

25 Top Women in Foodservice and Hospitality

NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

Welcome Back! How Women in Foodservice Are Forging the New Normal

The importance of women in the restaurant industry cannot be overstated. After spending the last three years doing the heavy lifting from advocating for industry funding with Congress to feeding first responders, clearly, they bring a unique perspective, new ideas, and a more collaborative approach to problem-solving. However, women still face significant challenges in this industry, including discrimination, harassment, and unequal pay. To ensure that women continue to play a crucial role in the success of the restaurant industry, it is essential that we work as an industry to address these issues and create a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

Our goal in bringing back our “annual” list was to focus on the importance of women in the restaurant and foodservice industry, their contributions, and the challenges they face and have overcome. The current landscape has enabled women to follow paths in the industry that weren’t available in the past. Women bring a different perspective to the industry. Doors have opened to create a path that can quickly lead to equity and management participation and success for Women in the industry. 

Women are having a major impact not only in the kitchen and front-of-the-house, but on the bricks and mortar design of restaurants,  the sales of equipment supplies and service, and the distribution channels. They also have major impact on what food and beverage is being served on local menus, and the management and marketing of foodservice
facilities.
We once again give special thanks to a number of colleagues that represent many segments of the national foodservice community. They were gracious with their time to help us build this list of the “best and the brightest” women in our industry. 

  • Day & Nite
  • Atosa USA
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Imperial Dade
  • RATIONAL USA
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • Inline Plastics
  • RAK Porcelain
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Red Gold Sacramento
  • McKee Foods
  • Cuisine Solutions

The industry has come a very long way from 1989, when the then-upstart Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) conducted a survey of women in the foodservice industry, specifically asking them about professional aspirations. Not one respondent expressed desires to be CEO.  Our goal is to share some of their amazing stories and to make all of us realize that any goal is accomplishable with a measure of hard work and some good luck sprinkled in. These women have found the recipe for success!

Leslie Klashman
Fred Klashman
Publishers, Total Food Service



Lori AdkinsLori Adkins

President, SNA – School Nutrition Association

In addition to serving her term as president of SNA, Lori also serves as Child Nutrition Consultant for Oakland Schools ISD in Michigan. Since 2010, Lori has supported Oakland County’s child nutrition professionals, working in 28 school districts, serving 175,000 students.  Her work helps Oakland Schools’ meal program operators improve their menus and services, manage finances, expand access to school meals and boost student meal participation. Notably, Lori led the Oakland County “Better with Breakfast” multi-sector partnership and program, the first of its kind nationally, aimed at addressing food insecurity and student access to breakfast. During the pandemic, Lori supported the county’s transition to emergency curbside meal services, helping school cafeterias reopen safely. Lori also serves on the Oakland County Food Policy Council, helping to lead Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility efforts surrounding community food access. The Eastern Michigan University graduate is representing SNA’s 50,000 school nutrition professional members nationwide.


Lauren Bailey Women in FoodserviceLauren Bailey

Co-Founder & CEO, Upward Projects

Lauren is an established restaurateur as well as the CEO and co-founder of this community focused restaurant group, Bailey is responsible for continuing the group’s growth while maintaining its vision. Her success is evident through Valley favorites such as Postino, Joyride Taco House, Windsor, Churn Ice Cream and Federal Pizza. Lauren always knew that one day she would rock the restaurant industry. With a degree in Business and Fine Arts from Arizona State University in one hand, and lifelong passion for hospitality in the other, Lauren set out to do just that. A creative powerhouse and master strategist, Lauren focuses on strategy, conceptualization and development for 18 restaurants and five brands spanning three states. 


Amanda CohenAmanda Cohen

Chef and Owner, IRC/Dirt Candy

Amanda’s Dirt Candy is an award-winning, Michelin-starred vegetable restaurant on New York City’s Lower East Side.  It was the first vegetable-focused restaurant in the city. Dirt Candy’s original location only had 18 seats and was open for seven years, during which time it became the first vegetarian restaurant in 17 years to receive two stars from the New York Times.  It was the first restaurant in the city to eliminate tipping and share profits with its employees. Amanda was the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef: America and her comic book cookbook, Dirt Candy: A Cookbook was an instant bestseller.  She is a board member and treasurer of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. Amanda came to the national forefront as a founder and visionary leader and industry advocate with the IRC -Independent Restaurant Coalition during the Pandemic. 


Pinky Cole Women in FoodservicePinky Cole

CEO and Founder of Slutty Vegan

Bringing vegan options and food awareness to Atlanta’s West End has always been a life dream of Pinky Cole. From her beginnings in a shared kitchen to a food truck and eventually to seven brick and mortar locations, Cole is building an empire. With a rotating menu and a standard two-hour wait to pick up made-to-order food, Slutty Vegan is considered a game changer, with revenues growing to $4 million within the first six months of its grand opening. Last year, Cole debuted Slutty Vegan Brooklyn to much fanfare in New York. Cole believes her business journey should help others along the way and, from the very start, has incorporated a strong positive culture into the Slutty Vegan brand. She is focused on building strong teams, empowering people to be entrepreneurs and helping make those dreams into realities. 


Laura CravenLaura Craven

Vice President of Marketing/Communications, Imperial Dade

Laura serves as the voice of one of the nation’s fastest growing distributor of paper, packaging, and janitorial products. During her tenure, she has helped to guide the message from a company that has grown into a multi-unit powerhouse across the nation and now into Canada.  She also serves as the Distributor Director on ISSA’s (International Sanitation Supply Association 2023 Board of Directors, giving a voice to a crucial segment of the supply chain. From front-of-the-house training to best practices in the kitchen, Laura is helping to shape the future of cleaning and safe operation in restaurant and foodservice operations across North America. 


Jessica Curtis Women in FoodserviceJessica Curtis

Senior Vice President, U.S. Restaurant Practice Leader, CBRE

Jessica is the Leader of CBRE’s Restaurant Practice specializing in Emerging Brands.  For the past 20 years, she has had her finger on the pulse of trends in retail, dining and hospitality. Jessica’s career has been highlighted by significant landlord consulting assignments for organizations like Rockefeller Group, RXR, Blackstone, and SL Green.  She has led the real estate initiative for Barteca Restaurants for over a decade, securing upwards of 55 locations for their two brands. Jessica has completed transactions for and with brands including Shake Shack, Del Frisco’s, Little Beet, Melt Shop, Fields Good Chicken, Five Guys, Mexicue, Ruth’s Chris, and Starbucks, as well as a number of notable and award-winning chefs. With a goal of encouraging more talented women to enter the industry, Jessica created the first female-oriented scholarship through the International Council of Shopping Centers. 


Alice ElliotAlice Elliot

Chief Executive Officer, The Elliot Group

Alice Elliot is universally recognized as one of the foremost advisors in executive search, human resources, and leadership. Her expertise within the restaurant, hospitality, retail, lifestyle, and service industries is unparalleled.  Alice was named Nation’s Restaurant News 2019 Norman Award winner and is the recipient of The Culinary Institute of America’s 2020 Augie Award. She collaborated to launch The Underground Culinary Tour.  Alice is the recipient of multiple awards, including the coveted Women’s Foodservice Forum’s Trailblazer Award and the prestigious Roundtable for Women in Foodservice’s Pacesetter Award. Alice co-founded The Elliot Leadership Institute, a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to executive leadership development and committed to the next generation of leadership. The Elliot Group successfully pairs talent and companies in ways that unlock growth and make futures happen. 


Anne Fink Women in FoodserviceAnne Fink

President, Global Foodservice, Pepsico

Anne oversees a global portfolio enjoyed by consumers more than one billion times a day in more than 200 countries and territories. Its beverage and convenient foods portfolio includes Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, Quaker, and SodaStream.  Since 2016, Fink has led Sales, Marketing, Strategy and Operations for PepsiCo’s North American and Global Foodservice business. The Holy Cross College grad has served in diverse leadership roles, developing broad business and general management expertise spanning foodservice, retail, e-commerce, strategic customer management, marketing, operations, franchise management and business development.  An executive known for talent and leadership development, Anne is an executive sponsor for Pinnacle, PepsiCo’s women’s leadership program. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Dick’s Sporting Goods, The Culinary Institute of America and the National Restaurant Association.


Amanda FugazyAmanda Fugazy

Director, Labor & Employment Law Group Co-Head Hospitality Practice Group, Ellenoff, Grossman & Schole

Amanda represents businesses (both for-profit and not-for-profit) and executives in litigation, arbitration and mediation. She also provides counseling and preventative education with regard to wage-hour compliance, discrimination, harassment, labor relations, leave laws, internal investigations, contracts, manuals, and severance agreements. She is one of the most experienced wage and hour law practitioners in New York. Amanda has litigated dozens of federal and state court cases involving claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law. She also serves as a mediator and has successfully resolved many cases privately and by appointment through the Federal Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.


Therese Gearhart Women in FoodserviceTherese Gearhart

CEO and President, Women’s Foodservice Forum

Therese is an international operations leader with more than 30 years of experience across several industries. She has global consumer marketing expertise and a record of growth and reinvention in complex global markets. Throughout her career she has developed a reputation for unlocking business performance by being an inclusive and authentic leader. A 20-year veteran of The Coca-Cola Company, Therese led Business Units in Latin Center and Southern Africa and spent six years working within the North America Foodservice business. She was also co-chair and a member of the company’s Global Women’s Leadership Council responsible for advising the CEO and executive leadership on strategies to accelerate the development and advancement of female talent.


Kimberly GrantKimberly Grant

Global Head of Restaurants and Bars, Four Seasons Hotels

Kimberly serves as both the Global Head of Restaurants and Bars and Senior VP, Food and Beverage.  She has over twenty-five years of hospitality industry experience leading and scaling restaurant and F&B companies in both the privately-held and publicly-traded sectors. She brought unique operational expertise to the posts that includes leading a decentralized workforce of over 30,000 team members, multi-unit operators, and support center operations.  She began her career at Morrison Restaurants as a server in the early 1990s. Kimberly found her way into operations and finance at Ruby Tuesdays. That evolved into becoming VP-Controller as the company went public. She ascended to the role of President and COO of Ruby Tuesday where she had a 12 year tenure. Kimberly then managed the fortunes of a pair of small restaurant chains in the southeast. Prior to joining the Four Seasons, she served as the CEO of Jose Andres’ Think Food Group (TFG). Kimberly currently serves on the board of one of the nation’s largest broadline foodservice distributors. For the past five years, she has served as a Director of Performance Food Group (PFG). Kimberly has been integral in guiding the PFG board to make big strides in elevating women to senior roles.


Genifer Gray Women in FoodserviceGenifer Gray

COO, Topgolf

Genifer oversees Topgolf’s food and beverage program, Guest support center, golf services and Topgolf Coach instruction, and high-priority strategic projects.  She joined Topgolf from Maggiano’s Little Italy, where she served as Co-President and Chief Operating Officer, overseeing 53 restaurants and 10,000 employees. Genifer began her career at On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina in 1998 as a server and bartender and worked her way up through the Brinker International family of brands, serving in a variety of roles, including Vice President of Operations and Human Resources and Senior Director of Operations Services. Genifer studied hospitality management at the University of Georgia and executive leadership at Kellogg’s School of Business at Northwestern University. She is passionate about giving back to organizations like Make-A-Wish® and Habitat for Humanity. 


Joanne HendersonJoanne Henderson

Senior Director Human Resources, Darden Restaurants

Joanne has over 10 years of progressive human resources leadership and consultative experience. She has built her reputation as a distinguished problem solver focused on leadership and organizational change management skills. Joanne understands strategic partnership in aligning the Human Resources functions with corporate strategy. Under her tutelage, Darden provides employee relations support, guidance and direction to its operations partners at five specialty restaurant brands including The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Yard House. The Amberton University grad also serves as Co-Chair for Darden’s African American Network.


Cheryl Henry Women in FoodserviceCheryl Henry

President & CEO, Ruth’s Hospitality Group  

Cheryl has served as the chief executive officer since 2018 and was appointed to the board of directors on that date. Prior to that, she was president and chief operating officer. Cheryl served as senior vice president and chief branding officer and served in various roles with the company, including chief business development officer. She joined Ruth’s in 2007. The UMass-Amherst grad has overseen all aspects of the single-chain company’s operations at various points during her tenure, including HR, IT, development and culinary. Cheryl serves on the boards of The Culinary Institute of America and the Center for Creative Leadership. 


Saru JayaramanSaru Jayaraman

President and Co-Founder, One Fair Wage (OFW) & Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC)

Saru is an attorney, author, activist and an advocate for fair wages for restaurant workers and other service workers in the United States. Saru guides her national organizations by campaigning and fighting for a full, fair minimum wage for every person who works in America. She is also the Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley and Co-Founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United). After 9/11, together with displaced World Trade Center workers, she co-founded ROC United initially as a workers’ relief center, but eventually grew to become a national organization that works to improve wages and working conditions for the nation’s nearly 14 million restaurant workers.


Maria Loi Women in FoodserviceMaria Loi

President, Loi Products

Chef Maria Loi is an internationally renowned entrepreneur, Global Ambassador of Greek Gastronomy, author, television personality, and philanthropist working to change the world, one healthy bite at a time. She’s the founder of Loi Food Products, the namesake of Loi Estiatorio in Manhattan, and the author of over 36 cookbooks.  She is the host of The Life of Loi on PBS, which debuted on broadcast in December 2022. It aims to build an inspirational and educational movement around the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle – from ancient to modern, food to culture and everything in between.


Deborah NitkaDeborah Nitka

Senior Manager, CohnReznick

Deborah is a senior manager with CohnReznick’s Cybersecurity, Technology Risk and Privacy team, and leads privacy services for consumer driven industries. For nearly two decades, Deborah has been helping clients understand their data in an ever-evolving marketplace. Her time is dedicated to helping organizations navigate shifting regulations, consumer demands, and business strategies, while helping her clients build cybersecurity and privacy programs to protect revenue and build value. She focuses on developing strong relationships with her clients across the lifecycle of business, from transaction M&A diligence to optimizing businesses at scale. Deborah holds a master’s degree in Cybersecurity from Fordham University, amongst other data geek accolades in her academic history.  


Debbie Roberts Women in FoodserviceDebbie Roberts

EVP & COO, Panera Bread

Debbie joined Panera as the EVP and Chief Operating Officer in 2020. Debbie brings along with her nearly 30 years of world-class restaurant leadership. Before joining Panera, she joined McDonald’s in 1990 in accounting, soon after achieving her CPA and finding professional growth working cross-functionally in finance, field marketing and operations roles, including franchise operations and relations. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign grad’s leadership roles have included VP/General Manager Midwest Region, East Zone SVP Restaurant Support Officer, Northeast Zone President, and East Zone President where she had responsibility for 7,000+ restaurants.


Tracy SkeanTracy Skean

COO & CPO, Yum Brands

Tracy joined Yum Brands in 2000 and has since worked her way up through the ranks. Now, as the company’s chief operating officer and chief people officer, she oversees many parts of the global restaurant company. Under her leadership as Chief Transformation and People Officer, in 2020 Yum! integrated The Habit Burger Grill and Heartstyles, a team member leadership development program designed to transform the employee and customer experience and championed the company’s Unlocking Opportunity Initiative. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Skeans’ cross-functional and operations leadership was critical. Tracy played a central leadership role for Yum! Brands’ transformation strategy to move to a heavily franchised and more profitable business model. Prior to that, she served as President of Pizza Hut International. Tracy serves on the board of directors for the Brown-Forman Corporation and theWomen’s Foodservice Forum.


Shauna Smith Women in FoodserviceShauna Smith

Chief Executive Officer, Savory Management 

Shauna is a seasoned restaurateur that brought her expertise to the financing side of the industry. Prior to launching the $100m Savory Fund in 2020, she was a master franchisee for bakery/café concept Kneaders, growing it to 50 stores. She and Savory managing director Andrew Smith then built Four Foods Group to 170-plus locations, including franchised units of Kneaders and Little Caesars as well as a majority stake in fast casuals R&R BBQ, Swig and Mo’Bettahs. After they sold off their franchised restaurants and struggled to get matched with the right private equity firms themselves, the Smiths built Savory, which is a division of Salt Lake City-based growth fund Mercato Partners. Through the Million Dollar Restaurant Launch, Savory is able to award an inspiring restaurant entrepreneur the resources to launch their concept or scale to their second location. With over 60 veteran restaurant operators, operational team members and financial experts, Smith partners with high potential restaurant brands to deliver necessary capital, industry knowledge and operational prowess as they grow into multi-unit brands. 


Morgan TuckerMorgan Tucker

Vice President, Marketing, Singer/M Tucker 

Morgan oversees the corporate marketing agenda at the Singer Equipment Company, as a member of the senior leadership team. She works with a wide diversity of acclaimed restaurateurs, celebrated chefs, and industry leaders across the U.S. to provide foodservice equipment and supplies, expertise, and consulting services. Her imprint, LMT Provisions, a curated collection of tabletop supplies, connects responsibly sourced international tabletop products to the U.S. foodservice market. The Cornell University graduate is an experienced writer and speaker in the hospitality industry and has been awarded the industry’s top sales honor, Representative of the Year. 


Kelli Valade Women in FoodserviceKelli Valade

Chief Executive Officer, Denny’s

Kelli joined Denny’s in 2022 and has spent more than 30 years in the restaurant industry as a purpose-driven leader. Prior to joining Denny’s, she served as CEO of Red Lobster and CEO of Black Box Intelligence. Prior to this, Kelli spent over 22 years at Brinker International, including serving as Brand President for Chili’s Grill & Bar where she was responsible for 1,600 restaurants. While at Brinker, she previously held other leadership positions including Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Human Resources.  Kelli landed her first restaurant job at age 16 as a hostess. She discovered early where her passion for life intersected with work, and she’s built a career living out that passion. The Binghamton University graduate serves on the board of the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (NRAEF), and the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF). 


Melba WilsonMelba Wilson

Founder & Owner, Melba’s

Melba is a Harlem-based restaurateur caterer, cookbook author and a Food Network personality. Wilson has been called both the Queen of Soul Food and Comfort Food. Her first paying job was as a cashier in Harlem and then she taught acquittal law for a company. She left the law to learn the restaurant business as a cashier, hostess, manager and finally worked her way up to become an assistant catering manager at her aunt’s eatery. Her positions at Sylvia’s, Rosa Mexicano and Windows on the World Restaurant enabled her to notice how successful restaurants work. During her run with Sylvia’s Restaurant, Melba launched the widely popular Sunday Gospel Brunch. Later she won an episode of the Food Network’s Throw Down with Bobby Flay. Melba later helped to launch the New York Hospitality Alliance of which she currently serves as President.


Lisa Yeung Women in FoodserviceLisa Yeung

Director, Food and Nutrition Services, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center 

Lisa is a seasoned Food & Nutrition Service Leader with over 20 years of experience in the industry. Prior to joining MSK, she served as Senior General Manager for Restaurant Associates at New York-Presbyterian’s Koch Center where she built a reputation for delivering hospitality excellence to healthcare with a best-in-class Retail and Patient Dining Program. Her career highlights include a stint for Morrison Healthcare at Mount Sinai Hospital that included the launch of Catering to You & Room Service Choice Program. 


Ellen YinEllen Yin

Owner/Operator, High Street Hospitality

Ellen Yin has over 25 years of experience as an owner/operator of multiple restaurants in Philadelphia including Fork, High Street Philly, a.kitchen & bar and High Street Hoagies. She was a James Beard Award nominee for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2018, 2019 and 2022. Ellen also holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and is involved on the boards of many community organizations including the Philadelphia Award, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and Arden Theatre Company.  She is a founding member of Sisterly Love Collective, a non-profit to elevate the voices of women in the food and beverage space.

  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Red Gold Sacramento
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • Day & Nite
  • Inline Plastics
  • RATIONAL USA
  • Imperial Dade
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Cuisine Solutions
  • Atosa USA
  • McKee Foods
  • RAK Porcelain