Local food festival designed to help women-owned restaurants

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Now, more than ever, women are setting the food scene on fire in Los Angeles.

More women are becoming restaurant owners and building popular brands that cover the gamut of gastronomic delights.

Women restaurateurs from across Los Angeles are being celebrated this month through a food festival called “10 Days RE:Her,” created by a new charitable organization called RE:Her (Regarding Her) whose goal is to create a growing network of female restaurateurs and chefs to support each other with resources and mentorships.

RE:Her was created by women who own restaurants in Los Angeles in response to COVID-19’s devastating impact on businesses and communities.

More than 100 women-owned restaurants will participate in the festival, which runs through the end of the month with multiple chef collaborations, thematic menus, and one-on-one conversations between female industry leaders.

The 10 Days RE:Her festival began Jan. 21, the anniversary of the groundbreaking Women’s March of 2017, and runs through Jan. 30. The panel discussions and other programming will take place virtually, including cooking demonstrations and ZOOM conversations with chefs.

Several Black-owned restaurants and Black female chefs are taking part through panel discussions or by presenting exclusive offerings through festival sponsor OpenTable.

Some of the participants include Roni Cleveland (Post and Beam), Alice’s Southern Comfort, Simply Wholesome, Fortune Southern (Barbie-Q), Celia Ward-Wallace (South LA Café), Tisket a Tasket Catering, Chef Ayesha Arrington, and Kim Prince, co-owner of Hotville Chicken, located at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, who is also a RE:Her founding board member.

Prince, who collaborated with Socalo restaurant in Santa Monica with her Nashville hot chicken TaHOTcos and TaHOTquitos on Taco Tuesday, Jan. 26, said the event will help to highlight female-owned restaurants during a time when they need it the most.

“This festival was started because we wanted to help each other,” said Prince, whose family-style eatery specializes in spicy fried chicken and southern side dishes. “I joined because it felt like a sisterhood was forming that I could relate to.

“They are in the same battle I am, which is to keep our restaurants open. It has all been a grave impact on our businesses. Luckily because I started off as a pop-up, I was able to pivot to takeout.”

Prince, who co-owns Hotville Chicken with Greg Dulan, owner of Dulan’s, said when COVID-19 hit, she, along with the rest of the restaurant industry, was shell-shocked.

“There were new laws and rules implemented, which changed how I do businesses,” said Prince, who describes the atmosphere in her restaurant as “Going to Nashville without getting on a plane.”

“I cried a lot. I had a short run and everything was shut down. No notice, it was immediate. There was an immediate 60% drop in sales that week. It’s such a crushing blow. I didn’t know if I could remain open.

“Being able to talk about it, you needed support from people who understood the food industry,” Prince added. “RE:Her is that support that’s needed. It’s women helping women. This festival will highlight women-owned restaurants and give them the recognition they deserve.”

Prince, a third-generation restaurateur, said she hopes “people will visit a new restaurant and try some amazing food,” and stresses that RE:Her is about more than just one food festival.

“This is not one and done,” said Prince, who started working in restaurants at the age of 8. “The organization will be around for a long time. We’re all going to talk it out and share information. It’s about getting women some grant assistance.

“Without information, some restaurants, like mine, wouldn’t have been able to get grants. I didn’t know they existed. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about helping each other survive and thrive.”

Roni Cleveland, 33, who co-owns Post and Beam with her husband Chef John Cleveland, said the restaurant will collaborate with Chef Nyesha Arrington whose Hoppin’ John Fritter with collard aioli will be on the menu exclusively for the RE:Her festival from Jan 29-31.

“We’re at a time when all restaurants are struggling,” said Roni Cleveland. “I was impressed with the effort of the founding women of RE:Her to have us band together to save our restaurants. Women shouldn’t be left out of the conversation. We do a lot for ourselves, our businesses, and our families. The saving grace is community support and collaborating with other people.”

Celia Ward-Wallace, 43, co-owner of South LA Café, will be part of a panel discussion on the role of food and the journey of women in the restaurant community.

“RE:Her has brought together a compilation of the country’s leading women restaurateurs, an elite ladies club,” Ward-Wallace said. “I wanted to participate because they are trying to shed light on the female restaurant space. It’s about bringing together a sisterhood who are often unseen and unvalued.”

Ward-Wallace said it’s futile to underestimate the power of women.

We hold up the world,” said Ward-Wallace, a women’s business coach. “We are unstoppable. We can lead in a boardroom or cook up a stir fry, or rock the mic, or take care of our household. There is nothing we can’t do. We need to unite with each other and not fit in this male-dominated way of conducting business.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women chefs make up about 24% of the chefs in the industry.

RE:Her was conceptualized by Lien Ta (All Day Baby), Sandra Cordero (Gasolina Cafe), Sylvie Gabriele (Love & Salt), Bricia Lopez (Guelaguetza), Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill, Socalo), Kim Prince (Hotville Chicken), Dina Samson (Rossoblu, Superfine Pizza), Heather Sperling (Botanica), and Brittney Valles (Guerrilla Tacos).

“Over the last nine months, we’ve witnessed the total inaction on the part of national leadership to provide meaningful support for independent restaurants, coupled with the outsized negative impact that COVID-19 has had on women in the workforce,” said Lien Ta, RE:Her’s committee lead in a recent press release. “We created RE:Her to not only drive business for participating restaurants during a historically slow period but also to funnel cash, via a grant program, directly to women operators across town who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat.”

OpenTable, the world’s leading provider of online restaurant reservations, has signed on as a founding sponsor, which enabled the launch of RE:Her’s grant program, which will distribute cash grants to women-owned restaurants in Los Angeles County impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a fundraising goal of $500,000, RE:Her is actively seeking sponsorships and donations to distribute as grants to support participating restaurants.

“With recent closures and government mandates, Los Angeles restaurants are suffering tremendously,” said Susan Lee, senior vice president of Global Growth and Partnerships at OpenTable in a recent press release. “We’re proud to join forces with the RE:Her team and help women-owned restaurants.”

RE:Her is an affiliate of Let’s Talk, an industry group founded and led by Rohini Dey and supported by the James Beard Foundation. Let’s Talk unites more than 250 women restaurateurs across 10 cities.

RE:Her’s board is comprised of Lien Ta (All Day Baby), Sandra Cordero (Gasolina Cafe), Sylvie Gabriele (Love & Salt), Bricia Lopez (Guelaguetza), Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill, Socalo), Kim Prince (Hotville Chicken), Dina Samson (Rossoblu, Superfine Pizza), Heather Sperling (Botanica), and Brittney Valles (Guerrilla Tacos).

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.