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Leadership

5 ways restaurateur Rohini Dey is inspiring the industry to jumpstart Women’s History Month

Events in March are designed to spotlight, support and elevate women in the restaurant industry.
Picnic in White chefs
Photo by Rachel Bires

Rohini Dey, owner of Vermilion restaurant in Chicago, is on a mission to make Women’s History Month in March more meaningful for the restaurant industry. And she’s kicking it off on Tuesday, with “The Let’s Talk Change Women’s Virtual Summit.”

The two-hour event features a stellar lineup of speakers and panels, led off by Claudia San Pedro, President of Sonic and Restaurant Business’ 2022 Restaurant Leader of the Year.

“The summit features top changemakers who will inspire women entrepreneurs and executives to revolutionize change, both within ourselves and around us,” said Dey.

Dey began her mission to empower women when she launched “Let’s Talk Womxn,” a collaboration of female chefs and restaurateurs formed last year to share strategies for boosting their businesses. Three “Bs” drive the initiative: No bullshit, move at breakneck speed and no bureaucracy. 

The program evolved into live panels, collaborative tasting dinners, fundraising food baskets and more, bringing in revenue, growing visibility and increasing opportunities for women.

Let’s Talk Womxn has now expanded nationally and on March 8—International Women’s Day—women restaurateurs in 13 cities, including Philadelphia, New York, Phoenix, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta will host “Let’s Talk & Celebrate Together” to promote their restaurants through dining events for up to 500 guests.

As a guest on the Menu Feed podcast, Dey shared five inspiring ways to engage the industry and elevate women into leaders ready to break through the gastro ceiling.

Collaboration trumps competition. The rewards are greater when you band together with other women in the industry to share resources, cross-promote your restaurants, mentor younger chefs, learn from each other and build camaraderie and moral support. “By making the sum bigger than its parts, you gain tremendous visibility,” Dey said.

Seek the support of influential men. “Any women’s forum that doesn’t engage men is insular, and will barely make a dent in the issues,” Dey believes. For the March 1 Summit, she recruited high-profile industry leaders Danny Meyer, Jose Andres and Andrew Zimmern to participate in the changemaker panel.

Harness the power of big business. Reach out to the corporate world for marketing and monetary support. Dey worked her connections with McKinsey & Co., a former employer, to sponsor an interactive conference panel and put its considerable clout behind this event. Sysco is lending its support to the nationwide dining event on March 8. Food and equipment manufacturers, tech companies, banks and the other vendors women restaurateurs deal with are potential sources of support

• Don’t go the “vanilla” route. Instead of rehashing the same conversation about women’s issues with the usual women’s panels, bring in marquee speakers from outside the industry to share their expertise.

Pick one cause and make a meaningful dent in it. A cause should identify with your brand and mission, whether it’s climate change or child nutrition. “Jumping from one cause to another just to check the boxes dilutes the impact,” said Dey. She cited American Express as a good role model. “That company stands for small business; it’s clear. There’s a corporation out there that should own the women’ space,” Dey said.

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