Female food entrepreneurs are on an upward trajectory.

They’re building businesses, they’re raising money, and they’re making progress. They’re building initiatives and organizations to combat the industry boy’s club, and they’re making incredible meals, beverages, and CPG products while they do it.

But, as in so many other industries, they have a long way to go. And they can’t, and shouldn’t have to, do it alone. As our infographic below shows, women lag behind in so many aspects of food: fundraising, leadership, and ownership. But we do know that when women are given the keys to create something great, they reward their communities with re-investment. Buying female truly is buying local.

We wanted to celebrate all the amazing ladies of food entrepreneurship by spotlighting a few of our favorites. Check out interviews with makers like Yuan Ji of Erstwhile Mezcal, Ashley Rouse of Trade Street Jam Co., and Kia and Joan Palmer of Palmer’s Bakery, all below the graphic. And after that, we’ve got a handy list of resources for any woman building a business, food or otherwise. Did we miss something? Let us know!

If you’re a woman-identifying person building something big, we salute you! Want to give a shoutout to a lady working hard (even if that lady is you)? Check out our Instagram to get in the conversation!

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The State of Female Food Entrepreneurship

(Click to enlarge!)

(Statistics: Crunchbase, Network of Executive Women, American Express, Women Owned, Fundera, SBA, Center for an Urban Future, New Food Economy, American Communities Trust)

Women We Admire:

Yuan Ji, Erstwhile Mezcal

Female Food Entrepreneur

The industry is very much male-dominated in the sense that when I meet with people in the industry, like beverage directors and spirits buyers, that pool of people is overwhelmingly male. Having said that, I haven’t felt disadvantaged for being female or for being a minority. If anything, it’s probably worked out in my favor because I think people like to support women-owned businesses in general. And now with the #MeToo movement – it’s more on the forefront of people’s mind. To be clear, I have not noticed any advantage for being a woman or woman-owned business in the spirits industry in any obvious or explicit way. But I do stand out in this male-dominated industry, and that generates goodwill with the people who want to support women and women-owned businesses.

How would you describe the community of women in F&B generally?

I definitely come across peers and women in the industry. For example, women owners and bartenders at mezcalerias, bars and restaurants. Generally speaking, there’s camaraderie, there’s mutual support, but it doesn’t come across my mind too often because my default approach is to extend everyone in the industry camaraderie and support regardless of their gender. When I’m running my business, being female and/or Asian isn’t the first thing on my mind. If I were a man, I would still be running my business to the best of my ability.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming female F&B entrepreneurs?

A lot of people who are interested in entrepreneurship have this fear that “I don’t know if this is going to be my passion, if this will be the thing I love doing the most; I have other interests.” But my experience is that running your own business is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the sense that yes, maybe in addition to mezcal you’re into stand-up comedy, or something else that is very different or even incompatible. But the act of committing yourself to something – an idea, a product, a business – will cement you to that thing and it will become your passion. Even if at the beginning, it’s not necessarily the most obvious choice, the most obvious passion. Taking actual, concrete steps of committing yourself to that idea, will make it stand out and surpass all other contenders. And the more you commit and put into that idea, the more it will give back to you and fulfill you.

Who are the female entrepreneurs that you admire?

One is Susan Cross, the co-founder of Mexico in a Bottle. She and her co-founder Max Garrone are both down to earth, and passionate about mezcal. They’re very much into education and they write blog posts about the industry, which is our style as well – we care a lot about public education about mezcal culture. Another is Ivy Mix, the co-owner of Leyenda in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. She started a cocktail competition featuring female bartenders called Speed Rack. She’s a good example of a successful woman entrepreneur in the spirits industry who is doing things to promote fellow women.

Ashley Rouse, Trade Street Jam Co.

Female Food Entrepreneurs

Have you encountered any obstacles in this industry due to being a female entrepreneur?

There will always be obstacles, and I’m no stranger to them. I’m a black woman! I worked in restaurant and hotel kitchens for about 10 years, and at the time it was truly a man’s field. I had to work twice as hard to prove myself. Even now, there’s a lot of people (vendors, other entrepreneurs) who I can tell don’t want to initially take me seriously. It’s cool –  persistence and a belief in yourself will get you to where you want to be.

How can female food entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs of color best support each other?

By reaching out and asking questions. By offering tips, suggestions, mentorships, connections. By buying each other’s products. By spreading the word and continuously uplifting each other.

What’s your proudest business moment?

Quitting my 9 to 5! If you’d have asked me this time last year, I thought it was unattainable and truly couldn’t see the bigger picture. One year later, by the grace of God and my amazing husband, I’m doing this. I’m really doing this! It’s actually still a little surreal to me. It’s not perfect–it’s really exhausting and I have no money, hah. But I wouldn’t rather being doing anything else.

What advice do you have for future female food entrepreneurs?

This is your time! Women! Minorities! Foodies! These are all things that are being praised (crazy, huh) and it’s a great time to shine. Map out some goals and plans and make things happen. You don’t have to have all the answers–shit, I never do–but just know what you want to do and work towards that. Ask yourself, “If I could do anything in this industry and get paid for it, what would it be?” Whatever it is, DO THAT SHIT. You got this! Women are so fearless and strong.

Who are the female food entrepreneurs that you admire?

The Ladies of Food Heaven Show, Essie Spice, Pinch of Yum, Black Girl Baking, Harlem Chocolate Factory, & Kalisa Marie Eats.

Kia & Joan Palmer (a mother-daughter team!), Palmer’s Bakery

female food entrepreneurs

How do you divide your business roles, and what are each of your strengths?

It’s great working with someone you can trust. It allows you to share the load with someone, and trust that things can get done. Entrepreneurship is tough, and when challenges arise, it’s good to work with someone who has your back. I (Kia) run the day to day operations (Kitchen and Retail) and my Partner/Mom (Joan) helps with the off-premise responsibilities (deliveries, bank runs, food runs) and the back-end (paperwork, taxes, etc.) While Kia’s strengths are in the kitchen (recipe development and production), and running the store, Joan’s strength is her organization (she’s a retired NYC Principal!). Together, we make a great team.

Have you encountered any obstacles in this industry due to being female entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs of color?

I don’t think we’ve encountered any obstacles in the industry due to being female entrepreneurs who are women of color. We’ve had a pretty smooth run soo far. However, we did encounter a lack of women like us, a little further along in business who could serve as mentors. When you embark on this journey, you have so many questions: funding, real estate, construction, legal. We hard a hard time finding women in our industry, who we could turn to, and that were willing to share their experiences. I think one of our goals as Black female entrepreneurs, as a result of our experience, is to make the starting point easier for those coming up behind us. We want to share as much as we can, because we know information can be sparse. We’re open books about our journey, and understand the importance of having a village.

How can female food entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs of color best support each other?

Be open with each other. Share your experiences. We live in a world where people love to share their successes, but don’t like to share their failures. The food business is hard. The hours are grueling. The wear and tear on your body catches up with you after a while. Sometimes business is slow. There’s always something new and shiny that you need to keep up with. It’s also one of the most rewarding careers, that provides instant gratification, constant growth, and infinite creativity. We get to be a positive part of peoples’ lives, even if just for a few moments. Conversations about both the ups and the downs are crucial when talking about supporting each other.

What’s your proudest business moment?

We just turned three (early Feb ’19). It might not seem like a long time, but in this industry, it is. We’ve seen plenty businesses open and close since we opened our doors. Looking back on how far we’ve come is a proud moment for us. From our product, to our staff, to our operations, we’ve grown so much.

What advice do you have for future female food entrepreneurs?

Go for it! Sometimes, we let doubt set in, and talk ourselves out of pursuing the things we want. Entrepreneurship is scary, but can be soo fulfilling. Do the research and put the work in! Before just quitting your job, work for free with someone you admire in the industry. People get sucked in with the glitz and glamour, and then realize the day to day work isn’t what they thought it would be. Make sure your heart is really in it. When it is, it will make the hard days easier.

Who are the female food entrepreneurs that you admire?

We admire women who are go-getters, self-starters and change makers! Women who aim to make the world a better place while doing what they love. Jessamyn Rodriguez of Hot Bread Kitchen, Cheryl Day of Back in The Day Bakery and my first Female Pastry Chef, Angela Pinkerton. These are some of the women inspire us with their success, drive and dedication to others.

Resources for Female Food Entrepreneurs:

Women Owned Logo: The Women Owned logo is an initiative designed to support female-run businesses with a logo that consumers can use to identify products that meet their values.
Fresh Collective: A network for female food entrepreneurs in the Boston area.
Women Chefs & Restauranteurs: One of the original groups for females in food. They produce an annual conference and other events.
Pineapple Collaborative: An organization of female foodies with great profiles and events.
New York Women’s Culinary Alliance: A nonprofit for networking for women in the industry.
Women in Hospitality United: A post-#MeToo organization united to affect positive change for women in the industry.
Cherry Bombe: A magazine, website, event series, and collective of women in food.
Ladies Get Paid: An organization and social network with the goal of helping women get paid what they deserve. Sounds nice, right? Sign up for their Slack channel and watch your life improve immediately.

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female food entrepreneurs