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National Restaurant Association - Cooking up a path to ownership

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Cooking up a path to ownership

Chef Amy Brandwein is at the top of her game. The chef-owner of soon-to-open Centrolina restaurant in Washington, D.C., recently talked about her determination to succeed in business and how others can grow their careers, too.

How did you get your start in the industry?

My first job was at a Roy Rogers. I was a cashier, but ended up doing a lot of different things. When I decided I wanted to cook for a living, I went to culinary school, did an externship and was on my way.

What do you love most about the restaurant business?

The excitement, the passion people have for what they do, and the fact that you can give of yourself and make someone very happy. There’s really no other industry I can think of that can feed people and satisfy them in a personal way.

How did you know you wanted to be a chef?

I had a single-minded focus to be a chef. I was utterly fascinated by what I was doing every day.

What big lessons have you learned so far?

The work you put out every day is the most important thing. This is one of the only industries where it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like ‑ what color, race or creed you are. As long as you can put out a plate of food, do the job expected of you and do it as well or better than anybody else, the field is wide open for everyone.

Have you had many mentors?

The chefs I’ve worked with have been mentors and so are the people I’m in business with now. They’ve been helping me along this path toward ownership and advise me daily. You have to have a team of people who are watching your back, have your best interests at heart and are there to support you.

As you open your restaurant, what advice would you give others trying to do the same?

Spend time on your business plan. It makes you lay out ‑ in a coherent way ‑ what it is you intend to do, your financial projections and how you intend to succeed. It’s also important to do it yourself or you won’t understand the fundamental elements of your own plan. Getting your plan in order may take time. It’s something that, if done well, will take months of editing and revisions. But it is the first thing that will put you on the path toward ownership.

What is the best advice you ever got?

A few months ago, someone said: “The only way out is through.” There are going to be many times when something may seem insurmountable. The key is to stay committed to what you’re doing and get through that particular moment. Deal with the task at hand, whatever it is, and then go on to the next challenge.

Is it harder for women to own restaurants?

I would say it is. You have to be able to raise a lot of capital and women aren’t always as good as men at doing that. Women need to be able to ask for what they want and expect to get it. Typically, that’s not as strong in their skillset as it is for men. Also, they don’t necessarily have the same amount of exposure in the field as some of the guys do. That’s simply because there are more men out there then women. But if you don’t see examples of women on TV or in the media doing well in vast majorities, it can affect the ability to raise funds.

How do we change that perception?

It’s really important for women to be their own advocates, be confident and do the job better than everyone else. Also, sharing their success stories will help others. I think sometimes our stories are not shared because this is such a competitive field. But I strongly believe people helping each other benefits everyone, especially when women are helping women. It’s crucial to opening the doors to female ownership.

Find out more about women in the restaurant industry at America Works Here

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