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National Restaurant Association - Kat Cole: Create career opportunities

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Kat Cole: Create career opportunities

Kat Cole, recently appointed group president of Focus Brands Inc., talked about her start in the industry, how it led to a storied career in the executive suite, and her love for the restaurant business.

What is one of the most interesting aspects of the restaurant industry for you?

I think one of the most powerful things is that the restaurant industry literally is the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street. There are some big brands and big businesses that are growing and offer nice career opportunities, and then there are tiny restaurants operated by first-time owners and operators. The combination of those two affords very different career tracks.

How does your own career illustrate opportunity in the industry?

I started as a hostess, an hourly employee in a small restaurant chain that just happened to be growing. Because of that growth, I had great opportunities to accelerate and develop my career. I don’t know if in other industries I would have had the same opportunities without more pedigree, more formal education or more resources. I took advantage of it and it allowed me to create many more jobs over the years, to be a developer and mentor of other young people who are looking for that opportunity to get a job and turn it into something more. 

As the new chair of the Women in Foodservice Forum, what do you see as the role of women in the industry?

The role of women is an incredible focus for me. The restaurant industry is showing incredible advancements in the diversity of leadership at all levels: the manager level, the multiunit level, the vice president and executive level. More women are opening restaurants, becoming incredible chefs and fueling this industry as food scientists, great thinkers, accountants and marketers, you name it. We are attracting a diverse workforce and it’s our job to ensure we remain the industry of choice for great, talented, diverse workers looking for their next step. Attracting great women is one way. Another is having the corporate infrastructure, business philosophies, industry connections and leadership competencies to retain them. That is a totally different set of issues and behaviorsthat organizations like the NRA and the Women’s Foodservice Forum are working on.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in the industry?

Run; don’t walk. There are so many killer opportunities that are whatever you make of them. If you want to be an hourly employee while you go to school or have another job, great. If you want a full-time job, there are many to choose from. If my career and those of my brothers and sisters in the industry are any indication of what’s possible, you certainly can see the opportunities are almost limitless.

What’s your favorite part about the business?

Fundamentally, it’s quite simple. We provide products and services and great employment for people literally all over the world. I love that feeling of community that permeates the industry. It’s the people, the development and the actual function of providing hospitality to people in our communities. To me, it’s such honorable work. Whether we are washing dishes that end up in front of a family or hiring a person for the first time, it’s pretty cool to be the nucleus of a community.

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

Pictured top right: Kat Cole, Focus Brands group president and incoming chair of the Women's Foodservice Forum

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