From the kitchen to the boardroom, women are carving new paths in the restaurant industry. More females are eyeing executive-level careers, and seeking out business ownership opportunities than ever before.

Three women leading that charge – restaurateurs Asha Gomez, Esther Choi and Rohini Dey – recently shared their challenges of breaking down barriers as they stepped into leadership and ownership roles. The discussion took place at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show. Moderated by the James Beard Foundation’s Vice President of Impact, Katherine Miller, it addressed perceptions on the current climate for women in the industry, financing for women-owned businesses, and changing gender roles of men and women. Here is some of what they said:

Download this and other recordings from the National Restaurant Association Show 2019

Esther Choi, chef-owner, Mokbar & Ms.Yoo, New York



It is an amazing time for women right now. Ten years ago, when I started as a young woman, as a cook in this industry, I remember working the hot line. I was the only woman working it and the only other female in the kitchen – she worked in pastry – asked how I was going to work the hot line, that it would be crazy. Now, 10 years later, there are so many women in the kitchen. In my kitchen alone, more than half are women. All are great cooks, and it is amazing that you can see the shift. I didn’t even know that I saw it, but I am like, ‘Wow. So many women now are cooking and becoming leaders and really owning their confidence.’

Rohini Dey, chef-owner, Vermilion, New York and Chicago



I think the crux of leadership is financial literacy. Many women shy away from raising money externally, and unless you break through that you are doomed to running a niche business, right? Less than 8 percent of women-owned businesses raise finances beyond friends and family. In my case, I was very lucky … to network and raise money through angel investors, and I got an SBA loan. What would I say to any woman who wants to own her own business? This industry is a tough, cash-flow-intense business so learn how to do a profit-and-loss statement, and know how to work with a balance sheet or cash-flow statement. Audit a class somewhere or go to a women’s business center, but learn it.

Asha Gomez, Atlanta-based chef-restaurateur



Today, gender roles are being redefined not just for women, but men as well. For the longest time, men were breadwinners and women were caretakers. Then, [women] became breadwinners and caretakers. It behooves us to teach our young boys that gender roles are [changing] for men and women.