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What It’s Like to Be a Female Restaurateur in Chicago

Discussing the gender wage gap, sexist beer labels, & more

MAD Social
Marc Much
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Eater Chicago reached out to several women in the industry and asked them to share what today’s International Women’s Day events mean to them. The following is the edited excerpts of their responses.

Gina Stefani grew up in the restaurant industry, starting when she was 15. Her father, Phil, runs the enduring Stefani Signature Restaurants. After a career shift, she opened MAD Social in the West Loop.

Two years ago, Stefani and her mother took over the Stefani catering business, renaming it as Inspired Catering & Events by Karen and Gina Stefani.

“Seventeen years ago I wouldn’t imagine that in 2017 my mom and I would business partners of women owned catering company. And at the same time I would be a managing partner of a restaurant. At MAD Social & Inspired Catering we have female executive chefs.

With being raised by an amazing example of a strong, smart, hard-working woman out in the work force, my mom truly set the foundation for the sense of pride I have as a business woman. I applaud the ideals behind International Women’s Day and feel that we still have ways to go (especially from a worldwide perspective) as women, to be recognized as equals. Income inequality and basic human rights are still vital issues worth bringing attention to. As for the strike, I feel all people are valuable and worthwhile. It is unfortunate to know that certain factions of the population feel over-worked and under-appreciated. I think any positive action that brings attention to optimistic change to the plight of women is ultimately working toward the greater good and I applaud it.”

Chef Bo Fowler is the force behind two Logan Square restaurants (Owen & Engine, Fat Willy’s Rib Shack), and she plans on opening a third, Bixi, later this year. She reflected on her female role models, including her mother, grandmother, and author Virginia Woolf: “Most of my male friendships consist of beer and bulls*** (which I greatly treasure). It is, however, the female relationships in my life that have endured and influenced me the most.”

Bo Fowler
Bo Fowler
Owen & Engine

Owen & Engine line cook America Pineda, who has worked for Fowler for 14 years, made Fowler’s list.

“Fourteen years ago I hired a young lady who had never had a job before. It was her first job. She was a young mom. I was a little weary about her lack of experience, but I didn’t have anyone kicking down my door to work for me. I asked her if she thought she could do this job. She said, I can only try and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Well, it worked. Since then, I have watched this amazing woman run my morning prep, become a mom to three remarkable children. The eldest is in college now. She has built a life for herself.”

So what did Woolf teach Fowler? Women need to be self reliant, and they need to provide opportunities for other women.

“I am definitely not a chef for the money, however, women need to close the gap in income disparity if we want to eliminate sexism. I know, it’s a paradox, because of sexism we make 87 cents on the dollar, but because we don’t own our equal share of wealth we often don’t get a seat at the table. So, I will fight for a seat at the table and I will put my purse on the seat next to me if I get there. It’s our duty as women to save a seat for each other.”

Katy Pizza and Michelle Foik are opening Chicago’s first cider house—the first spot where they blend, ferment and serve cider on premises—Eris Brewery and Cider House, later this year. It’s not to be confused with Right Bee Cider, which is also women run, but doesn’t have a taproom in Hermosa Park. Foik has experience as general manager at Goose Island Brewery, and they’ve spent significant time in the male-dominated world of craft beer.

“Being female can be considered an asset when the occasional inebriated male patron needs to be escorted off-premises. No one wants to get hit in the face, so stereotypes like ‘you shouldn’t hit a girl’ are working in our favor. The patron does not feel challenged. Good, bad, or otherwise, we’ve never been hit. Maybe hit on, but that’s another story.”

Hayley Shine, Michelle Foik, and Katy Pizza of Eris Brewery and Cider House
Courtesy of Katy Pizza

One issue in the beer world is a glut of sexually-suggestive labels featuring women. The industry is addressing it, but, as Pizza and Foik write jokingly, “We don’t see many examples of craft beverage products that explicitly objectify men in a sexual manner. Is this a concern? We will be sensitive to this issue going forward.”

Eris’ head brewer Hayley Shine spent almost 10 years at Rock Bottom Brewery. So what’s it like being a female brewer?

“Well, she imagines it’s probably real similar to being a male brewer. The repetition of this inquiry can be a bit exasperating for an industry veteran who’s highly accomplished and recognized in her field. It’s 2017 and a woman in the beer industry actually isn’t novel anymore. She is our brewer, and we don’t use the female caveat.”

MAD Social

1140 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60607 (312) 243-2097

Eris Brewery & Cider House

4240 West Irving Park Road, , IL 60641 (773) 943-6200 Visit Website

Owen & Engine

2700 North Western Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 235-2930 Visit Website