Stories / Impact

20 Entrepreneurs Who Are Eager to Grow Their Businesses

Get to know our newest class of Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership fellows

Maggie Borden

October 16, 2019


WEL fellows Photo: Paige Brown Photography
Photo: Paige Brown Photography

October 27 marks the start of our third annual Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) retreat. WEL, which is part of our Women’s Leadership Programs presented by Audi, will bring together 20 restaurateurs and food and beverage business owners from across the country for five days of in-depth education, mentorship, and networking at Costanoa Lodge in Pescadero, California. From a Californian third-wave coffee pioneer to an Alaskan sustainable seafood fisherwoman to a D.C. soda-fountain mixologist, this class of ambitious woman show the breadth of entrepreuneurial spirit across our industry and from every corner of the nation. Learn more about our 2019 WEL fellows below.


Ann Ahmed
Chef/Owner, Lat14 Asian Eatery and Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine, Brooklyn Park, MN

Ann Ahmed’s story begins in the kitchen, helping her mother and grandmother cook. Ahmed, the daughter of Laotian refugees, knew as a teenager that she wanted to own a restaurant. In 2005, she opened Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine in Brooklyn Park, quickly gaining a reputation for her unique Laotian spin on traditional Thai food. Now she also runs a second restaurant, Lat14 Asian Eatery in Golden Valley. Lat14 is inspired by the cuisines and cultures of countries located on the 14th latitudinal parallel like Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

Mary Aregoni
CEO and Founder, Saigon Sisters, LLC, Chicago

Mary Nguyen Aregoni always aspired to be a successful business owner like her mother and grandmother. In December 2009, Aregoni left her corporate job and signed the lease with her family to open Saigon Sisters at the Chicago French Market. They also operate at Northwestern Memorial Hospital as a full-service restaurant that also functions as a commissary and catering service. Aregoni is an alumni of Goldman Sachs 10,000 program and Inner City Capital Connection.

Caitlin Carney
CEO and Founder, Marjie’s Grill, New Orleans

Caitlin Carney grew up in Paris and Massachusetts in a family passionate about fine food and wine. She holds a BFA in graphic design from the Pratt Institute. After college, Carney headed south to New Orleans, and worked with some of the city’s top chefs, including Donald Link and Susan Spicer. Carney met her now-partner and Marjie’s Grill executive chef Marcus Jacobs at Herbsaint, where the two bonded over their love of Asian and Southern cuisines. This led them to create a unique restaurant inspired by their travels throughout Southeast Asia.

Gina Chersevani
Head Bartender/Owner, Buffalo & Bergen, Washington, D.C.

Gina Chersevani, a native New Yorker and graduate of the University of Maryland, began her career in mixology in Washington, D.C. Channeling her mother’s childhood memories of a pharmacy–soda shop at the intersection of Buffalo Avenue and Bergen Street in Brooklyn, Chersevani opened Buffalo & Bergen in 2012. There she concocts inventive soda-fountain cocktails along with classic egg creams and floats, and serves knishes, bagels, and more. Chersevani hopes to open a second, larger location near Capitol Hill in fall 2019,fulfilling her dream of recreating the classic, full-service delicatessen-dinette.

Pennapa Chutima
Owner, Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

Penny Chutima is a second-generation owner of Lotus of Siam, a family-owned Thai restaurant that started in Las Vegas in 1999. Since opening, Lotus of Siam has been recognized by Jonathan Gold and was nominated for a James Beard award three years in a row, finally winning in 2011.  A ceiling collapse at the original Lotus location forced Chutima to put her studies on hold, but the family rebounded and she was able to open the restaurant’s second location in Las Vegas just two months after the incident.

Marie Veronyck Colas
Chef/Owner, Pro Kitchen Hub, LLC and A Unique Taste, Inc., Sunrise, FL

Marie V. Colas, a.k.a. Chef Vicky, is an award-winning chef based in Sunrise, Florida. The granddaughter of a self-taught chemist, Colas grew up on a compound in Haiti that shared the same land with the family distillery. Her single motivating purpose is to impact other people’s lives through cooking and teaching. In 2012, 18 years after leaving Haiti, Colas was called to represent her country and be part of the Culinary Team Haiti. After competing with 11 other Caribbean nations, Colas won a silver medal from the Caribbean Tourism Association.

Christina Corvino
Owner/Manager, Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room, Kansas City, MO

Christina Corvino is the co-owner/general manager/sommelier of Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room in Kansas City, Missouri. The restaurant earned the coveted AAA Four Diamond Award just two months after opening, and Food & Wine magazine named it to their 2017 Most Exciting Restaurant Openings. Her partner and husband chef Michael Corvino was a 2019 James Beard Award nominee. Corvino’s background includes fundraising, producing large entertainment events, developing marketing campaigns, leading humanitarian teams to West Africa, and time as a U.S. Air Force officer.

Sonya Cote
Executive Chef/Owner, Eden East and Hillside Farmacy, Austin

For Sonya Cote, cooking is about creating "edible pieces of art," utilizing locally grown and raised ingredients, and educating future generations. A graduate of the Art Institute of Dallas, Cote worked with Whole Foods Market for 15 years as she raised her son. After stints under chefs Dominico Biasi, Leslie Washburn, Andrew Brookes, and Jesse Griffiths, Cote  ran her first kitchen as the executive chef at East Side Show Room. In 2012, she opened Hillside Farmacy in East Austin. In 2013, she opened Eden on Springdale Farm, a five-acre organic vegetable farm.

Sarah Ecolano
Owner, Copper River Fish Market, Anchorage, AK

Sarah Ecolano is the founder of Copper River Fish Market, a direct source of premium, sustainably caught, wild Alaskan seafood. With a lifetime’s experience in Alaska’s commercial fishing industry, Ecolano’s work is distinguished by her strong personal connection to independent fishermen. From childhood through her mid-twenties, Ecolano fished on her family’s boats for both herring and salmon. Later, she crewed on boats in multiple fisheries and regions throughout the states of Alaska and Hawai’i. She has been directly marketing her catch for over 20 years.

Rohani Foulkes
Co-Managing Partner, Nest Egg, LLC, Detroit

Rohani Foulkes’s passion for food extends deep into her childhood growing up in a small Australian seaside town. Foulkes is co-founder of The Farmer’s Hand, a gourmet grocer offering primarily Michigan-made and -grown provisions, and Folk, a mission-driven, non-tipped restaurant honoring fair and equitable pay structures and specializing in made-from-scratch provisions. She is also managing partner of Nest Egg, an all-female led hospitality Group based in Detroit, and co-owner of soon-to-be-opened Mink, a neighborhood restaurant offering an ethically sourced and minimally prepared menu alongside low-intervention beverages.

Sarah Gavigan
*Audi Fellow
Chef/Owner, The Otaku Group, Otaku Ramen, and Bar Otaku, Nashville

After 17 years working in advertising, film production and music licensing, Sarah Gavigan became a chef. In 2010 she moved back to her native Nashville, but found that she desperately missed the Japanese food culture of Los Angeles. In 2012, she taught herself to make ramen, and soon had lines around the block for her pop-ups. In 2015 she opened POP Nashville, followed by Otaku Ramen in 2016. In 2018, Gavigan published her first cookbook, Ramen Otaku, and in early 2019 opened  Bar Otaku, an izakaya and pub.

Jocelyn Guest
Co-CEO, J+E SmallGoods, NYC

Jocelyn Guest is an army brat who spent her childhood in Germany. After working as a party reporter for New York magazine by day and improv comedian by night, Guest turned to restaurants. Once she began to cook, she became passionate about sustainable and compassionate livestock practice. Guest apprenticed at Lindy and Grundy’s Meats in Los Angeles before returning to New York City as the head butcher at Dickson’s Farmstand. She also consulted with restaurant meat departments, and was the co-owner of White Gold Butchers in New York City.

Katy Kindred
*Audi Fellow

Owner, Kindred, Davidson, NC; and Hello, Sailor, Cornelius, NC

One half of the husband/wife duo behind Kindred in Davidson, and Hello, Sailor in Cornelius, North Carolina, Katy Kindred wears many hats as owner, designer, sommelier, and front of house manager. Kindred started as a hostess in Chicago, progressing to server and earning certification as a sommelier at 21. She furthered her wine and food education through travel interspersed with different restaurant positions in Chicago. She then headed to San Francisco to work at Quince Restaurant before moving to Davidson,to open Kindred in 2015.

Tiffany MacIsaac
Chef/Owner, Buttercream Bakeshop, Washington, D.C.

Hawaii native Tiffany MacIsaac moved to New York City at to attend the Institute of Culinary Education, going on to to work as a pastry assistant at Union Square Café and Ilo Restaurant in the Bryant Park Hotel after graduation. In 2009, MacIsaac and her husband chef Kyle Bailey moved to D.C. to open Birch & Barley, which not only received raves from the Washington Post but also earned MacIsaac the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s award for Best Pastry Chef 2011 and 2018. MacIsaac is also a three-time James Beard Award semifinalist.

Tim McDiarmid
Chef/Owner, Tim the Girl and The Good Kind Café, San Antonio 

Tim McDiarmid was raised on a farm, in a dome, in rural Canada, where her family grew much of their own food. For Tim, “farm to table” isn’t a fad; it’s her history. After more than 18 years working in restaurants in New York City, McDiarmid chose to settle down in San Antonio. Tim the Girl Catering was born in 2011. Since then, McDiarmid has won numerous awards, and opened a second business, the Good Kind Café, in 2017, which has expanded to a second location.

Maria Teresa Mendez-Razo
Owner, Cambalache and Villa Roma Restaurants, Laguna Hills, CA

Maria Teresa Mendez-Razo is a pillar of Orange County. Razo was born in Laguna Beach, California, the daughter of immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico. She holds degrees from University of California, Irvine; University of Southern California; and Stanford University. Razo has received numerous awards for her work and dedication to her community, including the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Minerva Award, and the titles of OC Restaurateur of the Year and OC Business Women of the Year She is also a co-author of the book, Lead with Success, published in 2016.

Mary Caroline Morrison
Chef/Owner, The Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh, NC

Mary Morrison’s first job was at Chick-Fil-A, but by the end of college, she had become a vegetarian in search of good vegetarian menu options. So Morrison enrolled in culinary school, while simultaneously working multiple restaurant positions. After graduating, she worked as a line cook and began doing monthly pop-up vegan brunches at a bar in downtown Durham with her wife and now–business partner, Siobhan. Morrison enrolled in an entrepreneurship program, and after writing a business plan, she and Siobhan found a space to open the Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh’s only 100 percent vegan/vegetarian restaurant.

Nikki Nickerson
Owner, Cowgirl Enterprises, Rosemary Beach, FL

Texas-born Nikki Nickerson spent her corporate career in Atlanta before moving to Scenic 30A, Florida at age 36. Nickerson opened Cowgirl Kitchen, a small café, in Seagrove Beach, Florida in 2005. She relocated her flagship restaurant to Rosemary Beach in 2007, and in 2011, returned to Seagrove Beach to open Cowgirl Kitchen Market. In 2013, CK Feed and Supply Retail and Provisions Store opened in Rosemary Beach, followed by Southern Belle Catering in 2015. Her most recent restaurant, Blue Mabel Smokehouse and Provisions, opened in 2018 in Blue Mountain Beach, Florida.

Evelyn Padin
Co-Owner, Hardgrove Restaurant, Jersey City, NJ

Evelyn Padin is the co-owner of the HardGrove Restaurant in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her restaurant specializes in Cuban cuisine and is located in downtown Jersey City.  Padin has owned the HardGrove for over 12 years and is currently focused on expanding her hospitality business by opening a rooftop restaurant in the city's "Restaurant Row." Padin is also a trial attorney where she represents clients in personal injury matters and family law, and currently serves as the president of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

Patricia Rothgeb
Co-Founder, Co-CEO, and Roastmaster, Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, San Francisco

Trish Rothgeb is the co-founder, co-CEO, and roastmaster at Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters. Born and raised in San Jose, California, Rothgeb’s experience spans over 30 years as a coffee roaster, green coffee buyer, and teacher. She is credited with originating the term "third wave coffee,”, which has become the most common expression to describe the leading-edge segment of the specialty coffee industry. Rothgeb founded Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters with her husband in 2011. Wrecking Ball operates three cafes a coffee roasting facility in the Bay Area.

To follow the progress of our WEL Fellows check out #JBFWomenLead across social media. Find out more and learn how you can support these programs.

Read the full press release.

The JBF Women’s Leadership Programs are presented by Audi, with visionary support from GrubHub and Edens and sustaining support from Enroot.

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