Stories / Impact

Meet the Mentors: Sonya Cote

JBF Editors

April 05, 2021


Photo: Dishin' James

Last August, we launched our industry-facing website,, as a way to bring all of the resources the James Beard Foundation and other organizations have been creating and collecting together on one easy-to-use platform. In addition to these resources, also features Mentorship presented by KitchenAid. Through this initiative, the mentorship platform aims to provide emerging culinary talent with critical support, educational tools, and resources they need to advance their professional careers and businesses, even in the face of a difficult recovery. Our roster of mentors includes chefs, restaurateurs, culinary instructors, financial advisors, and more that are poised to provide support to motivated individuals looking to learn and grow.

We spoke with Sonya Cote, owner and executive chef of Hillside Farmacy, Eden East, Eden West Food Truck, Eden East Farm, and Store House Market & Eatery, about the reality of being a business owner and what to consider when thinking about expanding your business.


James Beard Foundation: What is the difference between being a leader and a mentor?

Sonya Cote: To me, a mentor takes no personal gain from the relationship. It’s purely for the benefit of the mentee and helping them develop their goals and career path.

Have you had a mentorship relationship that changed your career/outlook?

Cote: Mentors shaped who I am today, professionally. Chef Andrew Brooks taught me how to cook using what he learned in culinary school. After I finished work at my day job, I would apprentice with him for a few hours every day for years. He gave me hands-on training and one-on-one schooling that I still use today.

When you first started out in the hospitality industry, what is one thing you wish you knew?

Cote: I wish that I knew more about the business side of hospitality: contracts and how to create healthy partnerships, what the difference is between an LLC and S corporation. When I started in this industry, I thought it was all creative—making menus and plating beautiful dishes. But the reality is that it’s mostly business and employee management.

What is something you wish to pass along to the next group of hospitality professionals?

Cote: I would love to pass along how to really source ingredients. Make connections with vendors in the community, like your local farmers and ranchers. It helps create wealth in the community.

As someone who owns multiple restaurants, what advice do you give to someone who is looking to expand?

Cote: Take your time, consider the community you’re supporting, and [make sure that] you have a solid schedule that allows you to give quality time to each location.

How should we as a restaurant industry work to dismantle the barriers for the next generation of restaurant industry workers?

Cote: Make efforts to hire with diversity in mind, and provide livable wages, personal growth plans, health insurance, and more community programs that connect with youth interested in culinary arts.


Learn more and connect with a mentor by visiting Mentorship presented by KitchenAid.