Stories / Impact

Daring to Dream About Success

Facing fears and making connections at Raleigh's Owning It workshop

Layla Khoury-Hanold

March 09, 2020


Participants at the Raleigh Owning It photo: LunahZon Photography
Participants at the Raleigh Owning It photo: LunahZon Photography

The James Beard Foundation is guided by our mantra of “good food for goodTM,” which encompasses all aspects of the food system, from safe workplaces, to culinary innovation, to the environmental impact of the methods used to grow and catch our food. Below, Layla Khoury-Hanold reports back from our recent Raleigh edition of Owning It, part of our Women's Leadership Programs presented by Audi, where 50 womxn entrepreneurs came together for a day of facing fears, setting goals, and connecting with peers.


Early on a Monday morning, after mingling over quiche and scones and sipping locally crafted cold brew, 50 womxn gathered around tables inside Whitaker & Atlantic, an intimate event space just outside downtown Raleigh. The group was on hand for Owning It, a workshop series hosted by the James Beard Foundation that introduces emerging leaders in hospitality-related fields to the best practices for visioning, business planning, fundraising, and pitching. With Lizzo blasting from the speakers, womxn food entrepreneurs—including small-batch food company owners, chefs, PR professionals, and educators—opened their visioning workbooks and prepared to commit their goals, dreams, and fears to paper to conceptualize their success.

As keynote speaker Rachel Sheerin pointed out, “success is not a straight line” and “has to matter to you.” Through an exercise called “heart-centric goal setting,” participants defined what success means to them and what it enables them to do (or not do), have, and feel.

Perhaps more daunting than daring to dream about success was the exercise on conquering fears. But if anyone understands the power of connection through vulnerability, it’s Ashley Christensen, the Raleigh-based chef, restaurant impresario, and two-time James Beard Award winner (most recently for Outstanding Chef in 2019), who served as Owning It Raleigh’s host chef.

"When everyone was telling their story, [you realize] how many folks you have the opportunity to learn from,” Christensen said. “There’s also so much power in getting to be vulnerable together and understand[ing] how many recurring challenges there are for everyone here.”

Christensen hit on a theme that was echoed by both panelists and participants throughout the day. Being a business owner or a leader in your field can often feel isolating, but one of the most valuable assets that attendees gleaned from Owning It was the chance to connect with others in a safe space.

Rachel Sheerin with Owning It attendees photo LunahZon Photography
Rachel Sheerin with Owning It attendees photo LunahZon Photography

“The most meaningful part was realizing we all have the same goal[s]: to make a difference with what we do, be rooted in love, and to leave a legacy,” said participant Crystal Harris, who owns small-batch salsa company Mama’s Salsa. “It didn’t matter that I’m just starting out. I was able to find common ground with everyone and that felt so special.”

For many, a closer look at business financials was eye-opening. On the panel entitled “Owning Your Relationship with Money,” Slingshot Coffee Co.’s Jenny Bonchak passionately shared her company’s journey from self-funded start-up to recipient of a multi-million-dollar investment from Coca-Cola, while local leaders from a community bank and business mentorship program gave actionable advice (hire a CPA, for starters). Stephanie Woolley gave a presentation entitled “Dynamics of Negotiation,” which offered practical tips and helped attendees discover their negotiating style before employing it in a role-playing exercise.

By the time Owning It Raleigh participants clinked glasses during the cocktail reception—a French 75 riff from Durham Distillery’s Melissa Katrincic—the energy was palpable and the mood optimistic. Attendees left with a wealth of resources and direct contact information for local real estate professionals, bankers, and business coaches. And through the Whova app and an Owning It Facebook group, attendees can keep in touch with one another, exchange contact information, and post local resources such as upcoming business events.

Macarons by Little Blue Macaron from Raleigh Owning it photo LunahZon Photography
Owning It participants snacked on macarons from Little Blue Macaron (photo: LunahZon Photography)

“I feel like my cup of knowledge and sisterhood in this industry has really been filled today. Before it just felt lonely,” said Allison Vick, who owns dessert company Little Blue Macaron. “All I have to do is reach out and touch base with this community that I didn’t know was so strong here.”

And if participants had any lingering doubts about the strength of women-owned businesses, they were now armed with two valuable statistics, shared by V. Spehar, James Beard Foundation’s director of Impact:

“We’re in Raleigh, but this is a North Carolina presence, so to hear those amazing numbers about what women are doing in their spaces here, it’s empowering for everybody here,” Christensen said. “I think everybody wakes up tomorrow just a little bit different, knowing, ‘I live in this state and I can be very proud of the way women work here.’ Opening up the opportunity for the friendships and mentorships among the women here is a really incredible thing.”


Layla Khoury-Hanold is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared on Food Network, Saveur, and Refinery29, and in the Chicago Tribune. Follow her on Instagram @theglassofrose or on Twitter @glassofrose.