I was one of those kids making eggs Benedict and hollandaise. I even remember lining up all of my mother’s spices and playing chemistry, combining them in different ways and flavors—and that’s kind of odd for a kid to do. My mom was a good cook as well. For her, food was about pleasure; it was about community; it was about bringing people together.

I took a different turn in my early 20s post-college and worked for Nike. I spent a fair amount of time developing women’s shoes, which was kind of revolutionary at the time because Nike was more of a male-oriented company. What I got out of that experience was the power of a brand. I was offered an opportunity to work in China, but I wanted to go back to food. So I quit this great job to go to culinary school.

At the same time, I wasn’t interested in working in a restaurant. At Nike I learned I liked making products, and I liked that grand scale. That’s when I met Joaquin Pelaez, who was then the vice president of food and technology at Taco Bell. He hired me when Taco Bell was working on the light menu, and that became a good fit. I ended up staying there for 15 years and was able to reinvent myself a number of times and go into the world of ideation and brainstorming.

Because I wanted to diversify my career, I took a couple of turns. I worked for a fast casual and then at IHOP for four years. Then the opportunity came along at Del Taco, and I could see clearly that it was growth oriented. I like being on the growth side of businesses more than the maintenance side. I really like being a part of something that’s growing and far bigger than me.

I have a great team of five people with different personalities and skills. I’m a believer in diversity; I even have one person here who is a culinary chef who has no experience in [quick service] at all. I see myself as a servant-style leader, but at the same time a compassionate leader, because people really do make this business sing. There’s no way I could do all of this or any of it without these folks.

What’s your favorite menu item at Del Taco?

Chicken Avocado Epic Burrito.

What’s your favorite type of food, excluding Mexican?

I like the simplicity and artistry of Japanese [cuisine].

Who has inspired you as a leader?

Howard Schultz, Danny Meyer, and Elon Musk.

What is the best piece of advice you think quick-service executives should hear?

I think it goes back to a people philosophy: inspiring your team and challenging them with thinking differently to actually bring about some positive change in our industry. If we really focus on folks and people, I think we can make great things happen. What are some of your interests outside of the business? I am a mother to a 7-year-old, so I spend a lot of time with her. I garden and generally have a big puzzle always going. I have rollerbladed for years and absolutely love the feeling of riding by the beach with the wind in my hair and just feeling very free.

Fast Casual, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Del Taco