Founder & owner • Bun Mee
In 2011, when Denise Tran left her career as a lawyer to launch Bun Mee in San Francisco, she says most of her friends and colleagues didn’t even know what a banh mi was.
“When I launched Bun Mee, my mission was to make the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich a part of the everyday lunchtime vernacular,” Tran says. “It’s the most rewarding feeling to know you’ve played a part in expanding people’s culinary taste buds.”
Having worked in an industry far different from foodservice, Tran says the restaurant world is not so different from other industries when it comes to the challenges faced by women. Although male founders and leaders outnumber women in hospitality, she tries not to focus on it, but rather on what she can do.
“The best advice for women in this business is to have thick skin, work hard to know your operations, be decisive in your decision making, [and be] fair and firm when dealing with others,” she says.
Samantha Wasser & Chloe Coscarelli
Creative director & cofounder • by CHLOE
For Samantha Wasser (at right in photo), a picture can be worth a thousand words. The cofounder (along with Chef Chloe Coscarelli, left) of new vegan fast casual by CHLOE has an eye for Instagram and knows that serving food that is not only tasty but also photographable drives customer engagement.
“We’re seeing diners … considering how their food will photograph almost as much as how it tastes, and the fast-casual space enabled us to play to that much more,” Wasser says.
Indeed, the brand’s Instagram and Facebook pages are filled with dazzling pop-art photos, and the aesthetic extends to the physical space itself. Located on a charming street in New York’s Greenwich Village, by CHLOE features a bright open space that welcomes even the most carnivorous of diners.
“We’re seeing that eating vegan food is not so much a trend, but a lifestyle,” Wasser says. “Because of that, we are hoping to expand by CHLOE beyond New York in the coming years.”
Cofounder & COO • Roam Artisan Burgers
Roam Artisan Burgers’ mission is a serious one: to positively impact the planet by serving nutrient-dense burgers. But cofounder Lynn Gorfinkle says these tenets do not detract from a lighthearted, warm dining experience.
“What’s really wonderful is you come into Roam, and it’s not thrown into your face. We don’t use the word healthy because it means a lot of different things to a lot of different folks,” Gorfinkle says.
This approach allows San Francisco–based “smart casual” Roam to attract customers who deeply care about what they put in their bodies, as well as those who just want a good burger in a comfortable atmosphere without the pretension.
“There seems to be a real need for more higher-quality places accessible in a casual setting,” Gorfinkle says. “For us, it’s everything from a few families coming in with kids at 5:30 … and an hour later it rolls into more of an adult crowd who’s sitting there having their really great glass of wine and craft beer.”
Leticia Skai Young-Mohan
Co-Owner & CEO • LoLo’s Seafood Shack
LoLo’s Seafood Shack—“where the Caribbean meets Cape Cod”—is actually not so far afield. Opened by restaurateur Leticia Young-Mohan and her husband, Chef Raymond Mohan, in 2014, this Harlem restaurant is the first concept in Young-Mohan’s newly launched Island Time Hospitality Group.
“Our brand is hinged on quality and value,” she says. “The fast-casual model allows us to feature quality ingredients at an accessible price in part by having a more compact front-of-house team.”
She finds the challenge of engineering a diverse menu (like a sustainable spiny dogfish sandwich, steampot combos, and seafood boils) in an efficient and consistent manner to be exciting. Her ultimate plan is to develop new concepts within Island Time Hospitality. After all, she says, it’s also a great time to be a woman in foodservice.
“Women are great multitaskers and traditionally are thought to be genuine caregivers,” Young-Mohan says. “Quite naturally, we have what it takes to be successful in this industry.”
Founder & managing director • Dee Daa
When it comes to running a fast casual, Mallika Sukjaro relishes an opportunity to turn the status quo on its head.
For example, her concept Dee Daa uses authentic Thai ingredients in its sauces, which are flash-frozen and delivered to New York City.
“This food science is what allows me to bring my beloved Thai cuisine to our restaurants on the other side of the world in a fast-casual format,” Sukjaro says. “I’m excited to see how technology can be utilized in a fast-casual setting.”
Like many Fast Casual 2.0 concepts, Dee Daa will soon launch a dinner menu that builds on the “street food” lunch menu.
Whether it’s experimenting with dayparts or piloting new tech solutions, Sukjaro likes being on the cutting edge and recommends a pioneering perspective.
“Keep your eyes on the horizon, and keep your feet grounded so you don’t get lost in your own ideas,” she says.
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