If there’s something strange in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? For female restaurant owners around DC, the answer isn’t the Ghostbusters—it’s other female restaurant owners.
What started as a grassroots support group has grown into the first East Coast chapter of Regarding Her (Re:Her), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit with a mission of empowering and advancing businesswomen in the hospitality community—all with an eye towards diversity and inclusion. The DC chapter, the first outside LA, officially launches on Monday, March 14 with a two-week festival filled with dinners, chef collaborations, and other events around Washington.
The DC group started organically when the pandemic began in 2020.
“We started getting together on Zoom to talk about Covid, and what the women-owned hospitality world was doing. We all knew each other, but we didn’t really know each other” says Micheline Mendelsohn, CEO of Sunnyside Restaurant Group (We the Pizza, Good Stuff Eatery, Santa Rosa). “For the last two-plus years we’ve had monthly salon sessions, shared ideas, bitched about things, and long story short, tried to help and support each other.”
Meanwhile in LA, female restaurateurs and small-business owners were doing the same thing.
“We naturally started to check in with each other, which turned into calls. And from there, it’s was ‘let’s stop complaining, let’s do something,” says Re:Her co-founder Dina Samson, who co-owns Rossoblu and Superfine Pizza in Downtown LA. Their first festival in 2021, all to-go and virtual, raised $150,000 for Re:Her’s grant program, which supports small women-owned businesses struggling in the pandemic. They also launched a mentorship program between established entrepreneurs and newcomers. Both the grants and the mentorships will be part of the DC chapter going forward.
Like in LA, there’s no Re:Her membership fee—the only requirement is that members possess a lease for their business, whether they’re a chef, restaurateur, caterer, baker, distiller, winemaker, bar, or food-truck owner. The group is also looking into starting new memberships for female leaders who don’t necessarily own a business, but heavily influence it. Founders of the DC chapter include Yamrot Ezineh (Letena Ethiopian Cuisine), Ruth Gresser (Pizzeria Paradiso), Beth Black and Joy Crump (Fredericksburg’s Foode + Mercantile), Diane Gross (Cork), Ris Lacoste (Ris), Jamie Leeds (Hank’s Oyster Bar), Fiona Lewis (District Fishwife), Tiffany MacIsaac (Buttercream Bakeshop), Micheline Mendelsohn, and Daniella Senior (Colada Shop).
The public is invited to join Re:Her DC’s launch during a two-week festival, running from Monday, March 14 to Sunday, March 27. Tonight’s big ticket dinner at the Wharf location of Hanks Oyster Bar is sold out, but there are other female chef and restaurant collaborations happening throughout the city (see a full list here). There’s also a panel at La Cosecha near Union Market on Tuesday, March 15 starting at 6 PM. Food for Growth will feature a discussion between Victoria Lai (Ice Cream Jubilee), Micheline Mendelsohn, Tory Pratt (Pratt Standard Cocktail Company), and Dr. Erinn Tucker-Oluwole, co-founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week. Tickets are $15.
Of course, the collaborations and discussions won’t end with the festival.
“The first goal is to uplift each other. The second is uplifting community. The third: to advocate for ourselves in this industry,” says Samson, who plans to launch more chapters nationally. “Creating coalition building, finding women-led hospitality organizations, equity, child care, you name it. It’s an invisible hand helping us to figure out the path of social change in the industry.”