Female CEOs in the Restaurant Business to Watch Out For

By Carissa Chesanek, Contributing Editor

Some say it's still a man's world, but that doesn't mean there aren't some successful women out there kicking serious butt. And in the restaurant industry, there are some powerful women leading the way as chief executive officers and account for plenty of their company's success. 

With the rise of females in the restaurant business, we thought what better way to show some support than by highlighting a few of today's best-of-the-best. Here are five women CEOs that are rocking the restaurant industry right now.

Sally J. Smith, CEO & President at Buffalo Wild Wings

Photo courtesy of Buffalo Wild Wings

Sally Smith joined Buffalo Wild Wings in the early 90s after working at other big name companies like Dahlberg, Inc. She served as the company’s chief financial officer for two years before transitioning to chief executive officer and president in July 1996. Smith also serves on the board of the National Restaurant Association.

Smith told Fast Casual that leadership is hard work but not unattainable no matter what sex you are.

"Leadership is about your passion, desire and motivation to be better and to make your team better. Women have a unique opportunity — they figure out a way to 'do it all.' If you have kids, if you are married, if you are a caregiver, if you have any sort of medical setbacks, and you have a job, you have to figure out how to accomplish it all. Having been in a male-dominated industry for most of my career, to me, I don't look at a person's gender. Instead, I look at the value that each individual brings — who is the right person for the job.  Being a good leader is about being clear about expectations and ensuring people understand them. A good leader also must remain open to feedback and continuously seek to learn to grow in their role and as a person. "

Arianne Bennett, Co-founder & CEO of Amsterdam Falafelshop

Photo courtesy of Amsterdam Falafelshop

A restaurant server-turned founder and CEO, Arianne Bennett has come a long way in her career. She opened Amsterdam Falafelshop with her husband in Washington DC, showcasing authentic flavors of Amsterdam to the city. As the company’s success continued to grow, it expanded to other areas, opening locations in Dallas and Boston.

But all of Bennet’s success didn't come easy, as there are many obstacles for women in the restaurant industry, one big one is men. “America is such a melting pot of cultures, and men come into the workplace with a very diverse set of backgrounds,” she told Huffington Post. “While they claim to be enlightened and to feel that women are equals, you’re never really sure of how men perceive you until you are at a critical moment in the workplace."

Laura Rea Dickey, CEO at Dickey's Barbecue Pit

Recipe courtesy of Dicky's Barbecue Pit

Before Laura Rea Dickey was CEO at Dicky’s Barbecue Pit she served eight years as the chief information officer at the company, fusing the world of barbecue and technology together to better accommodate the customers needs. According to the restaurant’s website, she also “led the marketing, IT and training departments at Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc.” Thanks to Dickey, the company has become known for its modern technology and continues to excel in the latest and greatest. In the past, Dickey has also worked with W Hotels, and Chick-Fil-A.

Women tackling leadership in the restaurant industry is not necessarily an easy task but is necessary for success, as she describes to Fast Casual

"A range of perspectives enhances an outcome, so more woman taking leadership roles in the restaurant industry will continue to help evolve the business. Plus, woman are key decision makers for family dining choices, so it's a valuable perspective."

Betsy Craig, Founder & CEO at MenuTrinfo

Photo courtesy of MenuTrinfo

A scary diagnosis led Betsy Craig to create MenuTrinfo, a company of experts working with Food Service Businesses to help with healthy nutrition and proper menu labeling. Back in October 2005, Craig was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Systemic Scleroderma, which can harden the skin and body tissues. Craig was given only 18 months to live but continued to fight, setting off on a journey to learn more about her health options. As she began receiving treatment, she also gave more thought to her own eating habits, which eventually led to her thinking about others, too. 

“I started playing close attention to ingredient lists, and began to appreciate restaurants that paid the same level of attention to their menus,” she says on her website. “I started to think about food from a different perspective, and with my husband Rocky’s expert software engineering skills, we both set out to make the food industry better for people with specific dietary needs.”

Adenah Bayoh, Founder & CEO of Adenah Bayoh and Companies

Photo courtesy of IHOP

At the young age of 27, Adenah Bayoh opened her first IHOP location in Irvington, New Jersey, which gave her the title of the youngest IHOP franchisees in the nation. In only a few short years, that location grew fast and became one of the most profitable in the Northeast. Stemmed by her success, Bayoh opened her second IHOP location in Paterson, New Jersey in June 2015. She is currently the Founder and CEO of Adenah Bayoh and Companies, the parent corporation owning her two New Jersey IHOP franchises. She also plans to open a new line of fast-casual soul food concepts called Cornbread sometime this year.. 

Her interest in restaurants had a lot to do with her grandmother when she was a child. She told BlackEnterprise it took working with her grandmother to realize what she wanted in life and how to achieve her goals.

“My grandmother was a huge inspiration in my life, and as a child in Liberia, I worked in the restaurant that she owned. Working with her, I developed a passion for the restaurant business and aspired to one day open my own.  For me, passion is a key ingredient for success in business. I am also a very hard worker, and once I make up my mind to do something, I immerse myself in it and figure out how to succeed. Also, having gone through so much in my life, I understand the value of taking a risk, and I am not afraid to take risks.”