Badass Women in Business: Kathleen Wood

On this episode of The Barron Report, host Paul Barron chats with restaurant industry leader Kathleen Wood, the founder of growth strategy firm Kathleen Wood Partners and the co-founder of frozen yogurt company Suzy’s Swirl. Wood’s firm collaborates with a number of Fortune 500 leaders, INC 1000 founders, and other emerging businesses throughout the hospitality, service, retail, manufacturing, and healthcare industry. Founded in 2012, Suzy’s Swirl is first and foremost a passion project and family dream.

“Seven years ago, my sister Sue, my niece Jen, and I started out on a journey to really prove the model that you could sell frozen delicious desserts to the frozen people in northern Illinois seven out of twelve months of the year,” says Wood. Suzy’s Swirl has been certified women-owned and women-directed by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). For Wood, her company is proof that “we’re at this tipping point for women really being in the business arena.”

Despite these opportunities, many women continue to struggle to rise in the restaurant business. According to Foodable Labs, less than five percent of women in foodservice are C-level executives—and of the top 150 emerging brands, only three percent were founded by women.

“If we’re going to shift this equation to increase visibility and increase women being vocal, I think women need to start doing more too,” notes Wood, citing recent studies that suggest women often do not feel comfortable asking for a mentor or sponsorship within their companies due to lack of confidence. “We have to be active participants in the solution.”

Wood adds that if you are in a company that does not offer such connections for women, you should leave. Businesses that do not respect or advance women will not last long in the ever-evolving restaurant industry. “Go to a place where you’re celebrated and not tolerated,” says Wood. “Be less concerned about the title and be more concerned about your passionate purpose… go to a place where you can bring your whole self.”

Check out the podcast above to hear Wood’s advice for handling the predicted downturn coming to the industry, how Suzy’s Swirl won this year’s WBENCPitch, and Wood’s plans for the company’s expansion in the next few years. And if you would like to keep listening, check out The Barron Report podcast on iTunes Now!

Produced by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


Bombay Wraps Brings Fast Casual to Indian Cuisine

In the restaurant industry, Indian cuisine continues to be a largely overlooked and underutilized market. A number of emerging brands are hoping to change that.

Ali Dewjee is the founder of popular Chicago fast casual chain Bombay Wraps. Bombay Wraps prioritizes fresh, delicious ingredients—including chicken tikka, cheese paneer, pickled onions and cilantro mint chutney paired with veggies and yogurt—slow-cooked each morning. Wraps are prepared and served Chipotle-style.

Upon moving to Chicago, Dewjee and his wife quickly discovered that the food experience they grew up with was not readily available in the city. With Bombay Wraps, they hoped to “break the misconception that Indian food or ethnic food has to be a hole in the wall.” He and his wife wanted to craft a place that offered authentic ingredients and flavor combinations in an environment that was modern, clean, and accessible to people of any background.

“My job is really to grow the category,” says Dewjee. “I’m always looking across the board collaborating with my fellow Indian restaurateurs. I don’t really look at them as competitors but as collaborators for how to expand the category.”

Since its establishment in 2010, Bombay Wraps has expanded to three locations, a “revamped” food truck, and about ten pop-ups each month. The company has its own delivery app in addition to partnerships with a number of delivery companies.

For Dewjee, the best way to create a sustainable, long-lasting brand is to “respect your team.” Culture is essential. “Help your team engage and grow,” adds Dewjee, “because that’s where the battle is won or lost.”

Listen to the episode above to learn more about the future of Bombay Wraps and the importance of tracking sales and consumer adoption, and check out the Emerging Brands podcast to learn about other rising brands and innovators in the restaurant industry. You can also download the Top 150 Emerging Brands Guide to check out the full list of emerging brands from Foodable Labs.

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Olivia Aleguas


Lululemon Enters the Restaurant Industry with Fuel

Lululemon is no longer just an athletic apparel company: the retailer is opening a new restaurant in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Called Fuel, the food and beverage concept boasts a full kitchen and offers smoothies, salads, and protein boxes as well as burgers and beer for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant is part of a larger 20,000 square foot Lululemon store with two fitness studios.

According to Maureen Erickson, the vice president of experiential retail for Lululemon, this was a natural transition. “Our guests want everything under one roof,” says Erickson. “Building community through connection has always been at the heart of Lululemon. Both online and offline, and Lincoln Park is the physical manifestation of the heart and soul of Lululemon.”

Fuel evokes a fast casual feel with grab-and-go options as well as bar seating and dining tables. An additional space called the “connection room” is designated for Lululemon patrons looking to have a snack or drink after finishing a class.

“Food fuels you, but good food fuels you emotionally, too,” adds Erickson.

Lululemon is not alone in this endeavor: other retailers have been making similar ventures. Crate and Barrel also just opened a full service restaurant this month. Called Table at Crate, the restaurant is designed to showcase Crate and Barrel furniture, plates, and silverware for customers.

Table at Crate is “Crate and Barrel come to life,” says Bill Kim, the chef for Table at Crate. “This is an interactive experience.”

The executive chef of Fuel, Paul Larson, suggests that Lululemon has a different approach. “We want to make sure we always stay on trend with what they need.” The overall Fuel experience does not overtly reference the retailer’s products. The menu is, however, designed with Lululemon’s typical customers in mind.

The menu caters to a number of diets. According to Erickson, Lululemon has a number of vegetarian and vegan patrons as well as burger-loving customers. She stresses that Fuel is “also for people like me who like to work out so I can eat a good cheeseburger.” The goal is flexibility.

Private Equity Firm Ares Management Acquires Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk has been acquired by Ares Management for over $700 million. Some estimates suggest the purchase price approached $800 million—an unthinkable number for many burgeoning restaurant chains.

Cooper’s Hawk offers consumers a unique restaurant-winery experience. The Chicago-based restaurant crafts its own premium wine with 50 unique blends. The wine is made in the chain’s suburban Woodridge production facility.

According to data from Restaurant Business, the deal is likely worth about 23 to 26 times that of the restaurant’s 2018 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). Chicago Business estimated lower, calculating the deal to be worth 17.5 times that of the restaurant’s income last year. Cooper’s Hawk reported $31 million in earnings in 2018.

Experts compare the move to Fidelity investing $200 million in Sweetgreen in late 2018. The investment implied a billion dollar valuation for Sweetgreen, surprising some in the industry.

Current owners and operators Tim and Dana McEnery founded the first Cooper’s Hawk restaurant in 2005. The chain is understood to be the first restaurant-winery hybrid of its kind in the state. It remains unclear what the McEnerys’ role will be after the deal is completed.

Cooper’s Hawk currently operates more than 35 restaurants in ten states. The chain just opened a new location in Rockville, Maryland. Cooper’s Hawk also features a wine club that is now comprised of over 400,000 members. Club members pay $19.99 a month for a total of twelve company branded wines each year.

The Latest in Food Innovation Trends

Today’s most creative restaurants keep guests coming back for more. They are always pushing the envelope or keeping the guests on their toes with food innovations.

On the IOChangeMakers live stream, we sat down with three food innovators– Jeff Drake, CEO of Protein Bar, Diana Dávila, chef and owner of Mi Tocaya Antojera and Zach Engel, executive chef and Owner of Galit to see how they are constantly keeping things exciting at their restaurants.

As Chef Dávila points out the culinary landscape is much more diverse today. The European structure is being broken down. Instead, chefs are embracing their cultural backgrounds.

"I find that in my kitchen people have to unlearn what they know about cooking in general because the European structure doesn't fit the Mexican techniques," says Dávila.

Chef Engel helms the kitchen at Galit, where the dining experience is also much different from the traditional European structure. The Middle Eastern restaurant in Chicago has two menus.

"We have the menu and on the back is what we call the other menu. The other menu is four-courses, it's not like a boujie prix fixe menu with tasting portions and all that, it's family style. This is the concept of how we want people to experience cuisine. We want you to have a giant meal with bread, hummus, Salatin, and all sorts of plates with big entrees with bold grains," says Engel.

Jeff Drake, on the other hand, is a food innovator in the fast casual segment. This sector has been disrupting the traditional culinary structure for years.

Protein Bar was a pioneer in the segment by serving unique ingredients guests couldn't get anywhere else, but now with the saturated market, the concept has had to up its game.

"When Matt the founder started Protein Bar, he was one of the first people to put quinoa on the menu. When he put quinoa on the menu 10 years ago, people didn't know what it was or how to say it.," says Drake. "Over the last 2.5 years, we have gotten back to focusing on ingredients and bringing interesting ingredients or boosts onto our menu."

Want more insights from these food innovators? Check out the video above or the full interview is also now exclusively available on Foodable On-Demand here.