Gender Relations & Leadership: Outlook of the Future of the Food & Bev Industry

On this podcast recorded at in Seattle, our host Yareli Quintana speaks with three leaders in the foodservice and beverage industry who also happen to be women. The conversation begins by each identifying some of the changes they’ve seen happen in their respected industries throughout the years.

First, you’ll hear from Zoi Antonitsas, executive chef of Little Fish, Seattle’s first modern-day craft cannery and restaurant which will be found in the heart of Pike Place Market once it opens. Chef Antonitsas has over 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry and says she’s been fortunate to have worked with incredible men and women up and down the West Coast.

“I’ve never really felt like I’ve ever been discriminated against as far as being a woman, with the exception of a few, I would say, financial question marks…,” says Antonitsas. “There have definitely been a couple of times where I’ve had to fight to get financial compensation for my work, where I know for a fact that some male counterparts have received more money without having to ask.”

Then, you’ll hear from Brenda Lobbato, the Northwest Region Vice President at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. She got into the beverage industry 30 years ago and has been in her current role since 2016, where she manages 26 percent of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ revenue totaling to $698M. Lobbato shares with the speakers that she’s recently seeing a lot more women getting into the beverage industry, which, for a long time, has been a “good ol’ boys network.” She’s proud to share that she’s helping spearhead a women’s group within Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

“We have this thing we call Women of  Wine... we call ourselves WOW and so we started this WOW organization from the standpoint of having concerns that affect all employees, but that women are bringing forward,” says Lobbato. “So, if that’s a mentoring program or that’s a skills program, like public speaking or financial acumen, whatever that is… it’s making those topics and resources safe to talk about.”

Throughout the podcast, you’ll also hear from Roz Edison, co-founder of Marination Ma Kai, a food truck turned into brick-and-mortar locations serving up Hawaiian-Korean fusion cuisine across Seattle. Ten years ago, Marination Ma Kai’s food truck was “the first on 10 rolling in the streets of Seattle.” That number has grown tremendously since then and now Edison and her business partner are also established entrepreneurs in the fast casual space.

“Sadly, though, I just came from a 3-day conference from my industry. It’s called the Fast Casual Executive Summit, so about 150 to 300 C-level folks from chains that range from 50 to 800 units. Almost every single panel had 100 percent white, male panelists…,” says Edison. “...I had really hoped I would run into a female CEO or a female director of operations. That, I’m not seeing in the fast-casual side of it.”

The four speakers later dive into topics like employee relations, mentorship, and hopes for the future of the industry as it pertains to women. Stay tuned to hear which direction this interesting conversation took and how each panelist feels about each topic discussed!

Fast Casual Nation: Best Of 2016

Fast Casual Nation acts as your guide as to what makes a successful fast casual concept. Always on the go, today’s consumer is looking for high-quality meals — with just as much speed. This year, we got the chance to see some fast casuals that have found their groove within the segment. Here are Foodable's "Best of" episodes for Fast Casual Nation in 2016.

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Spring Chicken

Spring Chicken translates the cuisine of its full-service counterpart, Yard Bird, to a more approachable menu for the fast-casual segment. John Kunkel, CEO of parent company 50 Eggs, explains how they are constantly impressing their customers from serving fresh, quality comfort food to making all their dishes from scratch. Their unique pairing of fresh, minty watermelon and crispy fried chicken has really resonated with their customers.

Marination Ma Kai

A lack of food trucks in Seattle led founders, Roz Edison and Kamala Saxton, to create their own modeled after Roy Choi‘s food truck, Kogi. After only a year-and-a-half on the streets, Ma Kai grew such a following that they decided to open their first brick-and-mortar with the same “Everyday Aloha” motto. Now with five different Marination locations and their original food truck, customers all over Seattle are biting into Hawaiian-Korean fusion dishes, like kimchi fried rice and a spam musubi.

Cava Grill

Cava Grill takes traditional Greek and Mediterranean cuisine and serves it up with a variety of customizable toppings to the modern consumer. The chef-driven fast casual focuses in on community to foster sustainable growth. Creating strong relationships, not only with their consumers but with their producers, Cava Grill has a loyal following. But nothing is more important to the fast-casual champion than their tasty cuisines, such as their spicy lamb meatballs and warm, fresh pitas.

Keep an eye out for all of this year's "Best of" episodes to learn more about which industry professionals changed the game in 2016!

Marination Ma Kai and the Duo That Brought Street Food to Seattle

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In this episode of “Fast Casual Nation,” brought to you in part by Simplot Harvest Fresh Avocados, host Paul Barron heads to Seattle, joining Roz and Kamala to learn how Ma Kai is upscaling fast casual in terms of food, service and ambiance; how the pair overcame challenges of being early adopters in the local food truck scene; why they chose to offer alcohol at this location; and, of course, to give viewers a taste of Ma Kai’s blended menu (kimchi quesadillas! street tacos! oh my!).

Marination Ma Kai is a Hawaiian-Korean fusion fast casual inspired by Roy Choi’s famous L.A. food truck, Kogi. But don’t get it twisted: while both menus are inventive, Marination Ma Kai is certainly doing its own thing. And while the Marination brand does include a food truck, it’s also got some brick-and-mortar locations, the first of which came into fruition about a year and a half after the food truck opened.

Musubi: seared spam with white rice and furikake, wrapped in nori  | Instagram @monyb_

Musubi: seared spam with white rice and furikake, wrapped in nori | Instagram @monyb_

Kimchi fried rice has been on Ma Kai's menu since the beginning of its truck days  | Instagram @rschlemmer

Kimchi fried rice has been on Ma Kai's menu since the beginning of its truck days | Instagram @rschlemmer

Kalbi beef tacos with house-made pickled jalapeños, a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and NUNYA sauce  | Instagram @curb_cuisine

Kalbi beef tacos with house-made pickled jalapeños, a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and NUNYA sauce | Instagram @curb_cuisine

The view at Marination Ma Kai's West Seattle brick-and-mortar makes it an iconic location  | Instagram @curb_cuisine

The view at Marination Ma Kai's West Seattle brick-and-mortar makes it an iconic location | Instagram @curb_cuisine

"A Hawaiian-Korean blend of food is definitely our mark, it's our angle on the whole thing, and it's how we distinguish Marination culinarily from a lot of other Asian fusion places that are out there," says Roz Edison, one of Marination's CEOs and co-founders.

The idea of starting a concept that mimicked Choi’s high-quality take on street food was sparked from a conversation at dinner (naturally). Turns out, there was a need for food trucks in Seattle dishing out this fare. At the time, food trucks were very new, so the competition was not nearly as saturated as it is today. That initial dinner conversation took place in February, and by June, Roz Edison and Kamala Saxton, Marination’s CEOs and co-founders, opened the food truck.

Sneak Peek: A Taste of Marination Ma Kai in Seattle

In the mainstream sense, it’s been a big few years for the taco, a delicious vehicle filled with a smothering dose of custom ingredients that come together congruously to fulfill any craving. Tacos are to the west coast what seafood is to the northeast: it’s expected, it’s good, and it means if you’re gonna do it, you better do it great — different, even. 

The team behind Marination Ma Kai in Seattle, a concept that dishes up Hawaiian-Korean cuisine, found their initial inspiration in putting marinated meats in a taco format and never looked back. It’s also possibly the only place you can get both kimchi and a Stumptown cold brew.

Check out the sneak peek above to get a look at Marination Ma Kai’s prime real estate location (peep that Seattle skyline) and to get a taste of taco nirvana (at least, the visual aspects of it). And, as always, stay tuned for the full “Fast Casual Nation” episode, coming soon!