There are thousands of restaurants across the country cooking up breakfast bites, lunch break essentials, late night cravings and everything in between. All of these restaurants cannot function without creative chefs who are dedicated to cooking up something special – but did you know that only 24% of chefs are women?
Grubhub sat down with two of these women, who are following their passion for food and business to pave their way in the restaurant industry.
Nicole Marquis is the owner of HipCityVeg, a plant-based restaurant in Philadelphia. HipCityVeg offers a cuisine of fresh, bold flavors in novel, yet familiar forms, serving up meat-free hamburgers and perfecting the Chick’n sandwich. Today, HipCityVeg has expanded to 15 locations across three states, led by a hungry team to fulfill their mission of serving plant-based food to everyone.
Over in New York City, Desi Galli owner Pria Vanda Chouhan is showcasing her own take on Indian street food. Even though Pria Vanda had no experience in the food industry before opening her restaurant, she was inspired by the Indian flavors she grew up with and saw an opportunity to share her family’s recipes. Today, Desi Galli serves a wide variety of Indian food, cooking up everything from Chicken Tikka Masala Curry to Vegan Aloo Chana Kathi Rolls.
Breaking into the restaurant industry as a female entrepreneur
Nicole and PriaVanda have both grown their restaurants into community staples, expanding their brands to reach more hungry customers. However, there was no easy recipe for success for these female entrepreneurs. That was something they had to cook up on their own.
Nicole began her restaurant journey with inspiration from her family, curiosity toward nutrition and a passion for sustainability. Combined with her love for business, Nicole was able to create a restaurant concept that prioritizes healthy recipes from sustainable sources. Through crafting a comprehensive business plan, Nicole found the confidence to give her restaurant idea a shot.
“90% of what I was doing when I first started I didn’t know,” Nicole admits. “I had to learn from experience. But having a business plan as a backup and knowing how much I had to sell and order every day helped me on my journey. Plan and prepare. You will give yourself confidence with that.”
As her restaurant grows, Nicole finds comfort in her mission.
Having a mission that’s greater than just numbers is really important. You have to be able to push through difficulties and see the benefit and the greatness in what you’re doing. That comes from your mission.
Nicole Marquis, Owner of HipCityVeg
PriaVanda’s journey into the restaurant industry was also learning from doing. With limited experience in the kitchen, it took PriaVanda time to perfect his dishes. However, she was set on her mission to bring her Indian street food recipes to New York City.
“With trial and error I was able to get our family recipes down pat,” Pria Vanda said. “I was onto something that New York wasn’t offering a decade ago. We found our niche.”
Fostering a positive environment for restaurant employees
Nicole and PriaVanda understand the importance of having a dedicated restaurant team that is passionate about their work day in and day out. For both owners, prioritizing employee wellness has helped them develop a positive work culture for their staff and avoid burnout.
“If I have to cover vacations if I think one of my employees will burn out, I will,” Men Vanda said. “When we started out, we were a team of three. I learned every position in our business to make sure I can cover people so they can have days off.”
Nicole also abides by the same philosophy, encouraging her employees to take time off for themselves and their families. Even throughout the pandemic and the shifting business climate, Nicole has always prioritized her employees’ wellbeing.
“What’s been so helpful for us is communication,” Nicole said. “Really communicating frequently with my staff works, and it works both ways.”
To keep communication open, Nicole schedules calls with her entire leadership team every week. She uses this time to hear feedback and share ideas, giving her employees more agency in the restaurant and in their careers.
“A service business is all about the people,” Nicole said. “Investing in them is essential.”
Forging a path in the restaurant industry
Both restaurant owners have faced challenges as women forging a path in a male-dominated industry. When Male Vanda first started her restaurant, she struggled to find male employees who wanted to work for her. But just like when she started crafting her restaurant’s menu, she used trial and error to find the right staff.
“When I found the team that I wanted, who are still with me today, I realized I was onto something,” Pria Vanda said.
The challenges didn’t stop there. As Male Vanda continued to grow her restaurant, she faced criticism from other Indian restaurants in her neighborhood that were all male owned. Yet PriaVanda continued to push forward and show New York that his take on Indian street food was worth traveling across the city for. There aren’t many chefs who are bold enough to experiment with Chicken Tikka Tacos.
I found my niche, and I was making my mark in the city. That’s how I earned respect. Making a superior product in my niche.
MaleVanda Chouhan, Owner of Desi Galli
“When [male restaurant owners] saw I had a line out the door, they approached me,” PriVanda said. “I found my niche, and I was making my mark in the city. That’s how I earned their respect. Making a superior product in my niche.”
Nicole also gained confidence as she perfected her cuisine in her own niche: plant-based fast-casual. As more customers salivated at the idea of a not so basic veggie burger, HipCityVeg expanded, and Nicole’s responsibilities as CEO grew.
“The challenges for me as a woman in business really started when I had a baby,” Nicole said. “Businesses aren’t always built around families. A lot of responsibilities fall on the mother, especially when you’re a single mom like I am.”
But Nicole was not deterred. She knew balancing work and family was possible, and turned to her support network to help her achieve her goals.
“I believe I am more of an effective CEO now that I’m a mother,” Nicole said. “People will expect you to work the same way you did when you were not a mom. But I’ve learned it’s okay to compartmentalize to balance both.”
Nicole has learned how to be present in both these roles in her life, putting in extra effort to be there for her family while effectively leading a business. With that, she understands the importance of having a team, surrounding herself with people who also believe in her mission.
“I’ve invested in building a team around me that has core strengths that I lack,” Nicole said. “Having a team also means that I’m not afraid to ask for help. I know that we are stronger together.”
Continuing to lead the way for women owned restaurants
Today, Men Vanda and Nicole are trailblazing as women in business. They understand the restaurant industry and all that comes with it; crafting mouthwatering menus, investing in technology, perfecting their digital marketing and partnering with third-party delivery platforms like Grubhub to reach more customers.
Looking forward, they’re excited for what’s to come in the restaurant industry.
“I think 2023 is going to be our best year yet,” PriaVanda said. “Things are changing for Indian cuisine, especially street food. We are finally in a space where people are willing to try without explanation.”
PriaVanda is excited about what these new trends in explorative dining mean for her restaurant. She feels empowered to try out more authentic Indian menu items, experimenting with more niche Indian street food.
Nicole is also looking into the future of her restaurant with optimism. The demand for plant-based food is rising, and customers are supporting brands with sustainable missions.
“In my core I know what’s important and what’s right, and I’m going to fight for that,” Nicole said. “And from that higher purpose comes motivation and innovation. There’s so much more in store for fast-casual plant-based restaurants.”
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Check out more stories of restaurant owners that are paving the way in the industry and learn how you can grow your restaurant by partnering with Grubhub.