Lisabet Summa, owner of Big Time Restaurant Group, which owns 14 restaurants in South Florida including Rocco's Tacos, Louie Bossi's, Big City Tavern, City Oyster and more.
Lisabet Summa, owner of Big Time Restaurant Group, which owns 14 restaurants in South Florida including Rocco's Tacos, Louie Bossi's, Big City Tavern, City Oyster and more.
Courtesy of TBC Media Lab

"SOFLO Femmes in Food & Film" Tackles the Lack of Gender Diversity in the Culinary Industry

Women determined to change the gender makeup of the restaurateur industry will join forces Monday for an evening of networking, inspiration and empowerment.

Filmmaker Joanna James and executive chef Lisabet Summa have teamed up to present "SOFLO Femmes in Food and Film,” an event for prominent and aspiring businesswomen in Fort Lauderdale - an ill represented area of the food industry when compared with the culinary behemoth that is Miami, they said.

The event, which will take place Monday, June 25 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Tower Club in Fort Lauderdale, will offer women the chance to network with famed female chefs, including the first female Iron Chef Cat Cora, Lindsay Autry, owner of the Regional and a Top Chef alumna, and Judith Olney, a Palm Beach County local whose books have won James Beard Tastemakers Awards, and who has been a mover and shaker in the American culinary industry since the '70s, among others.

Guests will also be some of the first to see James’ film, A Fine Line, which centers on the struggles women face in the industry. The film explores why women represent only seven percent of executive chefs and restaurant owners in the country, and follows the experiences of world renowned chefs such as Dominique Crenn, Barbara Lunch, Lidia Bastianich and Cat Cora.

James’ film also prominently features her own mother’s experience as a central narrative in the film. James started the film four years ago as a personal project to share her mother’s story, focusing on how Valerie James was able to do what she loved and open a restaurant that has survived 28 years in business, as well as what she had to face in the industry.

Navigating the two worlds of motherhood and a career is a theme that began to resonate on a deeper level when she became pregnant with her first child while making the film, the 37-year-old said. And it’s where the film’s name was born: navigating the line between motherhood and being a career woman or a businesswoman, many feel pressure to have to choose between who they love and what they love doing. Chefs also call the place where they stand in kitchens "the line."

“At the heart of this film is sharing inspiring stories and uplifting messages about women doing what they love,” she said. “For us as a society, we need to put more structures in place to allow for that. When we see that there’s less than seven percent of restaurant owners that are women, a lot of what we found is these factors apply to industries across the board. Even when you get into music, the fashion world - once you get into leadership, the numbers plummet when it comes to women.”

The work prompted James to build an impact campaign to get more women into leadership, called MAPP. It stands for the programs that are necessary to advance women's careers - mentorship and apprenticeships, affordable and accessible childcare, paid parental leave and the power to feel professionally and personally fulfilled and grow a network.

Proceeds from the event's $75 ticket will go toward the campaign. In addition to the networking cocktail hour and movie screening, guests can participate in a Q&A with panelists, some of whom are featured in the film. Men are also a vital component of the discussion and are encouraged to attend.

Lisabet Summa, ambassador of the event, will also be present representing Big Time Restaurant Group, of which she is a founder. The group operates six distinct restaurant concepts, all of which are represented on Las Olas Boulevard, including Big City Tavern, City Oyster, Louie Bossi’s, Grease, City Cellar and Rocco’s Tacos.

Summa, 57, has been a professional cook since the age of 19. Now, she runs a restaurant group and sees the issues women face in the industry firsthand. First and foremost, she says, they are outnumbered by men. Women aren’t walking in the door for interviews, she said. That’s one thing she hopes initiatives like the MAPP campaign can help change.

“What this has grown into is a really exciting evening,” she said. “There’s diversity in the evening that represents the diversity in the issue.”

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