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What’s It Really Like to Be a Minority in the Restaurant Industry?

A new women’s leadership program created by Restaurant Beatrice examines the obstacles

Michelle Carpenter and Terance Jenkins at Restaurant Beatrice
| Restaurant Beatrice
Courtney E. Smith is the editor of Eater Dallas. She's a journalist of 20 years who was born and raised in Texas, with bylines in Pitchfork, Wired, Esquire, Yahoo!, Salon, Refinery29, and more. When she's not writing about food, she co-hosts the podcast Songs My Ex Ruined.

On a Monday evening in early November, a group of potential students gathered in the dining room of Restaurant Beatrice to hear about a new course that Dallas College will offer in the spring of 2024. Steve DeShazo, senior director in the Office of Workforce Initiatives at Dallas College, and Hanh Ho, a partner at Beatrice, stood at the front of the room and answered questions about the Women in Restaurants Leadership Program, while Beatrice’s executive chef Terance Jenkins set out food. Jenkins and owner/chef Michelle Carpenter, who was watching from the table with the students, conceived of the program.

The room held nearly a dozen folks — mostly, but not all, women. The class, they were told, will consist of four evening lectures that last from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. On four other nights, they’ll be expected to stagiaire (the restaurant version of an internship), working front and back of house, in some of the city’s best-known restaurants. Beatrice and Zen Sushi, which Carpenter also owns, are on the list, along with Tiffany Derry’s Roots Southern Table, Rye, Crown Block, and Duro Hospitality’s full collection of restaurants, including Mister Charles, Sister, the Charles, and El Carlos Elegante. As a member of El Centro’s Alumni Hall of Fame for the culinary program, Jenkins acted as a liaison between Dallas College and DeShazo. The idea isn’t for the students to work, but to observe and learn to be leaders by experiencing the leadership at a variety of restaurants. The class will be free for those enrolled, and subsidized by the college — and it’s open to anyone.

Two men and a woman tour a greenhouse grow farm, looking at produce.
Hanh Ho and Terance Jenkins (middle and right) tour Restorative Farms with Brad Boa (left) at Fair Park
Courtney E. Smith

“The industry, like nearly every other industry, does not have the systems or faculties to deal with women, women of color, or differences,” Ho says. “The more elite or moneyed the arena, the less the tolerance there is for any kind of deviation. If you are marginalized person, your class, your history, your approach, your standards, your values, your appearance, your sheer existence is deviant. The template of authority is an unspoken rule. Women, women of color, BIPOC, LGBTQ, QTPOC all face added obstacles if they want to make an impact. Even if people claim to be feminist, progressive, and anti-racist, these same folks in power or privilege can’t, won’t, or don’t give up their power.”

The point of the program is to model leadership for women and men — when the leader is a woman. “If you don’t know what the problem is, you can’t provide the right solutions,” Ho says. “We’re not championing women just because they are women and the men just because they signed up. We’re asking them to examine the way things are, why they stay that way, and teaching them how to deal with roadblocks based on our lived experiences.”

Ho says that the lectures will cover building a career road map with Carpenter and Jenkins sharing turning points in their careers, a class on what leadership means that includes the responsibilities of owning a business, a class on how to lead that includes the ethics of business and executive presence, and a class on leadership in the future that will include Rye co-owner Tanner Agar speaking on workers’ rights and equity.

A headshot of a man in a plaid shirt wearing a blazer and black rimmed glasses.
Steve DeShazo of Dallas College
Dallas College

“We’ll want to give them some real information,” Carpenter says, noting that industry leaders will speak in all of the classes. “We need more women in positions of leadership so that we can change the culture.”

Carpenter adds that the mission isn’t to displace men, but more of a rising tide lifts all boats idea. “There are always new restaurants opening, so there are going to be more opportunities for women and not less opportunities for men,” she says.

A press release from the college about the program says that a 2022 study by the National Restaurant Association found that 63 percent of entry-level posts and 69 percent of mid-level roles are held by women, while only 34 percent of industry executives are women. “Statistically, we have more women in our Dallas College hospitality programs than men,” DeShazo says. So women are training in the field and then hitting a glass ceiling, by the numbers.

“We want men to participate in the program because we need them with us to change the culture,” Carpenter says. “We need to see that there are men who can be led by women.”

Disclosure: Author Courtney E. Smith assisted in connecting participating restaurants with the program.

Correction: December 5, 2023: 9:34 a.m.: The class time was corrected.

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