Four Female Leaders to Watch
In Italy, International Women’s Day is marked by street vendors selling bright yellow mimosa flowers, which are exchanged between couples and friends. March 8 signals a country-wide celebration of women and their contributions to society.
In the U.S., International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women’s achievements. We’re taking this opportunity to recognize a few of the female leaders who are helping to grow the Italian restaurant category and inspiring those who will follow their lead.
Jodie Conrad, vice president of marketing, Fazoli’s
Conrad has been with Fazoli’s for three years and in her current position for a year and a half, heading up marketing and culinary functions. Her job includes a mix of advertising; digital/social media; field marketing; consumer insights; off-premises business development; public relations; and new product development and testing.
“The work is still fun for me,” Conrad says. “Learning about consumer behavior, developing, and testing new menu items, and figuring out how to communicate with consumers just never gets old.”
Conrad says she’s seen more women filling leadership roles during her time in the industry. “In general, women today are much less intimidated in a male-dominated field because they simply expect to be able to earn their seat at the table and be rewarded for their ideas and contributions equally with everyone else,” she says. “I think the younger generation of male leaders in the industry have been exposed to women in leadership roles throughout their education and employment experiences, so they don’t expect anything different.”
Mary Machul, senior director of marketing and innovation, Maggiano’s
Machul has been with Maggiano’s since December 2015 and says that restaurants are fun. “No two days in a restaurant are ever the same, and there’s a lot of excitement that comes with that,” she says. “I love helping to create memorable experiences for guests and creating menus and initiatives that our guests love that keep them coming back.”
Machul continues to see more women in various leadership roles, from managers to executive chefs. “I think [more women in leadership roles] is part of the larger trend toward a more diverse workforce in leadership across industries,” she says. “It’s critical to the success of any brand.”
Christina Bourg, senior vice president, Rotolo’s Pizzeria and Rotolo’s Craft & Crust
Bourg says she feels very fortunate to work with CEO Mitch Rotolo, who taught her the business, and equally fortunate to work with people whom she considers to be her family. Hired as a marketing director for Rotolo’s in 2013, Bourg worked her way up and is now in charge of marketing, operations, and training initiatives for the expanding Louisiana brand. She also heads up franchise development and leads the systemwide roll-out of new restaurant openings and limited-time offers.
“Since joining the team, I’ve worked in a variety of roles and worn a bunch of hats, all of which include areas of brand development,” Bourg says. “My primary focus has been on repositioning the brand as we transition into the Rotolo's Craft & Crust prototype—my greatest accomplishment, by far.”
Bourg acknowledges that for a long time, the operations side of the restaurant industry was male-dominated, but she says that she sees it changing. “Women are no longer primarily seen as support,” she says. “We’re taking on leadership roles and playing a massive part in our company’s path to success.”
Andrea Allen, chief accounting and administrative officer, Rave Restaurant Group (parent company of Pizza Inn and Pie Five Pizza)
Allen joined Rave in 2016 as its vice president of accounting and controller. She was promoted to chief accounting and administrative officer in 2018. “I lead the financial strategy for Rave Restaurant Group, which includes managing all of the financial, IT, sourcing, and human resources functions,” Allen says. “My work can be very regimented, but every day in a restaurant business can be different, so I enjoy the variety and personal interactions.”
Allen says that women have a lot to offer the restaurant industry. “A lot of research reports that women often have a higher emotional intelligence, which really enables women to be in tune with guest needs and employee dynamics,” she says. “I enjoy interacting with our operators, franchisees, and our support team. I’m lucky to work with good, salt-of-the-earth, hard-working people who focus on serving guests great food and experiences.”
Meet eight more women who are taking a lead role in the Italian category
Zipporah Allen, CMO, Pizza Hut
Jenelle Brown, vice president of operations and training, Uncle Maddio’s
Susan Connelly, senior vice president of communications and corporate affairs, Darden (parent of Olive Garden)
Sally Dussin, cofounder, Old Spaghetti Factory
Anne Fischer, senior vice president of customer experience, Papa John’s International
Elizabeth Smith, CEO, Bloomin’ Brands (parent of Carrabba’s)
Ally Svenson, cofounder, MOD Pizza
Marla Topliff, president, Rosati’s Pizza