Mhonpaj Lee, organic farm manager of Mhonpaj's Garden Farm, with her mother Mayyia Lee. Photo courtesy David Joles/Star Tribune
Mhonpaj Lee, organic farm manager of Mhonpaj's Garden Farm, with her mother Mayyia Lee. Photo courtesy David Joles/Star Tribune

Gathering Momentum Out of the Kitchen

A national gathering of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR) was held recently in the Twin Cities, led by Board President, Kim Bartmann, owner of Twin Cities restaurants that include Tiny Diner, Red Stag, and Barbette. One panel discussion, aimed at the business of the food industry, was titled “Women as Entrepreneurs: Facing the Fear.”

Panelist Gale Gand encourages women to practice out loud asking for their pay rate. After she won the James Beard Award as Outstanding Pastry Chef, and was tearfully feeling grateful, a male celebrity chef simply told her, “Now you can double your day rate.” Gand said it’s smart for women to consider their value in terms of numbers. She added that we don’t tend to talk to our daughters about money. Her father, a musician, was aware of the need to be solvent. From the age of six, he was asking her to think about her net worth and challenging her to see growth each year.

Gand says that what she’s learned from 40 years in business is that “things change. Party size goes up by fifty. There are five vegetarians you aren’t told about. You learn how to be flexible. Everything works out in the end.” 

Says Britanee TeBrake, the Shakopee-based founder of Leading Edge Talent Solutions, “Women tend to not want to take the leap into business until everything is in place.” She said doubt, perfectionism, and overthinking prevent many women from taking steps forward. 

TeBrake says she regularly considers how much she would prefer to live like her blissful barista in yoga pants. That's why TeBrake has: 1) a quitting coach, who lets her talk out her venting moments and then helps her pivot forward, 2) a strategic partner, who helps her see the big picture, 3) a collaborator, who offers referrals because of access in different social circles. Intentionally creating a tribe is key, the three panelists concurred.

Remove the people who sap your energy, TeBrake suggests. There will inevitably be dark days when you need to numb out with Netflix, she admits. Those will be balanced by courage days, when the strength and smarts of women prevail.

“Our time as leaders is now," TeBrake says.

– photo credit: Leigh Loftus

Q&A With Grow North

interview with Lauren Mehler Pradhan

When Lauren Mehler Pradhan was in high school, her mother was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. "At that time, holistic wellness was just not a thing. So while Western medicine struggled to help her, she found that adjusting her diet made a dramatic difference," says Pradham. "She helped me understand what what we put in our mouths could directly impact other parts of our bodies and our overall health."

Years later Pradhan arrived at General Mills. "I realized I could be a voice for her," she says. After getting an MBA at Harvard, Pradhan worked 12 years in marketing at General Mills, where she worked on health strategy and new product development.

Now she is the director and general manager of Grow North, with a mission to "create an interconnected, sophisticated, supportive ecosystem to accelerate the growth of startup businesses in food and agriculture in Minnesota."

Q: How are you accomplishing those goals?
A: We host education events focused on scaling for entrepreneurs as well as organizations and leaders who provide services to entrepreneurs. We kicked off a new series called "Thought Leaders in Food and Agriculture," which is a way to bring great experts into the community to speak. We are also working on the first Food, Ag, Ideas Week, happening in October to showcase our community.

Q: What in particular are you doing to serve women?
A: Food, agriculture, and beverage is a space where a lot of women are leading the way. I want to provide a platform to showcase the incredible women building businesses, supporting entrepreneurs, and elevating critical issues. We also connect entrepreneurs to mentors throughout the community.

Q: Why entrepreneurs, in a world that seems to lean toward corporate food distribution networks?
A: The pace of change in food and agriculture is relentless, and the transformation we are seeing right now is very much driven by changing consumer attitudes driven by entrepreneurial activity. We have a tremendous number of challenges and opportunities to solve as we think about feeding the world well in the future, and entrepreneurs and innovators will find many of those solutions. I want to help them be successful in any way I can.