Regarding Her Food is “Moving the Needle” for Women in Restaurants

Chef, restauranteur and Regarding Her Food Co-Founder, Mary Sue Milliken

Mar 28, 2024

Regarding Her Food is a recipient of an Impact Grant from, the company’s social impact arm, as a part of its Pledge 1% commitment. Regarding: Her is a National organization driven by women restaurateurs on a mission to empower and advance women food and beverage entrepreneurs through events, grants, mentorship programs, and more. The Spotlight Series highlights outstanding organizations dedicated to enriching the food experience for all.

Regarding Her (RE: Her) aims to help evolve and advance women in the hospitality industry with funding, resources, and experiences that center on woman-owned businesses. Since its founding in 2020, the organization has grown to over 750 members in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. We caught up with Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board, Mary Sue Milliken, to hear the latest on the organization and why she thinks after decades in restaurants, RE: Her is uniquely positioned to make a difference for women in the industry.

Impatient for Change

Mary Sue Milliken is known for several things—she’s an award-winning chef, activist, restaurateur, and TV personality—but one quality you won’t see on her resume is that, particularly when it comes to equity for women in restaurants, she says she can be a bit impatient.

“I have been working towards gender parity in this industry since the late ‘70s,” said Milliken. “When I got into it, I really thought that by the time I was 66 years old, I would have seen more change, but it's frustratingly slow.”

While the restaurant industry is filled with women, with only 38% in executive positions, it is understandable why she might feel this way.

“At one point in 1993, I was part of another group for women chefs and restaurateurs. We were really dynamic, but when I look back on it, we just didn’t move the needle enough,” said Milliken. “But during the pandemic, all these amazing women started just informally gathering on Zoom to talk about survival, and it became clear really quickly that we could probably have a lot of impact.”

It was the pandemic that kicked Milliken’s efforts and the organization born out of those Zoom calls, RE: Her, into hyperdrive. With a deep-rooted, community-led model, RE: Her has grown from six  founders in Los Angeles to over 750 members in two cities (they launched in Washington, D.C. in 2022) and expanded to offer membership to restaurant leaders and decision-makers in addition to restaurant owners.

“We’re still made up of about three-quarters owners, but we also wanted to be able to interact with, for example, a CEO of a restaurant company who was a woman, but maybe the owner was a man,” said Milliken. “We just wanted to be able to attract women decision-makers and women in power to the organization so that as a group, we could make things happen.” 

The Regarding Her founding team. Credit: Anne Fishbein

Making Things Happen

Education, communication, and community are at the heart of RE: Her—those Zooms are just as much a part of the organization’s day-to-day as they were in the pandemic, providing members a forum to ask for advice on everything from negotiating a lease, to deciding whether or not to join TikTok. 

RE: Her also provides key opportunities for restauranteurs to support their bottom line, promoting and driving business through events and other new channels. Recently, Milliken talked about being invited to help cater a major tech summit in LA County. Rather than simply providing one meal with her own truck, she suggested the organizers allow her to design a full menu from restaurants and food businesses in her network for the entire festival.

“I said, ‘Look, why don't you let me curate all the food? I will bring together the most diverse group of women small business owners from all walks of life, every color, intergenerational, from all over LA County, and we will feed you all the breakfasts and all the lunches for 2,000 people for two days.’ And they said ‘Fabulous!’” 

“They were able to feel good about supporting a diverse community rather than going to one giant catering company, and we were able to divert about a quarter of a million dollars into the bank accounts of our members,” Milliken added.

Beyond new business opportunities, Milliken and RE: Her are also dedicated to using their power to advocate for issues that are critical to restaurants, partnering with other organizations in a coalition to work towards a better industry for all. She also explains how using a collective voice can help create an environment where consumers can understand restaurant challenges.

“It’s a bit of a Rubik’s Cube…. if you're a consumer who cares a lot about free trade coffee from Ethiopia, do you actually realize that the person washing your dishes at that restaurant where you go to twice a week is living in a one-bedroom apartment? With five kids and working two jobs?” said Milliken. “Something has to shift, either prices have to go up even more, or restaurants have to be valued by our community to the extent that the government is willing to drop our tax levels.”

“We’re in this together”

With hundreds of women working together, RE: Her may have started to crack the code to really make a difference, but Milliken notes how important it is for leaders and businesses in every corner of the restaurant industry to support this work for equity. While RE: Her’s primary mission is to empower women in food, Miliken, as a veteran of the industry, also recognizes how restaurants represent such an important part of our society as a whole. 

“I think independent restaurants are sort of the fabric of our communities. They keep our corners safe at night. They provide a place for people to gather and celebrate or argue or whatever. And we don't want to lose that part of our communities and our neighborhoods,” said Milliken. “So many of us really love Toast products, but to see that in addition, there’s a philanthropic arm that is supporting us, that is so meaningful. We’re in this together, and the work we’re doing is for the good of the industry, so it’s good to feel that, and we feel that from Toast.”

Then of course, that impatience kicks back in, and she starts dreaming about a big future for RE: Her.

“Can you imagine if we had Regarding Her in 25 cities and we were putting 20 women through this boot camp, where they are learning how to negotiate leases, work on social media, the financial literacy, all the things?” asked Milliken. “I think we could actually affect that acceleration that I’m looking for—that’s the plan.”

Mary Sue Milliken is an award-winning chef, activist, restaurateur, cookbook author, and co-founder of RE: Her, where she currently serves as Chairman of the Board. You can visit her restaurants SocaloBorder GrillBBQ MexicanaAlice B and Pacha Mamas. You can follow her on Instagram.

Along with Milliken, RE: Her was founded by Dina Samson, Lien Ta, Sylvie Gabriele, Bricia Lopez, Brittney Valles, Heather Sperling, Kim Prince, and Sandra Cordero, all of whom own restaurants in the Los Angeles area. You can learn more about RE: Her, partner restaurants, and how to get involved here.

This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. 

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