Women in the Restaurant Industry: Colleen Loftus

From ownership to management, women have contributed toward the growth and diversity of the restaurant industry on many levels. About a third of women get their first job opportunity at a restaurant, and in many cases, these experiences help propel them into leadership positions.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 33 percent of American restaurants were majority owned by women in 2016, while another 15 percent were equally co-owned by women and men.

To help highlight the continuing push for gender equality within the restaurant industry, we’re sharing the stories of three inspirational women in our new series, “Women in the Restaurant Industry.” First up is Colleen Loftus – owner of Rich’s Pizza Joint in Tinley Park, Illinois. Find out what drove her toward a career in the restaurant industry as well as how she juggles work and family.

How did you get your start in the restaurant industry?

I had a 10-year career in the healthcare industry, but then life took me down a different path. In 2008 I left my job to help my then partner open up a pizza place. About four years ago I became the owner and decided it was time to break away from the franchise. I then renamed the restaurant almost three years ago and haven’t looked back since.

You never know what’s going to happen in life, which is why it’s so important to remain open to new experiences and opportunities. Never saying never is a big reason I’m in the restaurant industry today.

What are the greatest challenges you face as a restaurant owner and what are you doing to overcome them?

Two things – time and money. Even after nine years of being in business, I’m still piecing the place together. For example, you might think you’re going to have extra money for cosmetic improvements, marketing or maybe something that will improve the efficiency of the restaurant. But then a major piece of equipment will break, setting you back a few months.

It’s always important to assess and reassess. There are so many highs and lows in the restaurant industry, and it’s often a tremendous challenge to keep things running smoothly when you also have constant changes. Things like labor costs are especially important to keep an eye on.

Improving your business while also handling all the daily problems and operational costs that come along with it can be quite the challenge. There are times when you’ll need to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. One way I do that is by reminding myself that things take time – often a lot more time than I’d like. But if you stay focused and motivated, things will start falling into place. Borrowing strength from others who have experienced similar hardships can help a lot too! Whenever I’m stressed out, I lean on my partner and faith for the support I need to get through the day.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Pleasing others is part of who I am. I love connecting with customers and seeing how much they enjoy our food! Another thing that keeps me going is growing and developing our pizzeria each and every day. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come over the past few years. It makes me proud to own a business that helps the economy by employing people and supporting suppliers.

What obstacles have you faced as a woman in the restaurant industry?

Being a mother of four, working more than 40 hours a week and trying to grow the business each day. That’s all on top of the millions of other things that are required to stay in business. It’s definitely not always smooth sailing. People always want your attention, but sometimes you just can’t get to everything.

How can women continue to pave the way for equality in the restaurant industry?

Women must empower themselves and discover their talents by fighting for new opportunities with every ounce of energy they’ve got. If you want to own a restaurant, you’re going to need tenacity. This is still a male-dominated industry, and in order to the rise to the top, you need to work for your chance at success.

I think there’s a common misconception that restaurant owners don’t have to do anything and instead can rely on their staff to handle things. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that owners dedicate almost every waking hour toward their restaurant, which is why being determined and resilient is so important.

What advice would you give to a woman just starting out her career in the restaurant industry?

Surround yourself with rare individuals who are committed. It’s also important that you learn to delegate, otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed with everything that goes into running a restaurant. Finally, use your ambition to go places you never thought possible. There’s always the risk of getting comfortable. But if you stay hungry and chase after your dreams with everything you’ve got, you’ll find success.

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