This month, we’re celebrating the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of the female restaurant owners, chefs, and caterers making the breakfasts you need to know about. From Seattle to New York, these women are hand-sourcing Liège-style waffles, plating Instagram-worthy platters of breakfast bibimbap, and carving out a space for themselves in one of the most competitive industries there is. Here are nine female chefs, restaurant owners, and caterers you can’t afford to miss the next time you get a hankering for breakfast fare with a creative twist:
Where: Sweet Iron Waffle Bar, Seattle
When Adrienne Jeffrey was in high school, her family moved abroad, to Brussels. Throughout her career as a lawyer, she dreamed of bringing the Liège waffles she loved back to the States—and, years later, Jeffrey’s daughter finally convinced her that the time was right.
So, in 2009, Jeffrey opened Sweet Iron Waffle Bar with her husband in downtown Seattle, where the couple make Liège-style waffles around the clock. “People in America think of waffles as light and fluffy,” said Jeffrey. “The Liège waffle is a brioche dough with butter and honey and yeast.” Its secret ingredient is Belgian pearl sugar, she says, which is roughly the size of a small pebble—and not that easy to source!
Once you pour the brioche dough into heavy, cast iron waffle irons, “some of the pearl sugar melts—but not all of it,” said Jeffrey. “So you get crunches of sugar, and you get caramelized sugar on the outside, where the pearl sugar has met with the hot waffle iron,” she added. “They’re a totally different texture and taste.”
Sweet Iron Waffle Bar is starting to experiment with more items on their breakfast menu, too. The shop now offers homemade chia pudding with mango puree and yogurt with their signature berry compote.
Where: HeirloomLA, Los Angeles
At HeirloomLA, the ingredient is king. Co-owners Tara Maxey and Matt Poley have been serving up hearty Italian-inspired fare, like their famous lasagna cupcake, for Los Angelenos since 2009. In a 2012 interview with Eater, Poley, who has a background in catering, companionably gave Maxey credit for the steady growth of their business, which has expanded over the past six years from a catering and food truck business to include the blog Yolk & Flour.
“Tara works for the future,” Poley said. “Where we are going, where we are going to go. Tara’s the GPS.”
Though Maxey doesn’t have a degree from culinary school, she’s an avid reader of cookbooks and trained as a baker with Suzanne Griswold of Spago and Elizabeth Belkind of Cake Monkey Bakery. Her favorite breakfast includes strong coffee and buttery pastries, according to the Los Angeles Times, though the menu at HeirloomLA reflects the couple’s broader tastes.
A brunch catering spread might include a crisp butter-lettuce salad with citrus and feta, braised short-rib grilled cheese, or a Mexican-style shelling-bean salad topped with edible blooms.
Where: Sqirl, Los Angeles
If you’ve been wondering what’s up with grain bowls and avocado toast taking over breakfast and brunch, look no further than Jessica Koslow. When Koslow opened Sqirl in the trendy Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2011, the brunch joint made a huge splash on both coasts. And avocado toast, of course, is still having its moment.
“It’s easy for me to say Los Angeles has an avocado toast game because we have really extremely delicious avocados,” Koslow told the New York Times.
She’s not wrong.
But Koslow has much more than avocado toast to offer. Her breakfast menu has seasonal items in rotation, like a savory socca pancake with spicy carrot and a toad-in-the-hole sandwich with fennel salad. There’s her signature grain bowl, too—a Kandarian farro salad with artichoke, wax beans, pickled cherry, and fenugreek crème fraiche for a burst of flavor.
Where: Good Girl Dinette, Los Angeles
When Diep Tran opened Good Girl Dinette, a Vietnamese diner in Los Angeles’s Highland Park neighborhood, she had to navigate the risks of being a female restaurant owner during the depths of the recession.
“I knew that I could serve conventionally grown foods at a price point that would work, but I didn’t think I could do that personally,” Tran told Eater in 2014. “At the same time, I didn’t want to price out anyone in my neighborhood,” she added. “We looked at the menu and tried to make things really homey, but also thrifty.”
Tran may be thrifty but her food is still the kind of fare that people travel for. On her brunch menu, you’ll find Vietnamese favorites with a breakfast twist, like savory breakfast bowls and banh mi, or black-pepper pork confit with coddled egg. Even American-style dishes have Tran’s stamp on them. An order of bacon and eggs transforms under her red-boat-fish-salt spice rub, and once you’ve had pancakes with ginger maple syrup, you won’t go back.
Where: Reem’s, Oakland
For Reem Assil, being a female restaurant owner is about more than beating the odds. It’s about showing the complex world of Palestinian and Syrian food at her bakery, Reem’s.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve changed the narrative around Arab cuisine,” Assil told Vice. “There are not many people like me out there, shaping that story [of Arab, Palestinian, and Syrian food],” she added.
This year, Assil was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award for best chef and managed to open a fine dining restaurant called Dyafa with chef Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group—all while navigating the waves made by her bakery.
On Assil’s distinctive breakfast menu, you’ll find shakshuka, a dish of poached eggs and spicy tomato sauce. Along with an assortment of house-made flatbreads and Arab pastries, like orange-blossom shortbread and baklava, you’ll find more substantial options, like flatbread with fluffy scrambled eggs, spicy red-pepper tomato sauce, creamy goat cheese, and fresh herbs, too.
Where: Bywater American Bistro & Compère Lapin, New Orleans
Fresh off her James Beard Award Foundation award for best chef, Nina Compton is probably flying pretty high. She is one of the most recognizable female restaurant owners in New Orleans and just opened a new restaurant, Bywater American Bistro, in Bywater, to boot.
But it’s her first venture, Compère Lapin, that garners all the attention. The restaurant serves a playful mixture of Caribbean and Creole fare, while drawing on Compton’s training in fine French and Italian cuisine.
“When you get to New Orleans, it’s like being in the Caribbean,” Compton, who grew up on the island of St. Lucia, told Food & Wine. “[You] see French influence, British influence, Portuguese, slavery, a lot of slave influence as well…so that’s the whole premise of the menu.”
A Compton-style brunch includes gems like squash fritters with green-bean remoulade and coconut french toast with pecan rum sauce—not to mention her house-made donuts and tostones.
Where: Little Goat Diner, Chicago
Stephanie Izard opened her first restaurant at 27—long before she appeared on Top Chef or launched her signature spot, Girl & the Goat. As a solo female restaurant owner, she had felt overwhelmed with the day-to-day and wound up selling. But once Izard scooped up the top prize on Top Chef in the reality competition’s fourth season, she felt ready to strike out on her own again.
“I like[d] the idea of a place where people just want to come just because they want to go out for dinner—not necessarily that you’re saving it for a special occasion,” Izard said of creating the casual feel at Girl & the Goat. “I was there every single day, and I’m standing in the dining room, and I wanted it to be fun for myself,” she added.
Izard’s next venture, Little Goat Diner in Chicago’s West Loop, was more casual still. Like all good diners, the breakfast menu at Little Goat Diner is vast and served all day long. Dishes pull from each of the city’s most beloved food traditions, from a smoked corned beef hash to an Osaka-style street food dish with pork belly. There’s Latin flavor, too, of course, in dishes like Izard’s fish tostadas or a pork torta with pickled slaw and citrus mayo.
Where: Ovenly, New York
Unless it’s a bagel or a bodega-pressed egg-and-cheese sandwich, New Yorkers aren’t big on going out for breakfast. (Weekend brunch, however, is a whole other story.) But Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga, co-owners of the Brooklyn bakery Ovenly who finish off our list of female restaurant owners, have translated their city’s on-the-go mentality into a booming business. Driven by a sense of social justice, the pair have also concentrated on fair labor practices and out-of-the-box hiring methods.
“Most of the food industry hires people from Craigslist or similar places,” Kulaga explained to Forbes. “We hire about 60 to 70 percent of the candidates our [non-profit] partners send us, and our retention rate has increased dramatically,” she added. “So many people rise to the occasion when given the opportunity. They are so committed to changing their lives.”
As moved as customers are by Ovenly’s social impact, they also return for the bakery’s tricked-out croissant sandwiches, stuffed with aged provolone and serrano ham or provolone and fig jam. The muffins and house-made granolas are mouthwatering, but it’s the duo’s savory scone recipes that take the cake. With flavors like parmesan black pepper and currant rosemary, how could you go wrong?
Have a hankering for waffles?