Top 30 Women in Food 2023

Industry Insights

MAR 06, 2023


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The restaurant industry has been nothing short of extraordinary, constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation at every front. 

At Lunchbox, we celebrate the trailblazers, innovators, and boundary-pushers that are leading the industry to a stronger tomorrow. For a third year, we’re highlighting the Women that are redefining what it means to be an operator, executive, chef, author and restaurateur in the industry. From founders of new food brands that are pioneering the space, to James Beard award-winning chefs — here are our Top 30 Women in Food for 2023.  


The founders, executives, and chefs that are actively transforming the space. 

01. Kristen Barnett

Founder & CEO of Hungry House 

Kristen Barnett, Founder and CEO of Hungry House, is recognized for her innovative approach to the food industry. Based in New York City, Hungry House partners with creators and chefs to launch new food brands and concepts, with a focus on sustainability, diversity, quality, and transparency. Kristen's journey in the food industry began after battling chronic Lyme disease and discovering the transformative power of dietary change. She left her management consulting career to pursue her passion for food, working for Dig Inn and Zuul, where she led the creation of their proprietary tech stack and multiple virtual brands. As an innovator in the space with a passion for supporting other women in the industry and beyond, Kristen Barnett is a visionary leader that is transforming the scene.

02. Hawa Hassan

Founder & CEO of Basbaas Foods

Leading as a force in the space since 2014, Hawa Hassan is a Food Network chef and James Beard award-winning author of “In Bibi’s Kitchen”. In 2015, Hawa launched Basbaas — an African-inspired sauce and condiment brand that brings culture to kitchens across the United States. With a beautiful backstory, Hawa is an immigrant and refugee that transforms treasured memories of family culture into magical tastes that lean into tradition.

03. Renee Erickson

Chef & Co-Owner of The Walrus and the Carpenter

Renee Erickson, a James Beard award-winning chef, author, and co-owner of multiple properties in Seattle, has been making waves in the culinary world. Her restaurants, including The Walrus and the Carpenter, The Whale Wins, Sea Creatures, and several General Porpoise locations, highlight the bounty of the Pacific Northwest with a European sensibility. Her food and casual style have earned comparisons to culinary greats such as M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, and Julia Child. In addition to her restaurants, Renee is also an accomplished author, with her first cookbook, "A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus," receiving critical acclaim and a spot as the winner for the 2015 PNBA Book Award. Her second book, "Getaway: Food and Drink to Transport You”, was released in April 2021. Her accomplishments in the food industry make her a must-watch in the restaurant space, and her passion for her craft is an inspiration to her staff and guests in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

04. Mandy Shaw

President & CEO of Blaze Pizza

Mandy Shaw is a highly accomplished executive with extensive experience in the food industry and currently serves as the President and CEO of Blaze Pizza. Before joining the popular pizza chain in 2018, Mandy led multiple positions at Bloomin' Brands, including SVP Chief Accounting Officer and International Finance, where she worked for a decade. Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic in March of 2020, Mandy exhibited exceptional leadership by utilizing strategic planning to navigate Blaze Pizza through unprecedented times. Thanks to her deep understanding of the industry and unwavering commitment to excellence, Blaze Pizza has continued to flourish and expand under her leadership.

05. Nikky Phinyawatana

Founder & CEO of Asian Mint 

Nikky Phinyawatana is the Founder & CEO of the acclaimed Asian Mint and EnjoyMint in Dallas, Texas. As a visionary entrepreneur and innovative chef, Nikky infuses love and passion into all aspects of her work, resulting in menus that have earned numerous accolades, including Dallas Eater's #1 Best Thai Food and Foursquare’s Best Asian Restaurant in Dallas. Alongside her culinary achievements, Nikky is a dedicated philanthropist and a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier International and the Board of Trustee Member of the Texas Restaurant Association Education Foundation. She has also been recognized for her business acumen, winning the Women That Soar Award for Business in 2017 and eWomen Network's Business Matchmaker of the Year in the same year. Nikky is widely regarded as a leader in the restaurant industry, admired for her innovative approach, philanthropic endeavors, and exceptional culinary skills. 

06. Kat Eckles

Co-Founder & Chief Brand Officer at Clean Juice

Champion for sustainability and health, Kat Eckles Co-Founded Clean Juice in 2014. She is accredited for her incredible work on the brand’s menus and store aesthetic, ensuring that their core values shine throughout the customer experience. Not only is Kat a philanthropic trailblazer for children in need through the brand’s Quarters 4 Kids program, but she also is known to encourage others to participate in contributing to this larger impact on the community. Equipped with Kat’s expertise, Clean Juice championed through the pandemic and continues to expand rapidly through the ever-changing health food industry. The company's core value is serving organic products, which Kat maintains as a staple in her business.

07. Shelley Harris

Restaurant Category President of Focus Brands

Shelley Harris has led as Restaurant Category President at Focus Brands for several years. Prior to her current role, Shelley led the global operations function for a worldwide QSR brand with over 12,000 units, demonstrating expertise in growing sales and profits through leadership of owned and operated restaurants with sales of $45 million. Her strategic and critical thinking abilities enable her to set clear direction and inspire delivery of stretch goals, connecting vision with tactics that maximize growth. Shelley is highly effective at communicating across all levels to foster a collaborative work environment, and has held multiple roles with increasing responsibilities in all facets of franchised and company-owned restaurant operations. Shelley Harris is a true leader in the food industry, and her impact on the success of Focus Brands and the larger food community could not be understated.

08. Sydney Webb

Founder & CEO of Toto

Sydney Webb is the outstanding entrepreneur and Founder of superfood cookie company, Toto. She is a standout in the food industry for her innovative approach to creating healthy and delicious products that prioritize natural and organic ingredients. Following Sydney’s cancer diagnosis at age 21 and miraculous healing only some short months later, her sole passion lies in sharing powerful plant-medicine with the world. In addition to being free from gluten, refined sugar, and dairy, Toto products are crafted from nutrient-rich ingredients fortified with potent adaptogens. Her delicious brand has garnered widespread acclaim for their unique flavors, commitment to health and sustainability, and outward brand marketing, labeling Sydney as a must-watch in the B2C food industry. 

09. Christine Barone

President of Dutch Bros Coffee

As the President of the immensely popular coffee chain Dutch Bros Coffee, Christine Barone boasts an impressive resume spanning over two decades. Previously serving as the CEO of True Food Kitchen, Christine is credited with expanding the company's footprint across the United States and establishing leading brands in the health-focused dining scene. Her expertise and vision have been invaluable in driving Dutch Bros' continued expansion, making her a leading figure in the food and beverage industry.

10. Stephanie Sentell

SVP Restaurant Operations & Innovation at Inspire Brands

Stephanie Sentell is a highly accomplished executive leader in the food industry, leading as SVP Restaurant Operations & Innovation at Inspire Brands. Boasting over 20 years of experience in marketing strategy, menu development, and culinary innovation, Stephanie is renowned for driving high growth through strategic initiatives surrounding restaurant technology. She regularly supports brands, building out their processes and systems to improve the overall business economics of each brand's operating model. Stephanie is dedicated to building a work environment that fosters an entrepreneurial mindset and cultivates a culture of innovation from end-to-end.

11. Susan Taylor

President & CEO of Juice It Up!

Susan Taylor is an esteemed executive with over 25 years of experience in franchise operations and business development in the food industry, leading as the President and CEO of Juice it Up!. Prior to joining Juice It Up!, Susan played a key role in the growth and expansion of several prominent national brands, including Jamba, Chevys Fresh Mex, and Baja Fresh. Susan is a key figure in Juice It Up!’s success, actively building and overseeing their high-functioning teams and rollout of new offerings and overall expansion strategies. 


The operatives and product transformers that are shaking up the scene.

12. Dawn Gillis

Chief Technology Officer at Freebirds World Burrito

As a highly accomplished technology executive, Dawn Gillis demonstrates an exceptional ability to drive innovation and transformation as the Chief Technology Officer at Freebirds. Leading a comprehensive technology refresh initiative is no small feat; however, Dawn has proven herself adept at transforming Freebird’s digital infrastructure. As an IT professional with an impressive track record at multiple well renowned food brands, including Torchy's Tacos and 7-Eleven, Dawn spearheads the use of cutting-edge technology to oversee a complex network of vendors and partners. Her unmatched experience and unwavering bravery within the tech and food space speak to her dedication to meeting the demands of a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

13. Cathy Zafer-Fredericks

Operational Consultant at Coulee Coffee

From spotlighting as Vice President of Operations at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and now Operational Consultant at Coulee Coffee, Cathy Zafer-Fredericks has a proven track record of success in the food and beverage industry. With over 30 years of experience under her belt at internationally acclaimed food manufacturers, Cathy holds in depth insights on everything from catering, to team building, employee training, and beyond. This spearhead defines true leadership, not only through her incredible accomplishments in the business development sphere, but also through her never-ending support of others in the food and restaurant community. 

14. Robin Peters

Executive Director at Firehouse Subs

Robin Peters is an inspiring leader and the Executive Director at Firehouse Subs, with over 13 years of experience with the brand. With a strong background in the nonprofit sector, Robin has an innate ability to support organizations dedicated to social service. Her experience with social service agencies led her to Firehouse Subs, a company that has shown great support and philanthropic efforts for the community of Jacksonville. Prior to joining Firehouse Subs, Robin worked as the Director of Development and Marketing at Jewish Family & Community Services in Jacksonville. Her dedication to helping others and commitment to philanthropy define her influence in the food industry. 

15. Kelsey Cipriano

Director of Loyalty & E-Commerce at Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux

As a leader in the space, Kelsey Cipriano is the Director of Loyalty and E-Commerce at Walk On's Sports Bistreaux. She brings a wealth of experience to the role, having worked as the Manager of Owned Digital Channel Marketing at Inspire Brands. Her expertise lies in omni-channel digital strategy and campaign execution, loyalty marketing strategy, consumer marketing strategy, among others. With an impressive skill set, Kelsey is a boundary-pusher in the industry as a marketing professional, leading emerging enterprise brands to success.

16. Renee Hourigan

Sr. Director, Off-Premises Innovation at Subway

Renee Hourigan is an accomplished Senior Director of Off-Premises Innovation at Subway, where she has worked for over 3 years. Her role is crucial to the company's innovation strategy, particularly with the launch of the catering platform, which she helped spearhead and expand. Prior to Subway, she spent 12 years at Victorinox Swiss Army, starting as a Marketing Manager and rising to become the VP of Marketing. In her time there, she led the brand through significant growth and transformation. Her work at Subway and Victorinox Swiss Army is a testament to her ability to develop and implement effective strategies that drive growth and success, making her a true industry leader.

17. Coleen Albritton

Director of Information Technology POS & Franchise at Bloomin’ Brands

Innovating the space as the Director of Information Technology POS & Franchise at Bloomin’ Brands, Coleen Albritton is an accomplished executive with over 24 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. Throughout her career, Coleen has demonstrated a strong track record of driving growth and innovation, successfully transforming several growing brands in the space, including Carrabba's Italian Grill and, presently, Bloomin' Brands, Inc. With her strategic vision and invaluable expertise in POS innovation, Coleen is a key leader in the technology sector of the restaurant industry.

18. Katherine Cooper

Chief Operations Officer at Little Caesars Pizza

As a respected leader in the restaurant industry, Katherine Cooper is currently leading as the Chief Operating Officer at Little Caesars Pizza. With over 6 years of executive experience at the company, Katherine has been instrumental in scaling operations and driving growth. Her previous experience as a General Manager to popular brands, including Chick-Fil-A, has given her valuable insights into what it takes to successfully run a restaurant chain. Under her leadership, Little Caesars has continued to innovate and expand its offerings while maintaining its commitment to quality and value. Katherine's strategic vision and operational expertise have positioned her at the forefront of the restaurant industry, leading as an innovator within the space.

19. Rachel Ruggeri

EVP & Chief Finance Officer at Starbucks

Rachel Ruggeri is a prominent figure in the food industry, known for her impressive financial expertise and leadership skills. She is the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Starbucks, responsible for developing and executing financial strategies that contribute to the long-term growth of the company. Rachel has been with Starbucks since 2001, initially joining as a member of the accounting team and contributing to the launch of the Starbucks Value Card, which has since become a significant growth vehicle for the company. Throughout her tenure, Rachel has held various finance positions, before being promoted to Vice President of Corporate Finance and Planning in 2010. Rachel takes pride in developing and nurturing talent within the organization, and her passion for the company's inspiring partners is evident, making her a true leader in the food and beverage industry.

20. Michelle Bythewood

President of Salata

Based in Houston, Michelle Bythewood is responsible for managing operations and logistics, as well as implementing the vision and mission as President of Salata. With a focus on franchise sales and restaurant openings, Michelle has led Salata's strategic growth initiative, identifying expansion opportunities at every turn. Prior to serving as President, she held the position of Chief Marketing Officer, where she spearheaded brand management and strategy, product innovation, among others. Michelle has also led popular chain brands like Cicis Pizza, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, and Schlotzky's/Cinnabon Express. Being a true leader in the space, Michelle is actively involved in giving back to her community and serves on the Board of Directors for DHLC Now, a nonprofit that provides home repair services to military and first responder families.

21. Stacy Fields

Director of Digital Experience at MOOYAH

Stacy Fields is an innovative marketing executive with extensive experience in the food industry. As the Director of Digital Experience at MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes, Stacy is responsible for driving the company's brand strategy and digital marketing efforts. She has been recognized as one of 1851 Franchise’s "Young One to Watch" 2021 for her ability to leverage cutting-edge technologies and creative campaigns to engage customers and drive sales. Stacy Fields has a proven track record of success in developing innovative marketing initiatives that drive customer engagement and loyalty, and is known for her ability to stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly evolving industry. 


The innovators and marketing experts that are redefining the industry.

22. Becky Coulter

Director of Marketing at Alfred Coffee

Spearheading the marketing landscape for over 14 years, Becky Coulter headlines as the Director of Marketing at Alfred Coffee and Calidad Beer. Her creativity and innovation shines through multi-platform marketing strategy and digital efforts throughout the company’s growing e-commerce business. Becky not only has a passion for clean-label, natural ingredients, and sustainability, but she incorporates this into her work to meet the needs of the ever-changing food industry. Through the successful launch of groundbreaking product and marketing campaigns, Becky maintains the expertise and leadership needed within the restaurant space that makes her work priceless and truly sets her apart as a leader. 

23. Jill Grogan

VP of Marketing at Papa Gino’s & D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches

Jill Grogan is a seasoned veteran in the restaurant industry, having worked at Papa Gino’s for over 25 years. She has held various roles within the company and now serves as their Vice President of Marketing for both Papa Gino's and D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches, with her extensive experience and dedication to the brand as an instrumental piece to their success. Through her leadership, Jill has helped Papa Gino’s and D'Angelo evolve their marketing strategies and grow in popularity in a rapidly changing industry.

24. Ellie Russitano

Head of Operations at PAR Technology

Building with PAR Technology for over 16 years, Ellie Russitano leads as an instrumental figure behind the team's success. Entering the space as a Technical Writer in 2006 and now spearheading as the Head of Operations, Ellie has transformed PAR Technology into a leading provider of POS and enterprise cloud software solutions, expanding their global footprint. With her extensive skills and dedication to the industry, Ellie reigns as an influential figure in the technology sector, setting new standards in a fast changing, digital-forward world. 

25. Tressie Lieberman

VP of Digital Marketing & Off-Premise at Chipotle

Tressie Lieberman is an inspirational figure in the food industry, currently serving as the Vice President of Digital Marketing and Off-Premise at Chipotle Mexican Grill. With over two decades of experience in digital marketing, Tressie has become a key player in the industry, known for her innovative strategies and her ability to anticipate and adapt to changing guest trends. Instrumental in maintaining and spearheading Chipotle's industry-leading mobile app, Tressie continues to lead the company's digital efforts as the industry evolves. Her passion for digital innovation and her unwavering commitment to providing customers with the best possible experience makes her an invaluable member of the Chipotle team, and a leading voice in the food industry as a whole. 

26. Debra Chrapaty

Chief Technology Officer at Toast

Equipped with an impressive background in technical infrastructure, cloud operations, and product management, Debra Chrapaty reigns as a highly successful Chief Technology Officer at Toast and Vice President & COO of Alexa operations at Amazon. Throughout her career, Debra has held key leadership positions at some of the world's most recognizable brands, including E*TRADE, Microsoft, Cisco, Zynga, Wells Fargo, among others. Currently she serves as a valued board member and advisor to many renowned companies. Her exceptional leadership skills, technical expertise, and business acumen make her an inspiring and influential figure in the food industry.

27. Kristin Lynch

Director of Strategy & Analytics at Paytronix

Kristin Lynch is the Director of Strategy & Analytics at Paytronix, a leading provider of customer engagement solutions for restaurants and retailers. Her exceptional achievements garnered from twenty years of industry experience shine through developing insights and providing recommendations for clients to improve guest engagement, loyalty, and sales. Previously affiliated with major brands such as Dunkin’, Subway, and Restaurant Brands International, Kristin possesses extensive knowledge in data analysis and business strategy. She not only is an invaluable asset to Paytronix’s efforts to provide data-driven insights to their restaurant clients, but above all, she consistently provides top-notch innovation in an ever-changing landscape. 

28. Tracey-Ann Young

Chief Brand Officer at Cinnabon

With extensive experience in operations, finance, and strategy, Tracey-Ann Young makes up the very definition of a streamliner in the food industry, leading as the Chief Brand Officer at Cinnabon. Tracey-Ann is a respected leader with a roster of prominent brands, including Panera Bread, Dine Brands, and Bloomin' Brands. As Chief Brand Officer at Cinnabon, Tracey-Ann passionately oversees the company's marketing and operations, bringing her visionary leadership and expertise to help guide the iconic brand as it continues to evolve and grow. With her impressive track record of driving restaurant operations strategies and her commitment to innovation and growth, Tracey-Ann is a standout in her field.

29. Nithya Das

Chief Operating Officer & Chief Legal Officer at Olo

Nithya Das is a highly accomplished executive in the food industry, currently serving as the Chief Operating Officer, Chief Legal Officer, and Corporate Secretary at Olo, a leading provider of digital ordering and delivery solutions. With a rich background in leadership, Nithya has previously held various executive positions at AppNexus (now known as Xandr), where she managed the company's legal, corporate development, and human resource affairs. Before that, she worked as an attorney at the New York office of Goodwin Procter, representing public and private technology companies. With her strong leadership skills, legal expertise, and unwavering commitment to success, Nithya leads as a highly respected and influential Woman in the restaurant industry.

30. Trish Giordano

Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Earl Enterprises & Co-founder of VDC

With over 30 years of experience under her belt, Trish Giordano is an esteemed pioneer in restaurant and hospitality industries. As the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Earl Enterprises, Trish leads all sales and marketing functions for a diverse portfolio of restaurant brands, including Buca di Beppo, Brio Italian Grille, and Bravo! Italian Kitchen, among others. Trish is an expert in brand strategy, digital and social media marketing, and loyalty programs, and has successfully expanded Earl Enterprises' off-premise business through catering sales and third-party partnerships. In addition, Trish Co-founded Virtual Dining Concepts (VDC) in 2019, where she combines her brand-building and technological expertise to launch virtual dining delivery-only restaurants, such as Mr. Beast Burger, Tyga Bites, and NASCAR Refuel


For a third consecutive year, we recognize and spotlight the Women that are consistently promoting impact, pushing boundaries, and leading the industry to a stronger tomorrow. Our Top 30 Women in Food 2023 lists off the leaders of this year and beyond — from industry leaders, to the extraordinaires and innovators that promote growth at every bend.

Acknowledging that there are far more Women at play in the restaurant industry, we thank every single person that is leading the charge and defying the odds. With an industry that is only as strong as its people, we’re committed to recognizing and celebrating the individuals who are making a difference and driving positive change across the board. We look forward to seeing the continued impact that these trailblazers will have in the years to come, and we will continue to champion their efforts and contributions.



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