Gender no bar to success in restaurant business

October 02, 1991|By Andy Trincia | Andy Trincia,Knight-Ridder News Service

Beth Chapple, one of the original Pasta Mill partners and founder of 2 Feathers Bar & Grill in Wichita, didn't struggle in the restaurant business because she is a woman.

A former employee at Pizza Hut's product-development division, Chapple opened the Pasta Mill in 1988 with co-owner Gary Streepy. She sold her interest in the venture before opening 2 Feathers, a downtown restaurant and bar featuring Southwestern-style cuisine. She sold 2 Feathers to her manager earlier this year.

Ms. Chapple, who now has a consulting and food-related service company, says the restaurant world has virtually unlimited opportunities for women and minorities -- from employment to management and ownership.

"I think the restaurant industry is great to get into," she said. "It has absolutely no sexual bias whatsoever. If you've got the bucks and you want to work 100 hours a week -- and you're foolish enough -- it doesn't matter what sex you are."

Though she was half-joking, Ms. Chapple stresses her belief that women and minorities generally have equal footing with men in the restaurant business.

But she said that it takes people with respectable net worth and proof that loans can be repaid. To compete with chains, an independently owned restaurant requires an initial investment of least $200,000, Ms. Chapple said. Smaller mom-and-pop restaurants, aiming for a different niche, would require a lesser investment.

The Small Business Administration is eager to help women and minorities with loans, said Willie Washington, assistant district director of minority small business and capital ownership investment for the SBA in Wichita.

Mr. Washington said that many women and minorities have good cooking skills, which can give them a good background for entering the restaurant business.

"I've seen it happen myself," he said. "Women and minorities can make it in restaurants. There aren't that many in Wichita, but there are more in Dodge City, Garden City and Junction City. There needs to be more in Wichita."

Mr. Washington said that prospective restaurateurs need to have about 20 percent to 25 percent of their initial investment on hand -- or through investors -- before asking for an SBA loan. In that case, most loans are likely to be granted.

"There's a good chance," he said. "They have a better chance with us than they do with the banks. That's what we're here for."

Other experts agree that most bankers are leery of restaurant loans because of the high risk involved. Industry figures show that more than half of all restaurants fail in the first year.

The National Restaurant Association, a large Washington-based trade group, keeps records on opportunities for women and minorities in the restaurant industry.


* Seven out of 10 supervisors in food preparation and service are women.

* In 1989, 12 percent of the 356,000 food preparation and service supervisors were black and 9 percent were Hispanic.

* About 60 percent of the more than 8 million food service employees are women.

Carmen Garcia, who grew up in the business at her parents' restaurant, Connie's Mexico Cafe, said that opportunities are better for women and minorities than they were several years ago.

Her parents, Ralph and Connie Lopez, began their north Wichita restaurant in 1961, when Ms. Garcia was 13. Her background in the business enabled her to buy the restaurant about four years ago with her husband, Jim.

The Garcias didn't need a loan, but if they had, the opportunities were there, Ms. Garcia said.

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