We’re celebrating International Women’s Day all month long, featuring real women who are using their influence to build a more equal world, from wherever they live. Whether in a classroom in Kenya or a boardroom in New York, change starts here, with all of us.
From soil to plate, these next two inspirational women prove that running their own businesses can be done with determination, passion and a whole lot of meal power.
Beverly Kim, Parachute Restaurant owner, doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Her experience in the kitchen and resilience to break down barriers drew us in; and after meeting her in Chicago, we left full and beyond satisfied.
Your restaurant breaks through the noise of normality by offering a unique blend of Korean and American fusion. Tell us more about when your love of cooking was birthed? What has influenced your cooking style?
Since my mother was already a great Korean home cook, I emulated her from a very young age. I was the youngest of four daughters, and was usually the one helping her get dinner together. A French class in junior high prompted me to buy a French cookbook and make a French meal for extra credit. I started to really realize that I had a love for the professional culinary field when I did a stage in high school at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago for the summer.
I've been most influenced by the flavors I grew up eating at home...kimchis, soups, ponchon, anything Korean. My family also likes to eat Chinese and Japanese cuisine on the rare occasion of going out to eat, so I'm influenced by those cuisines as well. Lastly, working at the Ritz-Carlton and Prairie Grass Cafe, I learned French/European cuisines with mid-western sensibilities.
You and your husband opened Parachute about two years ago, what was the biggest surprise you faced when becoming a business owner and stepping out on your own in the restaurant industry?
We've been surprised by how much you can change a neighborhood for the better by setting up a good business...When we first stepped into this part of Avondale, we were sweeping up needles on the streets and the playground across the street would be where questionable activity would happen. Now, the playground has been remodeled, the housing value has increased by 50%, and the cleanliness of the street has improved dramatically.
The decor of your restaurant is equally as memorable as the delicious food offering. What inspired the name and interior design of Parachute?
The name is inspired by the idea of safety and an openness that a Parachute evokes. Our restaurant is focused on being a creative, free flowing place for our employees and for our guests. It was also Johnny and my first restaurant venture on our own, and felt like we were taking a plunge from the sky. Our restaurant is our safety net.
The design was inspired by the idea of community, and casualness. The counter height seating is to remind one of a home kitchen. 90% of the wood is from repurposed wood or overlooked materials. Our friend Charlie Vinz is to really commend for the overall look of the place. We loved his use of natural textures and elements on a small budget.
The graphic design was prompted by the interior design by our friend Jeremiah from Plural. The zig-zags from the moving blankets and the circles from the peg boards for example inspired the P logo. The colors were inspired by the plate color selection that we started with to open. Pretty much everything happened organically.
What challenges turned opportunities have come from being a female chef in a predominately male industry?
I've had to overcome some people underestimating me because I'm a female. It's made me stronger because I had to let my work speak for me. In the end, your work speaks for you as well as how others remember you. In the end, I think it's helped me be more determined to leave a legacy wherever I go.
We all have our favorite comfort food - what is your go-to meal to make when your at home and off-duty?
My favorite comfort food is probably a hearty bowl of kimchi soup with rice. Something about the fermentation and funk just hits home with me.
For Sara Gasbarra dirt covered hands mean a successful day's work. Founder of Verdura, a design company that cultivates culinary gardens for hospitality groups, Sara’s eye for design and devotion to sustainable gardening has us rethinking what a home-cooked meal looks like.
Finish the sentence: "I want to live in a world where women and girls everywhere…"
I want to live in a world where women and girls everywhere can see their dreams and goals become real and tangible.
What about your work or life right now contributes to that vision?
When I came up with the idea of starting a gardening business, I had doubts that it wouldn’t move past the silly “hobby business” stage, but in five quick years, its very much surpassed that stage and continues evolve into something new and exciting each day.
The theme of our campaign is "It Starts Here." What moment, experience, opportunity first inspired you to address equality/parity for women (e.g. your first job, cooking class, having a child, etc)?
Gardening is often thought of as a hobby, something one does purely for enjoyment, but through my work, I’ve met many successful women across the globe who have transformed gardening and farming into very worthwhile, woman-owned businesses. For many of us, it started simply with a passion and I’m inspired by women around me who can create real success stories from that. Its empowering.
Where did your love of gardening and passion for sustainability stem from?
I grew in a family who placed a lot of value on growing food, eating together and celebrating cultural food traditions. I have always gardened--My earliest childhood memories are of being in our backyard garden surrounded by tomatoes, peppers and basil. Every child should experience a garden, even if it's just a simple container of herbs. Access to good, quality food is so important to each and every one of us.
Being the "lead garden girl" of Verdura, what is the most unique part of your job?
As the founder and self proclaimed “Lead Garden Girl” of my company, Verdura, the most enjoyable part of my day is the dialogue and interaction I have with the incredibly talented chefs I work with. I love seeing the beautiful and unique ways they utilize the product I grow for them. The entire process really comes full circle for me through their artistry in the kitchen.
Finish the sentence: "Each day, I wake up most excited about…"
Each day I wake up most excited about spending time in the sun, sinking my hands into soil and genuinely taking pleasure in my job.