I had a long track record at the time I started Pearl Oyster Bar — twenty years as a chef, but not as a business owner. And that was the kind of track record they were looking for.
Earlier this month, The James Beard Foundation Awards, an event most of the culinary world refers to as “The Oscars of the Food World,” graced the stage of the Lyric Opera House in Chicago. Presented annually since 1990, the James Beard Awards recognize excellence in cuisine, culinary writing, and culinary education. Some of the most coveted awards go to individuals for their outstanding personal style and success.
This year, and for the first time since 2004, women took home the very top honors:
- Outstanding Chef: Suzanne Goin, Lucques (Los Angeles, CA)
- Outstanding Pastry Chef: Dahlia Narvaez, Osteria Mozza (Los Angeles, CA)
- Outstanding Baker: Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery & Cafe (Boston, MA)
- Rising Star Chef: Daniela Soto-Innes, Cosme (New York, NY)
This is exciting news — and we aren’t surprised. Women chefs are making in-roads in the restaurant industry, taking high profile roles in kitchens and ownership chairs across the country. Our television screens are packed with women competing for the role of “Top Chef,” fighting for the win on “Chopped,” and headlining their own cooking shows like never before.
What’s Really Happening in the Restaurant Industry
While women are making great strides in the restaurant industry, popular media and award shows can be misleading as to the reality on the ground. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is the main Federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity. The BSL tracks occupational demographics on a yearly basis. The most recent data collected by the BSL about the restaurant industry shows that women are still underrepresented in the upper echelons of the profession. While they make up roughly 40 percent of America’s cooks, women are actually less than 20 percent of chefs and head cooks nationwide.
That sobering statistic could be changing rather quickly, however.
As of October 2015, women comprised 49.9% of the students enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America. The sheer number of women preparing to take on positions in the culinary world could be just the boon the industry needs, particularly with concerns over filling all the necessary positions in the years to come.
In its 2015 industry forecast, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) reported that “growth in the number of hospitality job openings accelerated sharply [in 2014], a development that [was] out of sync with the pace of hiring.” There’s a world of opportunity available to chefs coming up in today’s market, and with so many women learning the craft AND acquiring the credentials to take on leadership roles, there’s no limit to how successful they can be.
But opportunity shouldn’t just stop at the kitchen doors.
“Women-owned restaurant businesses grew at a rate more than three times faster than the overall restaurant industry in recent years,” jumping 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to research compiled by NRA Chief Economist Bruce Grindy. One-third of all restaurants are majority-owned by women, and another 15 percent of all restaurants are owned in equal shares by women and men.
That phenomenon is certainly not limited to the restaurant industry. American Express OPEN recently published the findings of its fifth annual investigation into the state of women‐owned businesses in the United States. As of 2015, “it [was] estimated that there [were] just over 9.4 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.5 trillion in revenues and employing over 7.9 million people.”
The average earnings for women-owned businesses rose a whopping 54 percent between 2012 and 2013, with twice as many of those businesses applying for credit than in years past. Women-owned businesses are becoming an economic powerhouse in the job and financial markets, even in the period of fiscal uncertainty that’s continued since the financial crisis of 2008.
This impressive growth and economic muscle, however, is not always reflected in the availability of small business loans for women-owned businesses.
The Landscape of Small Business Loans for Women
In practice, 16 percent of conventional small business loans are awarded to women-owned businesses. This equates to women-owned businesses receiving only 4.4 percent of the total dollar value of all small business loans . Because 33 percent of businesses are majority-owned by women, that discrepancy can feel like a chasm to budding entrepreneurs.
Indeed, the U.S. government has recognized that it, too, has fallen short of reaching benchmarks instituted to help remediate these discrepancies. According to a 2014 report of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the government has never met its goal of awarding 5 percent of all federal contracts to women-owned businesses. This only adds to the urgent need for more widespread access to small business loans for women.
One avenue of progress could be achieved in passage of the Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2015. Introduced to Congress by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), this legislation is designed to increase funding specifically for women entrepreneurs through the Small Business Administration (SBA), a federal agency that guarantees loans for small businesses exclusively — and a leading guarantor of small business loans for women. While the Act could help ameliorate many of the obstacles faced by women-owned businesses in the small business loan market, this proposed legislation is in its infancy. It may never make its way through Congress and passage into law.
At the same time, access to small business loans in general continues to diminish. Since the financial crisis of 2008, there’s been a 20 percent decrease in the distribution of small business loans, while loans to larger business are up by about 4 percent. As a result, many restaurateurs may anticipate challenges in approaching banks to obtain conventional small business loans for women.
The Alternative to Small Business Loans for Women
Dishema Fulton, owner of Baltimore Crab & Seafood and Pearl Lounge, knows first hand what it’s like to face an uncertain experience with small business loans for women. “[Rewards Network] supported my business for the last eight years. When I first opened, it was very difficult to get financing through banks and traditional lending. And it really put me in a position where I was able to push forward.”
There’s a reason for that. Rewards Network specializes in restaurants and sees the potential in entrepreneurs who may expect to be turned away from lenders or other financial providers. Our restaurant clients run the gamut, some have been operating (and serving excellent food) for years. Others have been in business for as little as three months. Many of our women-owned restaurants may not have been able to access operating capital through other means, including specially-designated small business loans for women.
The flexibility of financing through our merchant cash advance program can be an enormous boon to business owners, providing faster access to cash and an in depth understanding of the specific cash-flow needs of women-owned restaurants. Rewards Network’s merchant cash advance products are not loans; we purchase future credit card receivables in exchange for upfront cash to help grow your business.
Every merchant cash advance from Rewards Network also comes with (at no extra cost) low-maintenance marketing services that targets high income, frequent diners in your area. Our loyalty dining program members spend 13 percent more on average per check in our program restaurants and can add a consistent four to six percent to your bottom line. That’s monthly revenue above and beyond the upfront cash that comes with our restaurant funding.
A small business loan for women may not be the best option for, or available to, every restaurant business. A merchant cash advance based on future receipts may be exactly what you need in order to take your business to the next level. You can be confident that your investment in yourself will reap rewards.
And who doesn’t want to feel more comfortable and confident with the process of funding your dream? As a savvy businessperson, you should look for the same relationship in your financing that you look for with any vendor. You want a personable, one-on-one connection with a company that cares about your specific needs — and knows exactly how to address them.
That’s exactly what Rewards Network has been doing for over 30 years: bringing the dreams of restaurant owners to life with financial and marketing support that nothing else — not even small business loans for women — can provide.