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The WEL program was created in 2017 to support women restaurant owners and food entrepreneurs, focusing on mentorship, education, and development.

Maria Yagoda
June 13, 2018

The James Beard Foundation has announced the 20 fellows participating in its second Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program, which will take place at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts this September. The WEL program was created in 2017 to support women restaurant owners and food entrepreneurs, focusing on mentorship, education, and development. Among the fellows named this year are Kelly Fields (Willa Jean, New Orleans), Esther Choi (mokbar, Brooklyn), Ping Ho (Marrow and The Royce, Detroit), Daniella Senior (Colada Shop and Bresca, Washington, D.C.) and more industry leaders.

“The Foundation is deeply committed to supporting parity for women in the culinary industry,” said Clare Reichenbach, CEO of the foundation, in a statement. “What’s unique about the Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program is its focus on mentoring established female chefs and restaurateurs seeking to scale and advance their business. We believe that having more women at the helm is key to shifting the restaurant culture to a place where all can thrive. We look forward to working with our newest class of WEL fellows to realize their visions – and ours – for a stronger industry and community.”

2018 has been an enormous year of change for JBF, which faced increased pressure to support and recognize the talents of women and people of color. In February, Reichenbach was named CEO, which seemed to mark a shift, as she has been very upfront about the foundation's efforts to tweak the James Beard Award rubric to more fairly reflect the industry as it is (and to account for chefs accused of misconduct.)

"At the beginning of the nomination process we introduced a new yardstick in terms of character and conduct," she said in a recent interview. "And you could really see that come to bear this year. So I think it’s about saying, 'Progress has been has been made. Let's not rest on our laurels. Let's make sure that we build on this.' But fundamentally it's about saying, 'What is the role for the foundation in terms of driving that systemic change to ensure that the culinary community and the restaurant industry is at its heart more inclusive and diverse and not just that the awards are reflective of that but it's actually materially shifting?'"

See below for the full list of this year's Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Fellows:

Nikki Berglund (Luna Fargo, Fargo, ND)
Beth Black (FOODE, Fredericksburg, VA)
Emily Blount (Saint Leo Restaurant, Oxford, MS)
Claire Calvin (Dinners on the Porch, LLC, Winston-Salem, NC)
Joanne Canady-Brown (The Gingered Peach, Lawrenceville, NJ)
Jennifer Caswell (Bryan Caswell Concepts, Houston)
Esther Choi (mokbar and ms. yoo, Brooklyn, NY); 2018 Audi WEL Fellow
Caitlin Corcoran (Ça Va, Kansas City, MO)
Sandra Cordero (GASOLINA, GASOLINA Cafe, and Pancake, Los Angeles and Oxnard, CA); 2018 Audi WEL Fellow
Violeta Edelman (Dolcezza, Washington, D.C.) 
Kelly Fields (Willa Jean, New Orleans)
Katy Gerdes (Angel Food Bakery & Donut Bar, Minneapolis)
Ping Ho (Marrow and The Royce, Detroit)
Sandra Holl (Floriole, Chicago)
Joanna Kirkendall (Pleasantry and 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab, Cincinnati)
Danielle Leoni (The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, Phoenix)
Fiona Lewis (The District Fishwife, Washington, D.C.)
Ann Marshall (High Wire Distilling Co., Charleston, SC)
Kari Seher (MELT Ice Creams, Fort Worth, TX)
Daniella Senior (Colada Shop and Bresca, Washington, D.C.)

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