Food & Drink

LA’s First-Ever RE:Her Virtual Food Fest Helps Support Women-Owned Restaurants

Beginning on the anniversary of the historic Women’s March.

Hotville Chicken
Ruel Smith Photography

“Women have been the MVPs of this entire pandemic—especially working mothers,” said Bricia Lopez, co-owner of Oaxacan restaurant, Guelaguetza, and co-founder of the new nonprofit, RE:Her. Organized by 10 of LA’s top women restaurateurs—Lien Ta of All Day Baby, Sandra Cordero of Gasolina Cafe, and Kimberly Prince of Hotville Chicken to name just a few—with the intention to provide ongoing support to women in the industry, the nonprofit is launching with a 10-day festival that runs from January 21-30, beginning on the anniversary of the historic Women’s March.

“To see the amount of women who have been forced to leave the workforce during this pandemic, but also to see the women who are still doing it with children and running a restaurant, has been devastating,” Lopez continued. “There are just so many more hurdles that we’re faced with compared to our male counterparts and anything we as an organization and festival can do to help close that gap, we’re going to step up and try to do.”

Over 100 women-owned restaurants throughout LA County have joined the virtual food fest, collaborating on unique takeout dishes and menus, hosting virtual conversations, cooking demos, and more. And the support for local women-owned restaurants doesn’t end with the festival—the nonprofit will continue providing resources, mentorships, and small business grants to its members. 

“Many of us have still never met in person and yet we’ve formed a sisterhood,” said RE:Her board member Sandra Cordero. “So many of us felt alone beforehand—I know I did—and I think that’s part of why so many restaurants signed up so quickly.”

But like all festivals, RE:Her is also about having fun.

“The goal is to highlight the women restaurateurs of Los Angeles and drive customers to our businesses, but we also just wanted to do something celebratory,” Cordero insisted. “Restaurants were where everyone went to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, or toast to a new promotion, and we’ve all been missing that so much over the last year. A lot of restaurant owners are nurturers and people pleasers, so not being able to do that has been really hard for many of us.”

For Hotville Chicken chef/owner Kimberly Prince, whose family is credited with inventing Nashville hot chicken—a food trend that’s gone international in recent years—the festival is also about helping diners switch up their now-stale takeout routines.

“I want to see people get out of their comfort zones, meaning, I look forward to meeting someone who’s never been to the South Crenshaw area before,” Prince said. “And the thing is, do they actually have to come to my door? Of course not. But they can taste it. They can get a hint of some Nashville experience. They’re still inviting us into their homes and that’s the key to making this festival successful.”

RE:Her is sponsored by OpenTable, and foodies can stack their festival takeout lineup by booking through the popular reservation service. For those paralyzed by the array of choices, we recommend starting with a $13 contribution to Nickel Diner’s “Pay it Forward” Meal Program, which covers one hot comfort meal to unhoused, food insecure neighbors in Downtown LA. Done in collaboration with Meals by Genet, the meal program plans to provide 50-200 comfort meals twice a week for at least the next two months.

Or take part in a global pizza tour led by Superfine Pizza that features specialty Thai, Mexican, Spanish, and Japanese cook-at-home pizza kits by the women of Ayara Thai, Casa Vega, Gasolina Cafe, and n/naka. The esteemed “Queen of Oxtails,” chef Laverne Smith of Little Belize in Inglewood will offer a hearty oxtail stew for the entirety of the fest, including slow-cooked oxtail, coconut rice and beans, Belizean-style potato salad, and a fried ripe plantain. Next Taco Tuesday promises to be one for the books, with chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of Socalo collaborating with Prince on crispy shell corn tortilla tacos filled with juicy chopped Nashville fried chicken, kale slaw, shredded cheddar cheese, and spicy ranch sauce (customers can select their preferred level of spiciness).

And while you’re munching on those only-for-a-limited-time menus, you’re invited to join virtual discussions—a $1 or more donation allows entry to any talk and supports RE:Her’s ongoing grant program—that weigh in on everything from the state of women-owned restaurants in LA to passing down family-owned restaurants to future generations, to stories told and lived through African American cuisine. The virtual experiences will be interactive, like the creamery cheese tasting and discussion put together by the women who own DTLA Cheese, Milkfarm, Claremont Cheese Cave, and Lady and Larder. Other experiences include a margarita cocktail demo (free, with all donations benefiting No Kid Hungry), live cacio e pepe tutorial, virtual sake tasting, and children’s cooking class where attendees will make bombolini, an Italian dessert, with chef Rose Wilde of Rossoblu

The festival runs for 10 days in total, but those who get in on the action early and often will be rewarded through the RE:Her passport program. Save, download, and print their 10-day passport then collect stickers from each restaurant that you visit throughout the fest. The first 100 customers to visit 10 participating restaurants during the fest will win an exclusive RE:Her Gift Bag.

As each of the organizers was quick to emphasize, the festival, though ambitious in size and scale, is only the beginning of what RE:Her hopes to do as a nonprofit.  

“My dad always said, if a door opens for you, you better be ready to walk through it, but don’t let it close, leave it open for the next person to go through,” Prince said, the smile evident in her tone. “And that’s what we aim to do with RE:Her. We’ll continue opening our doors, inviting folks to come inside and pull up a chair at our tables.”

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Danielle Dorsey is the Los Angeles Editor at Thrillist. 
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