Female restaurateurs step out of the box to raise funds

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Mary Sue Milliken of Santa Monica’s Socalo is one of the LA hosts of Let’s Talk, a James Beard Foundation initiative that unites more than 250 women restaurateurs from 10 cities. RE:Her is an affiliate of Let’s Talk.
Photo by Anne Fishbein

Women restaurateurs from across Los Angeles have banded together to help keep the industry alive.

The charitable organization RE:Her is hosting the inaugural 10 Days RE:Her restaurant initiative, which features collaborations, thematic menus and one-on-one conversations between female industry leaders.

The festival kicks off Thursday, Jan. 21, the anniversary of the Women’s March of 2017, and runs through Saturday, Jan. 30, throughout the county.

“In light of what we’ve been through this year, we wanted to bring us together,” said Mary Sue Milliken of Santa Monica’s Socalo.

Milliken and Dina Samson of Rossoblu and Super Fine Pizza are the LA hosts of Let’s Talk, a James Beard Foundation initiative that unites more than 250 women restaurateurs from 10 cities. RE:Her is an affiliate of Let’s Talk.

The 10 Days RE:Her festival was created after a monthly Zoom meeting in which Let’s Talk members discussed ways to drum up business.

“It grew out of this informal, impromptu phone Zoom call that we started doing every month for women in LA trying to run their businesses, keep staff safe and take care of school kids at the same time,” Milliken said. “We share where we can apply for grants, and tips and pointers about PPP and how to help each other. That’s what women do. It evolved into a 501(c)(3) to raise money.”

Calling herself the “OG” of RE:Her, Milliken questioned if anyone would donate to their cause. She learned otherwise rather quickly.

“The energy and the passion and the commitment behind all of the women who are volunteering to make RE:Her happen is so inspiring to me,” she said.

The charitable RE:Her aims to eventually provide grants, mentorship and resources to female-identifying restaurant owners throughout LA.

“We are raising money and money’s coming in, but our focus right now has been on launching this 10-day food festival,” she said.

It begins with a virtual conversation hosted by Ruth Reichl and Evan Kleiman about the state of the restaurant business as it pertains to women, the history of women in the LA restaurant business and where it’s headed.

“That’s a cool event that’s really fun,” Milliken said. “Anyone can join the Zoom. There’s a suggested donation, but we’re trying to be as inclusive as possible.”

Milliken is looking forward to the Socalo, Gasolina Café (Woodland Hills) and Valerie Confections (Echo Park) mash-up on Friday, Jan. 22 and Saturday, Jan. 23. The meals can be picked up at either Socalo or Gasolina Café.

The menu includes Gasolina Café’s mussels en escabeche salad with blood orange, fennel, celeriac, bocarones, olives; Socalo’s duck carnitas cassoulet with Salvadoran red beans, Spanish chorizo, fennel; and Valerie Confections’ Basque cheesecake with citrus mélange and spiced chocolate mignardises.

“Whatever neighborhood you’re in, you can stay safely there and do a drive-by pickup for this three-course meal,” Milliken said. “You don’t have to drive across the county. It’s going to be really fun. You can add on things, too. If you pick up at Socalo, there are certain cocktails and wines from female winemakers you can add on. You can also add on guacamole, chips and salsa to make sure you have leftovers. We have other things going on all over town. We have really cool pop-ups.”

Kim Prince’s Hotville Chicken will be featured during a Taco Tuesday event on Jan. 26 at Socalo.

“We’re going to introduce Santa Monica to her hot chicken,” Milliken said. “She’ll come and teach us how to make it—with masks on—and go safely back to her restaurant.

In turn, Socalo will introduce Crenshaw to its Santa Monica Street Bowl—farmers market vegetables, crunchy quinoa, roasted corn, farro salad, cherry tomato and salsa verde—but with hot chicken.

In celebration of Mardi Gras, Kimberly Velazco and Alice’s Southern Comfort will sell gumbo meal kits on Thursday, Jan. 28 with crab, shrimp and sausage or chicken and sausage. Chef Jalila Walker will offer her lemon butter pound cake for dessert.

“We thought here’s an opportunity to really celebrate all the work that we’re all doing,” Milliken said. “We wanted to really push ourselves outside of what we normally would think of and do something really new.”