What motivates three women restaurateurs.
Some of the best moments in life happen around the dinner table. Whether in the comfort of our own home or at one of our favorite eateries, these conversations, reunions and celebrations are formative—and some become memories that last a lifetime. For three restaurateurs, this is exactly the kind of experience they’re bringing to our community—experiences that are people-centric, memorable and unique to the heartbeat of Rochester.
Rochester Restaurant Scene
Rochester’s dining scene has continued to grow, steadily bringing in new talent, tastes and experiences. Women are leading the charge as owners, managers, servers, bartenders, bakers, chefs and behind-the-scenes gurus making it all happen. Whether it’s managing staff or thinking up new menu creations, it’s apparent that women play a valuable role in the restaurant industry.
For a viable career opportunity with variety and excitement, the dining scene is an exciting way for women to thrive. Meet three women from local restaurants and learn what inspires them to stay healthy and hustle in an industry that never sleeps.
MR. PIZZA NORTH
Any Rochester native knows of Mr. Pizza–the family-owned restaurant that’s been a local staple since 1963. Heather Jacobson is a family member, manager and baker at Mr. Pizza North, a role she’s held for the past 12 years.
According to Jacobson, who was a server in the family business growing up, cooking and baking had always been a passion of hers. After attending Le Cordon Bleu with her brother, she ventured to France for an externship and traveled across Europe learning new baking and cooking techniques she would later bring to Rochester.
In the late 2000s, alongside her father and brother, Jacobson helped open a second Mr. Pizza location–Mr. Pizza North–with an expanded menu where she has since served as the lead baker. According to Jacobson, watching people enjoy her creations is something that keeps her coming to work every day. “There’s a lot of love in what we do, and seeing people come back and enjoy what we’re creating keeps me motivated and inspired to try new things,” she says.
Working in such a busy environment isn’t without challenges, Jacobson says. It’s important to remember that behind every favorite eatery is a group of people trying to create the best food possible, but it’s not always perfect. “In an industry as fast-paced as this, it’s important to realize we’re still human and mistakes happen,” she says. “Like any good restaurant, our goal is to provide a great experience and if a mistake has been made, we’ll work hard to fix it.”
Jacobson, a wife and mother of two, says work-life balance is often a challenge. She makes her family a priority, despite the long hours. “Restaurant hours can be challenging, but I would still rather be doing this than anything else,” she says.
VICTORIA’S RISTORANTE AND WINE BAR
Natalie Victoria owns Victoria’s with her husband. The duo, who originally got their start in Wisconsin, came to Rochester in the 90s. Victoria says the restaurant industry wasn’t on her radar before meeting her husband, but today, she says it’s an industry she loves working in.
According to Victoria, there have been many challenges in the establishment’s more than 20 years in business. “In the beginning, you’re worried about resources and becoming profitable,” she says. “But over time, you’re concerned about staying on the cutting edge and giving customers a fresh, unique experience.” While the challenges can be difficult, Victoria shares that it’s the lessons learned that have shaped the business to become what it is today.
While the joys of the job are many, according to Victoria, her favorite part of the business is the people–a view shared by Jacobson and Foster. “We meet so many people here and it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of this industry. Everyone has a story and we’re grateful to be a part of it,” she says, speaking of the restaurant’s unique clientele of locals, visitors and Mayo Clinic patients. “We have the best employees,” she says. “And I know everyone says that, but there’s just something special about our people. They work so hard and I’m proud to work next to them.”
Victoria says it can be easy to get overworked. For her, the key has been finding balance and enjoying moments with her family whenever she can. “The longer I’m in this business, the more I appreciate the simple things, like sleep and quiet time at home with my family,” says Victoria. “It’s not always a glamorous life, but at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.”
NOVA RESTAURANT GROUP
Gina Foster is the director of brand and marketing for Nova Restaurant Group. With locations across Minnesota, the Nova Restaurant Group has brought local dining favorites including Pescara, Terza, La Vetta and Chester’s to Rochester. According to Foster, who joined the family-owned company in 2012 after a long career in corporate marketing and advertising, her favorite thing about the business is the people–both the guests and the staff.
“The passion of the people working in our restaurants is inspiring,” she says. “The passion they have for our customers, the love they have for their work and the way they deliver a great experience day in and day out is what keeps me going–and keeps us all going.”
According to Foster, one of the challenges of her job has been learning to say no. For ambitious people working in such a fast-paced industry, it’s easy to take on too much. Between the marketing needs of each business and new opportunities that emerge each day, her greatest lesson has been learning to strike a healthy work-life balance, whether it means 15 minutes of meditation, hitting the gym or taking a vacation. “As much as I’m motivated to grow each brand and restaurant, it’s important to remember you can’t do it all and you need boundaries,” she says. “The key is taking time for yourself so you can be your best on the job.”
All she needs to do to get energized is walk into one of the Nova Group’s establishments. “You walk into a restaurant and sense the energy and excitement and it motivates you,” she says. “I want people to know how much our servers care and how hard they work to create a memorable experience. We truly care about our guests more than anything else.”
Remembering to Reenergize
For Victoria, Foster and Jacobson, the rewards of the industry far outweigh the challenges of such fast-paced, demanding work. With intentional effort to pursue self-care, they reenergize for their work.
“It’s like they tell you on an airplane–put on your own oxygen mask first. You won’t be able to take care of everything or everyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself first,” says Foster. “Don’t try to be perfect all the time. You’re human, you’re going to make mistakes. At the end of the day, in this business it’s important to work hard, take care of yourself and remember the humanity of others.”
Tori Utley is a Rochester-based writer and entrepreneur.