Jessica Dunker is president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association where she promotes, and serves as an advocate for, Iowa’s hospitality industry.
Iowa women are working steadfastly and creatively to change the beleaguering statistics that show that women-owned businesses in our state lag behind all other 49 states.
Pamela Patton is showing Iowa entrepreneurs that a life’s passion can be turned into a career.
Case in point is Des Moines restaurateur Pamela Patton, owner of Patton’s Restaurant & Catering. She took a huge risk in leaving corporate America to open a soul food restaurant north of the state Capitol. It’s not been easy, but Pamela’s persistence has paid off. In fact, at the end of February, she was selected as one of three restaurant entrepreneurs from across the country to receive one of the restaurant industry’s most prestigious entrepreneurial honors—the Faces of Diversity American Dream Award. She will accept her award at a Gala event in Washington, D.C. in April.
Ms. Patton, a Georgia native, was one of eight children. She developed a passion for cooking as a child when she spent summers in rural Alabama with her great-grandmother. She was the first in her family to graduate from college and she went on to work for several large companies. However, her love of cooking never left her and she found creative ways to “show love through food,” including opening her home to as many as 100 Drake University students each week for a free Sunday dinner.
Encouraged by many of those same Drake students as well as friends, Ms. Patton made the leap and started a catering business. In 2010 she secured a Targeted Small Business (TSB) loan and opened her restaurant at 1552 East Grand Avenue in January 2011. Her menu features true soul food ranging from southern fried chicken and red velvet waffles to collard greens and catfish. Her food has already received national acclaim—last year being featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network Channel.
Pamela’s most recent honor is a testament to her determination in the face of some extremely discouraging state statistics. Iowa ranks dead last in the nation in both women and minority business ownership, but Pamela was unphased by the data—even when funding was hard to come by she opened her white tablecloth restaurant in an unexpected neighborhood.
Perhaps most apropos is the fact that Ms. Patton’s honor pays it forward to other aspiring restaurateurs. In her honor, the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation, together with PepsiCo, will make a $2,500 donation to the Iowa Restaurant Association Education Foundation to support its high school culinary and restaurant management program, in addition to a $2,500 scholarship donation for an Iowa student pursuing a degree in a restaurant-related field.
“This award celebrates the stories of opportunity and community engagement within the restaurant industry,” sys Rob Gifford, executive vice president of strategic operations and philanthropy for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. “We applaud Pamela for her immense passion and what she has done for her community.”
We applaud her too. Ms. Patton is working to change the tide of women-owned businesses in Iowa. When you find yourself in Des Moines, be sure to check out Patton’s Restaurant & Catering!