A sold-out crowd of more than 500 people packed UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre on Tuesday night for the Las Vegas premiere of the film “A Fine Line,” which also served as the official launch of the Women’s Hospitality Initiative.
The documentary tells the story of director Joanna James’ mother Valerie, and her struggles running a restaurant as a single mother of two. That very personal story, however, is set against the backdrop of the shocking lack of women in leadership roles in restaurants. The film includes interviews with pioneering women in the culinary industry such as Dominique Crenn, Lidia Bastianich, Mashama Bailey, April Bloomfield, Cat Cora and Elizabeth Falkner.
Among the facts the movie hammers home is that while women constitute over half the students in culinary schools today, they account for less than 7 percent of executive chefs and restaurant owners. After James sent her a copy of the movie, restaurateur Elizabeth Blau joined forces with local women Mary Choi Kelly and Jolene Mannina to create WHI, which in addition to hosting the premiere, is also dedicated to addressing that issue.
“It’s the greatest reward to see what’s happened tonight,” James said as she entered the theater.
‘Call to action’
“The film has become a call to action to get more women into ownership and leadership, and to do it through mentorship and advocacy. And that’s exactly what this initiative is all about.”
The screening was followed by a panel discussion in which Valerie James was joined by industry pros such as Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill), Lorena Garcia (Chica), Jennifer Murphy (Caesars Palace) and Katherine Miller (James Beard Foundation) discussed the challenges facing women in the industry and possible solutions. Topics included the need for paid family leave, the importance of voting, and stressing to women that they shouldn’t be afraid to fail.
It was also revealed that UNLV would be launching a course in the fall, open to men and women, called “From the Classroom to Boardroom: Leadership for Women in Hospitality.” Members of Coronado High School’s ProStart culinary program, who recently won a statewide competition, were also on hand to accept a check that will help cover their travel to the national competition in Washington, D.C. While no details were announced, WHI is expected to work with ProStart in the fall to provide strong female role models for students.
The film and discussion were followed by a culinary celebration in UNLV’s Hospitality Hall where guests were treated to snacks and sips by some of the most prominent women in the Las Vegas food and beverage industry. When that wrapped up, Atomic Saloon at the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian hosted a VIP after-party for everyone who had spent their evening working.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian.