Celebrating the women of Chicago for International Women’s Day 2023

The Executive Magazine introduces some of the inspirational business leaders that make up Chicago's wealth of female executives for International Women's Day 2023
Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Editor In Chief at The Executive Magazine

Chicago is a vibrant city, thriving with a wealth of female-owned and -operated businesses, including restaurants, bars, hotels, museums and galleries. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are shining a spotlight on just some of the inspirational women in business in the city of Chicago, with each of them sharing their local’s top tip on where to go during your next visit to Chicago.

Dominique Leach

Lexington Betty Smokehouse

Known as one of the most exciting BBQ chefs in her hometown of Chicago, IL, Dominique Leach is a classically trained chef turned nationally recognised pitmaster. First garnering culinary experience in some of the most prestigious kitchens in Chicago under the direction of chef icons such as James Beard award-winning owner/chef Tony Mantuano and Executive Chef Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde) at MICHELIN starred Italian restaurant Spiaggia, as well as with award-winning author and chef Raghavan Lyer at The Art Institute Museum, Leach then branched out with her wife Tanisha in 2016 to create her own catering company “Cater to You Events & Drop Offs”. Inspired by fond childhood memories of her grandmother, Betty King of Lexington, Mississippi, who filled the house with flavourful aromas of home-cooked meals, Dominique then took those aromas and applied technique to launch a successful food truck, Lexington Betty Smoke House. 

Her expertise and soulful food would earn her a spot on The Food Network’s show CHOPPED and as a judge/contestant on Food Network Canada FIRE MASTERS, recognition as the “Best Barbecue in Chicago” by Good Morning America, as well as a full brick-and-mortar home for Lexington Betty on the South Side of Chicago following a pilot project to help promote black-owned businesses in the region. Chef Leach and her wife’s hard work and persistence in a male-dominated industry have helped them to carve out a name for themselves in the culinary world in Chicago and beyond. 

What it means to be a woman in business in Chicago

‘Being a woman business owner in Chicago and being a local of this wonderful city is very important to me. There is no food scene quite like Chicago and I’m very happy to be a part of it.’ 

Top tip for Chicago

‘My favorite woman-owned restaurant is Truth Italian, they have a phenomenal breakfast menu. I highly recommend the salmon croquettes and the French toast flight. My favorite bar is Nobody’s Darling in Andersonville, the Sidecar there is the best in the city. My favorite tour is the architectural boat tour. If you’re visiting Chicago for the first time this tour is a must.’

Heather Bublick

Co-owner of Soul & Smoke

Heather and partner Chef D’Andre Carter, who are both from a background in fine dining, launched Soul & Smoke as a catering company in 2015. When the pandemic began, they quickly shifted their business model and began selling smoked meats and comfort food sides at farmers markets in the Chicagoland area and purchased a food truck for private events and neighborhood parties. In fall of 2020, with gathering sizes reduced and fewer outdoor events, Soul & Smoke opened the doors to their first to-go location out of their kitchen in Evanston. Word quickly spread and Soul & Smoke became a North Shore staple, and the restaurant has now expanded to include locations in Rockwell on the River and Time Out Market in the West Loop. 

Heather Bublick has made it her mission to give back to the Chicagoland community. At the start of the pandemic, Bublick oversaw Soul & Smoke’s collaboration with World Central Kitchen and José Andres to provide 200,000 meals to the Chicago community, including over 500 meals a day to struggling neighborhoods on the Southside of Chicago, providing comfort food to those who needed it most. Once Soul & Smoke opened their first restaurant location in Evanston, Heather continued to carry that drive and passion to the suburbs of Chicago. Bublick opened a community fridge offering freshly cooked meals, 24 hours a day, to struggling families throughout Evanston. In addition, Heather continues to work closely with the Trotter Project as well as the Evanston Community Foundation.

What it means to be a woman in business in Chicago

‘As a woman business owner, there’s no better city than Chicago. The Let’s Talk Womxn community is strong and fierce and I’m honored to be a part of such an amazing network of women restaurateurs. As a mom to young girls, it’s a priority for me to show my daughters that I can be a strong leader, and to show them that they can do whatever they set their minds to.’ 

Top tip for Chicago

‘Time Out Market has a whole vibe. So many of the best neighborhood restaurants in one building, with three floors, multiple bars and there’s always entertainment. And if you’re traveling with kids, we especially love Navy Pier, the rides, the shops, the museum- it’s always a big hit, not to mention the boat rides in the summer!’

Danielle Mullen

Founder and Owner of Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery

Armed with a love of books that began in early childhood, Danielle always knew that she wanted to build a career where she’d be surrounded by them. Now, as the founder of Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery in Chicago, she’s managed to do exactly that! Danielle is a creative at heart, but focuses on participating in community-focused entrepreneurship, convinced that it will one day save the world! Located in the Fulton River District, Semicolon Bookstore is committed to nurturing the connection between literature, art, and the pursuit of knowledge. Semicolon Bookstore is also committed to using the power of words to better the local community, and they’ve set up a literacy-focused non-profit, called Parenthesis, to allow children access to affordable reading options.

What it means to be a woman in business in Chicago

‘Being a woman in business in Chicago means consistently being a changemaker. It’s an amazing journey that forces you to become better daily in order to keep up with the other outstanding business women in the city!’

Top tip for Chicago

‘My favourite restaurant right now is definitely 1308. It’s a hidden gem with excellent decor, food, and cocktails which is great for afterwork hangouts!’

Laurence Noguier

Co-owner of Bistronomic

French-born Laurence Noguier blends her background in fashion and business with her love of chefs into both her personal and private lives. Growing up, she earned a degree in law and art history. She worked in the fashion industry while studying in Paris to pay for her room and board, working with Thierry Mugler, Sonia Rykiel and Karl Lagerfeld over the years. At the age of 24, Laurence was made manager of one of the largest high fashion retail stories in Paris. She then moved to Chicago in 1997 to open a fashion boutique on Oak Street and instantly fell in love with the city and the Chicagoans. Not long after, Laurence met her husband, chef Martial Nougier, who owned Bistonomic. Soon Laurence realised that she’d like to steer her career in a direction close to Martial’s. She began representing some of the finest producers of porcelain and linens in the United States that she sells to Chicago’s best hotels and restaurants. In 2020, Laurence decided to be involved 100% with Bistronomic, becoming the face of the restaurant along with husband, Martial. They reinvented Bistronomic during the pandemic with a popular family-style takeout concept which allowed them to survive, keep the restaurant open and retain their employees. Laurence also Joined the Let’s Talk Womxn Chicago group in the early stages in 2020 to support women-owned & -operated restaurants.

What it means to be a woman in business in Chicago:

‘My restaurant Bistronomic makes me smarter, more curious, pushes me forward, keeps me grounded & incredibly proud. Being a woman in the restaurant industry and a leader is a world of contradictions, you need to be humble and proud, to listen and speak up, and to follow your convictions. Chicago is a fantastic city for a woman in business! Our digital era makes it easy to rally to a community or create one (as we did with Let’s Talk Womxn), to seek answers, advice, and help from all the players in our business. Chicago is friendly and accessible; it is a megapole with the soul of a village which is priceless.’

Top tip for Chicago:

‘My favorite area of Chicago is Lincoln Park where we live. It is the perfect representation of the Chicago I love! High rises, architect buildings from Mies Van Der Rohe, Brownstones from 1900’s and older, the only “Free Zoo” in our Country, and our Magnificent Lake. 

One of my favourite restaurants is Kamehachi, a woman-led business where I had the first sushi in my life at the age of 28!

My favourite museum is the Art Institute of Chicago, and my favourite tour is the Architectural River tour, which I do every two to three years and I learn new information every time!’

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