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Leading Ladies In Our Local Restaurants


International Women's Day may have been on March 8th, but we are inspired by the incredible women who lead and contribute to our local food and beverage industry every single day!

We would like to take this opportunity to honor, applaud, and show our appreciation for all of the women of Sarasota-Manatee Originals.  Without their hard work and dedication, we would not have been able to achieve what we have accomplished together.  THANK YOU!

In the bustling world of restaurants, there's always a lot of hustle. We recognize and appreciate your hustle.  You give your patrons these amazing experiences where they can share food, drinks, and precious memories with their family, friends, and co-workers.  We are so fortunate to have the connections we have with the members of Sarasota-Manatee Originals.  We would like to celebrate the Leading Ladies In Our Local Restaurants!

1592 Wood Fired Kitchen & Cocktails

Mila Aguiar is the energetic Co-owner and General Manager of 1592. Her passion for serving individuals and the community led her to the hotel industry. Her partner, in both life and business, recognized her exceptional abilities in the service industry and introduced her to the world of restaurateurs. With her extensive knowledge from working with world-renowned companies, she has now brought her skills to Sarasota. She aims to provide every person and party that comes to her restaurant with a fresh and elevated experience.  

Amore Restaurant

Liana Vitorino moved to Sarasota in 2003 and started working in the restaurant industry in 2005 at Bella Roma Italian Restaurant (which is now known as Flavio's Brick-Oven & Pizza in Siesta Key Village). In 2014, Liana and her husband Tito opened Amore Restaurant in Longboat Key and later became the restaurant's managers before relocating it to Burns Court. In 2019, they purchased Amore Restaurant from the previous owner, Howard Rooks. Liana credits Tito's knowledge and dedication for teaching her the ins and outs of the restaurant business. However, it is Liana's friendly and lively personality that truly makes customers feel at home and welcomed. She treats her patrons like good friends and always greets them with warmth and hospitality.



Sage Restaurant, located in downtown Sarasota, offers a distinctive culinary experience with its international cuisine served with a selection of thoughtfully crafted cocktails. The exceptional appeal of Sage is mostly attributed to its remarkable team. A team that includes the co-founder, Sharon Carole, to the administrative manager, Kat Savadel, and the talented pastry chef, Shari Anderson, to the bar manager, Cliseria Padilla-Flores, each of these outstanding women bring their unique skills and dedication to the Sage team every day, making it a delightful place to dine and enjoy.

One of the top restaurants in Sarasota features historical architecture, an elevated menu, and a rooftop bar with a fire pit and multiple seats for lounging. You can soak in the vibe even before your reservation or visit the rooftop as part of your evening while enjoying our downtown nightlife.


Café Venice

Kay Kropac is the amazing owner of Cafe Venice Restaurant & Bar! Since she was young, Kay learned the art of creating a "second home" for her guests by helping out at her mom's historic Ohio inn. When she moved to Florida and began working at Cafe Venice, she knew this was her calling. 2006 she took the leap and bought the restaurant, turning it into a beloved downtown spot. 

Upscale dining meets casual charm at Cafe Venice, where Kay remembers everyone's name and creates a welcoming atmosphere.  People come for the delicious food, like the crab-stuffed flounder and grilled romaine salad, the extensive wine list, happy hour, and the live music.

One guest perfectly summed it up: "It's the family feel that keeps me coming back." For Kay, her customers are more than just patrons – they're family.  Here's to strong women leaders who create community!

Tzeva at Art Ovation Hotel Autograph Collection

As Director of Sales at the Art Ovation Hotel, Asa Thomas not only oversees the hotel's sales operations but also plays an active role in the community. The hotel is home to the highly acclaimed Tzeva Restaurant, a modern Mediterranean haven. Asa serves as a liaison and educator, and her dedication to promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is evident in her work with the Junior League of Sarasota. Her story is just one example of many that showcase the power and influence of women leading the way in Suncoast's culinary landscape.


The Suncoast of Florida is home to many talented women who are shaping the food and beverage industry. One such individual is Kelly Dungan, who works as the Marketing Director and Assistant Manager for Duval's Fresh. Local. Seafood. in Sarasota. Kelly's story is a testament to the hard work and diverse skill set of these leaders. She is not only a marketing expert but also a seasoned hospitality professional with experience in both upscale and casual dining. This background enables her to create messages that resonate with all types of audiences. In addition to her marketing skills, Kelly is also proficient in safety management and running a smooth front-of-house operation. Her dedication goes beyond her impressive career as she is also an avid volleyball coach, beach lover, and enthusiastic traveler.  She, along with numerous other women similar to her, constitute the driving energy propelling the Suncoast's dynamic culinary scene.

The Original Egg

Shout Out to Dawn Hair, the inspiring owner of The Original Egg in Sarasota! ☀️

Dawn, pictured fourth from the left above, has been serving delicious, authentic Florida breakfasts made with fresh, local ingredients for three decades. At The Original Egg, comfort food lovers can enjoy homemade pecan chicken salad and colossal pancakes, among other treats. But Dawn's success is not limited to the quality of her food. Through her hospitality expertise and passion for people, she has created a warm and welcoming environment where regulars are treated like family. Dawn is truly inspiring and a testament to the fact that strong leadership can come in many different forms.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim Restaurant specializes in Asian fusion cuisine, with a focus on Sushi and Thai dishes. At Pacific Rim, they are committed to using only the freshest foods and ingredients to create innovative and creative dishes that delight the palate. Ann, the co-owner of Pacific Rim makes it a goal for her and the Pacific Rim team to provide exceptional service in a welcoming atmosphere suitable for guests of all ages. Whether you're joining them for a casual meal or a special occasion, they strive to serve you excellent food that exceeds your expectations.

Pop’s Sunset Grill

At Pop's Sunset Grill, the entire team of owners, managers, and staff is dedicated to serving you. However, we would like to highlight their exceptional team of women in leadership roles. From Kristen Farrell, the owner, and Stephanie Brown (pictured above), the general manager, to Tiffany Huffman and Karen Barbuto overseeing operations, Pops Sunset Grill is an outstanding example of female strength at the helm.

This impressive group continues with Mandy Derby leading the kitchen, Donna Tomlinson managing guest services, and a team of service managers - Samantha Valvo, Gina Rost, and Kiva Roth - ensuring a smooth and welcoming experience for all. Jessica Novak heads the Boutiki, while Judy Rogers keeps the administrative side running like clockwork.

The team at Pop's Sunset Grill is a testament to the power and success of women leaders working together.

The Ringling Grillroom

Florida's Suncoast is brimming with strong women leaders who are making a difference in their communities. Take Becky Souflis, Director of Catering and Events for Simply Gourmet by Metz, operator of the chef-driven Ringling Grillroom located in the McKay Visitor’s Pavilion at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.  A seasoned pro, Becky isn't just passionate about food – she's passionate about creating exceptional experiences for her clients. Her dedication to excellence and her blend of creativity with high-quality service have turned Simply Gourmet into one of the most sought-after catering brands in the area. Also a member of Sarasota-Manatee Originals' Board of Directors, we thank Becky for helping to shape the region’s landscape with her vision and expertise.


Bevardi’s Salute!

Bevardi's Salute! is proud to celebrate the success of its leading ladies, Eni Juhasz and Amber Carlson. These two remarkable women have climbed the ranks over the last seven years, starting as servers and working their way up to become Managers and FOH Managers respectively. Chef/Owner Laszlo Bevardi truly admires their tireless dedication and unwavering commitment to delivering an extraordinary dining experience to each and every guest. Let's raise a glass to Eni and Amber and all their hard work!

Paradise Grill

Paradise Grill is your ultimate tiki escape where the good times never end! Located in Nokomis, they pride themselves on their warm and welcoming atmosphere, top-notch menu, and friendly service. As soon as you step inside, their dedicated team ensures that you feel right at home in this cozy neighborhood spot.

Paradise Grill in Nokomis isn't just known for delicious food and lively local music, it's also a place where strong women lead the way. At the helm since opening its doors in January 2016, is Mary Beth Hansen, the owner, who sets the tone for the restaurant's success. Brenda Nava, the general manager, keeps things running smoothly, while Jenny McKinney's brilliance shines through in her assistant manager role. Rounding out the impressive team is Tina Pastore, the bar manager. Together, these women form a formidable team at the helm of this local favorite.

Mi Pueblo

Sarasota and Venice's beloved Mi Pueblo el Restaurante Mexicano & Cantina isn't just known for delicious Mexican fare and vibrant atmosphere – it's also a place where strong women lead the way. Cristal Caro Hernandez serves as the Bar Manager, Gloria Caro is responsible for overseeing smooth operations as the Office Manager, and Gina Caro brings her creative vision to life as the Creative Director. These three women are exemplary embodiments of Mi Pueblo's dedication not only to serving great food but also to empowering women in leadership roles.



Women like April Childers are redefining leadership in the restaurant industry. Co-owner of Bradenton's beloved Ortygia, April balances culinary passion with social impact. As Co-Founder/Vice President of Help To Home, she empowers single mothers, fostering a spirit of community that extends far beyond the kitchen. Her story exemplifies the growing influence of women who are not only raising the bar for delicious food and service but also for social responsibility.

The Breakfast Company

Three cheers for fantastic female leaders! Our local food and beverage scene thrives on the innovation and passion of its leaders, and The Breakfast Company is proud to celebrate some of the amazing women driving their success. The Breakfast Company, a beloved spot with three locations across the Suncoast, shines a light on Terri Syros, Liza Pappas, and Diana Escobar.  These co-owners embody the spirit of family in their delicious food and welcoming atmosphere. Together, their dedication and talent have shaped The Breakfast Company, and they represent the many inspiring women shaping our community's culinary landscape.

JPAN Sushi & Grill

Our local food scene is flourishing, thanks to the leadership of some incredible women. JPAN Sushi & Grill is proud to showcase two such powerhouses: Danea Pezan Guimoye, Assistant Manager at Jpan UTC, and Noriko Beardow, General Manager of Jpan at Shops at Siesta Row. They are just a few examples of the many inspiring women who are shaping the future of food and beverage.

Harry’s Continental Kitchens

In celebration of the phenomenal women shaping our local food and beverage scene, we want to shine a spotlight on some truly inspiring individuals. Harry's Continental Kitchens on Longboat Key exemplifies this perfectly. This iconic establishment, celebrating 45 years of success, boasts a team of 26 amazing women. From Lynn Christensen, the co-owner who has been there since day one, to Denise Knaub managing the restaurant with a 12-year tenure, these ladies are the heart and soul of Harry's.  Their dedication to providing exceptional service and upholding the "Never been better!" philosophy is a testament to the incredible strength and leadership women bring to the industry.  Here's to Harry's 45 years, and to all the fantastic women leading the way in our local food and beverage scene!

(Pictured above from left to right. Denise Knaub, restaurant manager; Rachel Damron, server/hostess; Karen Delores-Lopez, hostess/busser; Irene Ramirez, kitchen day pantry; Lynn Christensen, co-owner; Layla Wilson, office manager; Anitra Eves, deli personnel; Lana Murphy, catering manager; and Giselle Cuevas, administrative assistant.)

Drunken Poet Cafe

The vibrancy of our local food and beverage community owes much to exceptional female leaders such as Aporni "Oy" Punyhotra, the esteemed owner of Sarasota's cherished Drunken Poet Cafe.  Known for her warmth and savvy, Oy is a restaurateur extraordinaire. Originally from Bangkok, Thailand, Oy's passion for food battled with her father's desire for her to pursue medicine.  She landed in Normandy, France, and became a pharmacist, but the call of the culinary world never faded.

A twist of fate brought Oy to Sarasota. While visiting family in Florida, a trip to the renowned Marie Selby Gardens ignited a love for the city.  Determined to make her dream a reality, Oy found the perfect spot on Main Street and opened the Drunken Poet Cafe, a haven for those seeking beautifully crafted Japanese and Thai cuisine.  Oy's journey is a testament to her perseverance and her restaurant is a delicious example of her success.

Brick’s Smoked Meats

Florida's Suncoast is brimming with talented women making waves in the food and beverage industry. Take Meghan Croke, General Manager at Brick's Smoked Meats restaurant. Praised by founder and operator Dick Rivera as a leader in spirit and deed, Meghan has been instrumental in Brick's revitalization, growing the business and particularly the off-premise and catering sectors. Her dedication and results-oriented approach embody the spirit of hospitality Brick's aspires to "institutionalize." Meghan's story is just one example of the many inspiring women shaping the Suncoast's culinary scene.

In March we celebrate Women’s History Month and here at SMO, we thought this would be the perfect time to celebrate the women who make these restaurants we shared with you today so special.  We are grateful to all the women in history paving the way for women everywhere that lead in their field and their contributions to those that will lead in the future.  Sarasota-Manatee Originals celebrates you! 


As Always, Eat Like A Local!