When you think about the many roles that Black women play in the restaurant game, the titles that come to mind are cook, waitress, and maybe hostess. But sisters like Chicago's own Michelle Herndon are working overtime to change that dynamic. Herndon is part-owner and director of private events at Formento's, an Italian restaurant located in Fulton Market District. She is the owner, operator, manager, and the driving force behind the popular dinner spot's success.
Her ability to turn around one of Michael Jordan's restaurants which was on the brink of closing led to a close friendship with the NBA Bulls legend. The industry is a tough grind and is highly competitive, so word of Herndon's business acumen spread quickly catching the attention and capital of her current partners--a group of White men. Herndon knows that she brings more to the table than just solving problems and generating revenue, though.
"I use the term 'Boys Club' in air quotes because I work with really progressive men. They brought me in because they value my diversity and female perspective. Sometimes as women we want to blend in and not stand out, but I’m here because I’m different," she told Ebony.
That unique perspective was the product of a Chicago upbringing paired with time spent on her Polish grandparents' farm in Wisconsin. Herndon has managed to seamlessly merge those two worlds at Formentos. The eatery boasts a variety of delectable menu items made with the freshest ingredients, a blend of modern and rustic decor, scenic views, and two special events spaces that attract some of Black Hollywood's elite like LeVar Burton, Angela Bassett, Tasha Smith, and her twin sister Sidra Smith.
So what's Herndon's secret to winning in this White male-dominated industry? She is a firm believer in paying it forward and offers this advice to Black women: "It’s important to let your confidence come out in a very organic way. Be yourself. Do your homework. Work hard. Pay attention. Listen. Observe. And know that your skill set is valuable to someone," she said.
Though unfair, Herndon also advises women to be mindful of how they are perceived by men in the business world and the support they need to be successful. "Also, take the emotion out of it. When women get emotional in the workplace it can be perceived as a sign of weakness while men can be considered passionate. Lastly, it’s really important to have key people in your life and mentors to help you get through," she explained.
Herndon is living proof that Black women are more than capable of running a thriving business. Hopefully more will follow in her footsteps.