Female LGO Hospitality leaders recognized for success, journeys


This year marks the 109th International Women’s Day and the female executives at Phoenix restaurant group LGO Hospitality were prompted to consider the many female-filled seats at the proverbial table.

Since founding in 2002, LGO Hospitality has sought to be a self-claimed nonconformist in its approach to selecting and training leadership. The person who recruits and hires all managers, executives, sous chefs and more is Regional Resource and Training Manager is Natasha Aasgaarden.

In a past life, Ms. Aasgaarden danced ballet professionally throughout the U.S. and Canada. When it came time to seek a new career, she found the restaurant industry to be similarly physical and adrenaline inducing.

Ms. Aasgaarden has worked around the world in many facets of the industry. The diversity of her experience gives her a unique perspective on what makes some leaders and teams more effective than others, a press release claims.

“Everyone has their own story that’s really specific,” Ms. Aasgaarden said in a prepared statement. “That’s what lends them to this dynamic group that has been pieced together, and how people have been able to grow.”

For example, Ms. Aasgaarden is responsible for bringing on Executive Chef Erika Gonzalez to Buck & Rider, originally as a sous chef. As a young cook, Ms. Gonzalez learned to thrive in many Phoenix kitchens.

When she was first promoted to her own executive chef role, she drew from the leadership styles of her past chefs --- demanding respect based on position alone --- until she noticed her relationships with her cooks were beginning to suffer as a result.

“I had to take a step back and put them first. First the restaurant, then my workers, then myself --- and then everything started driving itself. It seems like the more I do for them, the more they do for me. Whether you’re a man or a woman, the people we respect are the people who are there for us,” Ms. Gonzalez said in a prepared statement.

“LGO is a different mentality. At first it took me a while to realize it, but ... it’s a healthier place to be.”

For Controller Michelle Backerman, representation in the executive space made all the difference. Working under LGO’s female chief financial officer at the time helped her to see her own potential, she says.

“I couldn’t fathom being in a leadership role,” Ms. Backerman said in a prepared statement. “Now, here I am in a leadership role. As time progresses and you gain confidence and understanding of your role and your capabilities, you just kind of get there one day without knowing it.”

LGO’s CFO Allie Schott says she has worked hard to garner a certain level of professionalism in her career and she feels respected because of it.

She sees herself in a unique position to elevate others’ careers, including LGO’s female chefs and managers, by empowering them to “be involved in financial process, and learn and strengthen their knowledge outside of just running a kitchen.”

That means the likes of Ms. Gonzalez will eventually be able to open her own concept and be fully equipped to handle running a business from top to bottom.

Senior Retail Director Jenifer Steele says she had to seek an unorthodox path to reach her potential.

“It’s tough in retail and as a woman to get beyond store level positions. The powerful corporate jobs tend to be held by men,” Ms. Steele said in a prepared statement.

“I realized that staying in independent retail was much more creatively satisfying and would also allow me to bypass the traditional retail path. So far it’s been exactly the right choice.”

Emily Collins, vice president of growth and development, started as a manager at La Grande Orange Grocery and then pinballed through LGO concepts throughout Phoenix and California until she eventually became a regional vice president over all California stores five years later.

For Ms. Collins, a visible upward trajectory was all she needed. Having grown up with restaurant-owning parents and working in the industry for years, she knew many hospitality jobs could only take a person so far.

With LGO, on the other hand, she says she could see with enough hard work and the right timing, “you could have any job in the company.”

Ms. Collins’ job is to facilitate the opening of new restaurant locations and concepts, which will create opportunities for upward growth for other people (including women like her) in the company.