Jessica Rothacker, co-owner and executive chef at her restaurant Heirloom located in Athens, Georgia, prepares waitstaff for the Valentine's Day rush on February 14, 2020. The kitchen staff prepared what Rothacker calls 'family breakfast' for everyone who worked the early shift. (Photo/Erica Jackson)

Screaming, yelling and flying plates are not unique to Gordon Ramsay’s culinary competition Hell’s Kitchen. Local chef Jessica Rothacker, however, possesses a mild manner and speaks thoughtfully. She said a mentor from her early career helped her adjust to the Ramsay-like intensity prevalent among commercial kitchens, which in turn influenced her decision to deviate from this within her own business

“[He] made it his mission to help me learn how to manage my emotions, and not take things personally and be able to work in that world in a way I think I may not have been able to adapt to if I didn’t have him specifically working on that with me,” Rothacker said. 

As a female, Rothacker said she was often in the minority in these kitchens. Today as co-owner and executive chef of the restaurant Heirloom, Rothacker manages a 15-person kitchen staff composed of five people that identify as female and three that identify as transgender. 

 Why It’s Newsworthy: National trends such as increased numbers of female executives and a greater perceived value of social skills across industries can be observed on a local scale with female, small-business owners. 

 

Rothacker is one of many American women who have contributed to the 15 percent increase of females in managerial positions since 1980, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center

This study also asked participants to rate the importance of various skills within their occupation. Each skill fell under one of five categories: social, fundamental, analytical, managerial or mechanical. Since 1980, employment has increased most in occupations where social skills were rated most important

Managerial skills were rated most important among chief executives. Not all chief executives manage kitchens and own restaurants, however, and Rothacker emphasized the value of social skills above all else. 

“Just having a general sense of caring and making sure people feel cared for is certainly important,” Rothacker said. “I’ve developed that into being the most important thing about owning this business—really making sure that we’re taking care of our people.”

Extending care is a core value for fellow female, small-business owner Kristen Bach who founded and owns Athens’ toy store TREEHOUSE Kid & Craft. Bach values connecting on an emotional level and creating community through her role as a business owner so much that she helped create an intimate, informal organization for Athens, female small-business owners.

 


 

Watch the audio slideshow to learn more about Rothacker’s people-first leadership style and Bach’s initiatives to expand a community of support.

Erica Jackson is a fourth-year majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Spanish in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. 

 

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