From art gallery directors to pastry chefs, D.C. is home to countless powerhouse women dominating their career fields. But these women are doing more than just winning awards and climbing the career ladder – they’re giving back to their local communities and helping others find success along the way. District Fray sat down with several of these professionals across the industry spectrum to talk about everything from working in D.C. to self-care. While Women’s History Month is a great time to celebrate those on this roundup, we also hope these women inspire you long past the end of March.
General Manager, Lincoln Theatre
Before Cherise Rhyns was named general manager of the iconic I.M.P. venue Lincoln Theatre, she worked her way up from door staff. In her new role, she’ll oversee the operations of the historic theatre and its incredibly diverse live-music offerings.
District Fray: Congratulations on your new role! What excites you most about being the general manager of the storied Lincoln Theatre?
Cherise Rhyns: I’m most excited for the opportunity to be a part of the theater’s legacy. I’m still doing research, but I suspect there is a very short list of venues in this country that have been in operation for almost 100 years. The Lincoln Theatre hits 100 in 2022! I walk in the building every day and think about the history that has occurred within these walls and it blows my mind that I have the opportunity to be a part of its history.
What makes Lincoln Theatre unique compared to the other wonderful I.M.P. venues, and other venues in general, in the District?
The Lincoln Theatre is unique in many ways. As I mentioned before, we’re on the cusp of celebrating Lincoln’s centennial. Additionally, this theater played a huge role in the fabric of the District’s history, in that it was a nexus for the city’s “Black Broadway.” It was built in order to give black people a place to perform and patronize the arts without the stigma of segregation. People are very familiar with the Harlem Renaissance, but there was a surge of artistic expression occurring in D.C. around the same time, and the Lincoln Theatre was central for black performing artists.
What advice would you give to other young women seeking a career in the music world?
1) Have a strong work ethic. Work hard at everything you do. There aren’t any tasks that are too small to give less than your all. If your assignment is to take out the trash, make sure the bag is tied tightly and it’s in the proper place. If your assignment is to order lunch, make sure the order is correct and on time. Work as if every single task that you do is meaningful – because it truly is. 2) Be kind – smile at people, try to find joy in everything and treat everyone the way you want to be treated. 3) Listen and observe – there is always something for you to learn and details are important.
Learn more about all the amazing shows the Lincoln Theatre has to offer this year at www.thelincolndc.com.
Creative/Culture Director at The LINE DC + Music Photographer
Self-described as a jack-of-all-trades, Farrah Skeiky has pursued myriad of creative outlets including music photography, event planning and writing, to name a few. She often combines her numerous skills for her work with The LINE DC, a hotel and creative hub where she does a variety of creative work ranging from organizing photo shoots to creating accessible cultural programming.
District Fray: What is one of the most exciting things about working at The LINE DC?
Farrah Skeiky: My favorite thing to do, especially as an artist, is to be able to support other artists and not just give them one gig, but give them continuing support and resources. Also being a part of their network and helping them grow that network.
As someone who makes a living with a creative career, what advice do you have for people looking to do the same?
I don’t wait for the opportunity – see what network you have and what resources you have. The other part of it is that you can make a career out of being creative, but you have to get creative with it. Developing as many skills as you can and being that jack-of-all-trades is going to take you really far because you have more of a perspective.
In what ways do you practice self-care after a long workday?
This year the word gratitude has been really big for me, and kind of using gratitude as a form of self-care. It’s not just about knowing in your heart that you’re grateful, but how you make that a practice.
Visit www.farrahskeiky.com and follow her @reallyfarrah. You can find out more about The LINE DC’s programming at www.thelinehotel.com/dc.
Executive Pastry Chef at Kith/Kin
A rising star in the culinary world, Velez has accomplished much in her short career: working under master chocolatier Jacques Torres and Christina Tosi at Milk Bar, and recently becoming a semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category of the 2020 James Beard Awards, to name a few.
District Fray: How does Kith/Kin compare to other restaurants you’ve worked at?
Paola Velez: There’s a lot of team building and community building. We’re able to partner with our local elementary school. We’re able to give back. Honestly, the biggest goals in my career have been to become sustainable and impact the community. With Kith/Kin and InterContinental Hotels Group, I’ve been able to accomplish that.
What do you love about being a pastry chef?
I basically found a niche within pastry – chocolate work – and realized I had a knack for it. That opened up my eyes to see how far I could push it. I just wanted to tell a story with food. Every day, we take experiences from people’s upbringing and turn them into desserts. It’s not just my story I’m telling. I’m telling everybody else’s story that works here.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming pastry chef?
Work as if today is your last day on earth. Work with no reservations. Make sure you give your 100 percent every day. If you do not work as if you’re not already in that space, you’ll never get to that space. Keep your head up, be kind and make sure you put out as much positive energy into the world, and it will ultimately always circle back and give it to you in return.
Follow Velez on Instagram @smallorchids to see all her culinary creations. For more information on Kith/Kin, visit www.kithandkindc.com.
Isabelle De Leon
Drummer and Music Instructor
From a young age, Isabelle De Leon thrived in creating music. Now she leads a busy life, including touring with Oprah and constantly making waves in the D.C. music industry. Whether rocking out with her band Prinze George or molding the music creativity of others through drum lessons, De Leon knows how to put on a show.
District Fray: What are the challenges and advantages of being a Filipina woman in the D.C. music industry?
Isabelle De Leon: In a lot of ways, I end up in certain spaces where I might be the only person who looks like me, and people can either misconstrue the intention or wonder why I’m there. When it comes to the music, that speaks for itself. On the other end, it’s what makes me unique. For people to see someone different doing something different, [there’s] that spectacle element. It’s [also] advantageous as far as doing any kind of outreach to the community to help influence younger generations of people who need role models who look like them.
Do you have a favorite venue in the DMV area?
9:30 Club is just so iconic. It’s one of the things that makes me proud about being a D.C. resident. Everyone around the U.S., even around the world, knows the 9:30 Club. Even when I’m on the road, I’ll always see someone wearing that iconic 9:30 T-shirt and it makes me so proud.
Are you currently working on any projects or future projects for the year?
Right now I’m touring with Oprah, and [after] I’m touring with another artist, so I will be traveling a lot in the next several weeks. One of my groups, Prinze George, just released a single and we have a whole album of work that will hopefully be released this year. I’ve also been doing self-production pieces, hoping to release a single – that’s new territory for me, but it’s exciting.
For more information or to see her work, visit De Leon’s website at www.isabelledeleon.com and follow her on Instagram @isabelledeleon_ and Twitter @isabelle_deleon.
Owner, Compass Rose and Maydan
Though restaurateur Rose Previte has brought her love of travel and culture to both of her award-winning restaurants, they are still distinctly D.C., and play a huge part in the amazing culinary culture the city offers its hungry residents. Previte’s dedication to connecting people to each other and the world around them through food is unmatched, as is her team’s ability to serve you a dish you’ll keep coming back for.
District Fray: You’ve spent a lot of time abroad exploring other cultures and cuisines. How does traveling, and having a general curiosity for other cultures, keep you inspired and creative?
Rose Previte: Traveling is the thing that keeps me inspired and creative. Just about everything – especially the menu and the design – at both restaurants derives from a memory or experience I had somewhere in the world. Nothing opens your eyes more or makes you think outside the box more than traveling. Without realizing it, you change the way you think and automatically that changes how you see everything. When I get back from someplace I’m always amazed at how much I learned. My endless curiosity is what keeps me traveling and it’s what I hope keeps the restaurants dynamic and interesting.
What makes D.C. such a great city for creative people, specifically those in the food and beverage industry? What would you like to see improve?
So many of us have been able to open our own businesses independently in a major city. Lots of us have known each other since we were kids serving, cooking and bartending at places well before D.C. was “cool” to the rest of the country. I was in Chicago recently for a conference and was shocked at how just about every restaurant I liked was part of a bigger group. I like that the majority of D.C. restaurants are independently owned. I hope it can stay that way because everything is so much more unique. That’s where my improvement comes in. I would hope (but don’t expect) the price of rents to go down. I know that’s unrealistic but if the trend continues, that independent ownership we love will have to go away. It’s getting too expensive for young entrepreneurs like me to keep opening full service restaurant. The margins just aren’t enough to sustain the cost of doing business.
Founder & Director of Latela Curatorial
Art consultant, curator, artists, art historian – you name it, Staudinger has done it. When she’s not busy setting up a new exhibit in the Latela Art Gallery or consulting with private collectors, Staudinger can be found in the studio creating her own works of art.
District Fray: What is going on in the D.C. art scene right now? What are some new and exciting works and artists you’ve come across lately?
Marta Staudinger: I think the influx of galleries and nontraditional art spaces is super exciting. We’ve got the Hirshhorn, who has been doing more with local artists, the National Museum of Women in the Arts does stuff with local artists, and so does the Phillips. More galleries popping up provides an ecosystem and infrastructure that didn’t really exist here before.
How would you describe your artistic style and what is your favorite medium?
My voice [in my art] is usually soft and tender. It’s feminine, and I usually try to dig into some of the vulnerabilities of being a woman in today’s society. I do that by creating conversations with past male artists who are in my ancestral tree stylistically.
In what ways do you explore feminism with your art?
I like archetyping Venus, because I think when women are given permission to explore or connect with their own feeling of rapture, there’s a fraying element there that I’m not too sure our society fully allows. I like to create work that embodies that feeling: allowing ourselves to feel beautiful and pat [ourselves] on the back and not really shy away or worry about vanity, for example.
Co-owner of ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar
When Rachel Fitz first started her career in social work and public health, she never expected that one day she would be co-owner of a cider bar. But following a trip to Europe on a cider tour, the idea for ANXO was born, leading to its establishment in 2016. Fortunately Fitz is happy to say her social work skills haven’t gone to waste in the beverage industry.
District Fray: What do you all have lined up for this year’s International Women’s Day? How is ANXO celebrating women in 2020?
Rachel Fitz: For the whole month of March, we only pour products made or owned by women – that means 24 draft lines of cider, 12 of beer, wine by the glass, liquor, non-alcoholic, coffee – all of it. We also highlight women in food, and have an art installation by Hen House. We do a ton of events and raise money. It’s weird how not being in the spotlight limits opportunities, which is why I think it’s important to highlight these women and say, “they are the faces behind the product that you love and enjoy.”
Aside from ANXO, what is your go-to DC spot for a drink?
My fiancé and I go to the basement of Reliable [Tavern] a lot, Lyman’s [Tavern] and [Red] Derby are our neighborhood spots. And The Dabney is a favorite for a celebratory meal.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to open their own business?
I think a lot of times people worry about faking it till they make it, but isn’t that what entrepreneurship is? A vision for something that no one’s done, and you figuring out how to create that? I think believing in what you’re doing [is important].
Follow Fitz’s work at ANXO on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @ANXOcider.
Bartender at Silver Lyan
From The Dabney to Colony Club, Lauren Paylor has been a bartender and manager for several bars and restaurants across the District since 2013. Currently whipping up cocktails at Silver Lyan within the Riggs Hotel, Paylor is also the founder and owner of consulting agency LP Drinks. You can catch her in her free time enjoying a classic old fashioned at Service Bar or Allegory.
District Fray: How is working at Silver Lyan different from other bars?
Lauren Paylor: What’s truly unique about Silver Lyan being in the D.C. community is that it’s really important for us to have this sense of cultural exchange where we’re incorporating some new practices and unfamiliar twists, while still paying homage to D.C. and D.C.’s culture.
How did you get to where you are today? What makes you so passionate about cocktails and spirits?
I don’t know that I would be where I am today if a lot of people didn’t take a lot of time to ensure that I became well-rounded. Thinking back, it’s actually probably one of the greatest things that D.C. has to offer – there are so many people who are always willing to give back.
What are some goals you have for yourself that you hope to accomplish in the future?
I really want to take this opportunity with LP Drinks and hopefully partner with a few other individuals in the industry who are making strides to make [the beverage industry] accessible to other individuals, and to provide them with the tools they need to do this.
You can find Paylor on Instagram @lpdrinksdc. For more information on Silver Lyan, visit www.silverlyan.com.
Salt & Sundry, Little Leaf + The Sun Room
Amanda McClements, a former journalist, arrived in D.C. by way of North Carolina 20 years ago and has since pioneered some of the city’s most beautiful and carefully curated shops. Salt & Sundry and Little Leaf feature elegant homewares, jewelry, bar accessories, plants, and so much more. She recently launched The Sun Room, an events space where McClements and her team can elevate D.C.’s creative voices through special programming in addition to her successful storefronts.
District Fray: How do you go about curating the products that you sell in your stores?
Amanda McClements: Scouting is one of my favorite parts of the job. My team and I are constantly on the hunt for new goods – both locally and abroad. We’re looking for pieces we want to own ourselves that have a great story behind them and a strong point of view.
Why is D.C. such a wonderful place for creatives? What could the city or community do to better support creative careers and people in the District?
In some ways, D.C. is kind of an underdog when it comes to having a creative reputation. Which to me makes it all the more fun to watch people discover how vibrant the creative scene is. It’s less competitive and more supportive and there are so many opportunities to make your mark. And when it comes to support, if you value creative diversity in your community, get out there, show up and better yet, financially support crafts, art and local business whenever you can.
What excites you the most about your job?
Watching small makers and artists grow with us is truly one of the most exciting parts of having shops. When we place a big order with an artist and showcase their goods, and then you come in, fall in love and take something home with you, we’re all growing. I’m also continuously excited by the opportunity to empower young women. I started with a couple employees in 2012 and now have a team of about 40, mostly women, and watching them grow into amazing leaders is incredible.
Founder of Brightest Young Things + Exactly Agency
With a hand in some of D.C.’s most loved festivals and events such as Bentzen Ball and Death Becomes Us, Svetlana Legetic knows how D.C.’s discerning millennials want to spend their time and hard earned money. When she’s not planning your next favorite event, she’s coaching her team at Brightest Young Things on the best of pop culture and hip happenings throughout the city so they can bring that to the masses through their eponymous blog.
District Fray: Since you’ve been part of D.C.’s creative world, how have you seen it change?
Svetlana Legetic: There is inevitably an evolution to everything – I would say 15 years ago, before BYT existed, there was not as many opportunities for creative people to strike out on their own, not as many opportunities for their work to be seen by the general public, which is great. The political climate also plays a role in everything, obviously, but I think the past few years have actually been GOOD for the creative culture: forging an identity for the city beyond the White House, tapping into the amazing intellectual and culturally diverse resources in the city to tell the stories that need to be told.
What improvements do you think are still to be made?
We, as a cultural hub, need to always be thinking BIGGER and more inclusively at the same time. As a city, N.Y. and L.A. creatives and brands still parachute often into our backyard (and election year is a prime example of that happening) and we still act so thrilled and delighted that the popular kids are paying attention to us instead of questioning it, pushing for our own voices to be heard more nationally, demanding attention. We need to own our creativity as a city more.
When you’re not on the clock, where do you like to hang out? What makes those spots worth spending your precious free time?
I am actually the deepest introvert you’ve ever met and while it is thrilling and exciting to share ideas and talk to people and get myself and others excited about projects all day, it is incredibly exhausting. So, in my spare time, I gravitate toward smaller, more intimate situations: Suns Cinema, The Rothko Room at the Phillips, bookstore rounds, Iron Gate, a good seated show at Lincoln Theatre…a lot of books, movies, quiet corners. Plus, I’ll go see comedy any chance I get. Laughter heals.
Follow Legetic on Instagram @svetlanabyt and @brightestyoungthings. For happenings, festivals and more around the District, and more on BYT’s newest addition to their event roster, Future is Festival from March 26-29, check out www.brightestyoungtings.com.
Founder and CEO, The Ginger Companies
Being founder and CEO of some of the most buzzworthy hangouts in D.C. is no small deal. Once a math teacher, Ginger Flesher-Sonnier finds inspiration in the extraordinary and seems to have hit the sweet spot between working hard and playing harder with her portfolio of creative businesses: Kick Axe Throwing, Escape Room Live and most recently, THRōW Social.
District Fray: What keeps your creativity going as you continue to grow your businesses?
Ginger Flesher-Sonnier: I think it’s my team. They have taken a lot off my plate because I was handling everything before. I have a lot of talented people, which frees me up to think and be creative and get back to my fun self.
How do you feel your experiences in the business world are shaped by the fact that you’re not only a CEO, but also a woman?
That’s a good question. Some challenges are still [gender] based. Whenever I meet people, they often look to my husband and address him more than me. It’s funny that still exists, but as soon as I start to talk and explain I’m the owner, they come right around. I’m casual, so people mistake that for being unintelligent or not business minded. What I love is the relationships I’m building with females in the whole community. They are doers and creators, and I’m loving that.
How do you unwind from the stress of a typical work day?
I love decorating houses. I love looking at ideas and homes, I know that sounds weird [laughs], or binge watching something with my husband.
Find out more about what Ginger Companies has to offer at www.thegingercompanies.com.
Owner & Events Director of Convatta Events & Productions
For Theresa Converse, there’s never a dull moment when planning events in D.C. From organizing transportation for senators to the Washington Kastles congressional tennis match to driving a forklift at festivals, event planning always keeps her on her toes. And while she does get the chance to take an occasional glamour shot, she’s quick to point out that event coordination is just as challenging as it is rewarding.
District Fray: How is event planning in D.C. unique from other cities?
Theresa Converse: Every event I do is different because there’s so many businesses, there’s so many types of people, and there’s so many different neighborhoods and communities [in the District].
Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about event planning?
It’s not as glamorous as social media makes it look. We are always talking about the fun parts and obviously it’s very rewarding, but [for example] when everyone else is leaving an event at 10 or 11 at night, me and my team are staying there till midnight or 1 a.m. cleaning up.
Do you have any words of wisdom for future event planners?
Don’t get discouraged when you don’t get jobs you think you’d be a perfect fit for. Not getting some of my dream jobs was actually dodging several bullets. If you pick up part-time work, show up. So many people commit to part-time roles and then put them low on their priority list. Two of my first full-time jobs came from my part-time supervisors believing in me and trusting me.
Converse can be found on Instagram @theresaconverse and on Convatta’s website www.convatta.com.
General Manager, 12 Stories
Jessica Dallesasse went from working at her local Jamba Juice to tending bar at a spot with one of the prettiest views on The Wharf. Between cuddles with her dog and bringing her own touch to 12 Stories, Dallesasse finds her rhythm in the service industry one conversation at a time.
District Fray: What would you say directed you toward the hospitality field?
Jessica Dallesasse: One of my first jobs in high school was making smoothies at Jamba Juice in suburban Chicago. It wasn’t till I moved to D.C. that I got into food and beverage. Soon enough, I realized I had a talent behind the bar, and it turns out nothing prepares you for bartending better than making 600 smoothies a day while there’s a perpetual line out the door.
Does being a female general manager bring challenges or unknown experiences that others may not see?
You’d be surprised how often people go to a male employee with questions. It’s always frustrating but I’ve learned to not let it bother me. Being a woman, I bring a real empathy to the job. I organize yoga, exercise and similar events at 12 Stories, and encourage my employees to participate. The industry is hard, and so I embrace wellness for [myself] and for them.
Find out more about 12 Stories by visiting www.12storiesdc.com and follow them on Instagram @12storiesdc.