The beloved nonprofit built on food's transformative powers just picked one of the most effective members of Seattle's restaurant community to be its new leader.
Angela Stowell will be the next CEO of FareStart, stepping into the role this October. It’s a twist on a national executive search that feels both unexpected and somehow self-evident. When Stowell co-founded Ethan Stowell Restaurants with her chef husband more than a decade ago, she wrote wine lists for the couple's trio of restaurants, and did payroll from the kitchen table of their apartment—"I painted the outside of Tavolàta!" she recalls of the couple's longstanding Belltown spot. As the company grew, her role evolved from a largely behind-the-scenes operational brain to a CEO who helped forge a culture of deep involvement in Seattle’s social issues as the company grew to 16 restaurants, 420 employees, and $30 million in revenue. (Stowell was also one of our 50 Most Influential Women in Seattle, might I add.)
"It's weird and hard to leave your own company, something that you built," says Stowell of the transition."At the same time, the universe is telling me to go do something big and meaningful." She says she and Ethan had long considered the possibility she might one day seek a new professional role where her husband's name isn't in the logo. When Angela was approached about this possibility, Ethan was quick to point out the great fit.
Stowell was one of 10 candidates, culled from around the country in an interview process that began in March, just as she and Ethan were preparing to open two new restaurants, Cortina and Super Bueno. FareStart spokeswoman Stephanie Schoo says her leadership experience in both business and nonprofit was a big part of Stowell's appeal, "along with just who she is as a human being."
In addition to testifying before City Council on issues like the $15 minimum wage, Stowell has worked with (and raised funds for) organizations like Amara and Seattle Children's Hospital. But her more recent role on the board of United Way of King County provided the most direct exposure to the issues surrounding homelessness, and where the need is. At FareStart, she'll oversee an organization that trains disadvantaged men and women (and teens) for jobs in the culinary industry, a set of in-demand job skills to lift them out of homelessness or poverty.
And yes, restaurants will remain a part of her professional life. Participating in guest chef nights at FareStart's restaurant at Seventh and Virginia is a ritual for plenty of Seattle's restaurant luminaries, and last year the organization added five new establishments—from cafes to the full-service restaurant, Maslow's—that also provide hands-on experience for students in its culinary programs. I can't imagine there are too many job candidates out there so familiar with both the restaurant and social services facets of FareStart's mission: "I know what employers need, and the challenges we face in the kitchen, and how we can work together to make this a more cohesive partnership," says Stowell.
She will spend the next few months transitioning away from her restaurant group. The company will likely reorganize a bit, and promote within to fill her role, according to a press release. When she walks through FareStart's doors as CEO, says Stowell, her first priority is connecting with the program's students and leadership team, and staying true to its mission.
I remember, a few years back, Stowell told me in passing how often people assume that her work with Ethan Stowell Restaurants is more of an unofficial act of wifely support than a legitimate, time-intensive job. Somehow I doubt anyone will underestimate her professional acumen ever again.