When Randi Weinstein, Founder and CEO of FAB, a first of its kind “educational and inspirational workshops created by women, for women in the hospitality industry,” had a kernel of the idea for the conference she was shocked at the yes’s she got.
“When I started off year one, it was really unbelievable who’s willing to say yes since they’re the guinea pigs, so to speak,” explains Weinstein, who was well-seasoned in the world of industry events given her background as Director of Events at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival. “When my first two asks were Dana Cowin and Barbara Lynch, I thought ‘not bad!’”
Not bad, indeed—her idea for a series of events meant to showcase women’s rise through the hospitality industry through the decades came to life as she and a small team raised money to give scholarships and bring the community together through thought-leadership. “It became a little cultish,” Weinstein says.
As Weinstein and her team worked to raise money to fund scholarships and early-stage businesses, it became clear to her what the real need was here: “what these women need is to understand the business side of this industry or to educate themselves to make these right decisions.”
So, Weinstein put together a curriculum and reached out to her wide network of contacts in the region and beyond and “really put it out there” about what she was thinking of doing, taking their temperature on whether or not she was “really batshit crazy” or if she had something there. Turned out, everyone agreed—she was onto something meaningful.
That was April four years ago. This year, as we look to the upcoming conference held on June 9-11, 2019, in Charleston, its hometown, FAB has taken on a much broader, all-encompassing identity. From clothing, music, and other corners of culture in addition to food, Weinstein says “Fab” has so many meanings—Food and Beverage, fabulous, just plain ol’ fab—that the design agency she worked with to develop the brand came up with about 50 different names before they landed on it.
“The first two years, we had two tracks,” describes Weinstein. “You would sign up for one of the two, depending on where you were in your level in the industry, 101 and 202.”
Then things started to grow and expand as the conversation in the industry continued to evolve. “We added on crisis management—social justice, food policy, talking about next generation, thinking of that and thinking of business owners and figuring out what their responsibilities are in that conversation and how they blend with technology.”
At this year’s conference, there are 33 different panels, where women get to choose their own journeys through the experience in a form of interactive how-to guide meets choose-your-own-adventure. “We are exploring the sustainability portion of things. Delving more into the nitty-gritty of PNL statements. How to get funding. A little bit about architecture and design and how to marry those two.”
With everything from marketing, PR and branding conversations, as the three areas are now deeply intertwined, to a meaty talk about work / life balance divided into four buckets (raising kids in the industry, in-home and business balance, physical and mental wellness, and work / life balance myth), “there will be something for everyone,” says Weinstein. With free form Q&A sessions, you can ask anything of the amazing women on each panel, too.
“The most surprising thing [about starting FAB] was the connectivity that all of these women had that I totally didn’t even think about,” says Weinstein about her experience as Founder. “It was beyond just the attendees sitting there with their mouths open, being so hungry for this type of workshop. But the speakers all connected and understood each other and were able to work together. The attendees had created some incredible bonds.”
“And then there were the mentorships that came out of it all,” she explains. “I heard a lot of ‘because of you…’—which is really what it’s all about.”
Weinstein cites the New York contingent, who’ve held three FAB reunion dinners, and this sense of tightly-knit community for why keeping it intimate has always been the goal. “That’s why I never wanted it to be over 300 people.”
Spreading the word nationally about an intimate, hands-on workshop can be a challenge, but Weinstein believes strongly that long-term sustainability is a two-part equation: “women need to speak up to ask whomever they’re working for to invest in them and women need to invest in themselves.”
As we look to the upcoming event, which OpenTable has sponsored for the second year in a row, we cannot wait to see where the conversation goes.
Tickets available here.
Francesca Gilberti Burke is the former Director of Brand Content at OpenTable. She is also a writer and editor living in San Francisco, where she has contributed to Vogue, Architectural Digest, and Mind Body Green, among other outlets. A restaurant junkie and native of New York, she moved west for love and avocado toast and never looked back.