March 21, 2017

Women in Foodservice – From Strength to Strength

Women in Foodservice 1 ogAnyone who meets Jeanie Roland ’92 walks away thinking “now there’s a determined woman.”  She knows what she wants and gets it, has high standards for herself and meets them, knows when to stand up for herself, and is driven to work hard to always improve. In her youth, Jeanie was a competitive swimmer, and the same qualities that made her a success in that arena have stood her in good stead and helped her be a leader in the foodservice world.


Jeanie was 24 years old and already in possession of a bachelor’s degree in science from a teaching college before she turned her full attention to her passion. She arrived at the CIA focused and full of purpose. With only front-of-house experience under her belt, she was dubbed “the waitress” by her mostly male classmates. But it was Chef Corky Clark who saw something special in Jeanie and who, with his steely gaze and vociferous encouragement, got her up to speed. “Chef Clark saw that my knife skills and my speed were lacking so he made me prepare fish stock every day,” explains Jeanie. “Every time I looked down at my hands while working, he yelled at me. He wanted me to be able to operate by feel and he gave me that experience and encouragement.” But it was getting her first “high pass” in her Skills class that gave her legitimacy with her classmates and halted the use of the nickname they had given her.


Everything at the CIA inspired Jeanie, from the trek to breakfast cookery in the dark at 2 a.m. to the discipline, organization, and devotion to mise en place. “That is something I believe in so strongly today,” Jeanie says. “Mise en place begins with me and I have to model what I expect from my employees. Continuity and discipline have to branch out from me to my workers.” And Jeanie has a slew of excellent and loyal staff members who have been with her for many years and who she truly values—including her business partner and husband, James.


Following her CIA graduation, Jeanie returned to her externship site at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach, CA. She started as an assistant pastry chef and moved quickly to savory sous chef. After four years, she was homesick for the east coast and moved with her husband to Connecticut to run a small country inn. Then she moved on to work for IMPAC, a worldwide consulting firm. During six years there as executive corporate chef, Jeanie traveled the world from the Far East to Europe acquiring knowledge about different culinary cultures along the way. However, after 9/11 her position was cut. But for Jeanie one door closed and another opened.


She and James took that opportunity to start their own business. Their gourmet shop grew into a 165-seat restaurant—The Perfect Caper—and Jeanie became a seven-time James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best Chef, South Region. In 2012, they opened a second location, Ella’s Food and Drink in Westerly, RI. Jeanie explains that on paper all this looks might look easy, but the sacrifices have been real. “To get where we are today we had to leverage a lot,” she says. “We mortgaged our home more than once to open, expand, and save our business.” Finding and cultivating staff has also been a huge part of Jeanie’s work and success. She believes it took her eight to 10 years to build the wonderful team at The Perfect Caper, and she’s still developing that same flawless team at Ella’s. “I’ve been lucky to have a husband who can not only manage our restaurants —picture a Renaissance superman—but someone I can get along with through all the day-to-day stresses,” Jeanie says.


It would appear that Jeanie Roland has moved through her culinary career and acquired success seamlessly. She wouldn’t want you to believe that. Every day there are challenges to be met and new goals to set. She is never content to rest on her laurels or settle for second best. But what she has had is a career that has moved from strength to strength, because she is one determined woman!