Amber Caudle began her career working as a chef in what was—and remains in many ways—a male-dominated restaurant industry. These challenges ultimately led her to strike out on her own and combat health challenges she encountered while working in the job; she wanted to create an environment that was more empowering and wellness-minded. About five years after Caudle opened her first restaurant, Source Café in Hermosa Beach, California, Beth Hannemann joined the company as its chief financial officer. A year after that, Cindy Van Pelt came onboard as chief operating officer.
Now, these three women lead Source Collab, a hospitality group comprising two restaurants: the original Source Café that Caudle opened 10 years ago, and the newer Nine24 Kitchen, a more elevated, sit-down concept in Manhattan Beach. Together, the women have set their sights on making healthy food for their community in the South Bay region of Los Angeles.
How was your partnership formed?
Amber Caudle: Source Café was the original restaurant that opened 10 years ago. Then, about five or six years ago, Beth came on as our CFO, and Cindy, our other partner, came on about a year after to help with Source Café. Two years ago we opened our second restaurant, Nine24 Kitchen, and that’s when the Source Collab started to form because we have two restaurants and a commissary kitchen where we do all of our baking and some retail and wholesale.
Beth Hannemann: I worked in forensic accounting and litigation consulting and was a big data and finance geek. I had my own health challenges and a family member who was very sick, and I realized the corporate world was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, I quit work and spent a couple of years doing other things. Amber and I actually met on the patio of the Source Café; I had a puppy with me, and she had a dog about two weeks younger. We ended up becoming really good friends. I slowly started helping with some business plans and doing consulting for them, and realized I really loved doing it. I wanted to spend more time helping expand the business from the legal, real estate, and financial side.
How do your skills complement each other?
BH: It was kind of a match made in heaven because all of us all do such different things and have such different strengths. It works really well. Cindy does a lot of the back-end operations and baking. Amber works with the people, the creative part of it, and running the restaurant. I work on the back-end finance and business side of it. That’s kind of where we all love playing. I think all of us have such strong skill sets we can rely on and trust each other to know these areas of the business so it doesn’t feel like we’re stretching ourselves.
AC: I was stretching myself before Beth and Cindy came on. I was trying to do all the things, and I couldn’t do it all 100 percent. Now, I stay in my lane with creating and uplifting and educating and inspiring. That’s my lane; Cindy has hers and Beth has hers. Honestly, when we start to cross over into each other’s lanes, we know somebody’s overworking. That’s how we also maintain our balance with each other.
What is it like leading a woman-run business compared to your previous work experiences?
AC: I grew up in the restaurant business since I was 15—it’s a male-dominated industry. And when I went to culinary training, I was training in a kitchen with all men. I tried to be tougher, and I definitely blocked my femininity. When I moved to L.A. 22 years ago, I was a young 22-year-old female chef; I had to become pretty fierce to try to get people to listen to me. I also felt like the way people spoke to each other could be brutal and toxic and inappropriate and degrading. So finally, when I opened up Source Collab and surrounded myself with these beautiful women, it allowed me to step back into my power.
BH: Thinking about it from the legal, business, and fundraising side, I do think there are challenges being a woman and people taking you seriously, especially in the restaurant community. I had the same thing when I was in the technology world. Having a woman show up to talk to the CFO of a Fortune 500 company and tell them all these issues, I was never taken seriously. Coming into this, I get it. I do think people really want to support female-owned businesses, and we’ve seen that support from a lot of our community and our investors and that’s awesome, but it definitely was a challenge for us. We live in a community where there might be one other female chef; it’s a very male-dominated community.
What’s next for Source Collab?
AC: Sweetrise is our cake program that’s coming out; it’s been a two-year project. We have two restaurants right now, but I see us expanding into wholesale. I would love to see one of our products in Erewhon Market or Whole Foods. It’s been a mission. We’re starting to ship in the next quarter—nationwide is our goal—our pre-packaged cookie mixes, bread mixes, pancake mixes, and breads. We’re always open to the next little Source Café somewhere. We have so many things we could do; we could open up a little juice bar, we could open up a bakery or a bone broth bar. We’re always open to see what we can plant ourselves to continue to make differences.