Women of the Food Industry: Abbey Rolfe

If you ask Abbey Rolfe, new Director of Operations for Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom as well as The Fold, when she first became interested in the food industry, you’ll get an answer involving a rare delicacy – plastic food.
“Me and my sister used to play restaurant all the time when we were little,” she laughs, “and now, looking back, it’s kind of funny that we chose that.”
Even though Rolfe doesn’t consider herself a cook, she’s always loved being around food. The St. Louis native worked for a catering business before heading to college at Southwest Missouri State University, now Missouri State University.
“Once I got to college, I didn’t know what to study. You have to hurry up and decide what you want to do – and hospitality was an option and I thought, well, I can at least turn that into business if I had to,” she says.
As a student, she noticed more men than women seemed to be in her area of study. At the time, Rolfe was a field hockey player for her university, and she attributes the discrepancy to the fact that hospitality was a popular major for athletes in general. “We did have more female teachers, though, which was really awesome,” she says.
One of her mentors, Abigale Ehlers, ran a class teaching how to run a restaurant, and Rolfe still keeps in touch with her.
After graduating, Rolfe found work easily – “Olive Garden hired me right out of college, so I started as a manager at 21 years old,” she remembers. She would spend a little over ten years with the company, learning how to manage people and keep things running smoothly.
She eventually transferred to a Little Rock location due to a relationship. Shortly after moving, she was hired with Yellow Rocket Concepts to help open Heights Taco & Tamale Co. as the General Manager. She says, “I loved it, I still consider [Heights Taco] kind of my baby.”
She learned so much when she was with Heights Taco, and says, “Amber Brewer is someone else I really look up to. That’s where I see myself in the future – working a position like hers … and I’m so thankful that I got to work hand-in-hand with her.”
Rolfe began working with Raduno and the Fold a little under two months ago, and has hit the ground running. She oversees the cost of labor, food costs, and works to increase sales largely through social media and other marketing tools. She says, “It’s as simple as adding two top tables in Raduno, beefing up the space at both places, and then the biggest piece is consistency with service and food at both.”
With her new position, Rolfe hopes to bring energy and ideas to the table, including branding a collective identity for both restaurants. She says, “Every time I talk to tables at Raduno, I ask, ‘Hey have you been to the Fold? It’s also owned by the same people.’”
Her favorite part of the job so far is the social media aspect, as she says, “I get to help come up with specials and take pictures of food. That’s my favorite thing because it’s how I get to be most creative.”
In her career, Rolfe has worked in varying level of corporate environments from Olive Garden to Yellow Rocket, and now with Raduno and The Fold. Her experience at Olive Garden taught her how to understand systems – the goal being that any restaurant in the country would look and operate basically the same.
She’s ready to bring that experience to the game, although she’s particularly excited about the flexibility that comes with her new work environment. “I also have more freedom in decision making, and that’s the best part about leaving corporate,” she explains.
Whether in a corporate environment or not, Rolfe says she hasn’t experienced any major disparity due to being a woman, although there are a few exceptions. “When I was 21 and a manager at Olive Garden, I would walk over to tables, and they would say, ‘No, no, no, we asked for the manager.’”
Rolfe says she can be blind to those things due to her upbringing. “The main thing at my high school was focusing on women empowerment, so coming from that and my family, almost all of us went to that school … we have a ‘We are women, hear us roar’ mentality,” she explains.
As for living in Little Rock, Rolfe loves it. “I think if I were in St. Louis it’d be a lot harder to be where I am right now … that’s not shortcutting Little Rock in any way, I just think it’s way more approachable here.” She is also amazed by the size of the food scene here – “It’s growing so fast and it’s amazing,” she says.
When not working, Rolfe likes to go out with friends for a drink, you’re likely to catch her at the Pantry Crest. She also does her best to stay active, as well, as she says, “Riding bikes around this town is awesome, and I go to the dog park a lot with my crazy babies.”
In the immediate future, Rolfe is pumped for the upcoming Easter Brunch at Raduno – “We’re going to have a special menu for this one. You’ll probably need reservations,” she says.
In the meantime, you can expect her to stick around. Rock City has truly become home for her, at least for a little while longer – “I just don’t feel like I’m done yet in Little Rock, there’s definitely something left for me here.”
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