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Celebrating Women’s History Month in Las Vegas

For Women’s History Month, we celebrate some of the industry’s female leaders in Las Vegas.

The accomplishments of women throughout history have been nothing short of extraordinary. Though women’s rights have come a long way, many still combat unequal pay, discrimination and gender bias daily. March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day. This month, we highlight some of the amazing female leaders in the Las Vegas restaurant industry.

Honoring Fantastic Females in the Las Vegas Restaurant Industry

Penny Chutima, Owner of Lotus of Siam

If you’ve ever asked about a great Thai restaurant in Las Vegas, someone has likely directed you to Lotus of Siam. The beloved local spot gained international fame in 2013 when Anthony Bordain and Jet Tila dined at the restaurant while filming an episode of “Parts Unknown” for CNN. Family-owned since 1999 when the Chutima family took over the Commercial Center location. Owner Penny Chutima has been running the Flamingo location since 2017. 

WT: How did you get your start in the industry? 
Chutima: Honestly, the restaurant industry was never something I planned to get into. I was trying to get into law until I realized how hard my parents worked and how my mom grew her business as an immigrant woman who did not speak any English.

Seeing them achieve something so great, in what we call the “American dream,” I just could not let it go to waste. So I took over Lotus of Siam when my dad nearly lost his life in 2009. Then in 2017, when the roof collapsed at the Sahara location, I took complete control of the business.

WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement?
Chutima: I think my favorite personal achievement is being able to help Whitney Elementary School for the past ten years. Helping to provide the students with the proper tools to get them through the school year and see them achieve helps reduce the stress on parents who are worried about their children’s education while having to budget.

I know the feeling as a kid, as my parents had to scrape together whatever they could to help me get the supplies I needed to succeed in school, and having that burden lifted for the kids and parents is my greatest achievement.

WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way?
Chutima: Oh, there are plenty, more than I can count. Aside from those who know my entire upbringing and background, most people assume, “Oh, you’re lucky, you’re blessed, your family had this and just gave it to you.” The stigma associated with growing up as a restaurant kid was rough.

People looked down on me because they thought I was incapable of doing what my parents set out to do, or they believed because of my parents, this was just handed down, and it was smooth sailing. What they didn’t realize was the hardship of maintaining and keeping the business afloat while also continuing to grow the business. Growth isn’t a hand-me-down; many people can give you a business, but how many can actually grow it, maintain it and improve it?  

I also often think that it might be easier to do business if I were a man. I’ve encountered it time and time again. Of course, there are cliques in such a small city, but it’s very apparent that it’s a male-dominated industry. I appreciate the men in my life that have helped me achieve a seat at the table with their mentoring and guidance.

WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career?
Chutima: I hope to expand my mother’s legacy her brand and introduce the world to our culture and hospitality experience on another level. 

Penny Chutima, Owner of Lotus of Siam Las Vegas | WhereTraveler
Penny Chutima, Owner of Lotus of Siam (Courtesy Lotus of Siam)

Lin Jerome & Alex Lourdes, Owners of Café Lola, Saint Honoré & PIzza Anonymous

Lin Jerome and Alex Lourdes made names for themselves with their first venture, The Refined Agency. Now, the two are behind some of the most Instagrammable spots in town—Café Lola (with Summerlin and Henderson locations) and Saint Honoré. In an even more impressive move, the pair launched the ghost kitchen Pizza Anonymous during the pandemic as a way to utilize the kitchen at Saint Honoré in a new and forward-thinking way. 

WT: How did you get your start in the industry?
Jerome: People always ask my business partner Alex and me how a doctor and a lawyer created a hospitality company?? I know it seems like an odd turn of events, but the best thing that could have ever happened to us. In 2015 I took a huge leap of faith in myself and left my great position in higher education to pursue my dream as an entrepreneur. 

I was the Associate Director of Admissions for the Boyd School of Law at UNLV in Las Vegas. I left behind a salary, benefits and 401k plan to pursue my passion alongside my amazing business partner, Alexandra, who did the exact same thing! 

Together, we started an interactive marketing and events company called The Refined Agency and eventually went on to create Refined Hospitality, which now includes three amazing and successful culinary concepts: Café Lola, Saint Honoré Doughnuts and Beignets, and “the new kids on the block,” LolaXO and Pizza Anonymous. I have always loved the hospitality industry and knew I wanted to eventually add restauranteur to my resume.

Lourdes: I pursued my Ph.D. while simultaneously working on a foodie-focused passion project when I met Lin. We both had these foodie side projects, and by merging them, we realized we had an idea for a company! After graduating, we both left higher education to take a chance on the idea. We created a social media marketing, and events company focused on food and beverage companies. 

From that experience, we noticed the impact social media has on the restaurant industry. A few years after, we had an idea for a coffee shop that no one had seen before. We wanted to create a feminine coffee shop that had amazing food, creative drinks and the best pastries. 

Lin and I created an Instagram account based on that idea before we even had the lease or location picked out. We both believe in the power of manifesting, and a few short months later, we had Café Lola! That’s how it all began!

WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement?
Jerome & Lourdes: The most rewarding experience to date has been opening our first restaurant concept Café Lola which now has a location on the Las Vegas Strip! This was such a passion project, something we had in the works since 2016. We wanted to create a café that catered to a predominantly female audience and filled a gap in the market in Las Vegas.

When we opened our doors in May of 2018, it was such an amazing feeling to see Café Lola come to life after so many years of strategizing, planning and creating the concept. The way our community has supported us and has rooted for us from the very beginning made it even more special.

WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way? 
Jerome & Lourdes: When we first wanted to open Café Lola, it was actually difficult for us to get a space! There was a landlord that didn’t think our concept would work, we had several banks turn us down, but we are both very strong-willed and didn’t give up until we found a landlord that believed in us. Luckily we did!! Then when Covid happened and hit the restaurant industry so hard, that was another challenge we had to take on.

WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career?
Jerome & Lourdes: Our long-term goal is to grow nationally. We would love to have Cafe Lola’s and Saint Honore all over the US! 

Lin Jerome & Alex Lourdes at Café Lola Las Vegas | WhereTraveler
Lin Jerome & Alex Lourdes at Café Lola (Courtesy Café Lola)

Kat Thomas, Lead Sommelier for Ada’s Wine Bar

The wrong kind of wine can really ruin your meal, so having someone who knows the ins and outs of wine is always helpful. Kat Thomas, the Lead Sommelier for Ada's Wine Bar in Tivoli VIllage, is both knowledgeable and passionate about wine. A clear oenophile, chatting with her about reds and white is an entertaining and educational experience. Who better to learn about wine from than the “wine goddess” herself?

WT: How did you get your start in the industry?
Thomas: I was very fortunate to be offered a Sommelier position at a time when my knowledge base of this industry was quite limited, but the gentleman who offered this opportunity saw the potential in me because I truly do like humans, and I am passionate about hospitality and service to others.

WT: What has been your favorite personal achievement?
Thomas: My favorite personal achievement to date is accepting my vulnerabilities and realizing that I definitely need help, even when it appears that I am in control of so many things all at once.

WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you faced along the way? 
Thomas: The biggest challenge I have faced along the way in my personal and professional life is my own self. Finding a balance between offering and devoting my passions to others and back to myself is my biggest challenge still to date, so in order to help I have a Yoga I have family and friends now that I allow myself to be vulnerable with, and I created my own business based on invigorating resetting and refreshing the core of mind-body-spirit 

WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and your career?
Thomas: I truly do hope to implement a shift in hospitality towards sustainability, both for businesses to achieve and for the team members to achieve as they go about their daily lives, integrating health and wellness into their busy schedules by offering support and guidance. Oh, and I definitely want to continue drinking great wines and spirits along the path! 

Kat Thomas, Lead Sommelier for Ada’s Wine Bar Las Vegas | WhereTraveler
Kat Thomas, Lead Sommelier for Ada’s Wine Bar (©Erin Cooper Photography)