Caroline D'Amore is a woman in high demand. She's a wife and mother. She's an international DJ (playing with DIPLO, Steve Aoki and more) and actress (you've seen her in movies like Sorority Row). And, she's head chef and co-owner of one of Los Angeles' most famous pizza joints—D'Amores Pizza—which was founded by her family.
Born out of a true love and respect for her grandmother's sauce recipe and her father's dedication to amazing pizza, D'Amores Pizza now boasts eight locations—with a sauce line called Pizza Girl—on the way. So, how does D'Amore find success with so much to balance? Family is her unwavering priority. “When your family feels love, you will feel even more powerful and be able to take on a busy lifestyle," she says. “Schedule sex [with your partner] if you have to—but make it a priority. My husband and I are going on ten blissful years together and making time for each other is key. We don't look at our phones on dates and just tune out the world as a family. I wake up to a million where the "F" are your emails and calls— but it's worth it."
So, it's no surprise that wanting to keep D'Amore's Pizza successful was born out of the devotion to her family legacy. D'Amore grew up in the restaurant business but like every rebellious teen, resisted following in those footsteps—at first.
“My childhood was spent in our restaurants or on-site catering of big events and film sets. So, when I became a teenager—I wanted nothing to do with pizza. I found music and DJing as my way out."
That rebellion showed D'Amore that she actually did have a knack for DJing and before long she was an international sensation, signed to one of the biggest DJ booking firms.
Photo Courtesy of USA Today
“The road, however, got lonely and I'd find myself seeking out Italian restaurants all over the world just to feel that sense of home and family," D'Amore explains. She met her husband Bobby Alt and they decided to open up their own location of D'Amore's Pizza at the same time that she discovered she was pregnant. “It was insane. Even growing up in the business I never really knew how hard it was to own and operate my own location. I remember many days being so stressed out and crying that a cook didn't show up. I either had to get back there and cook or we closed for the day."
That's when D'Amore realized being the boss meant she had to learn the ins and outs of every facet of the business. She taught herself to make everything on the menu, finding a love for cooking in the process. “I'd cook all day then come home and cook again for my husband and daughter. I grew obsessed with testing out different recipes in my own kitchen and then working with my team to implement them," D'Amore recalls. “Seeing the response each recipe got from my customers was such a satisfying feeling."
Connecting to customers is one of D'Amore's biggest drivers. “We're a real family business. You learn about our family when you dine with us and we love to hear about yours," she says. When their rent recently doubled, D'Amore's first priority was to her customers. She couldn't let them down with higher prices or worse yet, shutting down. D'Amore's business brain took over and she came up with a plan—add a catering division—which took off like a rocket. “We've been doing all the hottest events from Jessica Alba's Honest party to Seth Rogan's Hilarity for Charity event at the Hollywood Palladium," she says. In addition to that, she's releasing her own sauce line called Pizza Girl this summer. “It's a combination of my great grandmother's recipes and D'Amore's Pizza recipes—all have been locally sourced and are all organic."
Photo Courtesy of Caroline D'Amore
You'd think with the restaurant exploding into more divisions that one of D'Amore's projects would take a back seat. But no, she's still going full force as DJ. She recently opened for Diplo at Sundance, did a Today Show residency and played a party at Coachella. “It's all connecting because people in the crowd scream 'Pizza Girl!'—which I love!" she says. “I'm able to keep it all going by planning ahead and exercising time management."
And, rule one? No matter how busy D'amore gets, family always comes first. It's non-negotiable. “My daughter Isabella Viking Alt has traveled to many of my gigs. We make sure she doesn't feel left behind," D'Amore explains. “She's an amazing traveler and loves being at the restaurants just like I did as a kid." D'amore also doesn't have a nanny—something she knows is not possible for every working family— but, acknowledges that yes, sometimes her business suffers as a result—but those are sacrifices that are worth it.
With unwavering focus, D'Amore doesn't plan to slow down. She hopes to empower other entrepreneurs out there to stay the course and never give up. Her advice? Never act like you know everything.
Photo Courtesy of Caroline D'Amore
“It hurts you and your business," she explains. “Ask your employees questions and ask for their opinions. Empower them to feel ownership," she says. “When they love what they do and how they're treated—you'll see results. I like working with people that can teach me something that benefits the business. People willing to do more than just what's required to get the job done."
D'Amore says even with her family history, she never set out to be a restaurateur. It was a career path that found her. “I didn't have to make any crazy leaps, I just did what was organic in my life. I've always been being in the restaurant food industry—however, the cooking aspect took some time and education to get me to where I am now," she explains. “I've always loved feeding people—that's just the Italian woman in me."
That's not to say following that path has been easy. With any business comes rejection—and that's something that D'Amore is still learning how to handle. “I cry when I'm rejected because I'm always trying my absolute hardest so when I fail it hurts," she explains. “But then I snap out of it. Fail once, learn from it and do better next time and you will be fine. Continuing to fail means it's time to look at what you're doing and why. There's no reason to keep failing if you're trying your hardest and are studying your craft inside and out."
D'Amore knows she's where she's meant to be as she has no regrets! There's nothing she knows now that she wishes when she first opened up her own D'Amore's Pizza location. “I actually don't wish I knew what I know now when I first started in the restaurant world. If I did, I wouldn't have jumped in the way I did and who knows if I'd be here now?" she says. “But my advice is to love what you do. It's tough and if you don't really love what you're doing, it's a nightmare!"
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.