Amanda West arrived in Berkeley just two years ago, but already she has become firmly embedded in the fabric of the city. And her achievements and positive impact have just been recognized with the designation “Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in Berkeley”, awarded by the Bay Area nonprofit Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment.
West opened Amanda’s Feel Good Fresh Food at 2122 Shattuck in the summer of 2008. The restaurant is devoted to making fast food as healthy as possible.
West worked in tech for many years but, she says, she always knew she wanted to run a business with a “social and environmental mission”. She chose food, she says, not because she sees herself as a “gourmet”, but precisely because food is so basic. “I wanted to explore the type of food that is approachable for everyone — comfort food that is economical,” she says. West points out that hamburgers are still go-to the meal of choice for many Americans — she recognizes this and simply wants them to be fresher, healthier more sustainable hamburgers.
The Entrepreneur award recognizes women business owners in the Bay Area who have been successful despite what Women’s Initiative sees as the barriers that exist for women business owners. The group looks for people who exemplify how business ownership and leadership is beneficial for women, have a positive impact on the local community or the community at large and advance their business through innovation.
Community is part and parcel of West’s business strategy. “Everything in our business is based on creating a healthy community,” she says. “For every decision we take we do extensive analysis not only on the impact on our bottom line, but also the impact on the community.”
West — who is on the board of the Downtown Berkeley Association, on the executive committee of Buy Local Berkeley and also sits on the advisory board of the Buy Fresh Buy Local initiative — says Berkeley is an exception in having a significant number of senior women in the food business. “There are not a lot of women in high positions in the restaurant world generally,” she says. “It’s a hard industry.”
West’s path to having her own, eponymous restaurant included a stint as an intern at Niman Ranch whose clients included many of the Bay Area’s most blue-chip eating establishments. But she knew she wanted to concentrate on the less glamorous end of the business. “Fast food is there for a reason — it’s economical and easy. I want to make it healthful too.” That means offering house-made sodas and sourcing meat responsibly. These days, she says, groups from Chick fil-A and Jamba Juice come by to learn from Amanda’s how to be sustainable.
A total of 587 women throughout the Bay Area were nominated for the Entrepreneur award and nearly 50 women in five geographic categories were honored. West took the prize for Berkeley. Visit the Women’s Initiative website for more information about the awards and a complete list of winners.