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The Women You Need to Know

We decided to follow up on our Feminine Gastrique piece with interviews with some of the DC restaurant industry's most important behind-the-scenes women. (National Women's Month is the perfect excuse for us to visit some great restaurants.)

Have you heard of Mike Isabella? Bryan Voltaggio? We're guessing yes and yes. What about Hilda Staples? Well she co-owns Graffiato with Mike, and Range, Volt, Family Meal, and the forthcoming Lunchbox with Bryan. Not to mention managing the restaurants' books, administrative, and back-end operations. After a lengthy professional career that took her from lobbying on the Hill to working for an energy company in Baltimore, Hilda switched gears to raising her new twin babies. After moving to Frederick, MD with her husband and kids, Hilda was ready to be out among grown ups again. But the idea of commuting to DC or Baltimore from Frederick did not appeal, so instead she decided to open up a bar in her new hometown. 

One of the first obstacles Hilda came up against was the rule in Frederick County that requires all establishments that have liquor licenses to also serve a full food menu. Hilda isn't a chef, and knew she had to partner with one to make her dream happen. After learning that Bryan Voltaggio still lived near his hometown of Frederick, Md., she cold-called him. For six months. And her persistence paid off. Together, the two have opened a slew of extremely successful restaurants and are still going. Hilda's advice for aspiring restaurateurs: It takes a lot of energy and initiative to get anything off the ground. But if you're truly excited about what you're doing, you'll find a way to make it work.

Over on Capitol Hill, two women work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep an institution afloat. Called "Congress' power restaurant," Tortilla Coast is known for more than just its killer chips and salsa and great happy hour--it has also been the site of many a clandestine meeting of our very own lawmakers. You may recall Senator Ted Cruz's infamous late-night strategy meetings during the recent government shutdown. That's right, it all went down in the underground banquet room at Tortilla Coast. Kitchen manager Mirta Gutierrez and her assistant kitchen manager Silvia Zelaya have seen it all.

Both women began their careers in the restaurant industry as dishwashers, barely 20 years old. Mirta moved here from Argentina 14 years ago, and worked her way up through a number of different restaurants before joining Tortilla Coast. Silvia, on the other hand, has been with Tortilla Coast for all 24 years of her career. In fact, she was around during Congressman Paul Ryan's brief tenure as a server at the restaurant. Back then, she called him "Pablito." Pablito hasn't been back to visit since she started seeing him on TV, but she's sure he would still remember her.