Take advantage of these tax credits

The tax credit landscape has become a bit complicated over the last year. Don’t miss out on every opportunity to claim credits you’re due.


ERTC, WOTC, FICA, the alphabet soup of tax credits can be confusing, especially when the rules for some, such as the ERTC, have changed over the past two years. Nonetheless, it’s worth verifying that you’re claiming all the credits you qualify to receive.


The Employee Retention Tax Credit can be applied retroactively and allows restaurant operators to lower their federal quarterly payroll tax bill.

The ERTC was originally intended to be a localized credit to apply in singular situations—for example, a tax credit to help you pay employees should a hurricane render your restaurant inoperable. It became a national tax credit option in 2020 for small businesses shut down by the pandemic.

For the 2021 ERTC, a business with 500 or fewer employees can claim up to $7,000 per employee per quarter for the first three quarters of the year. To qualify, the business must show a 20% or more decline in gross receipts for each quarter claimed or show it was subject to a government-ordered capacity restriction.

Funding for the ERTC in the fourth quarter was pulled back to help fund the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. So, note that you cannot apply for the ERTC for the fourth quarter of 2021 (Oct.-Dec.). The IRS has become severely backlogged in processing ERTC payouts (which will happen when a tax intended for localized applications goes national), but rest assured, qualified credits will all be paid eventually. (Note: If you received a Paycheck Protection Program loan and are applying for loan forgiveness, consult a tax professional to navigate how PPP loan forgiveness and ERTC work in the same year.) Read more on the ERTC .


The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a federal tax credit for hiring applicants from groups who face significant barriers to employment—including individuals unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.

With hiring needs at an all-time high, now is a great time to take advantage of this tax credit, which can help offset the cost of turnover and cover recruitment incentives, including hiring bonuses.

To qualify, a new hire must fit into one of the target groups identified by the U.S. Department of Labor, which includes long-term unemployment recipients, qualified veterans or justice-involved individuals, food-stamp recipients, summer youth hires and others. For a complete list, see here .

Restaurants can earn a maximum credit of $2,400 for each employee coming off long-term unemployment at the time of hire. Employers earn a credit equal to 25% of the employee’s wages if the staffer works at least 120 hours in the first year and 40% if the individual works at least 400 hours—up to the $2,400 cap, but some targeted categories offer an even larger credit. For more information, check out IRS Form 8850 .


The Federal Insurance Contributions Act is only available to businesses in the food and beverage industry who employ tipped servers. If your tipped employees made above the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour), you may be eligible for the FICA Tip Credit.

According to the IRS, this tax credit equals the amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes the employer paid on tips received by the tipped worker whether they were cash tips, charge-card tips cashed out at the end of the shift, or charge-card tips distributed through payroll.

To qualify to receive the FICA tax credit, employers have to ensure that their employees are making at least the federal minimum wage. If the state has a higher minimum wage, employees’ wages have to hit that minimum (total compensation includes wages, tips, meals, lodging, and service charges).

If your tipped employees made above federal minimum wage (or the state’s minimum wage, whichever is higher), you as an employer can claim the FICA tax credit on that portion of their wages.

The formula is:

Hours x (hourly rate + reported tips) = Weekly wages
Hours x federal wage rate = Wages paid at minimum wage
Weekly wages – (Wages paid at minimum wage x FICA 7.65%) = FICA Tax Credit
FICA Tax Credit x 52 Weeks = Total tax credit you can receive per employee

The form to claim FICA is IRS Form 8846.


Heartland provides entrepreneurs with software-driven technology to manage and grow their business. The company serves more than 400,000 merchants nationwide, delivering trusted solutions for payment, payroll and human resources, point of sale, customer engagement and lending. Heartland is a leading industry advocate of transparency, merchant rights and security. Heartland is a Global Payments Company (NYSE: GPN). Learn more at Heartland.

Finding Peace Through Travel – Rozeta Mahboubi – Women’s History Month

Rozeta Mahboubi, FRLA Broward Regional Director

Finding Peace and Life Through Travel

Throughout a life filled with change and progress, a steadfast love of travel always comforted and centered Rozeta Mahboubi, FRLA Regional Director for Broward. Originally from Iran, her family first came to the United States to find better medical care for her sister. While here, her parents continued to do what they always did – travel. They traveled around the U.S. to find where they would call home for a few years, but when the Iranian Revolution began, they knew they could not return and were in America to stay.

With a stop in Maryland, they later settled in Denver. “It had all 4 seasons and beautiful mountains. It was very similar to Tehran,” Rozeta says. They had found their home base. And while Colorado was home, they never stopped traveling. It was something Rozeta developed a passion for early in life. Whenever big decisions in life arose, Rozeta took to travel – to the skies and to boats (Did you know that she originally wanted to be a Cruise Ship director?). Immersing herself in travel and other cultures helped her find her way through the next big decision she had to make.

Her passion led her to study Hospitality Meeting & Travel Administration in college after switching from computer science. She wrote her thesis on cruise lines in her quest to become a Cruise Ship Director. After spending time on a ship in Norway running events and catering for charter cruises, she visited her parents who had then settled in San Diego and began working for the San Diego Princess Resort. While there, she met someone, fell in love, and ended up moving to Las Vegas, where she was surrounded by all of the great hotels and developers. She worked at The Luxor Hotel & Casino in sales and marketing for a period, but eventually took a job with a German Tour Operator who hired her to put together tour packages across North America for German-speaking travelers. As it turns out, Florida is an incredibly popular place for German travelers, and she wanted to learn all she could about the state, so she relocated here in the late 1990’s.

She spent time in Naples opening The Inn on Fifth and then settled in Southeast Florida, worked for the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Airport, followed by seven years as the Tourism Director leading the Hollywood Office of Tourism. During that time and under her administration, they opened the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and The Diplomat Resort & Spa. She loved her time in destination marketing and had amazing experiences like traveling with Governor Jeb Bush and Enterprise Florida to South America and Europe to promote tourism for the City of Hollywood.

When Rozeta felt she needed a change, you guessed it. She went traveling – this time to Thailand, Indonesia, and Europe – a very “Eat, Pray, Love” moment, she tells us. She wrote a lot during her travels, a prized possession being her journals which she hopes to turn into a book one day. She eventually settled back in South Florida, initially as the President/CEO of Martin County Convention & Visitors Bureau and ultimately consulting for various travel and tourism partners before she found her way to FRLA in 2019. She loves advocating on behalf of her members and bringing her diverse background across destination marketing, hospitality, and events to her work as Regional Director. She credits her happiness in her current role to the people she works with. Not long after joining FRLA, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and then her father passed away. With so much going on, she was comforted by the bond she shares with her members and board who helped her through such a tough loss.

Throughout her diverse career, she faced some challenges, feeling that she lost out on certain positions because she was female, but she used those experiences to improve and grow. Rozeta is thrilled to see more women GMs and in other leadership positions, something she think certainly deserves celebrating this Women’s History Month.

Her desire is to share her experiences and help inspire younger women in her community and in this industry. She wants to contribute to helping build future leaders and advises women coming up in hospitality to follow their strengths and passion and go for their dreams. “Don’t be afraid to break barriers,” says Rozeta. She sure wasn’t!

Closing Question: Is there a woman from history who you admire? Why?

“My grandmother. She was raised in very small town in Iran where religion and culture limited her capabilities, but in her own way, she broke the mold. Women weren’t supposed to do things in Iran like speak up or earn respect, but she was a strong woman – a true matriarch. Despite the rules and expectations, she was highly educated and self-taught, which was rare in a place where no schooling or reading was allowed. She would tell me, ‘I have read more books than the hairs on my head.’ She was always a student, reading about history, geography, politics, you name it. She had to hide her books and her writing journals and was placed into an arranged marriage at an early age. She had everything against her, but she overcame it, eventually raised her family, and has left us a legacy of strength and determination. Whenever I was faced with a decision, she would encourage me and say, ‘You decide your life. You find your path.’ She was a trailblazer for sure.”





Getting to Know Anna MacDiarmid – Women’s History Month

Anna MacDiarmid, General Manager, W Fort Lauderdale

Tell me a little bit about your background personally and professionally.

I have loved dedicating the last 35-plus years to the hospitality industry through the Starwood & Marriott brands. I began my career in my hometown at The Westin Winnipeg in Canada and later moved to Toronto to work at The Westin Toronto, a 1,000-plus room property, where I served as Director of Food and Beverages, Director of Operations, and ultimately General Manager.

From there, I joined W Hotels where I was General Manager at three New York Properties, including W Times Square and W Hoboken, where I managed the property through its opening and helped lead it to win Hotel of the Year two times. I also worked at the brand’s original W property – W New York.

Since coming to W Fort Lauderdale as General Manager in 2015, we have worked to re-establish this world-class property, and I am so proud of our accomplishments here! In my personal time, I get a great deal of fulfillment from volunteering for causes close to my heart like Covenant House and Children’s Miracle Network.

How did you get into hospitality? 

I started in the hotel industry at a very young age and absolutely loved the business. Every day is different and no matter what position I was in, I was able to make a positive impact on my team and my customers.

What qualities make a great female leader?

Humility and confidence. Being motivated and celebrating other women’s successes. Make sure to teach and mentor and also be true to yourself.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

Women’s History Month is an opportunity to remind us of the accomplishments of women throughout history to our culture and society. It’s a chance to reflect on the trailblazing women who lead the way for change.

Why is it important for more women to be recognized in leadership roles?

Having more female leaders changes the perceived conception about who can lead and what qualities are necessary in a leadership position.

What piece of advice would you give to women coming up in hospitality?

Be yourself. Never let anyone take your joy or passion away – both in business and your personal journey.

What professional, personal or community service driven accomplishments are you proud of?

While General Manager of W Fort Lauderdale in 2015, I oversaw a multi-year, $60 million renovation and our hotel has achieved numerous awards and recognition, including being named a Top 10 Best Hotel in Florida by U.S. News & World Report. I am honored to have been nominated for General Manager of the Year and love being active in my community. I was recently named a Smart Meetings’ 2021 Hall of Fame honoree after being recognized for their “Women Who Inspire Us” awards over multiple years. I think it’s important to remain active in your profession and community. I currently serve as Chair of the Fort Lauderdale Beach Business Improvement District (BID), Chair for my Chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), member of Marriott’s General Managers of Americas Committee (GMAC), and as the Chair of Marriott’s South Florida Business Council.

How did being a woman affect your professional path/path to leadership?

I feel that I was able to take on all challenges that were presented to me and never sat back. I always took the front row seat. I never focused too much on titles and levels but instead focused on my personal growth. It’s important to realize that there is no superwoman. We set such unrealistic bars for ourselves. Be kind to yourself. It’s fine that things aren’t perfect. Don’t try and have it all. Just do your best!

I feel that it is important to help young women in business. At each of my properties over the years, I have spearheaded Young Women in Leadership groups to help coach young female talent who are up and coming in our industry.

How do women positively impact Florida’s hospitality industry?

Women provide career opportunities for women from all walks of life. Their leadership and guidance help strengthen our up-and-coming young female leaders through their experiences and mentorship.

Why is it important for more women to be recognized in leadership roles?

Women leaders bring skills, different perspectives, and innovative ideas to the table, which help create new perspectives that lead to better decision-making as a whole for the business.


Getting to Know Keri Burns – Women’s History Month

Keri Burns, Central Florida FRLA Regional Director

Tell me a little bit about your background personally and professionally.

My professional background includes 15 years in non-profit association business where I worked with the International Society of Refractive Surgeons, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, and the Urban Land Institute. I also served as a brand ambassador and business development manager for YUM! Brands and most recently was the VP of Business Development for Ballantine Management group, where I consulted with hotels, convention centers, and special event venues on everything from food and beverage operations to show content development, as well as sales and marketing.

In my spare time, I am completing a Doctorate degree in Community Care & Counseling with a focus on the sandwich generation, and, along with two of my gal pals, I started a 501©(3) organization called LILAC (Ladies In Leadership And Community) supporting causes related to women and dedicated to creating a positive impact on the community. My husband and I have three remarkable children and three amazing rescue pups. We like to travel and enjoy going to concerts.

How did you get into hospitality? 

I got into hospitality because I needed a summer job to help pay for college and worked for RTM, Inc., a major franchise owner in the quick service market which led to other restaurant leadership roles. As my career expanded, I took a role in business development for an allied member company that supported hotels and event venues nationwide.

How did being a woman affect your professional path/path to leadership?

As a woman, I find relationship building to be my strongest asset. My ability to nurture and protect clients and customers has served me well. Knowing how to be a strong presence without being intimidating while also prioritizing the growth and development of my teams has also contributed to my success. I’ve also made choices that benefit my family whether with my time or resources, which means sometimes saying no to specific opportunities.

What qualities make a great female leader?     

Compassion, inspiration, thoughtful and mindful speech are all important attributes for a female leader. It’s also important to encourage those around you and lift others up as much as you can. You never know who you influence through your words.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

It’s a time to truly celebrate where we are today and reflect on those who helped pave the road forward. Its also a perfect time to think about the roads we can pave for future generations and to never take for granted those who came before us.

Why is it important for more women to be recognized in leadership roles?

Having female leaders in positions of influence who serve as role models is not only vital to the career advancement of women, but it also stands to generate broader societal impacts on pay equity, changing workplace policies in ways that benefit both men and women, and attracting a more diverse workforce.

What piece of advice would you give to women coming up in hospitality?

Embrace your strengths and never underestimate your abilities. As women, we can be critical of ourselves while we should be elevating one another.

What professional, personal or community service driven accomplishments are you proud of?

Professionally, I’m proud of how FRLA impacted the industry during COVID and how we continue to work together to support the community in such a meaningful way.  Through our legislative, educational, and community involvement, we truly helped our partners and members. I am also extremely proud of LILAC, which celebrates women and women’s causes throughout Central Florida. Inspiring leadership, philanthropy, and professional development is the mission of LILAC and we work hard (and have a lot of fun) making a difference.

Is there a woman from history who you admire? Why?

Catherine Hershey has always been someone I admired. While Milton Hershey built an empire, Catherine taught him to care for others and his community. She was the force behind the Milton Hershey School which started as a home for orphaned children. Her love for children provided a safe haven for families who struggled to support their children and through her selfless dedication to children, provided free childcare services through MHS and was the driving force behind so many programs and services for at risk youth.



In the Kitchen with Chef Lindsay Autry – Women’s History Month

Chef/Owner Lindsay Autry, The Regional


Photo credit is Alissa Dragun Photography

Tell me a little bit about your background personally and professionally.

I am originally from Fayetteville, NC and grew up surrounded by food. My family had a peach orchard where we spent our summers selling peaches and homemade ice cream at a roadside stand. I started participating in cooking competitions through 4-H when I was a child and really fell in love with cooking. While attending Johnson & Wales University in Charleston and Miami, I worked in a variety of restaurants and hotels to gain experience.

How did being a woman affect your professional path/path to leadership?

I was fortunate to work under Chef Michelle Bernstein for many years early on in my career. Even though I worked for a female chef, most of the time, we were the only two women in the kitchen. As women in a kitchen, we have to establish ourselves just as anyone else. Being efficient and valuable keeps you moving in the right direction.

How do women positively impact Florida’s hospitality industry?

There are many women in the hospitality industry here in South Florida, and I am so glad to see more up and coming from the next generation. There are many more women-owned operations today than even 10 years ago. I find it refreshing as I think women bring a different approach to hospitality. Not better, but different.

What qualities make a great female leader?          

A great leader, female or male, is often characterized by empathy, passion, and the ability to motivate others to reach a common goal.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

Women’s History Month is a celebration of all of the women that have paved the way for our generation and to recognize the ones that are making impacts in their respective communities currently.

Is there a woman from history who you admire? Why?

There are so many to choose from! For me, on a more micro level, I would say both of my grandmothers. They both were the first women in their families to hold a profession outside of the household and were tremendous role models for me.

Why is it important for more women to be recognized in leadership roles?

It is important that we support each other as women to recognize that the glass ceiling isn’t as durable as it used to be.

What piece of advice would you give to women coming up in hospitality?

To make yourself valuable within your current role, and strive to be the best in what you do. Treat others kindly, as kindness gets you much further than expected because it makes you pleasant to work with. Everyone loves that!

What professional, personal or community service driven accomplishments are you proud of?

I am most proud of the relationships and mentoring that I have had the honor of contributing to the next generation of chefs. It is often a scary feeling to lose a valuable employee, but it gives me a “full circle” feeling to see my former staff go on and become executive chefs or general managers and successful in their path.



Barbara Bowden – A Heart for Hospitality and Helping Others Along the Way – Women’s History Month

Barbara Bowden, Area Managing Director for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando

Tell me a little bit about your background personally and professionally.
Originally from St Louis, Missouri, I have loved being part of our Central Florida Hospitality Community for 38 years. I am currently serving as Area Managing Director for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando, overseeing the operation of the destination’s premier and preferred hotels, including Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Prior to my current position, I was recruited to a front desk position at The Peabody Orlando in 1986, where I served in various roles for 27 years, ultimately as VP/GM. I am passionate about our industry and the organizations that support it. In addition to FRLA, I serve on several community industry boards including Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, Visit Orlando and UCF Rosen College.

One of the best rewards of my career was meeting my husband David when we worked together at The Buena Vista Palace 38 years ago. He is the love of my life and true partner. We have always worked together to balance family and career. We have two married children who are both living in Orlando-along with our first grandbaby-and we are so incredibly grateful to have our family close. We also have a new addition to the family: our 5-month-old Golden Retriever-Sophie.

How did being a woman affect your professional path/path to leadership?
I am fortunate that I have always worked for organizations that value inclusiveness. I have worked for organizations where I have had incredible support and mentors, both male and female. There have been times in my career, I have felt like I had to work harder than my male counterparts-particularly as a young working mother. However, I have also learned that hard work, passion and commitment does lead to success-male or female-so I am grateful for the journey I had. Overall, any challenges placed before me created a greater resolve to pave the way for others.

How did you get into hospitality?
I always dreamed of having a career in the hospitality industry. My first job in high school was at Six Flags St. Louis, where I learned the core value of the term ‘hospitality.’ I went on to study hospitality and business at Missouri State University. My freshman year I was recruited by Walt Disney World to participate in, what was called at the time, the ‘Magic Kingdom College Program.’ I spent the summer in Orlando-and fell in love with the hospitality community here. I saw terrific opportunity for a career path, and upon graduation, I immediately returned to Orlando to begin the journey.

How do women positively impact Florida’s hospitality industry?
In my experience, diverse teams are the most effective teams. Additionally, studies show that women make the majority of all travel decisions-some studies indicating up to 85%. So, it certainly benefits an organization to have women involved in decisions impacting travel and hospitality.

What qualities make a great female leader?
The same qualities of any great leader: Vision, Strategic thinking, interpersonal communication, empathy, creativity, and trustworthiness.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Many women throughout history have paved the way for those of us in leadership roles today. More importantly, though, it is critical to continue forging forward so those coming in behind us can rise to even greater achievement.

Is there a woman from history or your life who you admire? Why?
My mother, Shirley Ducey. I was raised by a single working mother who valued hard work, integrity, resolve and never let her four daughters believe in limitations. She taught us that we could do anything we put our hearts into if we worked hard. She was a servant leader and directed a large non-profit organization, impacting thousands of lives over 3 decades. From her, I learned the values of passion and commitment.

Why is it important for more women to be recognized in leadership roles?
It is important to tell the stories of women leaders to inspire other women and encourage them to use their talents to their fullest potential. These stories illuminate what is possible for any aspiring woman seeking a leadership role.

What piece of advice would you give to women coming up in hospitality?
Love what you do, trust who you are, surround yourself with a strong, inspiring network and help others along the way. The hospitality industry holds countless opportunities for those women entering this field that have the desire to succeed.


Jodi Cross – Marketing and Mentoring in Florida – Women’s History Month

Jodi Cross, Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast Regional Director

Marketing and Mentoring in Florida

Jodi Cross has spent the majority of her career in the hospitality industry. Before joining FRLA as Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast Regional Director in 2017, she was the Corporate Director of Marketing for Sonesta Hotels World-Wide for over a decade. Prior to that role, she was Director of Marketing for Doral Resort and PGA National Resort.

Going further back, Jodi hails from Rochester, New York. She came to Florida first for college in Miami where she studied hospitality management and decided to stay. When she entered the world of hospitality, she joined a very male-dominated atmosphere and served as one of only two women on an executive committee. It felt, at times, that she had to work harder than others, but she prided herself on doing a good job, being creative, and always towing the line with anyone else – man or woman.

In addition to her extensive background in strategic marketing, Jodi had the honor of serving for 10 years as Executive Director for The Commonwealth Institute – a female CEO mentoring non-profit whose mission is to propel women leaders in South Florida to achieve professional and personal success. In that role, she met incredible women colleagues, as well as learned from trailblazers like Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. She appreciated those experiences and felt that it was important to pass those lessons on. Jodi believes that it is important for more women to be recognized in leadership roles because they are role models that help bootstrap other women as they rise in the ranks. “If they see someone else succeeding, it will inspire them, said Cross.

According to Jodi “Women have a natural gift of hospitality through their attention to detail and sincere desire to make people feel welcome and appreciated.” Female leaders should be genuine. “Be kind, approachable, and relatable, but be candid.” She believes in not sweating the small stuff because it can distract from the larger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. And she has wise words for women coming up in hospitality: “Stay true to your values. Speak up for yourself and don’t let your voice be silenced.”

Women’s History Month is an opportunity to raise women up – women from all different backgrounds and levels of skills and experience. She loves to see the diversity of women being celebrated. “Despite any differences, we all share common ground.   Whether in the struggle of coming up as a woman in the business or just respecting our journey,” states Cross.

Closing Question: Is there a woman from history or your past who you admire and why?

”Without a doubt, Lois Silverman, founder of The Commonwealth Institute. She has an incredible story. She was orphaned as a young child after the death of her parents and was eventually able to receive a scholarship through her orphanage to go to nursing school. From there, she started a home health care business in Boston and eventually became the first woman to take her business public in the State of Massachusetts. She later sold her business and has an extensive history in philanthropy and her work on numerous boards where she is still trailblazing a path for others. As my boss and mentor at the TCI, I learned so much from her passion and her drive and I take her counsel with me each day I serve in Florida’s hospitality industry.”






Lois Croft – Taking Risks and Never Giving Up – Women’s History Month

Lois Croft, FRLA Southwest Florida Regional Director


Lois Croft, FRLA Southwest Florida Regional Director, always knew she wanted to move some place warm. Growing up in Minnesota with harsh winters will do that to you, she says. Lois was raised with 15 brothers and sisters on a farm in a small town in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. While she respects the work required on a family farm, she knew she wanted something different in her life.

To make that happen, Lois worked hard, was resourceful, and became the first of her siblings to attend college. Through a scholarship and getting a job in the intramural department of St. Cloud State University, she developed a love for coaching. She then spent 23 years working for school districts in the Community Education Department and coaching volleyball, basketball, and track.

When a Recession hit in 2010, and with temperatures getting colder, she longed for the Sunshine and a new start, so she sold everything she owned and moved with her son to Florida. Across South Florida, she got very involved with events, helping with restaurant openings, charity fundraisers, and more. Eventually she found her way to RCS, a subsidiary of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) and the leading provider for risk management and regulatory compliance training programs to Florida’s hospitality industry. Training was a great fit for someone with 23 years of teaching and an educational background, and she found she really loved the work. Eventually, she changed positions, though, taking on new challenges and opportunities as FRLA Regional Director for Palm Beach County and now as FRLA Southwest Florida Regional Director, where she is been since 2014.

Lois loves serving her members across Charlotte, Lee, and Collier Counties where she organizes fundraisers and events to support local hospitality high schools and colleges along with advocacy work for her members.

When asked how women positively impact Florida’s hospitality industry, Lois noted how nice it is to have a rich diverseness in business to ensure different perspectives are not just represented but respected as well. She is encouraged to see more female leaders and owners/operators across hotels, restaurants, and suppliers.

It’s no surprise that qualities she values include being a self-starter, a go-getter, fearless, and ambitious considering the risks she took to relocate. Selling everything and moving 1,500 miles a way to start over in a new place and a new industry takes guts and someone who isn’t afraid of taking chances.

Lois believes that Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to showcase so many excellent women who have succeeded in their various paths, and she feels that it is important for that recognition to continue. Recognizing women in leadership roles, for instance, is critical because so many women have worked hard to achieve and progress. Ensuring that they are compensated and respected helps result in our collective representations and equality.

To continue that legacy on, women must also support each other. When asked what advice she would give to women coming up in hospitality, without missing a beat, she declared, “Stay true to yourself. Whatever your goals and ambitions are – go for them. Don’t feel that you can’t achieve whatever you want. If you work hard and take risks, you can make it happen.”

Closing Question: Is there a woman from history or your past that you admire and why?

“My mom. As a full time, mom and farmer, she basically ran a company without ever receiving a paycheck. She raised 16 kids, managed the finances for the home and farm businesses, cooked, cleaned, made sure we did all of our chores, and more. Despite all of her work, she still made time for life and fun too. My mom and dad played in an old-time band with polka and waltz type music. They played at most of the weddings and other celebrations around town. She taught me to follow my dreams and see my efforts through – to never give up. And I haven’t yet!”



Fifth Generation Restaurateur – Andrea Gonzmart – Women’s History Month

Andrea Gonzmart, 5th Generation Owner/Operator, Columbia Restaurant Group

Five Generations of Excellence in Restaurants

Please share a little bit about your background personally and professionally. 

I was blessed to be born into the hospitality industry. I began working in my family’s restaurants when I was 10 years old, and I continued working there every summer until I graduated from the University of South Florida. I joined the company full-time in 2001.

I was the first woman to work in the kitchen at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, learning all facets of the back of the house, from the dishwasher to the grill. I went on to be an assistant manager at our Columbia Restaurants in Sand Key, St. Petersburg, and Celebration. Then, I transitioned to our corporate offices in 2004 where I was able to work alongside my father, Richard, and learn another angle of our family business.

How did being a woman affect your professional path/path to leadership?

When I began my career in the restaurant industry at the age of 22, there were very few women in my company. I was fortunate to work underneath many wonderful people, including my father, that believed in me and guided me along the way. They have taught me to be confident in my decisions and compassionate with our employees. Every day there is something new to learn, and I am always excited to find out what it is!

How do women positively impact Florida’s hospitality industry?

In a once male-dominated industry, women have been able to push innovation and create experiences aimed at a broader and more inclusive audience.

What qualities make a great female leader?     

Confidence, compassion, commitment, determination

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

It is important to take time to honor those who paved the way so that we can set new goals to achieve.

Is there a woman from history who you admire? Why?

The woman I admire the most from MY history would be my grandmother, Adela Hernandez Gonzmart, who is the third generation of our family’s company. She was truly a pioneer for women in the restaurant industry, so much so that she was named to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018. She loved our restaurants as though they were her second home and loved our employees as if they were all her family. I strive to be like her every day of my life.

Why is it important for more women to be recognized in leadership roles?

It inspires our next generation of young female leaders and recognizes those who set positive examples. Women who see leaders who look, act, and experience life like them in the industry make them feel included. It reinforces positive views of their gender and what they can achieve in the restaurant industry.

What piece of advice would you give to women coming up in hospitality?

Always have confidence in your decisions and trust your intuitions. It is also important to have compassion with your fellow employees; compassion is not a weakness, it is a quality of a strong leader.

What professional, personal or community service driven accomplishments are you proud of? 

In the fast-paced restaurant industry, it is important to find balance. I am proud of the work I do every day for our 14 restaurants, but I am also even more proud of being a mom to my 12-year-old daughter, Amelia, who represents the 6th generation of our family business. I also think it is important to be involved in my community and give back through involvement in local boards, like the Florida Aquarium Board of Directors, Humane Society of Tampa Bay Advisory Council, University of South Florida Foundation Board of Directors, and the FRLA Board of Directors of Hillsborough County.


Nicole Chapman, FRLA Northeast Florida Regional Director and Florida Inns Director


Nicole Chapman has always known she wanted to work in events and hospitality. She majored in Tourism and Event Management at the University of Florida and has been in the industry ever since. She interned with the City of Jacksonville Beach, planning their summer events and was hooked. As she thought about her future, she loved engaging with others, public relations, and planning events. Sounds like the perfect fit for our industry!

Nicole worked first with her local Hotel Association and helped lead their merger with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) and became Regional Director for the Northeast Florida Chapter. Since taking on that role, she has also created the Florida Inns Chapter by merging Florida Bed & Breakfast Inns and the Superior Small Lodging Associations into FRLA to create the first statewide special interest chapter that represents small independent lodging business who have under 50 rooms.

As a young woman joining a male-heavy industry, she notes that confidence in her abilities and hard work were both key to her success. “You can’t be intimidated,” she says. She credits many professional leaders – both male and female – who believed in her, saw her talent, and helped her to grow.

She works tirelessly to promote her local FRLA members and connect them with the latest news, resources, and updates to keep their businesses thriving. COVID shuttered so many businesses in Florida – and across the nation – and Nicole was determined to advocate for Northeast Florida businesses.

Becoming a mother helped her to see her work from another important perspective – her children. Women in the workforce often struggle with the appropriate balance between family, work, and self. The hours in hospitality not being the typical 9-5 job can present significant challenges. Nicole shares a saying she once heard that is her daily motto: “There are days you will be an amazing employee, an amazing mother, and an amazing wife, but you won’t be all three in one day.” This helps her to show grace to herself as she continues to push hard to do her very best. On being a female leader in hospitality, she says, “You have to take initiative, own projects, have that entrepreneurial spirit. You have to push hard, and you have to really want it.”

Her goal is to show other women that it can be done. Hospitality is the top industry in Florida – responsible for so much economic health for the state and millions of jobs. And while she loves her work, she tells us, “At the end of the day, I want to show my daughter and future generations that there is opportunity out there if you work hard. You can have a successful job and be a mother and make a difference in the community.”

CLOSING QUESTION: What piece of advice would you give to women coming up in hospitality?

“Do your job and do it well. Apply your values to your work life as well. There is room for all of us at the table, and if you work hard and do the right thing, good things will come.”