By: Angela Hepler-Lee
Angela Hepler-Lee is a distinguished chef and restaurateur, renowned for her innovative approach to culinary arts and her impactful presence in the hospitality industry. Angela was born and raised in Michigan where she was instilled with the entrepreneurial spirit by her mother. After 25 years in Chicago’s competitive restaurant scene, she moved back to her home State of Michigan, carrying with her a hefty amount of real life restaurant experience. Now back in Michigan, she has transitioned seamlessly to the demanding catering business. Angela began her restaurant career at just 15, a testament to her resilience and dedication.
With over 25 years of experience, Angela made her mark in Chicago’s West Loop, owning and operating nearly a dozen acclaimed restaurants, including the celebrated Sushi Wabi. Known for her fusion of rustic comfort food and farm-to-table freshness, she earned the title “Queen of Randolph Street” and operated several Bib Gourmand-recognized establishments.
Transitioning to Michigan, Angela now channels her vast expertise as the Owner and Executive Chef of White Horse Farm Catering, where she blends her culinary finesse with her ancestral farming roots.. As mentor and mother, she balances her professional endeavors with homeschooling her children, embodying the essence of a modern, multifaceted entrepreneur.
Q&A with Angela Hepler-Lee
Angela, you’ve had an incredible journey from Chicago to Southwest Michigan, becoming a renowned chef and restaurateur. Could you tell us a bit about your early years?
Angela Hepler-Lee: I grew up in Michigan, moved to Chicago for college and 25 years later I moved back to Michigan. My childhood was shaped by my mother’s entrepreneurial spirit, which greatly influenced me. I started working in restaurants at 15 out of necessity, balancing work with studies at Grand Ledge High School and later at Michigan State University and Loyola University.
Your career in Chicago’s West Loop is legendary. What inspired you to open your first restaurant, Sushi Wabi, at 27?
Angela Hepler-Lee: My passion for food and entrepreneurship drove me to open my first of many restaurants, Sushi Wabi. My experiences in Chicago, combined with my Michigan farming roots, fueled my desire to create unique dining concepts. I wanted to offer approachable, rustic, and comfort-driven food, which led to the success of my restaurants like De Cero, HELLOTACOS!, and others.
Transitioning from Chicago to Michigan must have been a significant change. What prompted this move?
Angela Hepler-Lee: The move was indeed a huge transition, especially after building my career around my Chicago restaurants. Post-COVID, I decided to focus on my farm in Michigan, which led me to close or sell my Chicago establishments. This shift opened new opportunities for me, allowing me to blend my culinary skills with my love for local farm to table cooking.
You’ve been described as the “Queen of Randolph Street” by the Chicago Sun-Times and have owned Bib Gourmand restaurants. How do you define success in your field?
Angela Hepler-Lee: For me, success is about doing what you love. As the Principal and Executive Chef of White Horse Farm Catering, I’ve found joy in feeding people and creating “wow” experiences. Success is also about building a great team and fostering excellence in others.
Balancing being a mother and a full-time business owner must be challenging. How do you manage this?
Angela Hepler-Lee: It’s all about balance and focusing on everyday excellence. I homeschool my children while running my business, which requires a lot of planning and dedication. I believe in building positive interactions and influencing others positively, which helps in managing both roles effectively.
What role does personal well-being play in your professional success?
Angela Hepler-Lee: Personal well-being is fundamental. It starts with mental and emotional health. I practice meditation regularly, which clears mental blocks and brings clarity. Reading extensively in psychology, philosophy, and theology also contributes to my personal growth, which in turn impacts my business choices and success.
Finally, what advice would you give to young adults aspiring to enter the hospitality industry?
Angela Hepler-Lee: Find what you love and go for it. Mentorship is also key. I enjoy mentoring young adults in hospitality, sharing my experiences and guiding them. It’s important to visualize your goals, believe in their possibility, and work hard to achieve them. Remember, success is a journey, not a destination.
Passion Fueled Entrepreneurship: Angela’s journey highlights the importance of pursuing one’s passions. Her decision to open her first restaurant at 27 and her subsequent success in Chicago’s competitive culinary scene demonstrate how passion, combined with hard work and dedication, can lead to remarkable achievements. Her story serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry.
Embracing Change and New Opportunities: Angela’s transition from a successful career in Chicago to focusing on her farm and catering business in Michigan underscores the significance of embracing change. Her ability to adapt and find new opportunities in the face of challenges, particularly after COVID-19, illustrates resilience and the willingness to evolve for continued success.
Balancing Professional and Personal Life: Angela’s experience as a business owner and a mother highlights the delicate balance between professional ambitions and personal responsibilities. Her approach to homeschooling her children while managing a thriving catering business emphasizes the importance of time management, prioritization, and the pursuit of everyday excellence. This balance is crucial for anyone looking to succeed in both their career and personal life.