“I’m pretty simple,” says Briana DelBene, sole owner of Grid Iron Waffle Shop in South Orange, New Jersey. "I'm ambitious, caring, a little bit of the good crazy, and passionate."

In addition to working full-time at a pharmaceutical company and being a restaurant owner “24/7,” the 44-year-old loves spending time with family and enjoying concerts.

But her main job? Being a mom.

In honor of Women's History MonthSpoon University sat down with DelBene, who is proof that dedication, ambition, and not being afraid to take risks pays off.

Born in a small town in West Virginia, DelBene says she always wanted to own a café, but had never considered a full-service restaurant. After earning a degree in Supply Chain Management from Michigan State University, DelBene settled down in New Jersey and began working for a pharmaceutical company and raising her son. Although a full-service eatery was never on DelBene’s radar, she told Spoon University that she decided to take a chance after being presented with an opportunity to own The Grid.

After welcoming the opportunity that “just knocked on her door” with open arms, DelBene has learned two major things: one, failure is part of success, and two, Liege waffles are absolutely incredible (she admitted that she had never tried one prior to owning Grid Iron).

DelBene was hesitant to admit that she doesn’t cook at Grid Iron Waffle Shop – “I’m sure lots of owners reading this would judge me,” she joked – but the success of the Grid under her ownership is proof that a passion for food and a corporate career can intertwine. While she loves the team of chefs and staff at The Grid, and seeing people come in and enjoy their food, the pandemic and rising costs make owning a business difficult.

“Small stores like mine are really struggling to stay above water with the way costs have been increasing,” said DelBene. “Times are really tough right now.”

After struggling through – and surviving – the Covid-19 pandemic, DelBene’s biggest advice for future foodies and business owners may seem simple, but shouldn’t be understated: “If you are going to run with it, make sure your store is properly equipped in a building that is well-taken care of.”

Kennedy Dierks

Additionally, DelBene emphasizes the importance of talking to seasoned pros in the industry. “They can keep you well informed of the pros and cons of owning a restaurant…and there are a lot of both,” says DelBene. “You need to know all the facts before you invest your time and money into it."

DelBene recognizes one of the facts of being a restaurant owner: how challenging it can be to own a business, especially as a woman. Though DelBene specified that she herself has never encountered a situation where she specifically felt disadvantaged due to her gender, her selflessness is evident: “If anyone out there wants to go into the food industry, wants to learn how to run a business, et cetera, I am happy to let someone work with me and see how it’s done,” DelBene said.

“Anything I can do to help, I will.”

When it comes to help, DelBene is aware of associations that can assist female business owners with grants and funding; however, many of these associations require extensive certifications and fees to prove that you’re both the sole business owner, as well as a woman. Obtaining these certifications in order to get any financial assistance is just one more hurdle that makes getting a restaurant off the ground, and propelling it through a pandemic, even more difficult.

“It’s not enough to be a female and a business owner, you must fill out document after document, pay fees, and spend an extremely large amount of time to get accepted into these associations,” DelBene says. “I have to PROVE I am a woman – It’s a bit ridiculous if you ask me.”

Granted, DelBene has not let the challenge of owning a successful restaurant go unmet; her ultimate goal is for The Grid to be a familiar place to go, where customers are comfortable, safe, and can enjoy great food. And while DelBene may not consider herself an industry pro (yet), her passion speaks volumes when it comes to juggling a full-time career, owning a restaurant, and of course, being a mom.

Kennedy Dierks

For DelBene, being a mom to her teenaged son, owning The Grid, and having a full-time corporate career are what she loves. “People think I am nuts for owning a restaurant and having a career while being a single mom,” DelBene said. She sees it a bit differently, though: “I think I am ambitious and trying to set a great example for my son....you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

Considering her own life path, DelBene urges young women and college students to remember a few important things: “Money is not everything. Passion is everything. Ambition is everything. Doing something you love is everything.”

To put it simply: “It's not easy, but nothing worth having is easy,” says DelBene.

In honor of Women's History Month, Grid Iron Waffle Shop will be offering women a free coffee with the purchase of any Liege waffle⁠ – Briana’s favorite.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.