This month is all about giving thanks for everything…from friends and family that love us to food that nourishes us. Most importantly, it’s also a time to remember that there’s always a little more we can be doing to help others.
With this month’s “Plate it Forward” series, we wanted to shine a light on the altruistic restaurants and chefs throughout the country who aren’t content with just serving delicious food. They are also committed to giving back to their communities in extraordinary, unique ways.
This week we sat down with Michaela Mendelsohn, the CEO of Pollo West Corporation (one of the largest El Pollo Loco franchises in the western U.S.) to talk about the inclusive, groundbreaking work she’s done for the LGBTQIA+ community.
To say Michaela Mendelsohn is simply a restauranteur, would be a wild understatement. Managing and overseeing multiple El Pollo Locos — a fast-casual restaurant chain in California — might be an all-consuming job for some, but not for Michaela.
Michaela is an entrepreneurial transwoman, who had always acknowledged that a diverse, inclusive workplace is a successful one. About seven years ago, Michaela’s team hired their first transgender worker. “I realized how fortunate I was to have transitioned as my own boss,” Michaela said, but noted that after speaking with this employee, she realized how arduous a journey it could be for others. “I just knew I wanted to do more to help.”
After hiring more trans workers, Michaela noticed a remarkable change happening. “As each day went by, and they were interacting with customers as their true selves…we saw this relationship forming between the customers and our trans employees that was pretty magical.”
And the change didn’t stop there. Michaela noticed that trans employees who had gone from merely focusing on day to day survival, were now living more fulfilling lives. “We’d see some of them go back to school…some got married,” she said.
This metamorphosis was a story Michaela wanted to tell. She felt passionately about spreading this positivity to other businesses and helping the trans community with what had been historically, a very high unemployment rate. The non-profit Michaela founded, TransCanWork, now partners with businesses nationwide, training them on how they can incorporate more trans workers, and foster an atmosphere of inclusivity in the workplace.
And no, Michaela’s work doesn’t stop there. She was also recently appointed as the first transwoman to the board of The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under the age of 25. “It’s an amazing organization that’s basically saving lives every day. I went through a lot of bullying myself as a youngster…so I’m very passionate about that work,” she said.
Whether it’s running a large restaurant franchise or an empowering non-profit organization, Michaela Mendelsohn’s work is nothing short of inspiring.