By Samantha Lande, BCB Editorial Director
Welcome to Wonder Woman Wednesday, a weekly feature that will attempt to tackle the question we are frequently asked— “how do moms really do it all?” Each week we will feature an amazing mom with extraordinary abilities. From founders of some of the most successful companies to philanthropists who are changing the world, these women are true heroines. To thank them for lifting the cape on some of their super powers, we will make a donation to the charity of their choice.
NAME: Jennifer Bell
KIDS: Gus, 6; Roxie (Fur Baby), 9
OCCUPATION: Associate Partner and Executive Director of Marketing for Lettuce Entertain You
WHERE DO YOU LIVE: Evanston, IL
FAVORITE CHARITY: Misericordia
It’d be hard to live in (or even visit) Chicago without knowing Lettuce Entertain You, one of Chicago’s largest hospitality groups that features a multitude of dining choices from kid-friendly locales to trendy date-night hot spots. (Editor’s note: many of which are BCB favorites!). The restaurant group – with locations in a handful of other cities as well – can owe much of its recognition to this mama, Jennifer Bell. Jen has been with the company 17 years and has made a major impact in everything from public relations to web development, and very recently fulfilled her dream of becoming a partner in the organization. She tells us about the inspirational women in her life, her amazing cast of characters and how she gets it all done.
What is your backstory?
I love food! Everything about food brings me joy. Whether it is gardening, cooking or eating, I enjoy learning as much as I can about food. That led me to my first job-serving orange juice at a local breakfast restaurant at age 14. I then became a hostess; cashier, server and I even worked the meat grill! I was hooked on the restaurant industry. I went to college and received a degree in Mass Communications. After school, I moved back to the Chicago area and started working as a server at Maggiano’s in 1997. I then took a job as the assistant to the Vice President of Marketing at Lettuce Entertain You in 1999. I have had several positions over the years. I moved quickly into PR and then led the PR department. Then in 2008, I created our first Web Development team. Today I lead the teams responsible for public relations, partnerships, promotions, web development, graphic design, marketing technology, email marketing, data analysis, SMS/mobile marketing, social media, Frequent Diner Club, crisis communication and digital marketing. Now my passion and joy come from watching my team grow and developing new leaders within the organization. Most importantly, when I became a mom I became a better employee. I was more focused, driven and determined. I was also less emotional at work. I saved my emotions for my sweet baby at home. I am good at seeing opportunities and solving problems. I am also good at speaking up!! Those are the qualities that got me where I am today.
Tell us about your typical weekday…
Wake up 6am – TRY to work out, shower, get ready, Mark (my husband) gets Gus going and I try to pitch in, and one of us will take him to school or camp. I arrive at work between 8-8:30am. Then I am focused on work and take care of my team. Come home between 6-6:30pm, have dinner (husband cooks), family time, give Gus a shower and put him to bed, look at work email and finish what I can. Then off to bed I go and I am usually out as soon as my head hits the pillow.
Tell us about a “save the day moment”…
Becoming a Lettuce Associate Partner. When I started 17 years ago it was my dream. It was what I was working towards and now it is a reality. I have so many plans for our future and I am honored to be part of this terrific group of people. I could not have accomplished this without the support of my family and team at work. It really does take a village!
Who is your Wonder Woman?
- My Mom. I am the youngest of 6 and she also worked. She raised us all to be confident, work hard and independent. I think I get my energy and strength from her. If I ever go down the “this is hard” road, I think about her and how she managed to do it and I push through it! She is one tough cookie! She is 83 and does not take a single pill. She is amazing.
- Sara Rowe. Sara was a Managing Partner for Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago. She passed away from cancer in 2011. She was my role model as I was growing and developing at Lettuce. She was that one female who I went to for advice and she freely gave it to me and always told me the truth. She was an amazing mother of two beautiful boys. I miss her and think of her all the time. In fact, I have her picture on my bulletin board in my office. Looking at her gives me strength.
- My Mother-In-Law, this one might be unexpected but it is true. She is an incredible woman. She raised my husband to be independent, to take care of himself, to be intelligent and she made sure he knew how to be a true gentleman. I am so lucky to have found such a wonderful guy and I thank her for that. Plus she is just an interesting person. She reads more than anyone I know and I enjoy our conversations.
What is your super power?
My superpower is learning how to use technology to help me be more efficient in my personal life and professional life. I created a digital department at Lettuce and I have the ability to figure out how to use technology to make us better at serving our guests. I do the same at home. You will rarely see me in a shopping mall. I do almost all my shopping online. When Gus was a baby I ordered everything from diapers to groceries online. It saved me time and that meant more time with him. I have learned to use technology to simplify my life and I embrace it.
If you could have a secret identity what would it be and what would you use it for?
To freeze time. Oh, the thought of a couple more hours in my day that I would get when everything else stood still. Oh the places I would go, the things I could do!!!
What is your arch nemesis?
That’s easy, it’s me! We have all heard the phrase “you are your own worst enemy,” and I am. I have this dream of how I should be in my head and I have finally realized that it is not possible. I get a huge dose of mommy guilt every now and then. I am so hard on myself when things do not go the way I planned. I’m learning to let go and I’m getting better each day, but I am very critical of myself. Bottom line, I make a lot of mistakes, however it is how I respond to those mistakes that is important. I am learning to recognize and to get out of my own way. Awareness is the first step!
Who is your Sidekick/Partner in Crime?
This is the easiest question yet, that is my husband Mark. He is the smartest guy I know. He is dedicated to his job and his family. I do not think our family would work if he did not contribute as much as he does. He is my partner and together we are always stronger. I am grateful everyday for a husband like him. Plus, he is handsome too!
What would you consider your theme song?
I think it would have to be Respect from Aretha Franklin. I think that should be everyone’s theme song. It is my thing – Sock it to me!
Which Superhero do you most identify with and why?
I was obsessed with Wonder Woman as a child. My sister and I would jump off the back of our couch in our family room just like she would. She flew an invisible jet and had a lasso that would force you to tell the truth! Two things I would very much like to have today. Plus she tackled bad guys and looked fabulous while doing it. She was a great superhero for a little girl to look up to.
Who is your supporting cast of characters that helps you to achieve Wonder Woman status?
Mark Bell – Husband and Executive Producer of our household.
Friends and Family – Directors– They’re willing to pitch in for us when we need something or are there to laugh with us and keep me grounded. They are there to tell me when I am off base and love me enough to be honest with me.
Lettuce Marketing Team – Cast of Characters – They are the best! They keep me laughing and smiling everyday. I have so much respect for their time and dedication to our company and for how hard they work. I care so much about their growth and development and intern they take great care of me. I love watching the new leaders emerge and I want to be there to support them.
PJ23 Mom friends from Gus’s school – Lead Supporting Actresses – When Gus started Kindergarten I did not anticipate how many friends I would make! They are always there for support, friendship and ability to lend a helping hand when needed.
How do you protect (and give back to) your community?
I think the best way that I can give back is by teaching my son how to be a great human being. Mark and I are committed to raising Gus to help others, have a conscience, admit when he is wrong or makes a mistake, to be considerate to all people, be a good friend, be honest and to not feel a sense of entitlement. I want him to work hard and earn his way. I want him to be like his dad.
To thank Jen for her time we will make a donation to Misericordia.