Flourishing in Food Speaker Series: Women Innovators in the Food Industry

The “Flourishing in Food” Speaker Series helps GW student entrepreneurs look for newer and better solutions to help the food industry grow.

Flourishing in Food Speaker Series: Women Innovators in the Food Industry

Overview of the "Flourishing in Food" Speaker Series

The food and beverage industry is expansive. It encompasses a wide variety of unique operations from manufacturing to catering to health innovation and more. And nowadays, there are newer food innovations being discovered and introduced by younger generations. The “Flourishing in Food” Speaker Series is an event series designed to help student entrepreneurs looking to break into the food and beverage industry build their businesses and to inspire them to continue to look for newer and better solutions to help the food and beverage industry grow.

About this Session

The number of women in business has been steadily rising over the past twenty years. In fact, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners, there are roughly 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the US. And in the restaurant industry - women are starting to make their stride. Women have an ownership role in half of the country’s restaurants and 46% are in management positions, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And now more than ever, women are beginning to make their mark as chefs, restaurant owners, creators and food innovators across the country.

As part of the new "Flourishing in Food "Speaker Series, this panel will dive deeper into the stories of 3 GW alumna and successful food entrepreneurs and their experiences in the food and beverage industry. Our panelists include Dominique Tolbert (GWSB MBA '21), Chief Spice Officer and Founder of Mesean SpicesAyeshah Abuelhiga (ESIA BA '07), Founder and CEO of Mason Dixie Foods, and Amy Trout Hughes (GWSB MBA '12), Co-Owner and Managing Partner of MarshmallowMBA.

About the Panelists


Dominique Tolbert

Dominique Tolbert (GWSB MBA '21), Chief Spice Officer and Founder of Mesean Spices

Dominique Tolbert, Chief Spice Officer & Founder of Mesean Spices, is a first generation American, with family from Liberia, West Africa. She holds a degree in Hotel & Tourism Management from NYU ('15) and an MBA from George Washington University ('21). Dominique's background is largely in restaurant management, culinary arts, & entrepreneurship, working with clients in both domestic and international markets through companies such as MGM Resorts International, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, and TLBRT Hospitality, the company that started her entrepreneurial journey. Mesean Spices is Dominique’s brainchild, allowing you to create community through food & culture, while utilizing a collection of uniquely crafted spice blends.


Ayeshah Abuelhiga

Ayeshah Abuelhiga (ESIA BA '07), Founder and CEO of Mason Dixie Foods

Ayeshah Abuelhiga is the Founder & CEO of Mason Dixie Foods. A graduate of George Washington University, she has always worked hard to be #1: 4.0 GPA, class president, varsity track and field team captain, editor of the paper, Ayeshah continues to strive to be the best she can be. Prior to founding Mason Dixie, she held executive positions at Fortune 500 companies including Toshiba and Audi and consulted at Microsoft, where she learned about leadership and acquired the skills to run a successful business.

Growing up in the kitchen of her parents’ soul food carryout restaurant in Baltimore made Ayeshah passionate about Southern Cuisine. Years later, Ayeshah craved one of her childhood comfort foods-- biscuits--but she could only find heavily processed versions made using artificial ingredients. She knew she could offer better quality comfort food. So, at age 28, Ayeshah opened a biscuit-centric restaurant and pop-up series in Washington D.C. that immediately found a growing and devoted biscuit-loving audience.

In 2014, Ayeshah expanded her biscuit dream beyond the restaurant with business partner and Brand COO, Ross Perkins. They saw a gap in the $1.3B frozen baked goods category and wanted to offer baked goods made from scratch to a larger consumer base. Mason Dixie Biscuits launched as the only, clean-label, ready-to-bake line of frozen biscuits and immediately forged a strong customer base.

A natural leader on her journey, Ayeshah has thrown out the “rule book” to excel in a male-dominated industry. Mason Dixie Foods is the fastest growing frozen baked goods company in the U.S. and their biscuits and scones can now be found in freezers at over 5,000 retail grocery stores across the country. One of her biggest professional accomplishments is hiring a diverse team of 13, each of whom shares her commitment to providing the best frozen baked goods in the world.

Ayeshah grew up in a disadvantaged environment and the only career options she considered were doctor, lawyer and teacher. The idea of entrepreneurship or any “out of the box” career was foreign to her, as she had no first-hand exposure in her community. Fortunately, Ayeshah eventually found mentors on her journey. She strongly believes that mentorship can truly impact the trajectory of a person’s career and life, so one of her goals is to guide and teach life skills to underserved children.

When she is not working, Ayeshah likes to travel, take fitness classes, cook and entertain friends. “Nothing is more gratifying than watching people eat and enjoy their food,” says, Ayeshah. “It is the most fulfilling thing in the world to help people feel nourished and savor the moment.”


Amy Trout Hughes

Amy Trout Hughes (GWSB MBA '12), Co-Owner and Managing Partner of MarshmallowMBA

Amy’s career path to the confectionery industry is as non-traditional as the handcrafted marshmallows coming out of the MarshmallowMBA kitchens. After a 20+ career as a Federal government consultant managing business process improvement programs, Amy founded MarshmallowMBA in 2016.

Based in York, PA, MarshmallowMBA is a BIPOC woman-owned small business handcrafting gourmet marshmallows in 100+ flavors for retail and wholesale customers. As of August 2021, MarshmallowMBA products are available in 28 states across the US and Canada through more than 150 independent retailers and its e-commerce shop.

Amy continually seeks to push the boundaries of candy beyond its identity as a snack food. During the pandemic, she worked on a lifestyle marshmallow that uses locally sourced honey and natural herbs for flavor. In July 2021, the Bee Kind marshmallow collection earned MarshmallowMBA the Best Innovation Award from Retail Confectioners International.

Amy attended Harrisburg Area Community College, Pennsylvania State University (where she met her MarshmallowMBA business partner), the Italian International Institute Lorenzo de’ Medici (Florence, Italy) and the George Washington University (Washington, DC) ultimately earning her MBA in Strategy and Operations. She is actively committed to raising the profile of non-chocolatiers in the confectionery industry and promoting the value of the confectionery industry in the manufacturing sector.

She splits her residence between Falls Church, VA and Atlantic City, NJ.

Please note that this is an online event. A Zoom link for the event will be sent to all registrants a few days prior to the session.