Donatella Arpaia: Serial Entreprenista, Attorney turned Restaurateur and Head Judge on Iron Chef America

Copy of Website Header Template (7)

Describe your business in a few words:

Donatella Arpaia is a serial entrepreneur, trailblazing attorney turned restaurateur, celebrity chef, cookbook author, motivational speaker, brand ambassador, and mother. Donatella is best known for her recurring role as Head Judge on Iron Chef America.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

My background was growing up in the business, but I never worked in the restaurant, my father never wanted that for me so technically I didn’t have the correct “background”. I did have a very real insight into what a difficult business it actually was. I was extremely driven and passionate about Italian food and the service industry. There were very few women in the industry, it was completely male dominated, so I didn’t have any other women I could speak to about fine dining in NYC.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I knew that I was very driven to succeed in life and I thought that meant to succeed as a lawyer, but when I actually started to work as a lawyer, I almost immediately realized that not only was the practice of law not a career that I wanted, but that working in that law office was the last time I was ever going to have a boss. Once I made the jump to becoming an entrepreneur, I never once looked back and knew there would be no other path for me. When I jumped ship after only a few months of practice and once I became an entrepreneur I knew there would be no other path for me, being an entrepreneur really defines who I am.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out, and did it go as planned?

Truthfully when I launched my first restaurant in the late nineties, I really didn’t have a marketing plan nor the funds for one. I quickly realized not only the importance of PR and marketing, but that I was uniquely gifted at it. Initially, my marketing plan was very grass roots, I started marketing myself without even realizing it back then and building a brand based on me, because I had no choice, no more money, and a huge rent to pay. Literally every customer that walked into my restaurant was mine to win over. I made them feel extremely special and taken care of, I learned every name and would write down all their preferences, I would ask them for a business card and hand write them a personal thank you card for coming to my restaurant. I cannot overestimate the impact these handwritten notes had. I literally built my customer base one at a time. Customers were so moved by the attorney turned restaurateur who was offering the best in customer service. Everyone always asks “what is your favorite restaurant?”, and the answer undeniably will be the one where you are recognized and made to feel special. 20 years later, this is truer than ever, especially when we can’t even get a live person to answer the phone.

I also had to give great food and service, that was a given, but in the early days and in a competitive market when I was a complete unknown, what gave me the competitive advantage was my personalized customer service and attention to details. I made every customer feel like they were the most important person to me, and it worked because they were! Slowly but surely, my restaurant became the “who’s-who hangout” for politicians and celebrities. It was a popular hangout for Walter Cronkite, Mary J. Blige, and more.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

The accomplishment I am most proud of is not any award or achieving a certain profit but my resilience. Resilience is a key success factor for an entrepreneur. Resilience and maintaining my integrity through many storms is something very important to me.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I believe in it more than ever and have made it a mission recently to find more balance. When I was younger and single, I had no balance, I was all work and at the time it worked for me. When I became a mom for the first time at 40, and then a mom to twins in my mid forties, I craved balance. I found I wasn’t very good at any one of my roles if I didn’t strive for balance and that means making time not only for my work, my children, and my husband, but time for myself also.

What have you achieved recently that you’d like to celebrate with our community?

I’m proud of my work with Philips as their brand ambassador, it grew out of the pandemic, and I love how my business is constantly evolving with my life. I’m proud of the content my team created at to help busy working parents put healthy food on the table for their family.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

I am actively looking to open a restaurant in my new hometown of Miami, write another cookbook, and I am enjoying motivational speaking engagements. I am also building a new website with e-commerce attached. I have a lot going on!

What excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?

I wish they had this league when I started as an entrepreneur! Brava to the founders, how can I not be excited about a league of like-minded motivated women wanting to elevate other women through community?! I find female entrepreneurs to be so generous with their need to share their story and to help other women. It’s hard to find other women like me, although I know there are a lot of us out there. We can all share what we have learned and help others on their journey.

Learn more about the Entreprenista League and join today!

Share it!

Posted in

Leave a Comment

Ashleigh Barker, Head of Beauty for Lincoln International, on her unique Entreprenista journey

Describe your business in a few words: I am the Head of Beauty for Lincoln International, an investment banking platform that advises brands and management teams on growth capital fundraising and M&A advisory strategies. What was your background prior to starting your own business? I’m an M&A strategy, advisor and investment professional with both investment…

Cheli Grace of Book to Millions Reflects on 1 Year in The Entreprenista League

Brief description of your business: I offer professional publishing services with business strategy. I help you write, publish and market your non-fiction book that is aligned to your business and brand. We have a 5-phase system that does a lot of the work for you so all you have to do is show up with…

Rosemary Leader, Founder of Connect The Kind, has set out to change the way we gift

Describe your business in a few words: My name is Rosemary Leader, and I started Connect The Kind in December 2020. At Connect The Kind, we have set out to change the way people gift. Our mission has been to create a more meaningful, impactful way to celebrate the good people in your lives. We…

Ashley Reckdenwald, Founder of Working Mom Notes, on her mission as a Mamaprenista

Describe your business in a few words: I am the Founder of Working Mom Notes. My mission is to empower mothers through community and experience, enabling all to prosper in both career and motherhood. I believe in moderating difficult conversations to help women feel seen and heard. What was your background prior to starting your…

Riley Flanagan of Riley’s Rows on starting her own international wine company

Describe your business in a few words: When I was four years old, Dad and I had our first harvest. I came home and knew I wanted to be a winemaker. I have loved growing up in this industry and I started Riley’s Rows as a way to share wines with people. My mission is…

Adriana Robinson, Founder of Reina Skincare, on her “accidental” success as an Entreprenista

Describe your business in a few words: My name is Adriana Robinson. I started this business in 2018. I was suffering from Acne all over my body and the products in store were not working for me. I decided to go the natural route and I accidentally ordered 10 pounds of Shea Butter instead of…

Laura Elliott, Co-Founder of Kula Inc., on taking the leap to launch a podcast

Describe your business in a few words: I am Laura Elliott the co-founder of Kula Inc. Kula is transforming the way moms receive support with a membership-based platform that allows moms to book 1:1 virtual sessions with a network of maternal wellness experts, including sleep consultants, counselors, career coaches, nutritionists, and more. What was your…

Meet Britney Mahoney: Senior Executive Assistant turned Entreprenista

Describe your business in a few words: As an 18-year highly experienced executive assistant with a diverse background in providing support to senior-level officials through in-person and virtual settings. Your business is our business. I believe in making your dreams and goals a reality and my Virtual Assistants know just how to do that. We’re…

Dawn Scott, Host of The Empowered CPA, is educating Entreprenistas with her curated courses

Describe your business in a few words: I am a CPA, podcast host, digital content creator, and co-founder of a blow-dry bar. What was your background prior to starting your own business? I worked for boutique accounting firms, a publicly traded utility and high net worth trust companies. Did you always know you wanted to…

Meet Caley Adams, Founder & Creative Director of Wildes District

Describe your business in a few words: Caley Adams is the Founder & Creative Director of Wildes District, an NYC-based design studio that specializes in emerging women’s and e-commerce brands. Wildes District works closely with founders to build meaningful experiences that span multiple touchpoints — including brand, web, app, print, packaging, and more. Caley has…

Public Relations Leader and Entreprenista, Ronica Cleary, on highlighting important and impactful stories

Describe your business in a few words: I launched Cleary Strategies to provide public relations, media placements, & crisis management to leaders and corporations. I’m a former television journalist who most recently worked as a White House Correspondent and hosted a weekly political talk show for WTTG Fox 5. My goal is to help you…

Brielle Brown, Founder & CEO of Anxiety Cosmetics, on Launching a Beauty Company Mid-Pandemic

Describe your business in a few words: I am the Founder & CEO of Anxiety Cosmetics! We are a Clean Beauty Brand Specializing in CBD Infused Cosmetics. BRAND STORY: The story starts a few years back when I was eating CBD gummies before bed due to my own Anxiety. I would toss and turn at…

Alla Koretsky of HeyLayer is on a mission to make sure women are represented in Web3

Describe your business in a few words: Alla Koretsky is Co-founder and CEO of HeyLayer – the one-stop NFT management solution to help brands transition into web3.Before founding HeyLayer, Alla spent over 15 years working as a buyer in luxury fashion, E-commerce, and subscription business startups, bridging gaps between branding, marketing, and product development. Her…

Ashley Girard of Welly’s Wellness on how her early days shaped the Entreprenista she’d become

Describe your business in a few words: Hi, I’m Ashley Girard — CEO and Founder of Welly’s Wellness. We sell prepackaged snacks, drinks and on-the-go essentials, as well as salads, fresh pressed juice + shots and more! Think of us like a healthy 7-11, but on wheels (and way cuter!). We also launched an MVP…

A Social Guru to Watch: Savannah Adams of Navvy shares her Entreprenista story

Describe your business in a few words: My name is Savannah Adams. I am a mom, entrepreneur, Instagram influencer, fashionista, and nature lover. I started Navvy, a social media management agency, one year ago because I am dedicated to giving a voice to ethical brands making big impacts in their communities. Navvy primarily focuses on…