As a fourth-generation restaurateur, the restaurant business was not new to Amy Morton. Her father, Arnie Morton, opened his first steakhouse in Chicago in 1978, and it soon grew into 70 locations across the globe.
Roughly three decades later, Morton pursued her own identity in the restaurant game and opened Found Kitchen in Evanston, a farm-to-table restaurant with an all-woman team. But it wasn’t necessarily on purpose.
“I didn’t make a decision that I was only going to work with just women,” Morton said. She says she does not hire based on gender, and her other two restaurants, the Barn Steakhouse and Stolp Island Social in Aurora, have employees of other genders. Yet, she says having an all-woman team at Found Kitchen has made a difference.
“I think it’s something that has been proven over and over again – women-owned businesses frequently wind up working with other women, not because we won’t work with men, but because we energetically know how to work together in a way that really works,” she said.
When Morton re-entered the business to open Found Kitchen, she had just taken 15 years off and was in the midst of raising three daughters. She was also opening AMDP, (Arnie Morton’s Daughter Place), a restaurant group in memory of her father.
“It was scary, it was exhilarating, it was a lot of work and a massive mindset change for my family,” she said. “I knew that anything that was going to take me away from my girls needed to be something I really really believed in.”
In 2016, the Barn Steakhouse, an ode to her father’s chain, opened its doors tucked inside an alley on Church Street. As the steakhouse and Found Kitchen established themselves in the city, Morton said she was able to be at home with her daughters when they were in high school, which was important to her.
While the reckoning of the #MeToo movement has impacted all job sectors, Morton said she never felt the sexual harassment in the restaurant world that others described.
“I have had nothing but positive experiences as a woman in the restaurant business,” she said. “I did not experience any of the issues regarding the #MeToo movement, and I feel like I have always been welcomed and very much respected and never felt like anyone looked at me differently for being a woman, because it was always about hospitality.”
Ten years later, Morton said if she had to do it all over again, she would always pick Evanston as the place to launch her businesses. At first, she considered Chicago, but as Found Kitchen and later, the Barn Steakhouse, continue to be fixtures of the community, Morton is pleased with her decision.
“I love living in Evanston,” she said. “I didn’t think about opening in Evanston at first. I was scared it would not work out. A very dear friend suggested I think about opening Found Kitchen here and it was honestly the best decision I ever made.”