Stacey Wertzberger is a "woman to watch" not only in the food industry but as a mother of three, an athlete and an academic adviser. The idea of "do the hard things" has become her mantra throughout her personal, family and professional life.
“You kind of always have to challenge yourself and realize you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Wertzberger said. “And so I think the hardest thing is when you’re comfortable, it’s hard to make a change because you’re good, why make a change? But to know that you can do more — whether do more physically or do more in your career is a big thing to go after.”
Wertzberger, is an academic adviser in apparel, events and hospitality management at Iowa State, as well as an alumna with a degree in hotel, restaurant and institution management — and placed in the Iowa Restaurant Association “40 Women to Watch” list, an award highlighting the women in hospitality.
“I was — again, felt very honored because I was on it — but at the same time there are a lot of women on there that I have looked up to for so long, so at some point ... it feels like it’s not deserving, even though I’ve been in the industry for a long time, because there are, again, very hard working women out there that are on that list.”
The women on the list will be recognized Nov. 18 at an Awards Ceremony and celebratory reception. The women were nominated by those around them based on their ability to lead by example and build a new path within their careers.
“Women are building meaningful careers in every segment of the restaurant industry, and the numbers back that up," said Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association in a press release. "Fifty-eight percent of food service supervisors and 49% of food service managers are women — far above the averages in nearly every other industry. From restaurant ownership, to full-time sales and management, flexible hour part-time positions, women are charting their own paths in the hospitality sector.”
Wertzberger has spent most of her life striving to build her career path — trying out different areas within hospitality, from the food industry to hotel management.
“I didn’t feel like there was only just one path,” Wertzberger said. “I even like to tell my students that [a career] is kind of like a big lake, and then you’re going into smaller rivers, but it doesn’t matter if you’re on one path — it doesn’t mean that you can’t go all the way over to the other path.”
The active, unpredictable nature of the food industry is what drew Wertzberger into hospitality, but that was not always the case. Wertzberger initially started out in the graphic design program at Iowa State, but after not making it into the program and having doubts herself – it was time to find a different path.
“I just knew it wasn’t what would make me happy,” Wertzberger said. “I like the creativity, and I didn’t like the actual drawing.”
During her seasonal breaks from school, Werzberger decided to take a job as a kitchen line cook at Smokin’ Jakes in Okoboji, Iowa, despite having no experience. Although Wertzberger had worked at Smokin’ Jakes for only three months, that became the catalyst for her to follow the hotel, restaurant and institution management program.
“It really was from my mom saying ‘what would make you happy’ and ‘what job have you had that you had fun at,’” Wertzberger said. “Not that I have had a ton of jobs up to that point, but I knew that the restaurant was something that pulled me in.”
The close and “not-the-typical” relationship she has with her mother has helped her throughout life. Wertzberger said her mother always had a couple of different jobs. Wertzberger said she has always looked up to her mom, and although her mother had a catering business and as a child and Wertzberger helped with the events, though this was not the reason she entered the food industry.
Now, as a mother of three — two twin boys and a daughter — she instills that sense of capability her mother had tried to teach her.
“The one thing that I tell my kids a lot is ‘you can do hard things,’ and that’s kind of been my mantra,” Werztberger said. “[...] It’s kind of amazing what your body or what you can actually do if you become uncomfortable.”
Wertzberger said there was a time in her life when she worked at Hy-Vee as a catering manager and became comfortable with her position and realized she needed a change after playing with her kids.
“I also realized at that moment that I was maybe not doing the hard things that I was telling them that they could do, [...] I realized that I needed to do exactly what I was telling my children, so I signed up for the half Ironman,” Wertzberger said.
Wertzberger signed up for a half Ironman — a triathlon — and started to rebuild her career by applying to be an academic adviser — her current position. She said she is always looking for opportunities to grow within her career.
“I don’t think I can settle," Werzberger said. “[...] I’m looking to advance – because I do still feel like I’m still a student of life and trying to figure out [the next step]."