The first Sugar and Spice Summit Credit: Leta Dickinson

The outcome of the 2016 presidential election left Lauren Goldstein shaken and worried, like many others. A junior at Northwestern at the time, she was studying abroad in Copenhagen. When she woke up the morning after the election, she says, “I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me and my generation of women.” She wanted to do something to empower her generation, and while she was trying to decide what that would be, she remembered interviewing women in the food industry for the Northwestern chapter of Spoon University, a food publication written by college students.

“When I walked out of these interviews I always felt so inspired,” Goldstein says. She was part of a community of women at Northwestern who were interested in food, but most of them didn’t think it could be a career path. “That’s where the Sugar and Spice Summit was born,” she says, “out of a desire to connect those two communities that I was part of and had access to.”

She began e-mailing female entrepreneurs on November 17 to ask them to participate in the still-nebulous event. The election was still fresh in people’s minds. “Everyone said yes,” she says. “I was so surprised. I didn’t have a day, time, a place, a format.” She’d initially envisioned a monthly series of lunch lectures with a different guest speaker each time, but after getting commitments from 17 speakers, she decided to turn the event into a one-day conference instead.

Lauren GoldsteinCredit: Ally Mark

Goldstein was still a full-time college student, living in another country, and she had no experience with planning large events. “I’m the kind of person who, when I have ideas I’ll just do everything in the middle of the night to make it happen,” she says. “I get really excited about projects. Copenhagen has a six- or eight-hour time difference with Chicago, so I was doing calls in the middle of the night, having to whisper because my roommates were sleeping.”

Her budget, she says, was zero. She didn’t think the event would have any overhead because she’d be using a campus building—but she still decided to sell tickets for $11 instead of making them free so that people would feel invested and be more likely to show up. When she realized there would be costs after all—programs, lunch, gift bags—some of the funds came from ticket sales, the rest from various academic departments at Northwestern that have budgets for cosponsoring events.

The first Sugar and Spice Summit took place April 1 of last year. There were 175 attendees, 15 speakers, and seven talks and panel discussions on topics such as starting your own business in the culinary industry, how to build your brand using social media, and what it’s like to be a female chef in a male-dominated industry.

This year Goldstein is moving the event to an industrial loft space in Old Town, mostly to make it more accessible to nonstudents. When she was planning the first conference, she says, she did it with college students in mind but was surprised by how many young professionals asked if they could come. The mission of connecting women remains the same, and the format is also similar, though most of the panels and speakers are new this year. The keynote speaker is Kerry Diamond, founder and editorial director of Cherry Bombe magazine, which celebrates women and food; other speakers include local chefs Christine Cikowski of Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Nicole Pederson, director of culinary arts at the Center on Halsted.

Meanwhile Goldstein, now 21, has graduated with a double major in communications studies and gender studies. “I accidentally graduated early,” she says. “I got credit for things I didn’t think I would get credit for, and they’re like, you can be done now if you want.” She’s been freelancing, including working on the Cherry Bombe Jubilee conference for women in food held recently in New York City, while she decides what to do next.  What she does know is that she’ll be moving back to New York, where she grew up, and taking the Sugar and Spice Summit with her. She dreams of not only continuing the conference there, but expanding it to other cities with a high concentration of college students. The feedback she got from the first event has convinced her that it’s worth continuing. “Just last week I got a text from a girl who’s a year older than me,” Goldstein says. “She came because her friend had an extra ticket, and it reignited her passion for food and now she works for Bon Appetit. It cemented that it was worth the blood, sweat, and tears.”

Sugar and Spice Summit Sat 4/28, 10 AM-6 PM, Savage Smyth, 920 N. Franklin, $20 students, $35 general admission.