Protea Conversations: Nastassia Lopez

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality out-sourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were overlooked.  Over 80% of both Protea’s leadership and accounting teams are women.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations focuses on a successful woman in business and their achievements.  The hope is that these conversations will create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges women face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In February 2021 we spend time with Nastassia Lopez. Nastassia is a partner in Booker and Dax, a kitchen equipment design company. Additionally, Nastassia co-hosts the weekly podcast “Cooking Issues,” with host Dave Arnold, the highest-rated show on the Heritage Radio Network. She also co-founded Pasta Flyer, the critically-acclaimed, fast pasta concept with Chef Mark Ladner. 

Nastassia also created the controversial Wine Santa and introduced it to bars and restaurants in NY and LA. Dave hates it because he didn’t think of it.

Prior to her work with Booker and Dax, Nastassia opened Salumeria Rosi with Chef Cesare Casella in New York’s Upper West Side in 2010. She also managed the Culinary Technology Department at the French Culinary Institute with Chefs Nils Noren and Dave Arnold before launching Booker and Dax.

Nastassia currently sits on the Culinary Board of the Museum of Food and Drink, and the Junior Council at the American Museum of Natural History. 

Nastassia worked in restaurants to pay her way through Stanford University, where she earned degrees in both Creative Writing and Communications. In 2015 she graduated from Stanford Business School’s Entrepreneurship Program. She lives in Hell’s Kitchen and has a passion for hosting and entertaining.

Now, this is what we call a successful leader.



How did you get into the food industry and specifically your current role at Booker and Dax?

I paid my way through college by working in restaurants in Palo Alto (I went to Stanford). I was the first in my family to ever attend college. I hated working in restaurants—I would see a lot of my classmates come in and I’d have to climb under their table and fix the wobbly leg or pretend I knew the difference between Grey Goose and Absolut when making their bloody mary. When I graduated, I resolved to never work in food again. I went on to work in music at MTV and fashion. On a trip to Italy to visit a former roommate when I was 24, I remembered how much I loved food. When I got back to NYC, I applied and started working as the assistant for Italian chef, Cesare Casella. The Food Network had just launched, and “foodie” wasn’t a thing yet. Cesare introduced me to Dave Arnold, who was/is a crazy, food tech, philosophy undergrad at Yale/art master’s at Columbia. Dave and I became friends for a few months, and then eventually became business partners because we both realized we had similar weird backgrounds, but also loved food and could think strategically.



What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

Misogyny, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, some physical abuse. This industry is no joke, and I’ve had to act like one of the guys to get by, while also taking on a lot of shit.



What are the short-term goals of your career/business and yourself?

Sell our business to a larger company, and do something completely different career-wise after that. 


What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

Be nice, work hard, and never sign the contract.



What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

Don’t hold on to the way things “should be.” Everything changes in ways that you will and won’t be prepared for, so don’t try to control the environment or the outcome. Ride the wave and be flexible. Everything usually always shakes out the way it’s supposed to. Worrying and fretting makes you age faster and does absolutely nothing for you.



What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Managing people is incredibly hard, and trusting a team execute your vision is even more difficult. Go with your gut if someone isn’t working out. Don’t waste time thinking they’ll “get better.” Cut them as soon as you feel they’re not on course.


As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will make a donation to Vital Voices. Vital Voices Global Partnership is a global movement that invests in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. They are “venture catalysts,” identifying those with a daring vision for change and partnering with them to make that vision a reality. The scale and accelerate impact through long-term investments to expand skills, connections, capacity, and visibility. Over the last 22 years, we have built a network of 18,000 change-makers across 182 countries who are collectively daring to reimagine a more equitable world for all.

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