Culture. Style. Taste.
Culture. Style. Taste.

Women of Great Taste

We’re firm believers that women deserve to be celebrated every single day. After all, the contributions of strong, smart, creative and talented women have helped make Aventura Mall the beloved shopping, dining and arts destination it is today. Without them, we wouldn’t be us.

Serafina and Pani are two restaurants you know and love; now, allow us to introduce you to the powerhouse women that brought these magical dining experiences to life here in Miami. We spoke with Eliana “Pani” Trotta, Samantha Cooper and Stacey Shabtai to learn more about their journeys and insights as leading ladies in the food business. Soak up their female-fueled wisdom, passion and tips for success in the industry:

Eliana “Pani” Trotta, Founder and Owner of Pani

Growing up, were there any females you looked up to in the food/baking industry?

In the kitchen, my muse and great inspiration was always my grandmother, Chola, who came from an Italian family. She loved to cook and would spend the entire day preparing meals she was going to serve to her guests. She considered it the “great pamper” of the day, so her “time off” was the time she spent cooking and entertaining guests. I witnessed the love she put into each dish she created and admired that passion and love for cooking. I learned that when you cook with love, others can feel and absorb it in every dish.

As a young girl in my country (Argentina), I greatly admired the work of an Argentine cook named Maru Botana, a famous pastry chef, for her stripped-down way of cooking. While many chefs used a much more tedious technique, she made the kitchen a spot for playtime and fun, where homemade flavors stood out and there was no obsessing over perfection. She always inspired me to cook from a more playful mindset and focus my energy on making homemade dishes abundant and tasty. The goal was to serve the most delicious dish where taste came first and presentation second.

Are there any females you learned from or who continue to inspire you, both at work and in everyday life?

There is a woman who inspires me every day in both work and life: my mother. She knows how to stand strong in front of the world and has been a daily reminder that there aren’t any obstacles we can’t overcome. You are your own competition and your own limit. With confidence, perseverance and trusting in her go-to phrase, “destiny conspires in your favor,” everything can be achieved. I fell many times but always stood back up with the firm conviction that no one will stand in the way of my goals.

My mother and the other women I’ve met throughout my professional career all have something in common: they’re confident and focus on their goals. They see each obstacle as part of the path and never lose focus on reaching the target and achieving their goals.

What’s your advice for young women who want to own their own restaurant, start a food brand, or work their way up in the culinary world?

I think it’s very important to concentrate on what you have to offer and stand out however you can. Don’t focus too much on what others do. You want to distinguish yourself and avoid feeling insecure in comparison to others. Focusing on what makes me different has been powerful and helpful.

What do you hope to see for the future of women in food?

I would love to see many more women in charge of kitchens – the world needs more female Executive Chefs!

Tell us about some of the women who help make your brand and team successful.

Our key management positions are held almost entirely by women who are also my friends. They support me emotionally and professionally, and always bring empathy, patience and understanding to the table. Together, along with our executive manager, they helped me turn Pani into PANI. I think women are great at deciding and carrying out tasks with intuition, passion and love, and my company is about just that: love.

What are you most proud of yourself for accomplishing as a woman in the food industry?

I am proud to inspire other women to do what they love. I often receive messages saying that I’ve inspired or encouraged someone to pursue their passion, and for me, that is the most beautiful gift. I have to pinch myself to believe it. In general, colleagues – male and female – have come to chat with me and ask for my opinion in the world of gastronomy. I am proud of the space I occupy and the places women give me in their lives. Pani is much more than I ever dreamed it would be. I remember that feeling of fear a few years ago that I wouldn’t be able to do this. But other women have, and so have I.

Sami Cooper (and her mom and restaurant partner, Stacey Shabtai), owner of Serafina Miami

Stacey & Benny Shabtai, & Samantha Cooper, Photo Courtesy of World Red Eye

Growing up, were there any females you looked up to in the food industry?

Sami: I’ve always looked up to my mom. I’m one of four girls, all female entrepreneurs, and I believe that came from our example of such strong and supportive parents. Our parents had a restaurant in New York City for almost ten years. When our family decided to make the move to Florida, it was a natural next step to collaborate with the Serafina group, bringing that same NYC vibe and level of service to Aventura and beyond. My mom inspired me to get involved and believed in me enough to embark on this journey. She had so much restaurant experience, and life experience in general – along with my dad and stepdad – and passed that down to me. She showed me what it was to be a good person and work hard to make your dreams a reality. My dad is actually the person who helped me get my first job in the industry – funny enough, it was an Italian restaurant, and while I’ve worked with many different cuisines in my career, this one came full circle. My dad gave us all confidence as women and showed us what it was to respect his female partner, my mom, as an equal. The “but you’re a girl” conversation was never allowed in our house. This was an integral guiding piece to our lives. My stepdad is also my partner in this venture with Serafina. It’s a family affair!

Are there any females you learned from or who continue to inspire you, both at work and in everyday life?

Sami: I come from a tight-knit powerhouse of women. We strive to be our own heroes. My mom taught me that you can be whatever and whoever you want to be. My sisters and I are all completely independent, and I think that speaks highly of our parents. They gave us self-confidence and taught us to capitalize on our strengths. They also never allowed us to float – they made us get an education and consistently work on our craft, reminding us that it’s important to have a career path and a plan B, C, D, etc. It all starts and ends with hard work and they definitely instilled those ethics in us. I’m also consistently inspired by my daughter, Elle, and want to make her proud of me every day.

What’s your advice for young women who want to own their own restaurant, start a food brand, or work their way up in the culinary world?

Sami: I interact with so many people every day – especially young people starting out their career. Being in this industry, you meet people of all age ranges and from all walks of life. There’s no judgment. Everyone comes together as one and you’re only as strong as your weakest link. To stay the course, you have to simply start somewhere. All of the people I know in this industry started as a busser, dishwasher or hostess. When you’re willing to invest in a craft, you truly learn and thrive in a leadership role and know the business from the bottom bones up. My advice for young women starting out is to work hard and believe in yourself above all else. It’s 2021 – there is no “traditional” role and women will continue to shatter these glass ceilings.

Stacey: You have to be willing to be humble, hardworking, and learn at all levels of the business. Wash floors, do dishes, chop tomatoes. You have to know how to do it to tell people how to do it.

Sami: When people believe in the leadership, they buy in. In this competitive industry, we have great success because of the culture we develop. There’s a lot of respect and teamwork. No one is better than anyone else. It’s all one family and we look out for one another. Your reputation and integrity are everything. My mom always says, “we rise by lifting others” and it’s a foundational brick of our business.

Stacey: You live and die by your integrity. Who you are and what you become is all you’re here with and all you’ll leave with.

Sami: Women should know their power, stand proud in their power, and never give it away. Know your worth and learn everything you can. Empower yourself to be a powerhouse. It’s all possible. Follow your dreams and be unwavering in your commitment to your future.

Stacey: Knowledge is power and being a woman is even more powerful.

Tell us about some of the women who help make your brand and team successful.

Sami: We have such a great team of women that stuck with us even through a global pandemic this past year. I could go on and on, but I have to recognize Marieli, our head manager, who has been with me since day one. She’s the most loyal and hardworking woman. I trust her implicitly, and it goes beyond her capabilities as a manager. Her integrity is gold. I have to also recognize Manita who worked so hard with us during COVID – she came in every single day while also taking care of her elderly relatives. They’re both family and I’m thankful and proud of them. They are exemplary members of our team.

What are you most proud of yourself for accomplishing as a woman in the food industry?

Sami: I’ve been in a meeting with ten men and I’m half their age, and I’ve been able to work around the limitations they tried to set. I feel that being a woman in this male-dominated industry gives me an edge. I think people underestimate women in general, but we have all the tools to multitask and be successful.

Stacey: Sami is the one that created the Serafina experience at Aventura Mall – she created the menu and curated their world-renowned wine list. She’s meticulous with every ingredient and detail. She used her years of experience to bring this restaurant to life and she cares so deeply for her team. She personally makes sure everyone is taken care of and doing well. She’s so loyal. I’m beyond proud of my daughter, not only as her mom but as a strong female entrepreneur.

Sami: We built this restaurant from the ground up. We’re so thankful to be here. It’s our passion.

To view the full listing of restaurants, eateries and cafes offering outdoor/patio dining, please visit Those also offering pickup and delivery services are listed at

For more information, call Aventura Mall at (305) 935-1110.



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