With business booming in the District, we wanted to share the impactful stories of DC women who are taking multiple industries by storm. These ambitious women are an inspiration to us all and we are thrilled to watch as they pursue their passions and elevate our city.
FOOD & BEVERAGE:
1. Bettina Stern of Chaia
Calling all taco lovers: Chaia is a fast casual spot in Georgetown contributing to the Good Food Revolution one veggie taco at a time. Intrigued by this innovative taco concept, we sat down with co-founder Bettina Stern to hear how Chaia got its start in the District.
There are food bloggers and foodies everywhere these days, but Bettina and her co-founder Suzanne Simon are foodies who ran a food blog before it was a trend. They spent time cooking together, enjoying a cookbook club, and teaching cooking classes.
A unique opportunity popped up for these food lovers when Think Local First asked if they would be willing to enter a food startup competition. Bettina & Suzanne decided to enter with the plant based tacos recipes they had taught in previous cooking classes. This competition paved the way for their farm-to-table taco concept when an audience member from FRESHFARM, a nonprofit focused on sustainable food, and was enthused by the concept.
Shortly after, Bettina and Suzanne started selling their innovative tacos in a little tent at the Downtown Farmers’ Market-a strategic decision to test their product with a diverse audience. Everyone from seasoned policymakers to field trip chaperones lined up for Chaia’s tacos. It was a resounding success. They quickly expanded to selling at the Dupont Farmers’ Market and soon after became founding members of the food incubator Union Kitchen.
With eyes set on owning a storefront, these food entrepreneurs opened Chaia in Georgetown in November of 2015. “The DC restaurant business is a very generous and kind community,” said Bettina, “we went into this step knowing we wanted to have many locations and make sincere impact”. Their motto? A business must “do right by the planet and the health of our world”. This comes through in Chaia’s approach to seasonal, local products that support the local and regional economy. Overall, Bettina firmly believes that “Business should be built to serve and reflect its community, not the other way around.”
So what’s next for Chaia?
A bright and ambitious team, Bettina shared that she has big hopes for the future of Chaia: regional and even national expansion. Most immediately, we may be seeing some DC area stores popping up soon. Above all she emphasized their strong morals: “I don’t ever want our business goals to get in the way of our business principles.” Chaia is certainly helping to normalize non-meat options and we are proud to support theses gamechanger women leading this movement in DC.
2. Meredith Tomason of RareSweets
Looking to enjoy a delicious dessert in the District? Head over to Meredith Tomason’s RareSweets in the heart of CityCenterDC for reimagined American classics that rotate through the seasons. We were curious about how this bakery came to CityCenterDC, so we sat down with pastry chef and owner Meredith to hear her story.
After making a quarter-life career switch, Meredith’s life long passion for baking led her to pastry school. She then held roles at Tribeca Treats, Magnolia Bakery, and Craft Restaurant in New York City. She credits her entrepreneurship bone in her body to dad and inspiration for wanting to share delicious baked goods with others to her grandmother. After working in New York City’s food industry, Meredith decided she wanted to open her own bakery. Since the market in New York City was so saturated, she turned her attention to DC.
Like many other successful food entrepreneurs, Meredith joined the food incubator Union Kitchen, which she found was a great place for recipe testing and making connections. She then opened in CityCenterDC in 2014 and has noticed that the District is very supportive of chef owned businesses. Additionally, she’s pleased that “a lot of food related small businesses are coming and staying in DC.”
Her seasonal bakery has a consistent energy and homey feel to it. With a constant stream of locals and tourists grabbing quick bites, sips and groups congregating for a quick meeting, RareSweets is the place to be. Meredith’s flair for creative innovation is evident in her unique, rotating cake and ice cream flavors and also in the vibe of the space itself. We happened to be there during the annual ‘Christmas in July’ theme and ogled her creations surrounded by ornaments as Christmas classics played in the background. This theme is a
perfect compliment to the ‘rare sweets’ on display.
So what’s next for RareSweets?
Meredith shared that she is expanding the menu to have more breakfast and lunch offerings. This will continue to foster RareSweets as a community space and meeting place in CityCenterDC. There is more exciting news! Stay tuned as RareSweets expands in the District and continues to “make memories for people.” RareSweets is clearly becoming an integral part of people’s lives and we are thrilled to watch the bakery grow.
3. Jenna Huntsberger of Whisked!
You may have seen the delicious Whisked! cookies while waiting in line at Whole Foods or Glen’s Garden Market, but did you know that these cookies are handmade in DC? Under careful direction of founder Jenna Huntsberger, bakers create cookies, pies, and quiches from scratch in a commercial kitchen in DC’s Trinidad neighborhood. We recently toured the Whisked! kitchen space and learned Jenna’s path to becoming a food entrepreneur.
A foodie at heart, Jenna ran a food blog titled “Modern Domestic” and worked in a small DC bakery before launching Whisked! in 2011. Jenna started baking pies and classic American goodies using local produce because the 14th & U Farmers’ Market needed a vendor to sell sweets. In 2013, Jenna joined ranks with Union Kitchen which helped her further develop the business plan behind Whisked!.
Jenna shares her thoughts on being in the DC food industry, “There are well educated consumers who are interested in food, so it’s a great place to have a food business.” She also mentions that “There is a demonstrated demand for local products.”
Whisked! is an impressive baked goods operation with bakers pushing out over 13,000 cookies per week! A good portion of these cookies go to Whisked!’s wholesale partner Cava Grill, which appreciates the high quality of these cookies. In addition to cookies, Whisked! produces anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 pies & quiches each week. With so much product going out each day how does Whisked! Stay consistent? Kitchen manager Elmer told us it’s about using the best ingredients, staying consistent, and never cutting corners.
So what’s next for Whisked!?
Whisked! has a bright future in DC. Currently, Jenna and her team are working to perfect a new vegan cookie recipe. Additionally, Whisked! is starting gift packages and online shipping of product. Whisked! certainly brings delicious, local flavors to the District’s food scene and we are excited to watch them grow.
4. Shizu Okusa of JRINK
Whether JRINK is your go-to place for a nutrient boost or a complete lifestyle reboot with their popular 3-day juice programs, everyone can agree that it is a wonderful addition to DC’s food and beverage scene. We sat down and chatted with Shizu Okusa, co-founder of JRINK, to see how these magical juices came to be.
Pre-JRINK, Shizu worked in New York City for Goldman Sachs, and met her partner Jennifer Ngai in 2010. Entering the juice business in 2013 while working at the World Bank in DC, these entrepreneurs started selling healthy juices online. After realizing that e-commerce wasn’t the best first route for getting customers to try juice, the co-founders opened a physical store to address the fact that people like to taste test juices before committing to buying them. Since its inception, JRINK has existed to create “fresh pressed solutions for life pressed people.” This mission certainly resonates with DC locals who are always on the move.
Before selecting store locations for JRINK, Shizu and her team carefully think about how to utilize Washington, D.C. real estate more efficiently, usually sharing spaces with businesses that have values and missions that align with JRINK. One example is the Dupont location where JRINK shares space with Epic Yoga.
Some delicious juices include the Wake Me Up, a citrus-filled breakfast (a great supplement to caffeine), and the Clean Me Up 1, a spicy lemonade that simultaneously aids in hydration and de-bloating. These juices can be found at JRINK stores located across the DMV or ordered online for convenient home delivery.
So what’s next for Jrink?
DC has been extremely receptive of these restorative juices, so JRINK is meeting demand by opening a new location at Eastern Market. Luckily for us all, JRINK will infuse innovative products into DC’s beverage scene for years to come.
5. Alisha Edmonson of Songbyrd
Music in the 21st century has increasingly become a solo activity, but Alisha Edmonson, co-founder of Songbryd has set out to bring community back into tunes. Songbryd is a music venue, record store, restaurant/bar, and cafe all in one that once saw the likes of legendary performs such as Bob Dylan and Charlie Byrd. We recently spoke with Alisha to hear the backstory to this quirky Adams Morgan staple.
Living in DC, Alisha and her business partner “always talked about the loss of listening to music”. Together they often took trips to New York City and Portland where they would attend communal listening parties. Alisha is a long time believer in the power of space and food to build community and grew up watching her family run a coffee shop in Portland.
Adding music to the mix seemed like a natural addition to her own concept. Alisha and co-founder Jon strived to make communal music experiences a staple in DC so in 2014, the pair bought an EDM nightclub in Adams Morgan. Their focus? To make it “what a sports bar is for sports, but for music.”
The building that houses this popular music venue has a ton of history. For starters, Songbryd is named after jazz artist Charlie Bryd who brought Bossa to the US. Artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix have frequented the historic Songbryd space. The excitement of the venue continues. A line now regularly forms, wraping around the entire block, to see the latest musicians take the stage.
It’s not just concerts. In addition to being busy a popular venue for artists, Songbryd has a daytime cafe that offers locally sourced, creative food and coffee. Their latest coffee menu sports “Cinnamon Bun” and “Strawberry and Cream” flavored lattes.
So what’s next for Songbryd?
Songbryd will continue to be an awesome space in Adams Morgan that draws diverse crowds. Alisha shared that she is currently working on recipe testing for the restaurant/bar and cafe. These new recipes are meant to pair nicely with Songbyrd’s offering of local cocktails and beers. Interestingly, Alisha noticed plenty of Tinder dates happening here, so Tuesdays are now “Tinder Tuesdays” with games are set out as icebreakers. Other theme days include “Throwback Thursdays” and “New Music Fridays” to keep it interesting. Alisha also mentioned that she is working to expand Songbryd’s record collection and that these records can be preordered. Since Songbryd is traditionally a music venue, be sure to stop by Songbyrd for one of its countless events, held throughout the week.
FASHION & DESIGN:
6. Dionna Dorsey of DISTRICT OF CLOTHING
Inspired by DC dreamers who are also doers, creative entrepreneur and strategist Dionna Dorsey created DISTRICT OF CLOTHING in 2014 to capture DC’s growing and thriving community dreamer and doer spirit. We recently sat down with Dionna to hear her perspective on being a small, black- and woman-owned business in DC.
After graduating from Villanova University in 2002, Dionna was exploring and fabric shopping in Milan when she noticed a fashion design school sign for Istituto Marangoni. Compelled to learn more, she visited the school office and soon after applied to attend. Upon acceptance to the expedited fashion design program, she received her parents support and sought out a neighborhood and a flat for living arrangements.
Dionna certainly knows how to hustle! Prior to attending Istituto Marangoni she collected remnants of fabric from major Italian fashion houses and used them to create classic yet vibrant pieces. She mentioned “everyone was very nice to me” and advised creatives to “be open and vulnerable with people—most times they will appreciate the sincerity and embrace you.”
Upon graduating from design school in Milan, Dionna made a tough decision to move stateside to New York City. While there, she designed for various brands such as Oscar de la Renta Outerwear and Orvis. As life would have it, the economy took a deep dive and the fashion industry was one of its first victims. After surviving several rounds of layoffs, she was eventually let go. After a year of freelancing realized she needed a change, so Dionna moved home to DC. Here she started Dionna Dorsey Design, but let’s fast-forward a bit to when Dionna had a dream that inspired DISTRICT OF CLOTHING. She notes she was constantly surrounded by inspirational people in the District and “wanted to create something with a positive message to battle all of the negativity our communities see.”
Change-maker Dionna launched DISTRICT OF CLOTHING in the marketplace at the Google/Politico/Tory Burch Foundation’s Women Rule event after receiving a cold email inviting her to showcase. The word about her brand spread even more when DISTRICT OF CLOTHING was featured on BuzzFeed. Most recently, Dionna was featured in an initiative by Mayor Muriel Bowser that aims to support creatives in DC, #202Creates. Reflecting on her success in the District, Dionna shared, “I don’t have the words to say thank you.” She emphasized that the city is incredibly supportive of women entrepreneurs and creatives.
So what’s next for District of Clothing?
Dionna is proud to share that DISTRICT OF CLOTHING is expanding to other major US cities or as she excitedly notes, “Districts.” DISTRICT OF CLOTHING will soon be in marketing to Philadelphia and is already Los Angeles focused with the “LA DREAMER” tee. She wants to encourage people from every District to “go beyond dreaming and be a doer.” Dionna’s passion, creativity, and tenacity inspires us. We cannot wait for DISTRICT OF CLOTHING to reach the rest of the country.
7. Maggie O’Neill of SWATCHROOM & SUPERFIERCE
Artist, entrepreneur, and DC native Maggie O’Neill is the proud co-founder of SWATCHROOM, a design, art, and fabrication firm, and the force behind SUPERFIERCE, a traveling art exhibit that features female artists. Curious about what it takes for women to thrive in DC’s creative space, we met with Maggie to understand her path to success and hear her hopes for the future.
Raised in this highly academic city, Maggie’s believed that she would be a lawyer. Her clearly evident passion for making and creating art pushed her in a different direction. The result? An artistic empire that has gathering interest from the likes of various media, clients and event Barrack Obama, who Maggie had the unique opportunity of personally delivering a portrait to the President while at a space she designed. “Opportunities like that don’t happen in other cities”, shared Maggie.
Prior to starting SWATCHROOM, Maggie was focused creating her own pieces and running an innovative design firm. It was in her work that she met her SWATCHROOM business partner Warren Weixler, an architect. Together they have designed unique interiors for private homes, restaurants and offices. Their flexibility extends beyond design. The team has built custom installation pieces for real estate developers and big tech companies, such as Twitter and Microsoft. As a way to stay extremely relevant in the design world, Maggie and Warren constantly have “what if” conversations and collaborate to bring people’s ideas to life through great design. Maggie emphasized that “DC is such a remarkable place to be doing creative design because existing businesses rely on creatives.”
A passionate professional, Maggie aims to give back to the female artist community through SUPERFIERCE, which showcases female artists, provides mentoring, and benefits local breast cancer prevention charities. SUPERFIERCE was created as a way to provide exposure to women in the arts. Right now, over 50% of art is made by women, but only 5% of permanent collections feature art from females. Maggie looks to drastically alter this statistic.
So what’s next for SWATCHROOM & SUPERFIERCE?
Extremely passionate and ambitious, Maggie will continue to delight the District with innovative SWATCHROOM design and art installations. Looking ahead at plans for SUPERFIERCE, Maggie will launch the exhibit in DC and then head to other cities, such as NYC. Her initiative to support female artists and entrepreneurs is inspiring. We admire her commitment to the District’s creative scene and are thrilled to experience her art for many years to come.
8. Monica Kang of InnovatorsBox
Feeling stressed, stuck, or uninspired at work? Turn to DC tech game-changer Monica Khang for help! Last year she left her career in nuclear security and founded InnovatorsBox, an educational firm that helps professionals tap into their creativity. This female CEO is on a mission to empower individuals and show that show that creativity is for everyone, regardless of his or her job title.
The team at InnovatorsBox offers workshops, consulting, curriculum development, products and facilitation of programming. By experiencing the InnovatorsBox approach, individuals and organizations gain skills in emotional intelligence, creative confidence, team work, mindfulness, and problem solving. Monica shared that one of her favorite parts of her job is watching her clients experience ah-ha moments as they overcome old habits or mindsets and become more innovative thinkers. Many of Monica’s clients have shared meaningful life updates with her just months experiencing InnovatorsBox programming.
Entrepreneurship is an unpredictable, yet rewarding path that can be difficult to navigate due to all the noise out there. We asked Monica if she had any advice for budding entrepreneurs and she shared 6 recommendations. First off, she recommends investing in yourself by taking time for personal development and self-care. Monica says you should have a mindset where you compete against yourself and celebrate the successes of others, who are working hard just like you. Relationships are important so she hopes that you surround yourself with people who can inspire, encourage, and push you to be your best. Monica also emphasized the importance of creating high quality products/services, finding communities, and remembering your original reason for starting the business.
So what’s next for InnovatorsBox?
An ambitious and optimistic entrepreneur, Monica is looking to continue growing InnovatorsBox across the country. We are inspired by her desire to help as many people as possible unlock their creativity and destress.
9. Janice Omadeke of The Mentor Method
During a time when diverse, inclusive workplaces are more important than ever, we turned to Janice Omadeke, Founder & CEO of the The Mentor Method, to hear how she is fueling change and solving problems in the District.
Even after working hard to earn leadership positions, Janice shared she never felt fully welcomed or included in non-diverse workplaces. Driven and focused, Janice set out to improve the culture of workplaces in terms of inclusion and diversity. About a year ago, she established The Mentor Method to “make sure it’s easier for minorities to get past the initial career roadblocks and, with a mentor’s guidance, start harnessing the power of their strengths and goals.”
The Mentor Method makes it easier for companies to focus on their inclusion strategies through mentoring and connecting with diverse talent. She and her team work tirelessly to create lasting connections between budding tech entrepreneurs and mentors who are experts in the field. The lasting connections built through The Mentor Method help companies achieve stronger teams that are inclusive and engaging long after people are first hired. For ambitious professionals, The Mentor Method offers courses that give meaningful insights and guidance for navigating a career with confidence. All of this carefully designed programming helps employees and employers capitalize on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
For anyone striving to be an entrepreneur, Janice recommends resources such as Project 500, SEED SPOT, and Black Female Founders Labs. Also, she advises attending events as a way to gain connections in the tight knit DC community.
So what’s next for The Mentor Method?
Janice aims to continue growing The Mentor Method, so that more individuals and companies fully embrace diversity and succeed. Her drive to show employees and employers that inclusion and diversity aren’t just buzzwords, rather they are great aspects of workplaces, is inspiring. We are looking forward to watching as The Mentor Method continues to take DC and the world by storm.
10. Laurie Gillman from East City Bookshop
When Laurie Gillman’s neighborhood bookstore in Eastern Market closed down in 2009 after 40 years, she was left wondering what would happen to the community aspect of the town. In April of 2016, Laurie decided that she would take matters into her own hands and create yet another bookstore for Eastern Market — East City Bookshop.
The mother of 3, coming from a background of Art History and Interior Design, set out to find the perfect space and environment for this new community hub. Ultimately, she succeeded. East City Bookshop is located in a very walkable Eastern Market area with two floors of coziness and various book genres. There is a lovely energy in the bookshop coming from the multiple couches with DC and book-themed decor. (all tying into the light green color scheme, of course!)
The bookshop caters to all age ranges, having a children’s section for kids to hang out and draw on the collaborative DC skyline chalkboard, while also hosting Capitol Hill Village’s knitting group. Other efforts to engage the entire community can be found by hosting around two author events a week and various book clubs.
Laurie’s advice to other entrepreneurs is to be smart about the business decisions you make, do the homework and research needed, and always be okay with doing it wrong the first time around. Never force a business venture that does not feel right, no
matter how much you want to make it work.
So what’s next for East city Bookshop?
East City is only 18 months old and already gaining momgentum by focusing on getting more DC residents and visitors to experience their charming space. They will be working on their PR and other outreach to the DC region. For now, check out their upcoming events to experience this inviting atmosphere for yourself.