How local food entrepreneurs are showing up for equality on International Women’s Day

Bringing knowledge of jamming and canning as well as experience from living abroad to Grand Rapids, Zenobia Taylor-Weiss opened Cellar Door Preserves in 2016. Initially working out of the Downtown Market’s incubator kitchen, Taylor-Weiss was able to open her own location in Creston in November of 2019.

“One of my favorite things about [the incubator space] was the camaraderie. Being in a place where I would run into other small food businesses, you can swap stories and advice and ask each other’s opinions. When I moved out into my own space, there’s a lot of benefits but I don’t get that [interaction],” she says. After a conversation with another female business owner in her industry, it dawned on her that “there’s a wealth of knowledge [here]. We really should all be talking to each other, sharing information, and supporting each other.”

Creating a support system

One fellow female business owner that has been able to benefit from this camaraderie is Steph Ruhstorfer, owner of Notso Queso. Started in August 2019, Notso Queso makes dairy-free queso from a potato-carrot base. 

“Starting a business can be pretty complex and challenging at times,” Ruhstorfer says. “Having a support system to share the highs and the lows with makes the journey worth it.”

Courtesy of Chartreuse Sisters

Opened at the end of October 2019, Chartreuse Sisters is also a part of this collective. The product of sisters Alyson and Mallory Caillaud-Jones’ creative upbringing and their passion for the arts, Chartreuse Sisters specializes in original baked goods and artisanal products currently. Looking forward, the sisters have a long-term goal of “opening a bakery/coffee shop that doubles as an artist hub,” Mallory says.

“We met Zenobia at a holiday market and she invited us to a women-in-food-business meetup. At the meetup, we all thought it would be a great idea to join together for a pop-up event and what better day than International Women’s Day!” says Alyson.

Sunday, March 8, 2020, marks the date for the annual International Women’s Day. Started in 1911, this day “[celebrates] the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women [and] marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality,” according to the official website. This year’s event has the theme Each for Equal, focusing on gender equality and the premise that “an equal world is an enabled world.”

Taking place in Grand Rapids on Sunday will be the first International Women’s Day Pop Up, co-hosted by Cellar Door Preserves and Lark by Kate Bolt. Based in Holland, Lark by Kate Bolt provides food and cocktail recipes that encourage people to enjoy life, good food, and occasional indulgences.

“It was really what can we do, how can we boost each other up, [and] how can we be of support to one another. This was our first idea and we thought International Women’s Day would be a good springboard for introducing our collective to the area,” says Taylor-Weiss.

Impacting the community

Supporting women-owned businesses goes beyond just business. The growth of businesses creates a ripple effect and impacts communities as a whole.

“Gender equality is important for everyone,” Taylor-Weiss says. “It’s not just the individual person you’re lifting up, it’s the whole society. When women build each other up [and] when men are allies, that not only helps society, it helps children, [and] it helps future generations. I think it just makes for a stronger and healthier community.”

“We believe that by supporting women-run businesses, the more they will grow and the more diverse the business community becomes. On a local level, it starts with events like this, which showcase businesses that may not have the resources that others do. Through growth, businesses can then give back to the community,” Mallory says.

(Courtesy of Chartreuse Sisters)

“For this event, a portion of the vendor proceeds will be donated to non-profit women’s organizations,” Alyson says. Each vendor is able to select their own organization to support and their donation may not be monetary. Many of the business owners have decided to support Open Door Women's Center, a Dégagé Ministries shelter for adult women in crisis, says Taylor-Weiss.

Maintaining momentum

Looking forward, Ruhstorfer plans to “continue [working] closely with [her] network of women food entrepreneurs and [hopes] to offer insight and tips to women looking to start their own businesses.”

“I definitely think this core group of women-owned businesses will keep doing things together,” Taylor-Weiss says. “Hopefully, there will be other women that join us. We’ll take all the brainpower and support we can get. I would love to continue [this] as an annual event.”

Courtesy of Chartreuse Sisters
The Caillaud-Jones sisters are eager to continue being a part of women-focused groups and events as well, including this one. “We hope to continue having meetups with this group, as well as collaborate with other women-owned businesses in Grand Rapids. One of the reasons we want to open an inclusive, artist hub where creatives can show their work for free, is because we are passionate about supporting artists in the community; especially those who may have encountered obstacles when it comes to showing their art,” Alyson says.

A call for action

For Taylor-Weiss, businesses need to be intentional about women’s equality. Shining a light on issues such as sexism and paid maternity leave is one way to do that. “As a female business owner, I have felt very empowered to be in charge of things and be one of those people that can make those decisions.”

Ruhstorfer echoes the importance of businesses highlighting change. “Businesses can help do their part by hiring and encouraging employees from all backgrounds to shatter glass ceilings and pave the way for more diversity and representation across the board,” she says.

“It’s extremely important for women to support each other instead of compete with each other,” Mallory says. “Coming from different backgrounds and experiences, everyone has a different piece of the puzzle. We can finish our puzzles alone but if we work together, we can fill in the gaps quicker and have more fun doing it!” 

Looking at International Women’s Day and beyond, the sisters say “support local, support women!”

“For International Women's Day, support your local women entrepreneurs and reflect on how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Network with other women entrepreneurs and find a community that you can lean on for support and advice,” says Ruhstorfer.

Throughout Grand Rapids this week, in addition to the Pop Up, there are several events taking place in recognition of International Women’s Day including the 8th annual Michigan International Women’s Day event, Sow Hope’s special movie screening of Disney’s Queen of Katwe, and the launch of Kween beer, a specialty femmehouse ale collaboration between Brewery Vivant and Guardian Brewing Company.

For more information on the International Women’s Day Pop Up, visit the event’s Facebook page here.

About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Brightwork Marine LLC, has over 14 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing and graphic design. She helps businesses grow and assists with: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management, and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.

Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at [email protected]!
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