Women-led Businesses in Raleigh are Changing Lives

Women-led Businesses in Raleigh are Changing Lives

Escazu chocolate maker at work Photo credit Chris Richman

Posted March 17, 2024

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From welcoming cafes to trendy boutiques, Raleigh, North Carolina is filled with thriving female-owned businesses. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re showcasing a few of Raleigh’s enterprises that make lasting global impacts.

Why not show your support next time you’re in Raleigh by stopping by? That cup of coffee or darling new outfit might be more powerful than you think.

WF WHM Designed for founders Joy Kristen Sydow and Cary Heise Photo courtesy DFJ
Designed for Joy founders Kristen Sydow and Cary Heise – Photo courtesy DFJ

Designed for Joy – Providing Stability to Vulnerable Women

Who knew that a gorgeous leather handbag could do more than just make you look good?  With meaningful work making leather goods, women at Designed for Joy (DFJ) regain their dignity and find hope.

“We’re not just making earrings here. We’re impacting people’s lives,” explains Kristen Sydow, who launched DFJ with co-founder Cary Heise. Whether they come from prison, trafficking, or homelessness, the women find a safe place to earn a living wage with no stigma about their past.

So far, more than 140 women have earned over $500,000 in wages. The day work program helps those in need of immediate funds, while a job training program helps woman prepare for the workforce.

Visit Designed for Joy to learn more about their mission.

Carroll’s Kitchen – More than Just a Meal

I wasn’t the only one who’d never heard of a kolache before I popped into Carroll’s Kitchen for breakfast. For the women who work at this grab-and-go café, learning how to make this unusual Czech pastry was a recipe for a new life.

Co-founder and CEO Vicky Ismail provides job training and life skills for women coming out of tough circumstances. The non-profit cafe offers a supportive place for those overcoming addiction, domestic violence, incarceration, and homelessness.

Working with other community partners, Carroll’s Kitchen has helped over 30 women gain economic stability since opening in 2016. I took a bite of fluffy raspberry cream cheese kolache and stuffed a few extra dollars in the donation box by the cash register.

Visit Carroll’s Kitchen for more.

WF WHM Carrolls Kitchen staff with Co founder Vicky Ismail third from left Photo courtesy visitRaleigh.com 1
Carroll’s Kitchen staff with Co founder Vicky Ismail (third from left) Photo courtesy of Visit Raleigh

The Flourish Market – A Boutique with a Purpose

Every time I wear my gold flower earrings, I feel happy, knowing that my purchase played a small role in rescuing women from human trafficking.

You’ll find jewelry like this, along with goods from around the globe at the Flourish Market. Every item serves a purpose, from leather bags made by vulnerable women in Ethiopia, to baby gifts made by refugee moms starting over in Raleigh.

Owner Emily Grey was inspired to open the market after friends constantly asked her to bring back goods from her travels: a necklace, a leather bag, or a pair of shoes. We might have something here, she thought.

She believed women would be interested in using their purchasing power for good. “I knew I just had to make it accessible and easy,” she says.

In the fall, Flourish will open Raleigh’s first coworking space for women, next to the market’s new location. This community hub will offer social events and workshops designed to encourage women to find their purpose and joy. 

To learn more, visit The Flourish Market.

A Place at the Table – Where Community Meets Good Food

As I tucked into my cheesy grits and cornbread, volunteers rushed to clear tables, kids scampered about, and diners from all walks of life chatted over sandwiches and breakfast dishes. 

“We’re the intersection of many kinds of people. Some are food insecure, struggle with mental health or homelessness,” explains Maggie Kane, Founder and Executive Director of Raleigh’s first pay-what-you-can café.

Kane had a vision to create community around food, bringing dignity to all. Those who can, pay full price; diners short on cash pay less or volunteer their time. You can also “pay it forward” so others can eat. Since its 2020, over 4,000 diners have donated $62,000 in free meals.

There’s no turning back for Kane, who is launching a food truck later this year to serve those who can’t make it to the table.

Visit A Place at the Table for more.

WF WHM 321Coffee provides meaningful employment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities Photo credit Keenan Hairston
321 Coffee provides meaningful employment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Photo credit Keenan Hairston

321 Coffee – Meaningful Employment for Adults with Disabilities

When Lindsay Wrege was in third grade, she moved to a new school. The first girls to befriend her had various disabilities. It didn’t matter – they played together at recess and carpooled to ballet class.

Her childhood experience later motivated Wrege to start 321 Coffee, an inclusive business that employs adults with disabilities. The name refers to Down syndrome, which occurs when people have three copies of the 21st chromosome. Today, 321 employs over 50 adults in six locations.

On my visit, a barista named Paul took my order and shared that he also roasted the café’s beans. Thanks to 321 Coffee, Paul, who has Down’s Syndrome, has a fulltime job he loves. The girls that befriended Wrege in third grade? They work at 321 now too.

Eighty percent of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed. Wrege and 321 co-founder Michael Evans are changing that, one cup at a time.

Learn more at 321 Coffee.

Escazú Chocolates

Who knew that blissing out on chocolate could lead to a successful career? That’s what happened when Tiana Young fell in love with Raleigh’s popular bean-to-bar Escazú chocolate shop. Her passion for the product led her to join forces with founder Danielle Centeno as a co-owner.

Together they lead a team that makes magic with cacao beans from Latin America, creating bars, confections, ice cream, and drinking chocolate in their Raleigh factory. You’ll also find treats from other local and woman-owned businesses. It just goes to show that the power of women teaming up with women really can make life sweeter, one deliciously decadent chocolate at a time.

Shop online or stop by Escazu Chocolates.

This is just a sample of women-owned businesses in Raleigh driving positive change. Find your favorite and show them some love.

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  • Kirsten Harrington has been a freelance food and travel writer for over 12 years, chronicling adventures in the US and China. Her work has appeared in WhereTraveler, The Seattle Times, Edible Orlando, The Beijinger and numerous other publications. When she’s not writing, you can find her scoping out new adventures, hiking or enjoying a meal with her family. Follow Kirsten on her blog.