October is National Women’s Small Business Month, and here in Bloomington-Normal we are fortunate to have an abundance of amazing women-owned businesses to celebrate! From restaurants and bars to specialty food shops, creative and determined women entrepreneurs are making their mark on our local community.
Annie’s Eats CarryOut and Catering was opened in 2018 by Annie Clem, along with her husband Kenny. After years of competing in Kansas City Barbecue Society competitions and catering events, they brought their award-winning recipes to a storefront on North Clinton Street. Try their barbecue ribs, pulled pork, brisket and more!
Fort Jesse Cafe, founded in 2015 by Abby Strader Boesenberg, is beloved for their home-cooked dishes like Shrimp & Grits and Chicken & Waffles. The restaurant was recently voted Best Breakfast in The Pantagraph Readers’ Choice Awards. In addition to offering delicious food, they give back through their Community Tuesdays program supporting local non-profits.
After closing Gracie’s Tacos and Wings in late 2022 and leaving customers missing their authentic Mexican cuisine, Gracie’s Fonda opened in Summer 2023, with owner Gracie Kelley bringing back her famous birria tacos and wings to the community. According to Kelly, “fonda” in Spanish is a small, fun restaurant.
The Mystic Kitchen brings an upscale dining and lounge experience to downtown Bloomington thanks to owners Chelsea Heffernan and Terrie Vanderlugt. Their seasonally inspired menu and craft cocktails draw diners in. They aim to “combine exceptional hospitality with a hip and unique environment.”
Owned by Sarah Morgan, The PASS Pub & Grill opened in August 2019 and offers a variety of food and drinks for both dine-in and carry out including burgers, appetizers, and their famous “chicken PASSta.” The bar features video gaming and and outdoor patio.
This summer Rosie’s renovated its outdoor space after having a very successful 2022 with some of that success attributed to outdoor dining. Molly Bradle-Reynolds became managing partner of Rosie’s in 2004. She is a partner with Cindy Anet who, along with her husband Bob, purchased the Twenty Grand in 1991, gutted and renovated the entire building, naming it after “Rosie” the mannequin who watches over the bar.
With dreams of owning her own bar, Run N’ Erin’s owner Erin Killian brought new energy to 1107 West Locust St. after purchasing the former 1107 West/Copper Top location from its previous owner. Erin was the manager of 1107 and is a local who attended Normal Community High School. Run N’ Erin’s offers tasty and affordable food specials along with daily drink specials.
Sao’s Late Night Eatery opened in 2023 to fill the need for late night dining options. Owner Sao Renee’s menu of soul food, including collard greens, chopped cheese and her famous Mumbo wings, draws hungry night owls into the former Bloomington Day care Center location on Bloomington’s west side.
Owner Shannon Patterson has been serving up made-from-scratch comfort food at Shannon’s Five Star for over 25 years. First opened as Shannon’s Federal Cafe on West Front St. in downtown Bloomington, Shannon’s Five Star opened its current location in November of 2003. Their Sunday buffet has been one of the most popular in the area for years.
At The Cat’s Meow Cafe, cat lover Lauri Meins combines two of her passions – coffee and feline friends. Sip java while petting adoptable cats in this one-of-a-kind coffee shop. The business partners with Pet Central Helps to help find homes for the cats. They can foster up to 13 cats at a time and have already helped many successfully find new, permanent homes!
The Coffee Hound has been fueling BloNo with java for over 20 years under owner April Fritzen’s leadership. With 3 locations across town, this local favorite has expanded over the years while staying true to its craft-roasted coffee roots. April plans to expand the operation into Lexington, IL in the near future.
The Coffeehouse & Deli has been an Uptown Normal go-to since 1996. Yvonne Wilson, who owns the business with her parents Simon and Jane Wilson, started out as a barista in the shop 15 years ago. She now manages the shop and also owns neighboring business Butter Twice and Again, a small resale shop. It’s important to Yvonne to make The Coffeehouse a spot where everyone is welcome. Customers include college students grabbing a bite between classes, retirees enjoying made-from-scratch baked goods and business colleagues meeting over coffee.
Specialty Food Shops
Bao Destination offers tasty steamed buns thanks to owner Vivian Kong Doctora. After nearly two decades in the corporate world, Vivian decided to follow her passion for bao. What started as just take-home packs is now available in grocery stores across town including Hy-Vee, Green Top Grocery and Common Ground Grocery. Vivian also co-owns Beyond Social which provides fun and engaging cooking demonstrations and participation classes.
Common Ground Grocery is now woman-owned for the 3rd time, with owner Lua Travis continuing this 40-year-old community hub. Common Ground is a retailer of natural products, with many local items like organic produce, meat, cheese and bulk dry goods.
The Decorators’ Grocery is a baker’s paradise, with the largest selection of sprinkles and decorating supplies around. Owner Kelly Mathy took over the shop in 2017, after selling her Downtown Bloomington cafe, Kelly’s Bakery and Cafe which opened in 2005. Kelly is also a Bloomington teacher.
The Garlic Press has been a staple in Normal for over 44 years. This women-owned business has been owned by Dorothy (Dotti) Bushnell since 1976 and is now co-owned by Dotti’s daughter, Sarah McManus, and Pam Locsin. The retail store offers specialty cookware, fun and unique gift items and more. The “Garlic Press Popcorn and Sweet Shop” opened in 2018 after the closure of their cafe and features popcorn, fudge, candy and soda.
Janet’s Cakes and Catering has been baking sweet treats since 1988. Owner Cindy Grethy took over from her mother Janet Kletz and has kept this Bloomington staple going strong. Their wedding cakes and desserts are artistic masterpieces. After installing a 6-foot refrigerated display case in 2019, they have seen an increase in walk-in sales of their dessert bars, cookies, cake squares and other sweets.
The Olive Bin, owned by Traci Howe, offers the largest selection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars around. During a visit to South Carolina in 2012, Traci experienced the excitement and flavor that only the finest premium olive oils and balsamic vinegars can provide. Shortly after returning home, she opened The Olive Bin on November 4, 2013, and is about to celebrate their 10th anniversary!
Sugar Mama satisfies sweet cravings with cupcakes, cookies and more baked up by owner Susie Tod. Started in 2011 in a church basement baking pre-orders, by January 2013, Susie opened a retail location in Downtown Bloomington. The shop which previously occupied space in Uptown Normal too, returned to Bloomington in 2021 and brings the perfect dose of sweetness downtown.
Bars & Entertainment
The Bistro has been owned by Jan “Momma” Lancaster for over 30 years. Known for its inclusive atmosphere and great entertainment, The Bistro is a downtown institution. The alternative bar hosts monthly drag shows, karaoke, live music and more and has organized the Downtown Pride Fest since 2018.
Diggers Again also has a long local history, with new owner Betty Hendricks taking over in 2022 from previous female owner, Peg Bateman. Betty had managed the bar for the past six years and has worked there since 1999.
This Women’s Small Business Month, we celebrate all the outstanding women-owned eateries, coffee shops, bars, and specialty food shops that make Bloomington-Normal such a tasty, lively town. Thank you for all you do to feed and strengthen our community!
You can always find a full list at https://directory.eatlocalbn.com/list-tags/woman-owned/