Imagine a group of 60 or so women in Madison. They are strong, empowered women, women who don’t mince words, women who are respected. They are small business owners, and they have high expectations of their staff. These women are getting things done, and they are all a part of the tapestry of Madison’s vibrant food scene. They are chefs, restaurant owners, suppliers, food cart owners, producers, farmers, baristas, bartenders, and so on.
The group you’re imagining is real, and it has a name: The Culinary Ladies Collective (CLC).
The collective started in the spring of 2016 as a humble Facebook page. In the 18 months since its inception, the group has grown dramatically. While the collective was not a direct result of the 2016 election outcome, one of the co-founders, Harvest Restaurant owner Tami Lax, said it wasn’t totally unrelated, either.
“It was imagined as a way to join forces with other women, and to give back to the community,” Tami explained.
These two aspects of the collective seem to be intertwined and inseparable. First, the need for a forum for female food producers where they can support one another outside of the male-dominated spaces that already exist, and second, a means to collectively interact with other organizations for fundraising and charity events.
Francesca Hong of Morris Ramen explained it simply: “What we do is nourish other people.”
While the CLC isn’t an exclusively women’s group (men and those who identify outside of the gender binary are allowed to join), it is a group for women to share their stories, to celebrate their achievements, and to support and nurture one another in a very intentionally feminine space.
“As a small business owner it is easy to feel isolated,” Tami said. “It is easy to feel like this is just happening to you, so it is nice to have a space where we can be in camaraderie with other women business owners. It’s nice to be able to get advice on how to manage being a mom with being a business owner, to be able to talk to other owners about how to best keep up with regulations, or about what dishwasher to lease. It is also wonderful to just be able to celebrate victories with other women.”
Francesca added, “That is the biggest part, after our first meeting, after getting to talk in the group and just be heard. It was so cathartic. I felt so relieved afterward.”
Looking toward the future, members of the CLC are looking forward to incorporating formal mentoring for female food business owners who are just starting out in the industry. They are also planning to do more fundraising and activities in concert with other organizations around town.
I look forward to seeing how they blossom. One thing is sure: This group of capable, well-respected women will continue to nourish patrons, each other, and the community for a long time to come.
Want to support these women-owned businesses? Some of the currently active members of the CLC are:
1 | Jennie Capellaro of The Green Owl Café
2 | Molly Maciejewski of Madison Sourdough
3 | Shanna Pacifico of Graduate Madison
4 | Lauren Montelbano of Surya Café inside Perennial Yoga
5 | Anna Thomas Bates of Landmark Creamery
6 | Kathy Brozyna of Madison Sourdough
7 | Laurel Burleson of Ugly Apple Food Cart
8 | Clare Stoner Fehsenfeld of Quince & Apple