Cheetie Kumar

Outstanding Women in Raleigh’s Hospitality Industry

In Buzz, March 2021, Web Exclusive by Lauren Kruchten1 Comment

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WEB EXCLUSIVE Ntozake Shange, an American playwright and poet who unfortunately passed away in 2018, once said, “Where there is a woman, there is magic.” Our great city wouldn’t be the remarkable place it is today without the contributions of so many extraordinary women throughout various sectors of the economy.

With that said, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on exceptional Raleigh females over a plethora of industries each week. These fearless females are leading the way in their industries, making a difference in their communities and serving as an inspiration to others who aspire to do the same.

This week, we’re highlighting some of the resilient females in Raleigh’s hospitality industry who have continued to prove that women can really do it all—while keeping local residents and visitors alike delightfully satiated.

Ashley Christensen

Ashley Christensen

A James Beard Award-winning chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and philanthropist, it’s no doubt that Christensen is the pride and joy of Raleigh’s food and beverage industry. Not only do her restaurants continually make the list of Raleighites’ favorites (we’ll never get enough of her famous mac and cheese at Poole’s Diner), but she is humble in her success and continues to give back to the community with various fundraising events and charities.

Cheetie Kumar

Cheetie Kumar

A rockstar chef (literally—she’s a musician too), Kumar has also been nominated for several James Beard awards throughout the years and has been lauded by several noteworthy publications for her always-changing, ever-exciting Indian, Pan-Asian and Southern fusion menu at Garland. Also worth mentioning is the incredible COVID-safe, covered and heated patio her and her team created that makes dining outdoors—even in the dead of winter—feel like a festive getaway.

Lynn Minges

The role of president and CEO of the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association (or NCRLA, as it’s most commonly referred to)—which represents 20,000 businesses throughout the state—is a hefty one in normal times, none the less during a global pandemic, but Minges has upheld the role with grace and determination. She’s played a part in NCRLA grants, events, strategies for hospitality businesses to reopen (including Count on Me NC), the recently announced Blueprint for Revival of the NC Hospitality Industry, and more initiatives that are helping restaurants, hotels and bars across the state stay in business during the COVID crisis.

Maggie Kane

The founder and executive director of A Place At The Table, Raleigh’s first pay-what-you-can cafe, Maggie Kane has been serving meals to community members in need since 2018. Before that, she worked for a nonprofit with people experiencing homelessness. When the pandemic hit, Kane and the APATT team served an average of 250 free meals a day; though she had to close the cafe temporarily last fall in order to adjust operations, APATT continues to be a source of sustenance for those in need of a meal—and for anyone looking for a delicious breakfast and/or lunch option Downtown.

Preeti Waas

Waas, a native of South India and the owner of Indian-inspired cafe Cheeni, is redefining what healthy food means to Raleighites. Instead of just serving foods that rely on fat-free and low calorie ingredients, she integrates whole grains and superfoods like einkorn, one of the oldest wheats in the world, among other traditional Indian ingredients in each of her housemade breakfast and lunch dishes. Despite the pandemic, Waas just opened Cheeni’s second location at the Alexander Family YMCA on Hillsborough Street and has gained quite the following for her incredible cookies through Sugar and Spice Kitchen.

Lori Jones

When the COVID shutdown hit, Jones, the owner and CEO of natural skincare company Jonesies LLC, pivoted—like many—to a concept that many people (us included!) could get behind: coffee. Black·ology Coffee Company launched in July 2020 with a mission to “cultivate a love of Black coffee by way of the community, the development of relationships and the tool of education,” reads her website. Black·ology coffee is currently sold online and at NoRa Cafe in Raleigh, but Jones hopes to one day open her own brick-and-mortar coffee shop in a local Black community.

Vicky Ismail

For over four years now, Carroll’s Kitchen has been creating healthy employment for women overcoming crisis and teaching culinary skills, individual skills and social stability through its grab-and-go teaching kitchen. So far, co-founders Ismail and Jim Freeze have helped over 26 women (and counting!) get back on their feet through Carroll’s Kitchen’s Restorative Employment Model. The cafe’s delicious breakfast and lunch items—think toasts, kolaches (sweet and savory pastries), sandwiches, salads and more—make supporting Ismail and Freeze’s mission easy.

Kristie Nystedt

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Beer isn’t just for the boys. Raleigh Brewing Company‘s president Nystedt is the first woman to own a craft brewery in the state of North Carolina, paving the way for future female brewers and brewery owners in the state. Since opening in 2013, Raleigh Brewing Company has expanded to two locations in RDU Airport, and recently opened a new taproom at the Arboretum in Cary. Hell yes, ma’am indeed.

Jackie Morin

Morin’s artisanal cotton candy company Wonderpuff has gained a cult following since it launched in 2017—and it’s no wonder given the brand’s fun marketing, Morin’s colorful attitude, and the multitude of delicious flavors the vegan, organic and gluten-free cotton candy comes in. You can’t help but smile when visiting Wonderpuff’s Instagram page, or sinking your teeth into a tub of orange cardamom, campfire s’more, black velvet cake or raspberry mojito-inspired cotton candy. As of now, Wonderpuff can only be purchased online, but—sweet news—it’s opening a brick-and-mortar location soon at Boxyard RTP.

Lilly Balance

The genius behind Person Street’s popular watering hole, William & Company (or Willco, as the regulars call it), Ballance has managed to create and maintain a friendly neighborhood hangout spot that all Raleighites can enjoy. The drinks are unique, delicious and fairly priced; the staff is welcoming and knows all the regulars’ names; and the atmosphere is intimate and cozy—the perfect spot to grab a drink before dinner at a nearby resto or tuck in for a nightcap.

Crystal Harris

Raleigh’s go-to salsa guru? That would be Mama’s Salsa’s Harris. The stay-at-home mom of three started the business by taking orders from local family and friends, then selling at pop-up markets throughout the Triangle; now, Harris’s products are also sold at local shops such as Rebus Works, Elk Local Foods and Raleigh Cheesy, and have been featured in collaborations with 12 Paws Ice Cream, The Spiedie Turtle, ZenFish Poké Bar and others. “Women were created to do hard things, and do them well,” Harris said in a recent Instagram post. “We can handle the pressure, the sleepless nights, the grind, the tears and the uncertainty. We are resilient. We are capable. We are worth it.” Amen!

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