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She Owns It: Women-Led Businesses in Durham

Estimated Read Time:
7 minutes

From restaurants to retail and distilleries, it’s clear that talent runs aplenty in this city. Here are some women-led spots that are worthy of your wallet.

Posted By Discover Durham Staff

Durham is where women — white, Black, Latina, and queer — have made marked change in the community. It's where Virginia Williams, one of the Royal Seven, took part in a sit-in protesting segregation at Durham's Royal Ice Cream parlor in 1957. It's also where conditions are among the best in the nation for women to start businesses, a city with the most female business owners and one of the best cities for women in leadership. We support women here.

Our present-day cityscape is marked with the fruits and fortitude of women-led ventures. From Bright Black Candles to So Good Pupusas, wins for women look good on Durham. When founders and CEOs of startups and businesses like Firsthand Foods and Zen Succulent take flight, women-led success feels powerful.

The entrepreneurial spirit of women is everywhere in the Bull City. Outlined below is a collection of talented business owners that we crowd-sourced from our followers. Read on to find out more about the women-led businesses you can support during Women's History Month ... and all year long.

Women-Owned Coffee Shops in Durham

Bean Traders

Christy and Dave Chapman have forged a true love story set over steaming mugs of coffee. South Durham's Bean Traders follows each bean from farm to cup, serving 800 people daily with farm-fresh ingredients and contributing over 3,000+ lbs of brewed coffee grinds to compost yearly.

Cocoa Cinnamon

From a smaller coffee operation on a bike to three locations and Little Waves Coffee Roasters, Cocoa Cinnamon's story is sweet. Areli Barrera de Grodski was born in Mexico and lived in Tijuana until she was six. Her ingenuity and determination to bolster community create opportunities to celebrate culture, churros, and delectable, locally sourced desserts and beverages.

EverLou Coffee Co.

Tori Partin and her family conceived of EverLou Coffee as a place to connect and create. Beyond just great coffee, it's a safe space for everyone to enjoy and a celebration of Durham and its history and legacy of culture and arts.

a woman smiles in front of the counter of a coffee shop and coffee roasting equipment.

Areli Barrera de Grodski at Cocoa Cinnamon. Photo: Discover Durham

Women-Owned Shops, Gifts, Florists and Jewelers in Durham

Bowerbird Flowers and Apothecary

Diane started Bowerbird Flowers and Apothecary with a passion for flowers and floral arranging. Over nearly a decade, she has seen the business grow from a small Chapel Hill studio to a beautiful UHill shop and botanical bar filled with flowers and arrangements, locally-made and thoughtfully curated gifts, cards, and an apothecary featuring skincare, teas, candles, and more. But Bowerbird is much more than a retail shop: their in-demand floral services keep them busy designing decor for weddings and events year-round and supporting local flower farms while they're at it.

Bright Black Candles

Bright Black candles "pay tribute to Black greatness one beautifully-crafted candle at a time." Intended to "change narratives and enlighten the world," these candles' scents are intended to get you talking about the complexities of identity, rich black history and community. Developed by Tiffany M. Griffin, PhD, with her husband Dariel, the Durham scent contains hints of tobacco, cotton and whiskey, each from local, treasured sources. It's carefully cultivated to pay homage to Durham's grit, authenticity and soul.

Chet Miller, Parker & Otis, Parker Paper Co. and Tiny

Jennings Brody owns four unique shops that offer various unique goods and gifts in Durham. Named after her grandfather, a “scrappy” candy salesman from Indiana who had a penchant for antiques, Chet Miller provides curated gifts, décor and artifacts. With Parker & Otis, Jennings created delightful food with fresh, local ingredients and wares perfect for any occasion at the American Tobacco Campus. Filled with a delightful selection of things for children (and children at heart!), Tiny is filled to the brim with tiny treasures. Parker Paper Co. celebrates the inspiration and possibility of a nice notebook and writing utensil.


Jewelsmith specializes in custom and repurposed jewelry. Linda McGill started her jewelry career in Durham in the 1970s. Unfortunately, she passed in 2021, but her team is continuing her amazing legacy with Kristine Wylie at the helm. The team designers, goldsmiths and gemologists are all there to make you something beautiful and unique.

Diane Joyal poses with bouquets of flowers at her business, Bowerbird Flowers and Apothecary

Bowerbird Flowers and Apothecary. Photo: Discover Durham

Hamilton Hill Jewelry

Sarah Hill is passionate about art, design, fashion, personal style, and urban revitalization. She opened Hamilton Hill Jewelry in Brightleaf Square to share her unique jewelry with the community. Sarah has had the honor of being employed by the Smithsonian Institution, The Urban Institute, Duke Women’s Studies, and other brilliant organizations.


Wendy Sease, founder and owner, and Kate Kyle, shop stylist, were both born in North Carolina; they share a birthday, a love for dogs, and a great sense of style. This neighborhood shop is filled with beautiful, handmade goods from equally stunning makers. Kate has been with Wendy from the beginning of the Indio journey — they’ve worked in tandem to curate the beautiful space and the gorgeous selection of goods, workshops, and events that make up Indio.

Pine State Flowers

Around 80 percent of flowers used in the U.S. are imported from other countries, often traveling thousands of miles before they arrive at their destination. Pine State Flowers is doing blooms differently. More than 95 percent of the flowers used at Pine State Flowers are grown in North Carolina, and the shop has put over $150,000 into the hands of local farmers since 2014. Visit them in the historic Roll's Florist building off Chapel Hill Road.

Vert & Vogue

Nadira and Ryan Hurley met in a men's boutique in Paris in 2001. They opened Vert & Vogue in 2008, and now they're one of the longest-standing women-led businesses in Durham. Their boutique features modern vibes and upscale fashion for women.

The Zen Succulent

Located in downtown Durham, this lush, gorgeous, modern terrarium and plant craft business was created by the mother/daughter team Margaret and Megan George in 2016. Megan is the author of Modern Terrarium Studio, a teacher, workshop leader, and the mind behind the brand and design of her terrarium masterpieces. Her mother manages all of the logistics of the business.

Gibson Girl Vintage

Sara Spissu opened Gibson Girl Vintage on the corner of Chapel Hill Road and South Buchanan Boulevard as a bright and welcoming destination for vintage shoppers. The curated clothing and housewares attracted a community originally built on Spissu's popular social media account, and now the store hosts small community events.

Durham Vintage Collective

Relatively new to the local vintage scene, you can find Durham Vintage Collective on Parrish Street. Kameko and Alison have created an amazing collection of clothes, furniture, art, and more. They're also constantly refreshing their store so every time you visit, you're likely to find something new.

The Artisan Market at 305

Karen Casey is passionate about supporting Durham's thriving community of local artists and makers, and it shows. Her downtown shop is full of handmade art, jewelry, gifts and more.


Lola Olufolabi brought a piece of her native Nigeria and her travels across Africa to offer to the Durham community when she decided to make her new home here. Shop fair trade clothing, jewelry, personal care items and more at this downtown shop.


Alyssa Cherry has made sustainability chic and fun. In her North Durham shop, you a variety buy soothing soaps, cleaning products, and beauty products. And then when you're empty, you can purchase home refills and refill them right in the store. You'll also see Fillaree products in local hotels like The Durham.

City Box Durham

If you're looking to give someone a sample of the Bull City, check out City Box Durham. Owner Jeanine Sato compiles wonderful gift boxes with apparel, coffee, snacks and more.

A woman smiles among plants in her store.

Megan George at Zen Succulent. Photo: Discover Durham

Women-Owned Arts and Entertainment Businesses

Ella West Gallery

Linda Shropshire has had a passion for the arts since grade school, and she has fulfilled her dream of opening a space for the work of underrepresented artists in her Parrish Street space, building on the legacy of historic Black Wall Street. Find out more about her vision and the artists represented at the gallery on our podcast episode.

Missy Lane's Assembly Room

Cicely Mitchells has channeled her considerable experience in music entertainment and cultural placemaking into this jazz hall, coffee shop, bar, yoga studio and meeting space in downtown. On any given night, you can see a world-renowned touring act, local musicians or students playing music together, join an open mic or a Salsa night.

Night School Bar

Lindsey Andrews opened Night School Bar with a mission to democratize education. The bar offers courses and workshops in the humanities taught by expert instructors from its faculty collective.

Delores Pottery

Get your hands in the clay under the instruction of Delores Farmer. Classes span intro and intermediate levels, and single and two-day workshops and open studio hours are available.

Portrait of Ella West Gallery founder Linda Shopshire in her gallery, a bright space with white walls and lots of art.

Linda Shropshire at Ella West Gallery. Photo: Morgan Crutchfield Photography / Ella West Gallery

Women-Owned Bakeries and Sweets Shops in Durham

Chez Moi Bakery

What started as a passion project involving a bottle of duty-free Caribbean rum and a home oven led Rhonda Jones to quit her corporate job and bring her beloved rum cakes and lemon curd to Durham's masses at a growing number of establishments like Namu, Cocoa Cinnamon locations, and more. Since she was featured on PBS's "A Few Great Bakeries," she hasn't looked back. Chez Moi's highly crave-able sweet treats are worth seeking out.


Summer Bicknell of Locopops made it to Durham from Nashville by way of Mexico, stopping to learn how to make paletas and speak Spanish before bringing both creamy and juice-based popsicles to locations all over Durham. Find these delicious treats at their location at 2618 Hillsborough Road, and at summer concerts and various grocery stores, co-ops, and shops throughout the Bull City.

Rose's Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets

Katie Meddis is the talent behind the sweet side of Rose's. The legendary ice cream sandwiches, artisan pastries, homemade candies, macarons, bread puddings and cookies we've all loved since 2013 are Katie's gift to Durham. And don't overlook the menu of Asian-style noodle dishes, salads, vegetables and dumplings while you're there.

La Recette Patisserie

Founded by Djamila Bakour, La Recette Patisserie serves French, Algerian and Middle Eastern desserts from its South Durham shop. She makes wedding-worthy formal, custom cakes as well as ready-to-order treats.

Sweets By Shayda

Shayda Wilson honed her skills in patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris and, lucky for us, returned to Durham to open her sweets shop. Find a vast menu of macaron flavors at her charming downtown shop.

Little Barb's Bakery

Barbara Nigro wants to share her love of cake and her family legacy in hospitality at her neighborhood bakery based in the Durham Food Hall. Stop by for simple yet beautiful baked goods and treats in the middle of the Central Park District.

The Parlour

Vanessa Mazuz has been serving homemade ice cream with creative flavors and local ingredients since 2011. Now with two locations in Durham, you'll recognize The Parlour by the consistent line out the door. Even dairy-free folks can enjoy coconut-based flavors that satisfy as much as the cream-based flavor.

Ashleigh Bakes Daily

At Ashleigh Bakes Daily, the name says it all. With no mixers in her kitchen, ever, Ashleigh Ratchford makes delightfully decadent cookies with nostalgic and whimsical flavors like Chocolate Birthday Cake and Honey Bun.

A man orders at a bakery counter where there are sweets in a bakery case.

La Recette Patisserie. Photo: Eric Waters / Discover Durham

Women-Owned Bars and Beverage Businesses in Durham

Arcana Bar and Lounge

At this speakeasy-like cocktail bar downtown, owner Erin Karcher has created an intentional space that's inclusive and diverse. Events and near-nightly tarot card readings build community and positive vibes while creative cocktails satisfy tastebuds, with and without alcohol

Crafts & Drafts NC

This woman-founded venture was the passion project of Virginia George, who left a tech job to bring her dream to fruition. This D.I.Y. bar endeavors to "bring communities together through creative exploration and continuous learning." Get a craft set or bring your own and enjoy a drink with friends or family. Kids are invited too!

Durham Distillery and Corpse Reviver

Melissa and Lee Katrincic combine tradition with modern chemistry to create both classic and contemporary gin. Melissa manages Durham Distillery’s business and marketing operations, and Durham Distillery actively supports STEM, musical, and performing arts education, while ensuring a living wage for employees. In addition to their internationally award-winning Conniption gin, Durham Distillery also offers coffee, mocha, chocolate liqueurs, and cucumber vodka. Try all of the spirits at Corpse Reviver, Durham Distillery's on-site cocktail bar located behind the distillery.

Growler Grlz

You can find this woman-owned taproom in Hope Valley Commons. Owner and founder Karen Poulson has been serving South Durham since 2014. Growler Grlz has 42 taps, an extensive wine list and a patio. You can also find regular trivia nights, a run club, and other fun games in the taproom.

Liberty & Plenty Distillery

After many years spent in corporate finance and beverage import and distribution, Liberty & Plenty owner Tina Williford earned her expertise in distilling at Scotland's renowned Heriot-Watt University. She joins the estimated one percent of female-owned distilleries in the US – the second here in Durham – with her cocktail bar and distillery adjacent to The Rickhouse. The distillery has plans to produce rum, whiskey, gin, and flavored vodkas, with their Bronze Bull Spirits Bourbon and Rye, Cap & Cane Rum and Slate Belt Vodka as the first releases. Pick up a bottle or enjoy a seasonal take on a classic cocktail at the bar.

Melanated Wine & Spirits

Melanated Wine is Durham’s first Black-owned wine shop. Owner Lashonda Fort-Modest wanted to simplify wine and make it enjoyable and accessible for the minority community, so she set out to explore what the industry was missing for people of color. Melanated Wine demystifies the complexities of the buying experience, so wine can be educational, delicious, and fun for everyone.

HERitage Wines

Ashley Rawlinson is the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2-certified owner and founder of HERitage Wines, which was created to create space for people of color, and in particular Black women, to feel included and welcomed in wine spaces. Try her line of wines at a tasting or try a drop-in, monthly or quarterly membership for access to events and tastings with fellow SIPsters.

Killer Queen

Killer Queen wine bar is a cozy and welcoming downtown wine bar that's designed to be the life of the party. Community events, a rotating wine selection including half-off bottles on Mondays, fun and satisfying snacks and a knowledgeable and welcoming staff make this wine bar a highlight in Durham.

The Pickleback 2

With regular events including DJs, screenings of sporting events, bar food and more, Renee Batchelor's Rigsbee Avenue bar is an almost guaranteed good time. Stop in for a dance party or to chill with friends.

Velvet Hippo

Downtown Durham's newest rooftop bar is a partnership among five women who have a passion for the hospitality industry, Durham's community and dogs – more specifically, the pitbull breeds that inspired the bar's name. The bar is a creative indoor/outdoor space that's seasonally decorated to feel cozy and welcoming in winter and airy and bright in warmer months.

A couple enjoys a glass of wine at Killer Queen Wine Bar in Durham, NC

Killer Queen Wine Bar. Photo: Eric Waters / Discover Durham

Women-Owned Personal Care and Exercise Businesses in Durham

Dogstar Tattoo

Established in 1997, Dogstar Tattoo Company is one of the Triangle’s oldest shops. For over a decade, the business was located on Durham’s busy Ninth Street. In 2010, they relocated to Golden Belt to occupy a beautifully renovated warehouse space in an energy-efficient Gold LEED-certified building.


The minds behind Hairizon Beauty believe that hair care’s best ingredients are found in nature. They provide products with ingredients derived from the earth that avoid any unnecessary chemical additives and instead incorporate essential oils, herbs, flowers and minerals to protect and strengthen hair. Their store is located on Guess Road in Durham.

Yoga Off East

Yoga Off East recently refurbished their new studio on Ninth Street. They offer a variety of yoga classes designed to strengthen, stretch, and support you as your best self, "regardless of which version walks in." Kathy Smith has given space for over a dozen instructors to guide you in a restorative and invigorating practice.

AuroraFlow Massage

AuroraFlow was created by Castle Frame as a diverse and inclusive space for wellness in Durham. Book massage, acupuncture, energy work, skincare and more with the caring and supportive team of service providers.

Base Moves

Base Moves is a pilates and movement studio that offers musically-driven workouts that are fun and drive serious results. Work out with owners Stella Cook, Sarah Honer and Adeline Sussman at mat and reformer pilates classes that range from relaxing and stretchy to intense and energetic.

Women-Owned Restaurants and Food-Related Businesses in Durham

Firsthand Foods

The co-owners of Firsthand Foods are reshaping the supply chain for meat in North Carolina by creating market opportunities for small-scale farmers by connecting those who humanely raise beef, pork and lamb to restaurants and stores in Durham. In recent years, they have reported bringing over $1.3M into Durham's local food economy, with nearly 80 percent of revenue supporting small farmers and rural meat processors in their network. With the help of their distribution partners, they brought over 300,000 pounds of ethically-raised meats to market in 2019 alone.

Grub, Nosh, and Piper in the Park

Three friends and partners have created three amazing restaurants — together they form Rocketship Restaurants, offering delicious fast-casual food all over Durham. For this group, "it is more than providing great food and service. It’s about creating community in a city they all love, and work consistently to make better."

So Good Pupusas

You’ll have the opportunity to savor the stuff of brilliance when you visit this haven of mobile magic founded by Cecelia Polance. This delightful food truck offers a self-proclaimed "taste of El Salvador with a side of social justice," mostly in the form of mouthwatering chicharron, frijoles, queso, and ayote pupusas. While the cuisine is flavorful, the women-led team is a strong pillar in our community. So Good Pupusas supports their nonprofit partner, Pupusas for Education, which provides scholarships to undocumented and DACAmented students to attend any higher education institution or program. Eat with a purpose!

Super Taqueria

From Tobacco to Tortillas”, an ABC News story reads... a stark homage to the progress Durham's growing Hispanic community has made in the Bull City. The piece follows Roselia Flores, the entrepreneur who started Super Taqueria in 2001, and supermarket La Superior in 2005. The supermarket employs 49 people and is supported by vendors from Mexico, Central, and Latin America. She secured grants and a loan from the historically Black-owned Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and her success is a glimpse into the power of community-based support and empowerment that has been a common thread throughout Durham for generations, in all walks of life.


Monuts started as a donut stand operating off a tricycle in 2011 and has blossomed into a bustling café in the Ninth Street neighborhood, serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and early dinner menus that focus on local ingredients. Owner Lindsay Moriarty is a leader in progressive and fair labor practices.

Pie Pushers

Pie Pushers started as a food truck, and is now a buzzing downtown slice and pie shop, and a popular vendor at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Owner Becky Cascio runs the business side while her husband, Mike Hacker, keeps the kitchen in order. Their creative toppings and affordable prices make it a favorite stop for a quick meal.

The Refectory Café

Laura Hall started The Refectory Café in 2005 with a passion for health and nutrition. The award-winning café is dedicated to providing fresh, nutrient-dense meals to accommodate all diets and sources local, sustainable and ethical ingredients as much as possible.

Soul Cocina

Silvana Rangel-Duque brought the rich food culture of Colombia with her to Durham and offers it to Durham with the nutritional seasonal ingredients, age-old cooking techniques and bright, satisfying flavors in her plant-based dishes. Look for the line for meals and tamales at the Durham Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings or order before your stay to stock the fridge at a short-term rental with a timely delivery.

Sofia's Pizza

Chefs Emily Berkeley and Jorge González-Peña opened Sofia's Pizza, East Durham's popular neighborhood pizza shop after years of experience in pizza and taco shops in North Carolina, Colorado, New Jersey and more. When the pizzeria opened in 2018 it was one of the first new restaurants in the growing neighborhood and the family spot has been popular from the start.

Zweli's and Ekhaya

When chef Zweli Williams opened the original location of Zweli's Kitchen, its Zimbabwean flavors and cooking techniques made it the first restaurant of its kind in the country. Since then, she has opened Ekhaya, a fine dining Bantu tapas restaurant in American Tobacco Campus and moved Zweli's to a prominent location in downtown's Brightleaf District.

Plum Southern Kitchen & Bar

Lisa Callahan honed her chops in the hospitality industry through decades in New York City, and when she returned to her home state of North Carolina, she joined the family business of owning and operating restaurants. Plum is a beautiful neighborhood restaurant downtown where formal affairs and Wednesday night family dinners are equally welcome.

Sister Liu's Kitchen

This hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop from owner Cuiying Liu hit the spotlight when Bon Appetit named it one of the best new restaurants in the country in 2019. It remains a favorite for take-out or frozen dumplings and homestyle northeastern Chinese cuisine.

Queeny's, Kingfisher and QueenBurger

Michelle Vanderwalker is part-owner of cocktail bar Kingfisher and neighborhood bar and restaurant Queeny's, which occupy the basement and first-floor levels of the same downtown building. You'll find Vanderwalker's ceramics on the bar and in the glassware at Kingfisher and Vanderwalker herself behind the bar, talking with customers and hanging out with her kids at Queeny's upstairs. Fast-casual restaurant QueenBurger was born out of a pandemic-era backyard burger concept and has lived on as a popular burger spot in American Tobacco Campus from this team who can't miss.

Fonda Lupita

Restauranteur Biridiana Frausto brought her family's flavors from Mexico to Durham at Fonda Lupita's second location. After being named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Eater in 2021, its Durham opening was highly anticipated. Don't miss the gorditas, tacos, weekly specials like pozole and menudo and fresh agua frescas and margaritas.

A woman sits in a windowsill in front of a colorful, geometric print of green and blue.

Michelle Vanderwalker at QueenBurger. Photo: QueenBurger / JNK Public Relations

Women-Owned Services Businesses in Durham

Sabrina Seymore Events and Prevailing Pilates

Sabrina is all about sharing the love. This North Carolina Central University alumna brings signature creativity, style and organization to events, weddings and gatherings, committing herself to flawless execution. She has also created a community around pilates classes that focus on strengthening and balancing all bodies at her new studio, Prevailing Pilates.

Two Sisters Adventure Company

Sisters Natasha and Rainbow and their mother, Cathy, collectively share over four decades of experience working as outdoor guides and paddling instructors. They started Two Sisters Adventure Company with a mission to create a more respectful and inviting environment for all people in the outdoors. Their work to break down barriers through education and mindfulness, as well as creating opportunities for low-income adventurers, addresses issues around representation, safety, and self-doubt in the natural environment through self-guided and guided trips, camps, and classes in Durham County.

Virtue Events

With over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Durham native Joye Speight is the owner of Virtue Events, the largest minority- and woman-owned event planning team in the Triangle. Entrepreneurship is in Joye’s blood  —  she was born and raised in Durham to a family of serial entrepreneurs. Her goal in starting Virtue Events was "to create memorable experiences that bring a variety of people from different backgrounds together for a common purpose.”

So, which of these incredible women-owned businesses are you excited to visit and support?

About the Author

Discover Durham Staff