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//Aminata and Rougui Dia at their restaurant, Le French. Photo provided by the Dias and taken by Rachel Adams.

Editor’s note: Information on Small Business Assistance and Revenue discrepancies were provided by restaurant owners

This is the second installment of our series on women-owned businesses in the Denver metro area. For this article, we spoke with several businesses owned or co-owned by Black womxn as we strive to be more inclusive of all womxn that live in the city.

Flick of the Whisk Cakes   

Recognition: Harvest to Home Vendor Showcase, Voyage Denver Feature 

Small Business Assistance: Not Eligible for PPP 

When Bryonna Williams’ work as an interior designer began to ebb, she made a list of all the things she could build a business around. Baking stood out to her the most. While her baking experience was limited, it combined her love of art, business, and a connection with people. 

“Making my customers happy drives me every day,” Williams said. 

While the operation is out of her parents’ kitchen and the advertising old-school by way of word-of-mouth, her business is thriving. 

Her initial success can be traced to her jar cupcakes, which began as a happy accident with leftover cupcakes and small jars earmarked for future crafts. A few days later at the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market, they quickly sold out. 

The venture grew at a steady pace until March of this year when sales erupted. 

While stay-at-home orders pushed people into their homes, loyal customers came to Williams in search of comfort in uncertain times. 

“After COVID hit, everybody wanted sweets to send to their friends and family, or they were home and just wanted sweets,” said Williams. 

Following the death of George Floyd and the beginning of the Denver protests, more customers were seeking her out. 

“I got a ton of orders from people wanting to support black-owned businesses and that being their way of supporting the movement,” Williams said. “There are people who don’t necessarily want to go to the protests but they want to offer support.” 

Despite the recent boom in business, Williams’ attention is still on the detailed work of being a baker. Jars are laid out in rows as she fills them with vanilla and Funfetti cake interspersed with lemon, strawberry, or chocolate frosting. 

Not only are the jar cupcakes popular at markets but their long shelf life and compact nature make them a popular party favor for weddings. The final product is nothing short of adorable, perfect for the self-proclaimed “Pandemic Wedding”  a title that dons the lids.

//Aminata and Rougui Dia at their restaurant, Le French. Photo provided by the Dias and taken by Rachel Adams. 

Le French  

Recognition: Eater Denver 15 hottest Restaurants in Denver September 2019 and October 2019, Biggest Denver Restaurant Openings 2019, 5280 How to Make the Most of Your Summer, The Denver Post 8 Sweet Spots to Take your Mom, Conde Nast Traveler What to Do in Denver This Spring

Small Business Assistance: Approved for PPP

Le French is a restaurant that did not specialize in to-go orders before March. As their name might imply, they are a bistro designed for drawn-out, multi-course French meals. Yet, Aminata and Rougui Dia have been able to weather the storm. 

The sisters have created a gem that stands apart from the history of French cuisine in Denver. For one, Rougui is no average executive chef. She cut her chops in restaurants such as Petrossian, which boasts a Michelin star, and stands apart in Parisian cuisine. It was there that both women spent most of their childhood, save for the time they spent in their home country of Senegal. 

“The restaurant is about connecting with people through food and sharing our culture,” Aminata said. 

With people staying at home, the sisters went out into the community to find that connection by bringing food to frontline workers.

It is this same community that embraced the sisters and their venture, the same community that has offered the sister’s comfort following the death of George Floyd

“I have friends from all different backgrounds, and at the moment I need to let them see from my perspective as a mother of five Black kids,” said Aminata. 

Not only has she been comforted by people of all races speaking out but also by her customers returning to a half-opened dining room and soon to be expanded outdoor seating area. 

Regulars are returning to Le French either in person or via take-out orders in search of the sisters’ eclectic cuisine. Not only can French favorites be found on the menu such as crepes, onion soup and Le Boeuf Bourguignon, but also Senegalese inspired dishes along with the priceless ambiance that Le French offers.

TeaLee’s Tea Co.     

Recognition: 5280 Where Our Food Editors Are Eating January 2020, Westword Best Teahouse 2019, Subject of PBS Start Up Season 7 Episode 12

Small Business Assistance: Denied PPP

Even though it is only a few years old, Risë Jones and Louis Freeman’s tea shop has a lifetime of memories packed into it. From cancer, to gentrification of the historically-Black neighborhood of Five Points the shop calls home, to a lifetime of battling adversity in a racist country. 

Jones was raised within the bosom of Denver’s Black community and has been unshaken in her commitment to it, a passion shared with her husband Freeman. He ran the main branch of the Hue-Man Bookstore on West Park Avenue for years. When Tealee’s opened, he was able to bring his carefully curated collection of books about the Black experience in America and Denver to Tealee’s.

In 2011, Jones survived a rare form of Leukemia. Freeman asked her what she wanted to do with her new life and she only had one venture in mind. She began working for Wystone’s World Teas in Lakewood while writing a business plan for her own tea shop. 

From the beginning, its placement in the historical Five Points neighborhood was an important part of Jones’ vision. 

Today they are situated in the 105-year-old building that was once the Melbourne Hotel. While the surrounding shops are marked with a sense of novelty, Tealee’s is understated in its upholding of history at “the rhythm of tea.”

“We always said it would be an afro-centric atmosphere where you can come see yourself, where you can relax,” said Jones. 

When COVID-19 hit Colorado, the nature of the shop was not conducive to take out orders. Tea ceremonies, book signings, and long rambling discussions over oolong could not be brought to people’s doors. 

Only now, with regulations changing, are Jones and Freeman able to adjust the layout of their shop and patio to welcome the community.  

When talking about the importance of reopening now Jones said, “There are many ways that people are involved in the struggle for social justice and so for some, it’s the protest, for us its a place you can come and go at a different pace, you can have conversations in a safe place and claim it as your space.”

//Taste the Love Cooking’s sweet potato pie with a chocolate crust, made by Angela Ray. Photo provided by Angela Ray. 

Taste the Love Cooking

Recognition: University of Denver Tasting Showcase 

Small Business Assistance: Denied Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Denver Economic Development and Opportunity Grant received 

Angela Ray lovingly refers to the root of her business as a test kitchen, one calibrated to adjust the ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis. While Taste the Love Cooking has functioned as a down-home catering business for the last 5 years, it’s nature is now a bit harder to define. 

After April brought no revenue, Ray felt she needed to reassess the current state of her business. 

“I can’t say that I felt sorry for myself because there are so many others that were going through the same thing,” Ray said. 

For years she had considered using her grandmother’s pie crust recipe to make sweet and savory pies to be sold in grocery stores. With the help of business associations like Mi Casa Resource Center, Ray was able to turn the recipe into pie kits that can be ordered and cooked at home. 

Her savory pies include BBQ pulled pork shepherd’s pie, vegan spinach and mushroom, and chicken pot pie that she claims is “picky-eater approved.” It is her test kitchen that has allowed her to combine her background of Kansas City BBQ with Asian flavors to make favorite classic pies more contemporary. 

For sweet pies, she offers homemade sweet potato, pecan, and blackberry and peach, among others. She plans to roll out more flavors for the holidays. 

“I didn’t have a choice but to adapt,” Ray said. 

With social events legally obliged to stay small, corporate lunches being online, and no end in sight, Ray is ready to continue adapting.