From bars to restaurants, these female owners will keep you going through quarantine

By Annie Burky

//Marilyn Megenity poses at Mercury Cafe in Denver on May 18. Photo by Polina Saran | polinasarana@gmail.com

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

Mercury Cafe

Recognition: USA Today 10 Best Nightlife of Denver, Westword’s Best Arts Programming at a Restaurant 2019, Best Old-School Venue in New Denver 2016, Best Free Entertainment 2013, Best Breakfast for Hippies 2008, Best Greens 2007

Small Business Assistance: Applied, status pending

April 2020 compared to April 2019: 99% down

Mercury Cafe touts over four decades of commitment to the Five Points community.

While it boasts an impressive organic, local menu they are far more than a cafe. When “The Merc,” as it is referred to by locals, opened at its current location in 1990 it was not licensed for alcohol, so a speakeasy opened on the top floor. It is this floor that has welcomed artists from local bands to The Foo Fighters, knock-kneed poets to Andrea Gibson, tango nights to wedding ceremonies. It is this floor that is now empty.

Marilyn Magnety, owner of Mercury Cafe, walked through the building pointing out touches of history.

“I’d been running my little restaurant for four years when I realized that community’s my purpose and that a cafe is how to do it. When you share food together and then tell stories or make music or whatever, that builds community,” she said.

While cafe events are canceled, Vegan Green Chili and Turkey Stroganoff are not. Regulars are offering support through pick up, delivery and gift cards in the hopes of a reopening that Magnety promises is on the horizon.

“In the urban world we’re in, it can be hard for a community. People get it in church or they get it at work. But if you’re not, if that doesn’t click for you, you might get it in the arts,” Magnety said. “I think community is important, I’m gonna fight for the Mercury.”

Lisa Wong and Natalie Gilbert pose for a photo inside their food truck on May 21. Photo by Annie Burky | aburky@msmayhem.com

Wong Way Veg

Recognition: Westword’s Best Vegan Food Truck 2019, Denver A-List no. 4 Food Truck in Denver 2018, Zagat Denver Street Food Spots

Small Business Assistance: Square Up Business Loan

April 2020 compared to April 2019: 75% down

Wong Way Veg is your new favorite food truck — vegan or otherwise.

The operation is powered by a love for street food. The made-from-scratch menu adapts based on ingredient availability and the creative whims of the truck’s owners, Lisa Wong and Natalie Gilbert.

“We try to be more plant-based and we really strive to do a lot of gluten-free,” Gilbert said.

To her point, the gluten-free tofu bowl is surprisingly flavorful. However, if you are a little more daring, you may want to try the enchilada pie with jackfruit. In the way of comfort food, there is seitan fried “chicken” with a well-balanced mustard.

In the name of safety, delivery is only offered a few days a week as of publication. With time, they hope to reopen the truck. Wong and Gilbert hope that when they do, they will be met with a society with new realizations in relation to its relationship with animals.

“What we are contributing to is for our future to be better,” Wong said. ”If you choose to get a meal from us, that’s a choice not to support these factory farms. It’s important for us to be out there to prove that vegan food is satisfying, nutritious, delicious, very versatile.”

Their delivery packages for memorial day offer an opportunity to take a chance on this refreshing twist on earth-conscious cuisine.

Maria Empanada

Recognition: Zagat 12 Hottest New Bakeries Around the U.S., Westword Best Central/South American Restaurant, Westword Denver’s 5 best empanadas

Small Business Assistance: Applied, did not receive

April 2020 compared to April 2019: 80% down

The reason that Lorena Cantarovici stayed in Colorado after moving from Argentina is the same for many transplants — the mountains.

“My grandparents were living in Cordoba. I was going to Cordoba [for] all my vacation time because my mom needed to work,” she said. “Colorado, it is very very similar to Cordoba. So, when I came here I completely fell in love.”

Her plan was always to open a restaurant. After attending school in Argentina and Mexico, along with performing every role a restaurant has to offer, she was ready.

Today, Maria Empanada has expanded to five locations across the metro area. Cantarovici is putting health first, with a hand washing station for customers in the South Broadway shop. Despite her directive to ensure the safety of all, she is hungry to open.

“In Argentina I suffer a lot, you know. Maria Empanada is a dream and is the American dream,” Cantarovici said.

While only two of her shops are currently open, she hopes customers come to enjoy a dynamic menu and a refreshing culture, “[Today] the music was sounding and everybody was dancing. Maria Empanada brings that and when I see that, it’s just the combo of things that I envisioned at the time when I was dreaming of opening a restaurant. So we transmit, ‘buenas ondas’ or good vibes. And that’s what this world needs at this time—it needs good vibes.”

Katherine Yurek holds frozen pierogis at the Baba and Pop’s stand at the Highland’s Ranch Farmer’s Market on May 2. Photo by Polina Saran.

Baba and Pop’s Pierogi

Recognition: The Know’s Best Denver Deals

Small Business Assistance: Paycheck Protection Program funds received

April 2020 compared to April 2019: N/A

When the first farmer’s market opened for the season at Southwest Plaza in Littleton, Katherine Yurek, co-owner of Baba and Pop’s Pierogi, was ready.

“There are markets everywhere. The customers here in Colorado really support you, especially if you have a great product,” she said.

Farmer’s markets were a stepping stone for Baba and Pop’s Pierogies. A food truck led to market setups, which led to a restaurant that opened March 13. It closed two days later due to shelter-in-place orders.

“We were certainly hoping that we would be doing better with the restaurant,” Yurek said. “At the same time, where we’ve been in business for eight years selling frozen packages. We feel super blessed and thankful to have that revenue stream.”

Only one bite is needed to understand why frozen packets are keeping their business afloat. With delivery and pick up available there is no wrong choice: traditional potato and cheese or Chile Relleno, just fry up with a little butter and enjoy.


Wild Women Winery

Recognition: Trip Advisor’s Things to do in Denver, On Deck’s Small Business of the Month

Small Business Assistance: Applied, did not receive

April 2020 compared to April 2019: 85% down

This anti-winery offers a refreshing departure from the snobbery that can be found in places such as Napa Valley, where the Wild Women Winery’s grapes come from.

“We have a broker and we buy raw juice from them. I can make wine year-round and I can make any kind of variety I want,” Co-owner Charlene Meriwether said.

With wines in over 50 stores in Colorado, it’s clear that the non-traditional strategy is working.

“Women don’t want to have to go to a bar and worry about people, you know, guys hitting on them,” she said. “They want to have a good conversation with their friends and not worry about what’s going on around them. That’s what they can do here.”

While wine can still be picked up from the winery on the 16th Street Mall, the tasting room is closed. In better times, it would be used for tasting, birthday and bottling parties, where guests can design their own label and cork. With the winery being grouped in with bars, all parties are canceled for the foreseeable future. For the sake of many wine drinkers, Meriwether hopes that will change soon.

Whitney Ariss, Obe Ariss and their daughter pose outside the Preservery. Photo provided by the Arisses.

The Preservery

Recognition: Hot Spot Award, Diner’s Choice 2020

Small Business Assistance: Paycheck protection received

April 2020 compared to April 2019: 60-90% down

As one of several women-owned businesses at Backyard on Black, The Preservery and Whitney Ariss, one of its owners, puts women first.

“Women-owned businesses, in general, tend to have more of a purpose-driven model and maybe a more sort of community-focused vision overall,” Ariss said.

The Preservery was opened with a mind for culture, specifically the culture of the Big Easy.

“No other city I’ve been to embodies a love for both food and music more than New Orleans. So for that reason we will always have grits on the menu, always be one of my all-time favorite dishes,” Ariss said.

Currently, the shop is practicing no-contact pick-up and delivery. Since health officials dissuade air travel, Denverites can get a taste of New Orleans through this eclectic menu.


  1. Jahmila Aaronali

    We these are all WHITE WOMEN….. I will never understand..

    • Ms. Mayhem Staff

      Lorena Cantarovici, owner of Maria Empanada, is Latinx. Lisa Wong, co-owner of WongWayVeg, is Chinese-American. Perhaps you’d like to read it closer. We do strive to include as many women of color as possible. Unfortunately, several other women of color we reached out to for this article did not respond. If you have suggestions of more WOC businesses we should profile, we are more than happy to hear them.


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