4 Local Businesses on Hillsborough Street We Love (Minority & Women-Owned)

Hillsborough Street is one of the major thoroughfares through Raleigh, a street we have driven along many times, and today we are excited to highlight four local businesses (and their owners) on Hillsborough St that are Minority and Women-Owned Businesses (MWOB) in partnership with Live It Up Hillsborough Street, a non-profit organization aiming to make Hillsborough Street a distinct destination in Raleigh!

Mural on a wall saying Hillsborough Street
The home of NC State University

Hillsborough has always been one of our favorite streets in Raleigh, and we have fond memories of attending many events and local businesses along this corridor since moving to Raleigh in 2004. 

Hillsborough St is home to major Raleigh landmarks such as NC State University, Meredith College and the State Fairgrounds, it bypasses Pullen Park and is a busy transport corridor linking downtown Raleigh to Cary. Fun fact, it is home to the highest concentration of arts, culture, and recreation offerings in the City of Raleigh.

Looking down the middle of a street surrounded by trees
Hillsborough Street

You can find many of our favorite restaurants, cafes, bars, stores and retail located along the strip, as well as fun events such as the start of the Krispy Kreme Challenge (the annual charity 2.5-mile fun run), Packapalooza (an all-day block party and street festival that caps off Wolfpack Welcome Week), and a part of the Raleigh Christmas Parade. Hillsborough Street features entertainment, food, and fun to suit any budget.

The mission of Live It Up! Hillsborough Street is to make the Hillsborough Street community a distinct destination in Raleigh by providing services and programs that improve the economic sustainability of the territory’s businesses and increase the market value of it’s properties.

Aerial view of a city street and city in the distance
Hillsborough St leads to downtown Raleigh

We love supporting all small businesses, especially those owned by women, minorities and/or BIPOC who face unique challenges. Below are four businesses we have personal experience with and are excited to share their story with you! 

Raleigh Brewing Company

Caroline Makepeace (a woman standing drinking beer)
Hell yes ma’am to a female owned brewery!

Most beer loving locals in Raleigh are familiar with the ever-growing list of breweries around town, but are you familiar with the founders behind these breweries and their story?

We jumped at the chance to feature Raleigh Brewing Company (RBC) in this article about Hillsborough Street, not just because we’re fans of the brewery and the beers brewed, but because in an industry dominated by males the founder, Kristie Nystedt, is the first woman to own a brewery in the state of North Carolina – how cool is that – and, their head brewer is also female, Anita has received a General Certificate of Brewing from the Institute of Brewers and Distillers.

Two ladies and a man getting their photo taken
Enjoying a drink with the founder, Kristie Nystedt

Over 10 years ago, Kristie got started by recognizing a void in the market when it came to supplying homebrewers with local supplies, and commercial brewers with efficient and quality tanks to produce their beer. So when Raleigh Brewing was born in 2013, it was alongside its two sister companies, Atlantic Brew Supply and ABS Commercial.

A hand holding up a glass of beer

I love that when you walk into her brewery there’s no mistaking that you’re in Raleigh. Displayed on the taproom walls are cool murals of the capital city and names of their beers. And I love that Kristie’s and Raleigh Brewing’s mission is to embrace the City of Oaks with every beer brewed.

Craig Makepeace (a male) standing with a beer in his hand with the sign City of Blokes behind him
Love all the murals!

First impressions always count, and while the taste and quality of the beers is obviously important, for me a brewery is not just about the taste, but how inviting the space makes you feel and welcoming the business is to all. 

As you probably know, June is Pride month and we were fortunate to meet Kristie in person at Raleigh Brewing’s recent pride event, Hell Yes Ma’am it’s Pride in which a portion of beer and merch sales were donated to the LGBT Center of Raleigh and the Smokin’ Cardinal Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Man and lady at a beer festival
At the Hell Yes Ma’am it’s Pride event

This event was a prime example of RBC’s involvement with local community organizations and nonprofits, and their love for this city, a passion and purpose we certainly align with!

Now to the beers. With 20+ beers on tap including a wide selection of styles (including their signature Hell Yes Ma’am and operating 7 days a week, Raleigh Brewing has become Wake County’s third-largest production brewery, averaging 8,000 bbl of beer per year.

Style of beers include: Ales (Belgian, Scottish, Pale, Wheat, Czech Pilsner, IPAs, Stout, American Lager plus seasonal beers.

A row of beer taps on a wall
Large selection of beers on tap

Their new release, She Brewed It (a Dry-Hopped Pilsner) was part of a collaboration brew with Pink Boots Society (Raleigh chapter)  at Durty Bull on International Women’s Day and a portion of proceeds from the sale of this beer goes to Pink Boots Society – try it on tap now at Raleigh Brewing!

Atlantic Brew Supply has become the largest brick and mortar homebrew supply shop on the East Coast, and ABS Commercial has expanded its tanks into 34 states and four countries.

Group of people outside a brewery drinking beer
Popular outdoor patio space

If you’ve got kids like us, Raleigh brewing has a large outdoor patio area (often with a food truck), that makes for a nice casual atmosphere and they’re an easy walk to a Ben & Jerry’s which our kids have done. They’re pet-friendly, too!

Beauty Ethics

One thing I dislike about our professional blogging lifestyle is having to wear makeup every day. I mean, I don’t have to and for the first 20 years of my nomadic travel life I rarely did – back then I was only snapping photos for family and friends.

Now I’m on camera all the time, I feel better and more respectable putting on a face. So long story short, I like to find ways to reduce the makeup time.

A couch with shelves and makeup
Beauty Ethics on Hillsborough St to the rescue!

One of the ways is by getting my eyebrows and eyelashes tinted. I have very pale eyelashes which makes me look tired and washed out. I love waking up in the morning with my eyes already in place.

While it’s not a HUGE difference, it’s a little thing that helps. What I love about it is I can cry, swim at the beach, and sweat and not be left with black streaks down my face. I still wear mascara sometimes, as I want a little more volume and texture, but with the tinting I can get away with not doing my eyes on some occasions.

Bottles of makeup
Thrilled to find this store!

When we were looking at the women owned businesses on Hillsborough St, I was thrilled to find Beauty Ethics because it aligned perfectly with me preparing for my Europe checklist, and like Meraki Salon, a business that aligns with my values.

As the name suggests, beauty ethics cares about the planet. All the brand skin care products are refillable, bottles returned are sterilized and reused, and waste reduction is prioritized in their processes.

Staff are given the freedom to set their own hours, make their own deadlines, and take breaks or days off whenever needed. And a portion of proceeds are donated each month to causes that support marginalized and underrepresented NC communities!

Portrait photo of a woman
Owner, Julie Hafer

Owner, Julie Hafer is a bonafide Raleigh local who has been in business for herself for over 20 years. Julie was fun to talk to as she dyed my eyes, shaped and tinted my brows, and plumped up and dew-ified my skin with a facial.

A couch with shelves and makeup behind it
A store with a purpose!

Julie has an inviting space in the complex opposite Meredith College, and where Lucky Tree Café (a favorite coffee shop of ours) is situated. It’s quite ethereal with billowing curtains, bright splashes of colors with her lipsticks and stunning canvas’ on the wall – all created by a local artist – including the colors for the lipsticks.

Shelves with makeup
Colorful and inviting space!

Not only does she offer amazing services like lash and brow tints and extensions, and facials, but she also has her own beauty-focused, eco-friendly, fragrance-free skin care line with effective active ingredients. She has the experience and wisdom to advise you on what products are great for your skin.

It began – as most great businesses do – with her own issue of using products that clogged her sensitive skin. So, she sat down with a chemist to figure out how to create products that were perfect for sensitive skin – doing the work without the clogging and breakouts.

Bottles of foundation
Quality products

She put several of her products on my skin which felt light and nourishing. I could feel my skin soaking up the goodness – and I especially loved the spot salve, which immediately reduced the swelling on a couple of unwelcome friends.

Julie is well versed in understanding your skin tone and was able to advise me on the perfect concealer for my color tone, and naturally DNA causing dark circles. Once you see Julie’s flawless and youthful skin, you’ll be lining up to use her products and services.

I was quite stunned when she held the mirror up to my face for the finished look. I really did look bright and dewy and possibly a few years younger. Could be wishful thinking but I’m rolling with it.

Bottles of moisturizer

I loved the relaxing, nourishing feel of the store and the personal attention of Julie and her fun conversations. She’s a passionate Francophile, who studied abroad in France and now has a country home near Bordeaux.

She shared lots of Paris tips with me and helped get me excited for our European adventure. It’s no wonder Beauty Ethics had that classic French sophisticated vibe about it.

Gonza Tacos y Tequila

People dining in a restaurant with stars hanging from the ceiling
Great location overlooking Hillsborough

With its ideal location on Hillsborough Street (in the Aloft Raleigh Hotel) Gonza Tacos y Tequila is where we like to eat Mexican food in Raleigh before attending a nearby Wolfpack women’s basketball game at Reynolds Coliseum (it overlooks the NC State University Belltower), or for our recent date night.

Mexican food and cocktails on a table
Apps and cocktails to start

This place has a fun, upbeat and eclectic Dia de los Muertos theme and features a twist on the traditional Mexican Restaurant with Colombian-Mexican cuisine, hand crafted Latin cocktails, one of the most extensive tequila selections in the Triangle (over 75 different bottles), a customizable tequila flight program and signature cocktails like the Spicy Pepino, and a carefully selected list of Latin wines and beers. 

Popular menu offerings include Colombian fusion dishes like Arro e Coco con Pecao and Ceviche as well as traditional Mexican options like Chilaquiles and Enchiladas con Mole, not to mention street-style Pastor and Callo de Hacha tacos. 

In 2011, cousins Gonza Salamanca and Carlos Rodriguez opened their first Gonza Tacos y Tequila in North Raleigh and currently have four locations including this one at 2100 Hillsborough St which opened in October 2015, the other two in Wake Forest (The Factory) and Cary (Waverly Place).

Man and woman standing at a bar drinking cocktails
Love the decor!

As you enter, your attention quickly pans to the cool decor of lanterns that make for a unique ambiance and Gonza is a solid option for Mexican food in Raleigh with friends, on a fun date night, or family gatherings – our kids really enjoy it here too! 

I love that Gonza Tacos y Tequila puts a focus on evolving with its community, a restaurant where you can escape reality and enjoy a great taco with a delicious cocktail.

Man holding a plate of nachos
Nachos Gabachos

We’ve enjoyed the Nachos Gabachos, El plátano, beef short rib, the fajitas, the burritos, Talega Del Platano, the tacos, and the Mexican flag. And don’t sleep on their desserts – our kids love the Churros and the Talega de Platano ice cream dessert, it is phenomenal.

When the weather is nice outside, grab a seat by the open windows for a nice indoor/outdoor experience overlooking Hillsborough Street. Whether you want to dine in or take dinner to go, Gonza is ready to serve you.

Meraki Salon 

Lady getting her hair styled
Prepping for Europe

A priority on my “prepare for Europe” trip list was to get my haircut and colored. As a woman-owned business on Hillsborough Street, Meraki Salon in Raleigh was a perfect fit for this campaign.

Owner, Michelle Ghassemi started the salon in 2017 after years of experience in the industry, and the desire to create a less harmful environment after suffering herself through years of exposure to toxic products.

meraki owner
Owner, Michelle Ghassemi. Image credit.

Michelle was intentional about creating a modern-luxury hair salon with eco-conscious and holistic wellness-based hair treatments. Many of the products used are free of all the “bad” ingredients, including ammonia, and are eco-friendly, organic, and cruelty-free.

While it may cost more than a typical salon, I like to walk out knowing I’ve done minimal chemical damage to my hair and scalp. This non-toxic approach is also clearly evident in the culture of the salon for staff and clients.

Lady getting foils in her hair

The Greek word Meraki means doing something with total love and pure soul, leaving a little piece of yourself in your creative work. You can feel this from the affirmative phrases stuck up on mirrors, to the plants dripping over walls and from ceilings, the bright and welcoming space, and friendliness and creative professionalism of the staff.

Inspirational quotes on wall
Words of wisdom.

All are truly welcome at Meraki. I loved getting my hair done in an environment where stylists are free to be themselves – they come with sleeve and neck tattoos, nose piercings, and individual fashion style.

People getting their hair cut in a salon
Creative space where all our welcome

They are there to help you embrace who you are as well – giving you a cut, color, style that reflects your personality. It felt great to be in a place of representation – for me, that means I feel like I’m sitting in the real world, and I couldn’t feel more comfortable.

Lady getting her hair cut
My stylist, Rhiannon

I could tell my stylist Rhiannon was an artist in the way she treated my hair and thoroughly explained everything she was doing, what products she was using, and what would be great for my hair.

She was meticulous in asking me lots of questions to ensure I got the look I wanted and made sure she explained things clearly to me when I didn’t understand if I’d want more textured coloring or bold.

I went with the textured and the honey-colored blonde and loved it!

Rhiannon had an air of ambition and drive (not the toxic kind) that was above her years. She shared her enthusiasm for the classes she was taking to improve her skills – even teaching what she learns to other stylists. She was going to a masterclass in a few weeks in Nashville. Credit for this can be given to Michelle, who gives the staff an educational budget to help develop their craft.

What a wonderful way to support your staff, and of course clients, who only benefit from the technical skill the stylists improve on.

Meraki also has a wide range of hair care products for sale. Keep the bottle as the salon has a refill station for one of the brands they carry.

Hair products for sale on shelves

Rhiannon helped choose the right shampoo and conditioner, tonic and serum for my hair.

For days after my cut, my hair felt soft and silky which is not typical for my fine hair. It starts to get stringy quickly and I’m grumbling at having to wash and blow dry it AGAIN before I walk out the door. I’m really hoping the non-toxic hair products can continue to give me that sheen and lux feel.

I was extra happy that our trip to Meraki Salon coincidentally coincided with an appearance on CBS 17 and the My Carolinas lifestyle show the following morning as Craig and I shared our tips on things to do in Raleigh in June.

Man and woman on set at a tv station
On set at CBS 17, My Carolinas Show

My blowout was still mostly in place and only needed a quick touch up and my color was looking fresh, summery, and vibrant. So that was a double whammy from my color and cut at Meraki salon on Hillsborough Street – looking good for TV in Raleigh and Europe in the summer – with minimal attention from me.

Lady getting foils in her hair
Happy to support businesses with a purpose!

At Meraki, not only is your hair going to walk out glowing and glamorous, but you can also feel confident you’re supporting a woman’s owned business that cares about important matters: inclusivity, the environment, and supporting people to rise to their full potential. 

In a world where we are moving to more conscious spending of our money, so it aligns with our values – even if it costs us a little more – Meraki is a clear winner. 

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