14 Women-Owned Businesses Telling Great Stories in Downtown Raleigh

We all know Raleigh and the Triangle are making a lot of “best of lists” around the country, but did you know it also includes lists for the growing number of female entrepreneurs and business owners. 

A group of women posing for a photo
Clockwise from top left: Charlotte Russell, Cheetie Kumar, Cary Heise, Lilian Danieli, Maggie Kane, Megan George

The women-owned business space in Raleigh is thriving and is another reason why this is such a vibrant place to live! As a woman entrepreneur myself, I have felt this collaborative, celebratory spirit of women that lacks an unhealthy competitive edge, and fears of lack resulting in a dog-eat-dog kind of world. 

In a city where “y’all are welcome” it’s a safe and supportive space for women to flourish in business and careers.

The deeper we have explored Raleigh, with the intention to share via this blog and social channels, the more we’ve learned that some of our favorite retail stores, bars, and restaurants in Raleigh have women at the helm.

No wonder we’ve always gravitated to the uplifting energy of them and exceptional products or service. 

For this post I narrowed it down to the Downtown Raleigh area, and those I’ve personally experienced and I think are helping to tell that unique story of an innovative and diverse culture that puts strength, story, and community first.

Please, leave a comment at the bottom of this post to share your favorite women-owned businesses and to share the love!

You can read even more on our post of 15 ways to celebrate Women’s History Month in Raleigh.

A Place at the Table

Maggie Kane is the Founder and Executive Director of A Place at the Table, Raleigh’s pay-what-you-can cafe. She graduated from North Carolina State University in 2013 and began working for a nonprofit with a mission to help those experiencing homelessness.

That inspired her to create A Place at the Table, which has a mission to provide community and good food for all regardless of means.

A Place at the Table Cafe, Raleigh

You’ll find delicious, chef prepared meals and great coffee. All menu items have suggested prices to pay. You can pay more or less, or volunteer in exchange for a meal. You can also donate meal tokens for people within the community. 

Maggie will also be the first person to tell you that while she’s steering this ship, it’s a true community effort. 

LISTEN: Our podcast interview with Maggie Kane

Designed for Joy

Designed for Joy, Raleigh
Designed for Joy

What a wonderful concept and store Designed for Joy is. This non-profit provides second chance employment to vulnerable women coming from trafficking, homelessness, time in prison, overcoming addiction or other vulnerable situations.

Since its founding, the nonprofit has provided 52 artisans with safe work + supplied $140,000 in living wages. 

Artisans are paid a living wage and taught skills to create the Designed for Joy brand of jewelry, handbags, and home decor. I have a beautiful pink handbag I bought from here and I love! 

Designed for Joy was founded by Cary Heise and Kristen Sydow. Their missionary experience and work with artisan co-ops overseas inspired the birth of Designed for Joy. They are big believers in encouraging women to live to their full potential and pursue their passions.

LISTEN: Our podcast interview with Cary Heise

The Zen Succulent

The ZEN Succulent, Raleigh
The ZEN Succulent

The ZEN Succulent is a modern terrarium and plant craft business full of unique greenery and handcrafted gifts from emerging makers.

This is the place to shop for those new to house plant buying to get insider tips on what plants go where in your house, with what pots, and how to keep them happy and alive!

Megan George founded The ZEN Succulent in 2012 after several years of urban gardening and small scale succulent propagation.

Megan George, The ZEN Succulent
Megan George. Image from TheZENSucculent.com

Her mother, Margaret George joined The ZEN Succulent in early 2013. Megan also teaches, leads workshops, and has written the book Modern Terrarium Studio (published in 2015 by Fons & Porter).

Women’s Social Club

A woman walking down a sidewalk in front of a brick building
Hannah Weisberg

Hannah Weisberg founded The Women’s Social Club in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, after her successful indoor event space Dove & Olive was negatively impacted.

The Women’s Social Club is a place that provides opportunities for women to connect with like-minded people, form new friendships and explore the city.

I have been a member for almost a year and LOVE it. I was immediately impressed by the warm embrace by the members of the community and instantly felt like I had found the place where I belonged.

The Women's Social Club

We meet in various locations in (mostly) downtown Raleigh and either socialize, volunteer, or learn from Raleigh women business owners. The thrice monthly events are a highlight of my month as we interact with each other but also discover the stories that make up the soul of this city we all love. 

LISTEN: Our Podcast interview with Hannah 


A woman sitting on a bench smiling for the camera
Lilian Danieli. Image from Nashona.com

Looking for unique, elegant clothing and accessories that make a vibrant statement? The beautiful prints and textiles of Tanzania have created this unique clothing line from Lilian Danieli, a Tanzanian native who now resides in North Carolina.

Founded in 2012, Nashona began in Goldsboro and has recently opened its doors on Hargett St in Downtown Raleigh. 

Nashona is a boutique store with products handcrafted with vibrant African fabrics from Tanzania. Nashona means ‘I sew’ in Swahili and seeks to promote the beautiful prints and textiles of Tanzania while also supporting its local artisans, and working to merge two different cultures. 

A portion of all sales goes to benefit the Shalom Orphanage in Karatu, Tanzania.

Centro Mexican Restaurant & Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria

a bartender posing for the camera
Angela Salamenca. Image via LinkedIn

While we have not yet eaten at the restaurant, as a Mezcal lover, I have thoroughly enjoyed their upstairs Gallo Pelon Mezcaleria bar when my sister came to visit. 

Founded in 2007 by Angela Salamanca who originally hails from Colombia and who has have been living in the Raleigh area for 20+ years. A transformative visit to Mexico inspired Angela to bring a taste of Oaxaca to North Carolina.

Centro Mexican Restaurant has become a staple in downtown Raleigh, and they take pride in being a space that fosters community and diversity.

They serve classic and contemporary Mexican cuisine featuring local and organic ingredients. 

Flourish Market

Emily Grey, The Flourish Market
Emily Grey. Image from TheFlourishMarket.com

The Flourish Market in the Warehouse District is a unique women’s + gift boutique store owned by local entrepreneur, Emily Grey. All of their products have a higher purpose for supporting female owned businesses creating sustainable impact. 

You can shop 60+ cause-based brands and use your purchasing power for good – clothing, jewelry, bags, shoes, greeting cards and more.

There is also a co-working space for women entrepreneurs out the back called The Locality. Membership will include coaching sessions, business training, and social gatherings. I was a member for 13 months and loved it. 

DECO Raleigh

A city store front with a building in the background

DECO Raleigh stocks hundreds of locally made gifts, housewares, books and cards from more than 75 local artisans and makers. We love picking up Raleigh focused items from DECO and have some fun prints hanging up at home. 

It’s also the perfect store for visitors to Raleigh to pick up a local souvenir – no kitsch allowed through these doors!

DECO owner Pam Blondin opened the shop in 2012 with the idea to help grow Raleigh’s independent retail scene. She is also an active member of the Raleigh community, serving on several nonprofit boards and advisory groups.

Since opening, DECO has donated more than $100,000 in cash and merchandise to help Raleigh charities fulfill their missions.


Pumpkin Creme Brûlée, Bittersweet
Pumpkin Creme Brulee

One of our favorite places in Raleigh for cocktails and desserts is Bittersweet, and fantastic dessert bar. Pair a pecan pie with an old fashioned, a raspberry mousse with a champagne, or our personal favorite an Irish coffee with a pumpkin creme brulee.

Their all-natural, local menu changes seasonally and good news is you can take the kids. They will love a hot chocolate and s’mores sundaes.

We love the black and white hipster vibe of the cozy interior, and when it’s just Craig and I, will prop ourselves at the bar for a chat with the friendly bartenders.

Raleigh native and pastry chef-owner Kim Hammer began wowing people with Bitty Cakes and pastries cooked in her kitchen before opening Bittersweet in 2015. 

Vita Vite Wine Bar & Gallery

My favorite wine bar in Raleigh is Vita Vite, named after the Italian words for “life” and “vine” – the idea that “life revolves around wine and food, bringing people together in a common space of appreciation for the beautiful things that can enrich life.”

Grab a spot outside on the patio, or in one of the cozy couches inside and enjoy a glass of wine with a charcuterie board. I love the elegant design of the building with exposed brick, concrete floors, chandeliers and local art bringing in color to the space. 

There is also a large event space out the back with more art exhibitions. 

A woman posing for a picture
Lindsay Rice, founder

Lindsay Rice founded Vita Vite Downtown in 2015 with the desire to create a space that combined her love for art and travel. In 2018 she opened an equally popular Vita Vite in Midtown (North Hills), which you can learn more about in our 48 hour guide to North Hills.


A woman standing in front of a window
Cheetie Kumar

Garland, and owner chef Cheetie Kumar, epitomizes the diversity, innovative and welcoming spirit of Raleigh

Cheetie learned how to cook by watching her mother and grandmother in India and now uses those traditional flavors of India and Asia to create a unique pan-Asian menu with Southern influence which is evident in dishes like braised local brisket with an Indian flair!

What I loved just as much as the food at Garland is the vibrant, colorful decor of the restaurant with a fusion Asian rock star vibe: a featured black wall pops with old artwork, fun decor and lighting and what looks to be an old basketball court as the floor.

A group of people sitting at a table in a restaurant

What else is cool and unique about Cheetie? 

Not only is she a three-time James Beard nominated chef, Kumar is also a professional musician and is lead guitarist in the rock band Birds of Avalon. 

That rockstar vibe continues upstairs to popular music venue Kings, and below to Neptunes, the basement bar with crafty cocktails, both of which Cheetie has had a hand in creating!

Charlotte Russell Contemporary Fine Art Gallery

A room with a wood floor

I love how Charlotte saw something that was missing in the community – something that aligned with her passion and expertise – and just jumped straight into creating it.

That’s a belief and confidence that I think makes Raleigh such a fantastic space for women to thrive in business. When that energy meets with a supportive community anything is possible.

In a city where art seems to be adding personality to every wall on our streets, Charlotte noticed surprisingly few galleries in Raleigh that focus on non-traditional work and contemporary artists.

A woman smiling for the camera
Charlotte Russell.

So, in the keeping of Raleigh’s entrepreneurial spirit, she went to work creating it. First with a pop-up space in the Village District. It’s success showed her a permanent space was needed and so she opened the Five Points gallery in late September 2021.

Charlotte’s mission is to give voice those underrepresented artists, emerging, and female artists through rotating art exhibitions in her gallery. It’s the kind of art that I enjoy looking at – colorful, vibrant, abstract and with stories to tell.

The gallery is a warm, vibrant space that invites you to engage with the art on exhibit. Charlotte focuses on sharing the story behind the art and the artists.

March is a fantastic month to visit the Charlotte Russell Gallery and see the solo exhibition of King Nobuyoshi Godwin, an emerging Raleigh artist, who has autism, and paints with a unique number and color system that represents how he is feeling.

Ashley Christensen Restaurant Empire

A woman sitting at a table laughing
Ashley Christensen. Image from ac-restaurants.com

If you’ve ever dined in Raleigh, you’ve probably heard of award-winning chef, Ashley Christensen and her restaurants.

She is a renowned chef and restaurateur with five different restaurant concepts in Raleigh, including the new BB’s Crispy Chicken in Midtown East; Fox Liquor Bar, the underground speakeasy which is around the corner from her uber popular Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (do not miss Sunday brunch!); and the fine dining, Death & Taxes.

Beasley's Chicken + Honey Restaurant by Ashley Christensen
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey

Ashley dove into the world of food after hosting dinner parties with friends in college. That passion for cooking and gathering around food led to a very successful career. In 2014, Ashley was awarded the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast,” and in 2019 she was awarded the James Beard Award in the “Outstanding Chef” category. 

MoFu Dumpling Shoppe

MOFU Dumpling Shoppe
Image by MOFUShoppe.com

If you like Asian cuisine, MOFU Shoppe in Downtown Raleigh has an extensive menu of dishes found all over the continent. 

MOFU is a place I love to visit to be transported back to the flavors and smells of a region I love so much. 

The dishes are inspired by foods commonly eaten all over the Asian continent and represent their identity in a unique way that reflects their ideals of culture, family, inclusiveness, and community. 

MOFU has its beginnings with business partners Sunny Linn and Sophia Woo and their popular food truck, The Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck. This earned them a spot on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race where they were crowned the first and only all-female champion. They opened MOFU shoppe with their $50,000 winnings.

MOFU Shoppe is in a retrofitted car dealership in the City Market area. I love the ambiance created when their garage doors are rolled up with weather permitting. 

Now it’s your turn. Share with us a female owned business in the Raleigh area?

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