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Let's Talk Womxn's Milwaukee chapter wants to make the food and restaurant industry equitable

Dana Spandet, Jesse Ignatiev, Lupe Moreno
From left to right: Dana Spandet, the founder of Flour Girl & Flame; Jesse Ignatiev, co-owner of Heirloom MKE; and Lupe Moreno, owner of Modern Maki Sushi.

A group of Milwaukee-area women restaurateurs are collaborating to celebrate International Women’s Day. Let’s Talk Womxn is a national movement that started in Chicago in 2020. Now, the movement has 13 chapters across the nation, and one of them is right here in Milwaukee.

TheLet’s Talk Womxn Milwaukee chapteris hosting a dinner March 8 on International Women’s Day with various womxn-owned vendors. Ultimately, they want to make the food and restaurant industry equitable for everyone in Milwaukee.

Three women restaurateurs are leading the group. Jessie Ignatiev is the co-owner of Heirloom MKE, Lupe Moreno is the owner ofModern Maki Sushi and Dana Spandet is the founder of Flour Girl and Flame.

"It's a collaboration of women restauranteurs to build combined economic power. It's not an organization, it's not an entity. It's an action led movement by women business owners as peers, the three of us were approached to co-host," Spandet starts.

The three decided to spearhead this program in Milwaukee after the pandemic started, Moreno adds. She says the thought of collaborating with other reputable women with similar values, morals and ideology was exciting.

"Everything that we do is very intentional. A big thing that is important for the three of us is also focusing on Black and brown women businesses. That is our intention for the group," says Moreno.

The landscape in Milwaukee is heavily male dominated, making it a tough space to be a woman restauranteur right now, Spandet says. Working in the kitchens of Milwaukee her whole life, she says that she's battled the male dominated culture and at times even embraced it.

Spandet used her down payment for a new home and put it into her business. And while going through the loan process and doing her own research, she saw a gender gap.

"I noticed that typically women are offered smaller loans with higher interest rates. Women also historically reinvest over 40% more back into our communities than our male counterparts. So we're being offered less, but we're putting more into our communities," she says.

Ignatiev continues that initially the camaraderie of the national women restaurateurs is what really won them her over to join the group.

She says she envisions the restaurateur group stopping toxic environments from forming in the city. Improving and addressing policies pertaining to sexual harassment and what owners are capable to provide to their employees are important in making decisions for equitable spaces, Ignatiev says.

"I feel like if our economic power is used to make those decisions to make this an equitable space for women, no matter where you come from, no matter if you are from a community that isn't receiving the necessary funds, we're going to be able to make those decisions," she says.

One of the first steps for creating equitable spaces in Milwaukee for women is hosting an International Women's Day celebration Tuesday, March 8.

Twenty female owners from food and beverage establishments here in Milwaukee will come together to talk and celebrate with ticket holders. The event is signifying coming together as women while celebrating Milwaukee diversity, says Ignatiev.

With Black History Month, Women's History Month and Pride Month being so close together, it can be a great time to bring awareness to diversity in Milwaukee, Spandet says.

Still, she says, it's important to support our women on businesses 365 days of the year and to keep that on the forefront.

"Let's support our Black businesses every single day and keep it on the forefront of our brands. Same with all of our minority businesses as a community and then we need to be coming together and lifting each other up and elevating each other's voices every single day of the year," says Spandet.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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