It started as a summer special — a strawberry cupcake with cream cheese buttercream, topped with a strawberry crumble — but it became so popular that now, the Strawberry Crunch
It started as a summer special — a strawberry cupcake with cream cheese buttercream, topped with a strawberry crumble — but it became so popular that now, the Strawberry Crunch is a menu mainstay at GeGe the Neighbor’s Cupcakery in Burlington. The boutique bakery opened in spring 2019 and quickly became a favorite spot in the revitalized downtown.
“I love being part of the change in downtown,” says owner Geniece Bey. “It’s all local. You won’t find a chain restaurant here, but you will find restaurants with local and fresh ingredients. These are businesses that care about your health and where their supplies and ingredients come from.”
All across the rolling hills of Alamance County, women-owned businesses like Bey’s are transforming their communities and downtowns into day trip and weekend destinations. During the “Year of the Woman,” these 10 business owners aren’t just making a name for themselves — they’re also supporting and uplifting their fellow female entrepreneurs. Read on to discover 10 places to shop, eat, and explore so you, too, can celebrate them.
It didn’t take long after opening for GeGe’s to develop a following, and if you taste one of Bey’s creations, you’ll quickly understand why.
The picture-perfect menu at GeGe’s includes classic flavors — vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry — as well as a rotating flavor of the week dreamed up by Bey, a “drunken” cupcake infused with local herbs and alcohol, incredible custom cakes, and specialty milkshakes made with locally made ice cream. Which milkshake should you order? The one topped with a cupcake, of course.
Downtown Mebane is known for its quirky, inviting storefronts, and one of the best examples is the Grit and Grace. Visitors browse this shop’s jewelry, artwork, T-shirts, soaps, and leather goods — many made by local artists, including the shop’s owner, former Durham police officer Angela Bobal.
Bobal began making soaps as a stress-relieving activity, and eventually grew such a following with her bath products that she opened her storefront in Mebane seven years ago. “In this community, people make a point to shop local,” Bobal says. “Our key is offering new products weekly.”
Ready to sip something new? From her office behind the tasting room at Mebane’s Iron Gate Winery, owner Debbie Stikeleather likes to hear guests’ reactions to her wine — especially when they’re surprised. “A lot of times, if you ask somebody what they like, they’ll say they prefer sweet wines or white wines, and they never really get out of their comfort zone,” she says. “We want them to be able to expand their palette, so we let people taste all of our wines.”
Once they discover their favorite, Stikeleather recommends they take a bottle out to her front porch, complete with rustic board-and-batten, weathered-gray siding, and settle into a rocking chair. “Find a little corner, sit and talk,” she says.
If you’re ready to relax, you’ll find an intentional, nurtured respite at Reverence Farms in Graham. The farm, led by Suzanne Nelson Karreman, invites visitors to explore its 400 acres along the Haw River, and to purchase organic meat and dairy products at its on-site store.
“Our name says it all, and we take it very seriously,” says Patricia Gallivan, the farms’ administrative director. “We truly have reverence for the land and animals on the farm. Our products are so pure because of the way the animals are raised.”
Each animal — including poultry, pigs, Jersey cows, and lambs — is cared for individually and rotated through the fields where they self-harvest the majority of their diet. A dedication to sustainability makes Reverence Farms a great place to pre-order and pick up fresh, 100-percent grass-fed beef and lamb; low-grain, organically fed heritage pork; eggs from organically fed, pastured hens; and 100-percent grass-fed milk A2-protein products — including ice cream.
Need an afternoon beer break? Sit among the hop vines at Graham’s Forgotten Road Ales. Rated in the top 10 breweries by Untappd last year, Forgotten Road offers a beautiful, cozy beer garden beneath string lights, a rotating calendar of popular food trucks, and plenty of unique brews to try, like their sour IPA “But That’s Not What Ships Are For.”
“The name comes from the saying, ‘A ship is safe at harbor, but that’s not what ships are for,’” explains owner Janee Farrar. “It’s easy for anyone to find a beer they enjoy here, but our sour IPA’s name lets people know that it’s OK to get out of your comfort zone.”
Chicken pies, pimento cheese, and toffee pecan cookies are just a few of the most beloved items at Michelle’s Kitchen and Table in Burlington. The take-and-bake store and adjoining restaurant has delighted guests for more than a decade.
“Both the Kitchen and Table reflect a lifelong passion for family and food,” owner Michelle Morton says. “My mom welcomed family and friends around our kitchen table, and it fostered my love of Southern hospitality.”
Morton’s farm-to-table dishes are made with many ingredients sourced from local farms and markets, and she and her talented team foster a close-knit family environment — on-site and in the community they serve.
The Haw River Ballroom, a former dye house-turned-riverside music hall, draws internationally acclaimed artists from Iron & Wine to Jenny Lewis to the Drive By Truckers. “There’s nothing like live music,” says founder and co-owner Heather LaGarde. “The love of music brings people together. That single organism that an audience becomes when it’s a great song — whether everyone’s jumping up and down or totally silent because it’s such a beautiful quiet moment — is so moving.”
While live events are on hold with the pandemic, the ballroom still hosts bands that come to the space to rehearse, record, and film concerts, many of which visitors can stream online. And beyond the ballroom, there’s much to explore in the surrounding village, with its tranquil trail system, the Haw River, brewery, and restaurants.
“Saxapahaw is thriving with a group of lovely, diverse people who love nature, the arts, and good food,” LaGarde says. “The village is an easy, healing spot to visit.”
Mint, hibiscus, sage, and lavender are aromatic staples at Kindred Seedlings Farm in Burlington. Founder and farmer LaShauna Austria sells her seedlings, herbal tea blends, and vegetables at farmers markets, online, and to local restaurants. And she’s passionately devoted to community organizing, food justice, and equity issues.
“We need to redefine what farming is and can be,” says Austria, who started her farm on a quarter-acre in the backyard of her suburban home. “It doesn’t take a lot of land to grow a lot of food, and there is so much potential for people to grow what they need.”
Austria strives to engage people of color with sustainable home-growing methods that are both nutritious and cost-effective, with an overarching goal to make the farmers market and food scene more equitable and accessible. In 2021, she plans to expand Kindred Seedlings to a 20-acre farm outside of Saxapahaw.
Oversize, brightly colored flowers and fish are a highlight at the Alamance County Children’s Museum in Graham. The whimsical sculptures are the handiwork of husband-and-wife team Emily and Casey Lewis at Beechwood Metalworks, and can also be found in children’s hospitals and museums across the country.
Recently, the Burlington-based couple also opened the Owl and Rabbit Gallery in downtown, where visitors can buy their garden sculptures and shop other local artists, and they plan to open a general store in 2021. “This community took care of us when we were getting started,” Emily says. “We’re excited to help draw more people to Burlington.”
Just steps from the Haw River and within ear shot of Saxapahaw’s Haw River Ballroom, TerraStay is “about a half mile from everything,” says owner Sonya Weavil, who purchased her 8-acre farm — complete with four chic rental cabins — a couple of years ago. “People come stay with us because it’s relaxing, because it feels old-school. Some people come for the natural activities and some for the peace and quiet.”
For Weavil, personally, the true lure of Alamance County is its people and the beauty they create. “There’s an abundance of authenticity and integrity in the people, music, food, and products — all packed into our rolling farmlands and small towns.”