Last January, MKE food truck owners Jessie Ignatiev and Lupe Moreno were presented with a unique opportunity: to create a Milwaukee chapter of a national initiative boosting female food entrepreneurs. Let’s Talk Womxn, founded in Chicago in 2020, isn’t an organization but rather a movement – of women supporting each other, building visibility and fostering collaboration.
In an industry known for cutthroat competitiveness, LTW – which now has chapters in 13 cities – comes as a refreshing change. And in Milwaukee, which doesn’t boast many restaurant kitchens run by women, that added foundation – and sharing of resources and knowledge – is welcome.
Let’s Talk Womxn doesn’t subscribe to a rulebook, preach dogma or have a membership fee. But it does require a dynamic volunteer effort to make it sustainable. Ignatiev and Moreno, joined by fellow mobile food operator Dana Spandet, had no hesitation taking the lead as “co-hosts” of LTW MKE.
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“The food scene in Milwaukee is on fire and so ready. We couldn’t be more proud of these women,” says Melissa Tantillo, who runs a Milwaukee-Chicago restaurant photography business with her husband, Marc. The Tantillos were the catalysts to getting the Milwaukee initiative off the ground, hand-picking the co-hosts.
Their first objective? Hold a dinner celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. The first of what they hope to make an annual event combined the efforts of 20 local female chefs and restaurant owners, from Alexa Alfaro of Meat on the Street to Jessica Ludwig of Riley’s Sandwich Co. They partnered with the mobile app Cashdrop, a business founded by former Milwaukeean Ruben Flores-Martinez; supporting Black and brown entrepreneurs is part of LTW’s credo, too.
“The whole point of Let’s Talk Womxn is to put money back into women entrepreneurs’ pockets. [And] it is just a great connector. We’re totally stronger as a group,” says Moreno, who runs Modern Maki at Zócalo Food Park.
The co-hosts are planning a Womxn’s Fest, bringing together female business owners from different sectors, says Ignatiev. Monthly phone calls with members and the movement’s creator, Chicago restaurateur Rohini Dey, help them strategize ways to do that. They also use the calls to break down topics such as retaining employees, raising capital to open a brick-and-mortar and the necessity of having male allies in their industry.
Working together, they’ve reasoned, is to everyone’s benefit. That could be something as simple as a collaborative dinner. Ignatiev, who co-owns the Heirloom MKE food truck, is doing a ticketed, prix fixe dinner July 12 with Dominique Alvarado of Tostada MKE, the trailer that operates outside Maranta Plant Shop in Bronzeville.
“The menu will be a unique melding of our two cuisines and styles,” says Ignatiev. “Just a fun way to get together during the summertime, support our own mission, while supporting each other.”