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Promoting women-led businesses in the Corridor

Tony & Jessica LaFayette, owners of Rawlicious. (Submitted photo)
Tony & Jessica LaFayette, owners of Rawlicious. (Submitted photo)

New Pioneer Food Co-op lets customers peek behind the curtain to get to know the people who make many of the products it sells. Through in-store displays and online content, it often highlights women-led businesses. The reason is simple — like many other industries, there aren’t as many female business owners in the food industry. “We think it’s important to give representation to the women who are doing the work,” said brand manager Amy Hospodarsky.

She hopes future business owners will be inspired by seeing the faces and hearing the stories of women who farm, make handcrafted pasta, run local restaurants and more. “It’s important to see people who look like you doing what you want to do,” Hospodarsky said.

With three stores in the Corridor, New Pi goes beyond showcasing products made by women — it also makes it easier for them to get their foot in the door.

For example, New Pi features Whoa Nelli’s natural cleaning products. Based in Iowa City, this local start-up’s products made their way to New Pi’s shelves just three weeks after staff connected with the owner at a local farmers market. The Whoa Nelli’s staff can make product changes easily, making the process less daunting for anyone dreaming of selling their goods in stores. “It’s not just about putting up posters — it’s part of our mission to have these vendors in our stores,” Hospodarsky said.

Jessica LaFayette, who, with her husband, Tony, owns the Cedar Rapids raw vegan café Rawlicious, also sells products through New Pi. In fact, it’s the only store she works with wholesale. “We make amazing food and they market it for us,” LaFayette said. Rawlicious’ vegan and gluten-free food is featured on the New Pioneer’s new virtual market at newpimarket.com. “They collected pictures and information about us, which gives customers a way to connect,” she said.

In addition to joining the virtual market, LaFayette recently adapted her business to COVID-19 by adding online ordering and curbside pickup. Adapting as you go — whether you’re in the middle of a pandemic or not – is the advice she’d offer any woman starting out in the food industry. “It’ll always be a learning process, and you’ll figure out the details along the way. But, you have to get started,” she said.

New Pi offers the opportunity for people like LaFayette to take that leap. Part of the beauty of selling local food and goods, according to Hospodarsky, is that the store is more accessible for small vendors and start-ups. “These items are made by our neighbors. That’s the major difference between our products and those that can be found anywhere else,” Hospodarsky said.

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