Written by Ashley Breeding, Pam George, Angie Gray, Liz Hartshorne, Meg Ryan, Caroline Sparks, Annie Ward and Amy White.
Meghan Lee never settles. The owner of Heirloom, a farm-to-table restaurant in Lewes, Lee is always thinking about what more can be done. Entering the restaurant industry at age 15, Lee has worked her way up. In her early 20s, she decided the “dance” of a restaurant was where she wanted to spend the rest of her professional career. She took time to learn every aspect to open her own restaurant and by age 34, Heirloom served its first dish. The eatery is known for its artfully plated and delicious fare. Many of her staff members are long-tenured and she aims to retain staff members by keeping things fresh, like with a recent food tour around Charleston. “When you hit a plateau in a restaurant, that’s usually when people leave,” she adds. Lee continues to set the bar high in terms of next steps for Heirloom with goals of a cookbook and more themed dinners. “We’re in a great space and happy, and I’m happy with my team,” she adds.
Owner, Home Grown Café
Home Grown Café has been a pillar of Newark’s Main Street for 21 years, providing a wide range of culinary options to locals and visitors alike. Sasha Aber, the owner of Homegrown, trailblazed the introduction of vegetarian and vegan options to the Newark restaurant scene. Aber, who grew up in Newark, loves her community and is honored to have them as repeat customers. It brings her joy to see “people have their first dates here, get married, and then bring their kids in to eat too.”
Aber is the proud recipient of the 2021 Newark Area Welfare Committee Community Leader Award. She has continued to bring the community together during the pandemic by participating in “Adopt a Unit.” Locals were more than happy to contribute funds so that Home Grown could prepare and deliver over 3,200 meals to ChristianaCare health provider units over a six-month period.
Founder, President & CEO, Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce
As their president and CEO for the past year, she’s helped the organization acquire 332 members and counting, and helped 127 businesses qualify for $3 million in aid. Using social media and government partners, she’s spread the word to Delaware business owners and entrepreneurs who are seeking education, tech assistance and a sense of community. Members of the DEBCC receive a wide range of benefits to help reach short- and long-term goals.
Khan hopes to inspire others to step up when they see a need in the community, and she remains adamant that a chamber of commerce should be “more than a ribbon-cutting ceremony.”
Realtor, Welcome Home Realty
Chief Operating Officer, WRK Group (The Warehouse, REACH Riverside and Kingwood Community Center)
Principal, CEO, Blue Blaze Associates, LLC
Owner, Coach, Trainer, Ignite Fitness and Kickboxing
Nothing can stop Stephanie Preece from getting back up after being worn down. In September 2018, Ignite Fitness was born. And as an entrepreneur, Preece says, “You have to wear a lot of different hats when you’re growing your business.”
Preece’s mission to build a safe space for both men and women along with giving back has been victorious and rewarding. “The best part is seeing people becoming the best version of themselves,” she says. “I don’t know that I could be more fulfilled by anything other than seeing the light and spark and ignite back in their lives.”
President, Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A.
Managing Partner, NorthNODE Group Counseling, LLC
To battle it, Jordan’s team of therapists collaborate with subject-matter experts to deliver experiential, interactive programming, like robotics, art, even music, like the Hip Hop Heals program. “Do people want to sit in a circle and talk? Sometimes,” Jordan says. “But sometimes they want to be doing, which still creates space to share. You kind of don’t know you’re in therapy until you know.” Jordan would like to see NorthNODEs in multiple underserved communities. “I don’t ever want it to be this big, imposing thing,” she says. “It should always be accessible and open, like, ‘Just go to NorthNODE. They got you.’”
Director, Marketing and External Relations, Delaware Prosperity Partnership
Co-Founder, Autumn Arch Beer Project
At this microbrewery in Newark, it’s a family affair. Kathryn Vennard opened Autumn Arch with her husband Jimmy and brother-in-law Dan. While the two brothers brew beer, Kathryn uses her strengths on the financial side of the business: doing payroll, assisting with the POS system and other backend data information. While starting a new business is nerve-wracking, Vennard was excited to utilize skills she’d just acquired in an MBA program. “It was pretty exciting for me to start to use the skills that I was picking up and learning in class, and really apply it immediately to like real-world applications,” she says. A little over two years in, Autumn Arch has become a watering hole for the Newark community, offering unique brews, events and a spot for BYO food. Vennard says it’s important to represent women in the beer industry, a male-dominated field. She is a part of all Autumn Arch business discussions and celebrates that the brewery’s staff has high female representation. “I think it makes us a stronger business and a stronger leadership team,” she says.
Managing Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig, LLP
Diane Ibrahim is no stranger to setting a goal and going for it. Ibrahim found Greenberg Traurig while attending Temple University Beasley School of Law and began her career as a law associate at the firms’ Wilmington office after graduation.
“Since I was a child, I wanted to be a lawyer, so my path has always been a straight one,” Ibrahim says. Ibrahim established herself as a corporate transactional lawyer and later became a shareholder of the firm. Fast-forward 16 years after finding Greenberg Traurig, and Ibrahim now holds the position of managing shareholder of the same firm where she started her career. Ibrahim ensures that the office stays connected and has the resources they need to best serve clients.
Ibrahim is also an active member in her community and currently serves as board president for Trinity Cooperative Day Nursery.
Director and Chair of the Tax Committee, Whisman Giordano & Associates, LLC
With over three decades of valuable experience in accounting, Lisa has a long history of mentoring and leadership. Since founding the DE Chapter of ACE Mentor Program in 2010, she has been closely involved with the organization’s work. DeRose’s leadership skills have translated into the workplace and she works as a manager or lead in her firm’s tax department, tax committee and human resources.
Vice President of Legal Affairs, General Counsel & Chief Enterprise Risk Officer, Delaware State University
Associate Broker, Andrea Harrington & Associates of Compass RE
Today, her firm is home to eight real estate agents and three full-time administrators. “When I see that my clients are happy at the end of the day, that motivates me,” she says. Her team caters to diverse clientele, and their hands-on approach to business caters to first-time homebuyers. Additionally, by employing bilingual team members, Harrington and her team can better serve Delaware’s Hispanic population.
Director, University of Delaware Women’s Leadership Initiative
Evans learned the importance of asking for help, as she was often one of the only women in her field working full time while raising a family. She says a major challenge for her was “the conflict of personal and professional commitments and the feeling that you had to do both really well every day, which of course you cannot.”
Evans’ journey inspired her to help other women succeed, placing her in the director position of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. “The real personal excitement is when I get to interact directly with women who are involved in our leadership programs and students who are involved in our student program, Ascend,” she says.
Co-Owner, First State Hood and Duct
She solved the perennial minority-led start-up issue by partnering with a business that helped her to effectively compete. She used her connection by offering a few services they didn’t. Because of this, Erica was able to gain customers who otherwise she would have no access to. “I never approached this business as a ‘Black-woman-owned company.’ We have never reaped any of the rewards from that distinction. The focus of my business is always on the customer and will forever remain that way,” she says.
Co-Owner, Artistic Director, Delaware Arts Conservatory
Through working choreography jobs, she met Laura Russo, who is now her business partner and co-owner of Delaware Arts Conservatory. The studio doors opened in 2007 with dance classes, and it has since expanded to included musical theater, voice, music, acting, studio art and photography classes. While the arts can grow a child in many ways, she hopes that the biggest thing her students learn from her is confidence in their ability. “If they walk out of my world with the ‘I can try’ attitude, I’m really good with that,” Friswell-Jacobs says.
Delaware Arts Conservatory students are consistently accepted to top performing arts programs across the country and work professionally all over the world. Friswell-Jacobs is also a full-time theatre and dance teacher at MOT Charter School.
Executive Director, Bethany Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce
Agent, State Farm
Owner, Phoenix Used Clothing Corp
Babita Jagnanan has spent 20 years in the recycling industry, mostly in the brokering of bulk recyclables globally. “Viewing my community through that lens, I began to notice a lack of alternatives for locals to dispose of their textiles other than in the trash,” she says, noting that about 85 percent of textiles are trashed in the U.S. each year. Additionally, she says, “Education is lacking on what constitutes a viable recyclable item. …I felt that the void for Delaware needed to be filled through education, [partnerships] and collecting items for reuse.” In 2019 she opened Phoenix, a company that collects used clothing for recycling. “One of the most important aspects of encouraging recycling is convenience,” Jagnanan points out. “Easy access to and awareness of drop-off locations throughout the community is crucial.” Collected items are sorted and redistributed to such partners as schools, churches and recovery houses. “My primary focus is to support those in recovery, those facing housing insecurity and underprivileged families struggling to dress for school and work,” she says. Reuse of these textiles also provides jobs—to collect, process and disseminate goods—while making an environmental impact. “With more people adopting this lifestyle change, manufacturing is decreased. This can have a significant impact in reducing greenhouse gases produced in landfills during the breakdown of textiles,” she says.
Head of Global Capital Markets, Wilmington Trust
In 2011, the Tatnall grad was a key leader in the merger of Wilmington Trust and M&T Bank, a $351 million transaction. In 2019, she was named to the American Banker Most Powerful Women in Banking NEXT list, recognizing the top 15 female banking professionals under 40. When Jack Beeson, head of global capital markets, announced his retirement, he asked her to be his successor.
Mrozinski is now on the board of Tatnall, where her two children are students. It’s too early to tell if her daughter will follow in her footsteps, but Mrozinski is determined to bring more minorities into the fold. “We have a long way to go, but we have some great team members committed to it.”
Executive Director, Sojourner’s Place
Owner, Director, Curator, Gallery 37
After reconnecting with a high school boyfriend—a local painter and gallery owner—Reed still wasn’t sold on moving to the First State. While checking out Delaware’s coastal towns, she kept driving through Milford and thinking, “There is something entirely charming about this little town,” she says. A meeting with the mayor later, she was besotted—and lucky for Milford, too, as Reed has brought her impeccable taste and worldliness to Gallery 37.
“I’ve taught painting workshops all over—Turkey, Italy, France—and I brought those artist relationships with me here,” Reed says. She eyes up her business with her artist’s vision: “I arrange my store like I would a painting, with an eye for color, movement and shape.” When it comes to service, she embodies an old quote from entrepreneur J.C. Penney: “Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement. It’s really that simple.”
Executive Director, Zip Code Wilmington
Owner and CEO, GBA Consulting
Poladko’s work is strongly personal to her. “While I was not raised in the U.S., I am no stranger to social inequities that gravely limit opportunities,” she says. Giving underprivileged students who may be going through the same challenges that Poladko experienced is fulfilling. “It is my work as an advisor that remains my favorite part of the job,” she says. “I love seeing students evolve into excited learners, curious intellectuals and unapologetically authentic leaders.”
Principal, Stephanie Cory Consulting
Executive Director, Mosaic
Although Brathwaite has been the director for five years, her favorite part of the work continues to be connecting with the people Mosaic supports. She says spending time with them “grounds me and reminds me of the important work we do. Every small accomplishment is a victory.” She is happy that the dance parties and birthday celebrations are slowly but surely moving from Zoom to in-person once again.
Brathwaite earned both an MBA (Strayer University) and a doctorate of education in organizational leadership (Wilmington University). She’s passionate about using her expertise to help “train, mold and shape” the next generation of new professionals and leaders, both at Mosaic and as an adjunct professor at Wilmington University.
President and Executive Director, Georgetown Chamber of Commerce
One of Price’s biggest interests is to make sure their members know that the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce is there to support them, especially during the pandemic. Price worked persistently on social media to keep businesses up in running. “That worked really well for us and it showed value to our members,” she says. “We kept things going so that our businesses knew we had their backs as much as we could.”
Growing businesses has always been enjoyable for Price. Becoming a part of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce was not something she expected, but she is “enjoying it tremendously.” “I get to use the skills that I had working at the bank in helping our small businesses, and if our community is going to grow, it’s going to grow because our businesses are growing,” she adds.
Owner, Pamper Me Pink/Absolutely Flawless Women Inc.
Dennis is also the owner of Pamper My Pink in Rehoboth, a unique spa boutique offering noninvasive body contouring services, women’s apparel and accessories, which opened this year. Her intention is to help women “lose weight so that they can feel better about themselves, from the inside out,” she says.
Garden Center Manager, Lord’s Landscaping Inc.
Giving back to the community is an act Hughes values most. Since she took over Lord’s Landscaping, the business has been involved in several charity events. “You get to work every day, but you have a bigger purpose than that, and we’re going to use it to give back to everybody in our community,” Hughes says.
Hughes’ biggest values in her company are “growing for good,” helping her community and taking care of her staff. Last summer, Lord’s Landscaping brought in a whole new staff of 46 employees who Hughes calls “incredible.” “I feel like I have 46 employees who I cannot do this without,” she says. “I have the best creative staff ever.”
Partner, Ruggerio Willson & Associates
First working part-time for the Delaware Volunteer Firemen’s Association (DVFA) administration while attending Wesley College, she met Sen. Tom Carper at an event. Soon, she became his state scheduler and executive assistant. “I don’t think I realized back then what it would mean for me in terms of opening doors and helping me find a passion and working in politics and government,” she says.
Today, Willson is a partner at Ruggerio Willson & Associates, a Dover-based consulting firm focused on government and legislative affairs. The firm’s 40-plus clients run the gamut of industries. “Every day is different, managing clients and helping them interact with the government in one form or fashion,” Willson says. That may be through a legislative or regulatory initiative, or “frankly, sometimes [it’s just] helping them connect with the correct community partners or stakeholders to accomplish their goal,” she says. Seeing positive progress enacted from her work is what keeps her going.
She credits a dedicated team as well as a strong family support system that allows her to balance being a mom and fulfilling her passion.
Senior Vice President, Director, Corporate Trust, WSFS Institutional Services
That was in 1994, and today Moore manages a team of 23 associates. “Every day is different,” she says. New clients call, legislation changes and transactions require problem-solving skills. Moore also served on an implementation team that has spearheaded multiple technology projects to streamline operations.
The Leadership Delaware graduate is now a board member of the organization. She’s also board chair of TeenSHARP, which helps increase underrepresented students’ access to college and develop student leaders. Inside and outside of work, Moore promotes an entrepreneurial spirit. “We tell our clients that they are our partners,” she says. “We want to help them grow in innovative ways.”
CEO, Women of More
The pastor’s child decided to share that message with Women of More, a sophisticated digital magazine that helps its 40,000-plus readers move past daily roles and pursue personal goals. It’s viewed in more than 168 countries.
“We don’t have to wait to become empty-nesters to do what we want to do,” says Washington, who leads a virtual “morning rally” on Thursdays. She also mentors women in Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution. “There are some powerful women who are incarcerated,” Washington says. She emphasizes that they must realize that they are more than a label. “If I would have stayed in the mindset of being an abused woman,” Washington says, “you and I wouldn’t be talking today.”
Owner/Operator, Corporate Caterers
In 2016, she started Corporate Caterers, a franchise that provides full-service catering to businesses in Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Vanamamalai enjoys the fast-paced atmosphere that comes with serving breakfast and lunch to professionals while still allowing her time to spend with family since there are typically no nights or weekends hours. However, when businesses went virtual during the pandemic, their catering needs slowed. Vanamamalai had to come up with ways to keep afloat and started catering for weddings and parties. These events added a different dynamic that Vanamamalai is tackling head-on.
Vanamamalai values her employees and says that having a reliable team is paramount to their success. She misses “the biggest challenge of all— motherhood,” but applies the same principles: patience, adaptability and care to “raising” her business. She wants every woman in business to know that their dreams are possible, reminding them that they “are stronger than you think.”
Associate Attorney, Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC
As an alumna of Spelman College, a HBCU in Atlanta, Denby developed her motivation and work ethic from her college experience. She has served in several leadership roles, including as President, for the Delaware Barristers Association, an affinity bar association for African American legal professionals. Denby, a Wilmington native, has a keen understanding of the governmental process and the importance of impartiality and fairness developed through her previous service with New Castle County government and the Delaware Department of Justice.
Striving to ensure diversity and inclusion issues are raised, Denby amplifies the voices of the people in the community who are not always heard, through her work with the Wilmington Civil Rights Commission and as a trustee member for the Delaware Historical Society. “My message to youth is to consider aspirations and careers that may not be visible in your immediate network. Growing up in Wilmington, I didn’t know any black attorneys but just because I didn’t see it, didn’t mean that I couldn’t do it. I just kept taking small steps toward my goals and was determined to finish what I started.”
CEO, Journeys Counseling
At Wilmington University, Trent earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science, a master’s in counseling, and, later, a doctorate in prevention science. She did it all while raising four children with her husband.
Trent started Journeys as a small private practice. It now has about 40 employees and contractors, serving both children and adults. Trent’s passion is helping at-risk youth. Through contracts with the state, Journeys provides mobile outpatient and therapeutic support in the community.
Trent is determined to help prevent and stop gun violence, and she also specializes in addiction work. “We look at what really happened to people to get them where they are—not just what they did or what’s wrong with them,” she says. “We have to look at things through a trauma-informed lens.”
Director and Department Chair, Tax and Small Business Department, Belfint, Lyons & Shuman
However, Middlebrooks’ position at Belfint, Lyons & Shuman involves more than numbers. “It’s an interpretation of law and problem-solving,” she explains. Elected shareholder in 2020, she meets clients face-to-face or virtually. “We can’t do a good job without being heavily involved in discussions with our clients,” she points out.
Middlebrooks takes the same all-in approach to mentoring young accounting professionals. An active volunteer, she works with nonprofits focused on tax matters and talks to students. “We have a professional responsibility to make the world a better place,” she says. “We should give back in whatever capacity we can.”