March is Women’s History Month – a celebration of the contribution of women to events in history and contemporary society.
Women have made a more than significant contribution to Loudoun in the development of the county as a renowned restaurant, craft beverage and tourism destination. Here we profile some of the dynamic female entrepreneurs who make Loudoun such a unique and appealing place to visit.
Cheryl Strasser & Bre Grant, Cowbell Kitchen
Hands down one of the most elaborate salads in all of Loudoun is the seasonal Farm Bowl – a delectable mélange of roasted veggies, farm fresh greens, grains, beets, harissa, hummus, felafel and more – made at pocket-sized café and bakery Cowbell Kitchen, downtown Leesburg. Fans of “The Bowl” can thank Cowbell owners Cheryl Strasser and Bre Grant, the all-woman team who run the business. They formed a close bond after Bre’s sister, Kaeley, tragically passed away in 2018. Cheryl and Kaeley had started the original Cowbell Kitchen on Market Street. Together, Cheryl, a baker of 30 years, and Bre, a marketer, keep Kaeley’s dream going at their King Street spot, making sweet-smelling cakes, cookies, pastries and pies on top of cheese and bacon filled breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast, quiche, buckwheat pancakes and that incredible Farm Bowl – all ingredients sourced from regional farms. Magnificent.
Dana Alfahham, Dana’s Cake Shoppe
Ten years ago, Syrian native Dana Alfahham was studying cake decorating in Dubai and working as a baker at a British school, considering a move back to Damascus with her husband and children. Syria was at war, however, and not the best place to return to. An opportunity arose to move to Virginia and after several years making and baking wedding cakes in the DC region, she and her husband opened Dana’s Cake Shoppe in the Village at Leesburg in 2020.
The now wildly successful enterprise makes everything from cakes and gourmet pies to macaroons, cheesecake, cookies and fruit tarts and employs an all-women team of 12 bakers, cake decorators and baristas. The shop recently expanded to offer baking and cake decorating classes.
“Everything I bake is from scratch,” Alfahham said. “I’ve developed my own recipes for the best texture, using high-end ingredients and European-style batter. As for decorations – you tell me what you want, and I will design it.”
Who is her inspiration this Women’s History Month?
“My mother,” Alfahham said. “She baked for me all the time growing up in Syria and gave me my passion.” The future is in good hands, meanwhile. Dana’s three young daughters can often be found helping her in the cake shop. “I hope they find their American Dream here like I did,” she said.
Lori Corcoran, Corcoran Vineyards & Cidery
California-born Lori Corcoran wanted to be an FBI agent and studied Administration of Justice at college. Instead, when she and her family relocated to a farm outside Waterford in 2002, they planted vines, started making wine (and later beer and cider) and never looked back. The FBI’s loss has been the craft beverage scene’s gain. Corcoran, the wine and cider maker at Corcoran Vineyards & Cidery, has an affinity for the whiskey barrel-aged port she makes, one of which she has cleverly titled USB. (USB port – get it?) While the family sold the beer business in 2017, they have ramped up cider production, making crisp, dry champagne-style ciders with names such as Sinful (“so good it must be a sin”) and the barrel-aged Knot Head with hints of vanilla. “The skill is finding alchemy between art and science,” Corcoran said. “The chemistry is in the balance; the art is in the finish.” What’s it like being a woman in the beverage industry in Loudoun? Corcoran said she doesn’t see any difference, only that people are more amazed when they realize she does it all herself. She has heard women are supposed to have a better palate than men. “Who knows, but if we understand flavor profiles better maybe that’s one of our innate advantages.”
Manisha Shah, Stone Manor Boutique Inn
It’s 8,000 miles from India to Loudoun but that didn’t stop immigrant Manisha Shah from bringing a taste of India to DC’s Wine Country®. In 2018, Mumbai born Manisha and her husband Prashant bought the beloved 1905-built Stone Manor Boutique Inn in lush countryside outside Lovettsville. Manisha, a marketing professional and architectural school graduate, has introduced a distinctive Indian finesse to the interiors and a dynamic flair to the events the property is known for. On top of hosting overnight guests, she caters as many as 45 weddings a year, preparing delectable Indian dishes for the occasion. "I have been cooking for family and friends as long as I've been in America, since the 80's,” Shah said. “Stone Manor allowed me and my family to spread our love of food and weddings to others.”
Holly Chapple, Hope Flower Farm & Winery
Loudoun women are leaders in the local craft beverage, food and restaurant business, but they also drive the county’s blooming flower scene. A stone’s throw from the quaint village of Waterford, Hope Flower Farm & Winery is the sweet-scented floral business of long time Loudoun native Holly “Flower Mamma” Chapple. Her mostly all-women team offers everything from pick-your-own to flower arranging classes, ready-to-order garlands, bouquets and wreaths and subscriptions to a floral CSA. They also host festival weekends to celebrate Tulip Days, Peony Days and Dahlia Days with live music, picnics, flower-picking and glasses of farm-made cider and imported wine. Upcoming events to look out for? Tulip Day on April 8 (try the "Jack Cat Hard Cider" after picking your tulips) and a Flower Moon Party on May 9 – so called because the Full Moon in May produces the densest bloom.
Dana Green, Restocked Sneakers
A destination sneaker store is not the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of Loudoun. Waterford resident and longtime “sneakerhead” Dana Green changed all that when she opened Restocked Sneakers in late 2021, an upscale sneaker boutique opposite Raflo Park in downtown Leesburg. The trendy locker-sized shop stocks the latest athletic pumps from Adidas and Nike as well as rare Jordans, Kanye West's Yeezys and hard-to-find, lesser-known brands. They also collect and trade rare and vintage sneakers.
A former Secret Service agent turned serial entrepreneur – she and husband Reggie owned a cement mixing business and shares in a gymnasium franchise – she attributes her entrepreneurial flair to her grandfather, a barbershop owner.
“I always knew I wanted to own my own business,” Green said. “He was my inspiration.”