This year, Wyoming celebrates the 150th anniversary of what was once a radical proposition—that women deserve the right to vote. It was on December 10, 1869, that Wyoming became the first territory in the country to guarantee women their inherent right to vote and hold office. In the election of 1870, Louisa Gardner Swain became the first woman to cast a ballot—and you can find a full-sized statue of her at the Wyoming House for Historic Women, just a block from where that first vote was cast in Laramie.
It wouldn’t be the last time that Wyoming was at the forefront of promoting equality between the sexes. In addition to other political achievements—like electing the first female governor in 1924—Wyoming has also been a leader with women in the workforce. With its small population and rugged terrain, the state has always relied on women to play a significant role in getting things done, and that continues today with many women at the forefront of the business community. You don’t have to look hard to find women in leadership positions at companies across the state. Here are six Wyoming businesses that are prime examples of what women are accomplishing in the state.
1. Bella Fuoco Pizza and Esther’s
According to Maria Kopper, who along with her husband, John, opened Bella Fuoco Wood Fired Pizza in 2013, it was “a love of pizza in general and enjoying the way that food can bring people together” that nudged them to open their own business. Back then, the restaurant was a food truck with a mobile oven that allowed for quick and tasty pizzas to be eaten by hungry fans at festivals, concerts and local breweries around Cheyenne, WY.
Demand for this delicious pizza and devoted fans followed them to the brick and mortar location. There, they expanded their menu to offer paninis, calzones, pasta, soup and bread. With homemade dough and sauce made daily, it’s no surprise that they’ve been voted best pizza in 2017 by The Wyoming Tribune Eagle Reader’s Choice.
They’ve since expanded to open a second restaurant, Esther’s at the Morris House, located at a historic property in Cheyenne. “Esther Hobart Morris was the first female Justice of the Peace in the country,” Kopper says. “She was a key player in women’s suffrage in Wyoming, and we saw being able to support the historical aspect in this building was a great opportunity.”
Both restaurants are a family affair, with the Kopper’s daughter Ashlie overseeing Esther’s, while daughter Sofie works as a cook in both restaurants. “It’s great to be working with both of them so closely,” Maria says.
Esther’s, which opened in late 2018, is open for special events, small parties, and events around the holidays. It’s become an attractive option for wedding receptions and other private gatherings. “It’s a small space,” she says. “It’s quaint, and something that we really haven’t had before…Our whole family is history buffs, and being able to do something like this has been really enjoyable.”
2. Backwards Distilling Company
The light bulb moment for Backwards Distilling Company came in October of 2012. The Pollocks were eating dinner together, as they usually did, in downtown Casper.
“We love food and beverages, and we travelled a lot together to eat great food and drink great drinks,” says Amber Pollock. “When my brother, Chad, was complaining that he couldn’t find any new types of Absinthe (his favorite spirit at the time). My mom said, ‘Why don’t you make some?’ The rest is history.”
This suggestion kicked off a whirlwind of online research. They found that it was not only possible to make spirits, provided proper licensing, but also that small distilleries were booming in the United States. The “craft distilling industry” was trending upward, following a similar trajectory to that of the craft brewing industry. Amber had a passion and penchant for great cocktails, mom Kathy was in need of a career change after nine years teaching elementary school, and father Bill was looking for an alternative to retirement after 29 years working in and later co-owning a small business.
“We sent my brother around the country for about a year and a half to learn from other distillers,” Amber says. “We opened in 2014.”
Not only are all four members of the family passionate about their products, but the Backwards Distilling Company has allowed them to work together. “The most special part of the business for me personally is the fact that we get to do something as a family and we get to bring new things to our community,” Amber says. “The products we make are special because they are completely made from scratch and all full of personality.
Amber, who helped found and is now president of the Wyoming Distillers Guild, enjoys being working the front of the house in the distillery, getting to know customers and learning what they like about the products. “We keep pushing forward to make Wyoming a great place to do business in the craft spirits industry because we know that it has the potential to be a hot spot of craft beverages and we believe that the craft beverage industry can be a big win for the state.”