Who cooked the Last Supper? Probably a woman, because no holiday commemorates it, said Liz Rosenbaum, owner of Her Story Cafe. Rosenbaum operates the restaurant within Library 21c at 1175 Chapel Hills Drive, and considers herself a culinary anthropologist and positive feminist. The restaurant features food named for significant women in history — Condoleezza Chicken and Rice chili, Reese Witherspoon cookies with Reese’s Pieces and locally, the Mary Lou Makepeace Grinder, named for the first woman mayor in Colorado Springs and the grinding wheels of government. Historical photos of the women, along with their biographies and stories decorate the restaurant. Rosenbaum, 39, sat down with the Business Journal this week to talk about her roots as a high school history teacher, her love of the restaurant industry and her passion for women’s equality.
Tell us about yourself.
I’ve loved restaurant work since my first job at 16, and I love history. I decided to be a history teacher when I was on Normandy Beach in France. I started teaching high school history, but it just didn’t seem the fit I wanted. With my history lessons, I always included food — where it was from, how they cooked it. I totally deviated off of the norm. … in the economic downturn of 2009, I lost my profession. … I know food and history, women’s history particularly, so I blended everything I love to do to create Her Story Cafe.
Did you have trouble financing your business?
I did it all without a bank loan. Women entrepreneurs make up 40 percent of small businesses, and women only get 4 percent of the loans. Every time I went in for a bank loan, they wanted to know what my husband’s income was. When he would go in, they didn’t even ask about his wife and didn’t ask what does she earn. They would refuse to do the paperwork for me without his information, so I would just walk out. It’s MY company. It’s MY business. The disparity of lack of equality is just unfair. I bought things a little at a time. And as of Monday, I’m debt-free.
What’s the main purpose of the cafe — besides food?
Learning women’s history. Lots of people can make soup and sandwiches, but what makes me unique is telling women’s stories in a fun, uplifting way, and being a positive feminist.
Talk about your political aspirations.
I am running for District 4 county commissioner. I met Jariah Walker and Mary Lou Makepeace, and all these amazing people in local government who have helped me. They’re just genuinely concerned about every person who lives here. They can be civically minded and make the community awesome. I thought — I want to do that! I live in an area … that’s not Fountain; it’s not Colorado Springs, but it is El Paso County. I started really looking into what county commissioners do. It’s very civic-minded — the whole gamut of taking care of people.
How do you name your sandwiches?
I always loved working in a small business, from my first job at a cafe in Jesup, Iowa. I always thought, some day I’m having a restaurant. I decided to come up with women’s history- themed restaurant. [The sandwich] Feelin’ Sassy, my husband named because I’m sassy and it’s my favorite sauce, sweet and tangy mustard. The Sally Ride BLASTT stands for Best Leafy Spinach and Swiss Tomato Turkey, named for the first American woman in space. Paula 21c is after Paula Miller, who designed this library, the 21st century library building. It was her concept.
How do you get a sandwich named after you?
It is a big deal. It’s also if I want to meet somebody. [Local philanthropist] Peggy Shivers, I named a latté after her. She was my first catering customer and is still a customer. I have a new vegan sandwich named The Ellen because I want to meet Ellen DeGeneres. On the sandwich, we have shredded carrots, hummus, cucumber, mustard, and if you’re a vegetarian, you can add cheese … sometimes kale tomato and spinach — whatever veggies we have on hand. The tagline is: It tastes funny … because she’s a funny lady. We will randomly post a picture of it to her Facebook page, wondering if she’ll ever see it. … She’s amazing. She has a quote — “You can learn more from your mistakes than you can from your accomplishments.”
What’s the secret to your success?
I don’t give up. Two and a half years ago, someone rear-ended me on I-25, and it almost ended my business. This opportunity at the library saved my company. It was a matter of four days from one contract ending to getting this one. I had a head injury and I couldn’t stay awake for more than two hours at a time. I did not give up my company.
I told my customers, “Hey, I have a head injury,” and I asked them, “Please come in once a week to help keep me in business, and they did.” I just wanted them to help me as a small business owner in this community, like I help other small businesses. … a local bread company … Outside the Bread Box … Colorado Coffee Merchants … They all helped me, and everybody was amazing. I don’t give up.
What advice would you give others?
Make sure you have a tribe of people around you, experts, and you can get in touch with them. Molly Wingate is my cheerleader … Yani [Rehorn] with Accounting Solutions … my husband and kids are amazing … Eric [Umenhofer] with Colorado Coffee Merchants. He is an amazing role model for me. He’s a retired firefighter who started roasting coffee out of his garage. I learned from him how to stick to my guns and just keep going. My business just keeps growing.
Tell us about your family.
Dan is my husband. We met in high school in Iowa. Our daughter Samantha is at Colorado Mesa University studying to be a police officer; and Alexzander is a sophomore in high school.