By Isabel Zieres, Laramie Main Street Alliance Communications
On December 10, 1869, Wyoming was the first state to pass a law permanently guaranteeing women’s right to vote and hold office, 50 years before the rest of the nation. In 1870, Louisa Ann Swain cast the first female vote in a general election, ever, here in Laramie, Wyoming. Laramie and the rest of Wyoming are commemorating the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage this year. To celebrate Wyoming’s essential role in the advancement of women’s rights, we’ll be featuring a series of articles that focus on local female business owners and their contribution to our community.
Sweet Melissa Café and Front Street Tavern was established by Melissa Murphy in August of 1999. Since its opening, Sweet Melissa’s has earned a loyal customer base and established itself as a staple of Laramie’s downtown community.
For the last 20 years, the restaurant has been the only in Wyoming that can guarantee a completely vegetarian menu. Murphy said she knew people were skeptical of vegetarian food, but she was willing to take a risk.
When Murphy moved from Texas to Laramie, she wasn’t finding the work that she was looking for, so she made a place for herself instead.
“I was in a situation where I had the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to,” she said. “I never imagined it would grow the way it has.”
Murphy explains the venture wasn’t easy at first. It took a while for the new, vegetarian only restaurant to gain traction. Back then, First Street wasn’t as frequented as it is now.
Murphy did all of the cooking herself for the first year, with a staff of one or two servers.
“The biggest struggle when first opening the restaurant was working 16-hour days while raising two small children. Fortunately, I had family members and a husband who were very supportive with both the restaurant and the children,” Murphy said. She is proud of her family ties to Laramie and refers to Sweet Melissa’s as a family restaurant. Her niece, nephew and daughter are currently on-staff.
In December 2009, the business expanded and the adjacent bar, Front Street Tavern was added. It was initially developed to be a waiting area for customers of the café, but quickly established its own identity.
Due to tourism, the busiest time of year for the business falls during summer months, when many students have left town. However, Sweet Melissa Café and Front Street Tavern are visited regularly by Laramie residents and devoted clientele.
Murphy is grateful for the support of the Laramie community. She encourages women to follow whatever path they choose, even if it means taking a risk.
“Everyone told me this restaurant was doomed to fail, so to young women I say, don’t listen to the cynics.”
Sweet Melissa Café and Front Street Tavern have been thriving for nearly 20 years. Their staff of two became a staff of now 26.
Future plans for the restaurant and bar may include renovations, but either way, Sweet Melissa Café will remain an iconic part of Laramie’s downtown business community.