EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories profiling the award winters announced last week by the Yankton Chamber of Commerce.
One Yankton business is keeping it all in the family.
At the Yankton Chamber of Commerce Awards ceremony on March 27, Willa B’s Bistro & Emporium received the “New Business Excellence” award.
The award is given to a business that has been in operation for more than a year but less than three years in the Yankton community. The business must also have demonstrated excellence in innovation, development and solid business practices.
Located at 114 Douglas Ave., Willa B’s is owned by Laurie Wright and operated by her daughters, Erica and Chauntel Wright.
The idea for the business began to blossom after circumstances caused Chauntel and Erica, both Yankton natives, to return to the area a few years ago. Erica had always envisioned opening a bistro while Chauntel and Laurie wanted to open an art gallery.
“We knew there were so many talented people around here that don’t get showcased,” Chauntel said.
When discussing their ideas, the mother-daughters team decided to put the two ideas together to create their own business, which came to fruition in November 2015.
The name Willa B’s was inspired by their mother and grandmother, Wilma Marie Bierle, who used the pen name “Willa B.” when she wrote children’s books.
“Our family has always been very close knit, and our grandmother was that glue when she was alive,” Erica said.
Willa B’s first opened on W. Third Street in downtown Yankton, with Chauntel managing the art side and Erica working with the food and drinks side of things. As a barista, she makes all the coffee by hand with an Italian coffee maker.
“It took me a month to figure out how to use,” she remarked.
She made an effort to use food and ingredients from local businesses, such as bread from Loafers and eggs from a local farmer. She also purchases food from Hy-Vee and Kave coffee from the Boston area.
Dealing with the artists that came in to sell their wares opened Chauntel’s eyes to all the low-profile talent in South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.
“I’m glad we can be a vessel to promote them,” she said.
As a way to draw more people in, the Wrights started a monthly dinner club during which participants eat a meal from a different country each month. Erica prepares each of these meals while Chauntel researches facts about the country to share with the group.
In addition, Willa B’s began offering its catering services, with its desserts being a popular feature.
Soon after opening, it became apparent that the business was in need of more space.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t like our old location, but when we were looking to the future and expanding what we were doing, we felt stuck,” Chauntel said.
Shortly after, the Wrights were approached by realtor Cody Richardson about moving to a structure close to Riverside Park. The Wrights accepted the offer and opened in their new location last November.
With the new location comes room for growth, such as offering outdoor seating, staying open later and occasionally changing the menu. For the upcoming summer months, Erica will add smoothies, protein shakes and ice cream to Willa B’s available selections.
“I’ve said to myself, why can’t we have in Yankton what the big cities have?” Chauntel said. “We’ve tried to create that here.”
They’ve accomplished that with the inside of the business having an eclectic interior with original art on display and for sale. The business also has a friendly small-town feel, from the staff being aunts and uncles of the Wrights to board games available for patrons to amuse themselves with.
“We want people to feel at home here,” Chauntel said.
Receiving the Chamber award enforces her belief that the business is on the right track, she added.
“We’re awestruck by the community’s support,” she said. “We want to continue to be something the community enjoys.”
Follow @ReillyBiel on Twitter.