There’s No Place Like Home
April 3, 2017
If you are a resident of Granite City, this story may be your cup of tea, favorite book, or entertainment. Do you ever find yourself dissing on your hometown? Do you ever wish you lived somewhere else with more things to do? Do you ever take your business to other cities, instead of supporting Granite City? I know the answer to at least one of those is yes. This is where Brenda Whitaker comes in.
Brenda Whitaker is an entrepreneur for downtown Granite City. She owns three businesses: The Garden Gate Tea Room, which will be celebrating their 17th anniversary in October, The Novel Idea Book Store And More, and one non for profit business called Alfresco productions. Each of these businesses has its own unique style flair. She started all these businesses in hopes of helping Granite City grow and giving us more diversity.
Who is this amazing woman and what is her story? She was born and raised right here in Granite City, Illinois. She attended GCHS all four years with our beloved Mr. Manoogian. She had two jobs after high school, one at a real estate company for a year, and then at another company until they downsized. She heard they were hiring at Granite City Steel, so she applied expecting to work in an office, but the only job available was in the plant. She ended up taking the job and was the only woman out of 22 men in her line, at the age of 26. She worked there for 15 years and liked it because it taught her to seize opportunity and how to save money. She also had the chance to meet great people.
Although Brenda liked the job at the mill, she found there was no creative outlet. Art and theater are her true passions and her love for it flourished when she was just a little girl. Her father taught her how to be creative and it shows as she draws, paints, sculpts, and even bakes. She had amazing teachers at GCHS who nurtured her and really forged her love for the arts. Brenda wanted a job that would allow her creativity to shine through. She started the Garden Gate Tea Room, without having any ounce of restaurant experience. While she created the Tea Room, she also worked at the mill for 2 more years. She either worked 4AM – 12PM or midnight’s, just so she could work the restaurant during the day. She worked 18 hours every day and didn’t sleep much (she still doesn’t). Brenda worked at both places until she knew the Tea Room could hold it’s own and she could focus on just the restaurant. But she didn’t stop there.
Brenda was then elected into City Council and the mayor asked her to be the chairman of the Downtown Redevelopment Committee. She was the ward alderman too, and in order to bring more people to Granite City she created Alfresco productions, in which there are outside activities. These activities include The Melting Pot Market, The Six Mile Sculpture Works, The Blue Collar Blues, and BBQ Festival. Bringing artistic and cultural events to the city was the whole point. Alfresco has always been the production center that does events, but she started it more for theater, while also including the same things they’ve always done. This was Brenda’s way of giving back to Granite City.
She opened The Novel Idea Bookstore and More next and actually thought of the idea from a dream she had. Her creative process works by writing down the ideas she has from dreams just after they are over, so she keeps a notepad and pen on her dresser. She used this technique with all of the businesses she has created. Brenda is always thinking, “What would I like to see here?” She bought the building behind the theater and plans on turning it into a jazz bar. Each of her businesses reflect things she really loves and she believes as a business owner, you need to have your own identity.
Brenda is so involved with the community because if she would complain about something when she was little, her parents would say, “Well, what’s your solution?” Her dad would always say, “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” Her dad would also cleaned the street, and Brenda would ask, “Why?” and he’d say “If everyone would clean 10 feet off their property line, the city would be clean. We can’t expect the city to do everything. We have to do our fair share.” The community service and giving back that Brenda does is due to her parents.
Anyone who knows Brenda knows her favorite movie of all time is The Wizard of Oz. She said, “When you’re a kid you see it for something, but when you grow up you see the deeper meaning.” Her dad would always say, “Do you know what Glenda the witch is saying to Dorothy? She is saying Dorothy always had the power within her, she just had to believe in herself.” That’s when he would tell Brenda that she could be anything she wanted to be. As she got older, they would talk about the city and people would say, “There’s nothing to do here,” and her dad would say, “What’s the solution?”
She was taught if she wanted things to be better, then she would have to be a part of the process and that’s why she’s chosen to invest in the community and take a stab at city government. Brenda has stayed in Granite City because she truly loves it here. She likes that we are centrally located and that she can go to the store and see someone she knows. She’s adventurous and a risk taker, but to go to a different community and start there, she would not be comfortable. Brenda was asked if she would go to Glen Carbon at one point and she always thought, “If I’m going to be a part of the solution, I’m going to stay in Granite City and invest here. She hasn’t given up on us, but there’s a lot to improve. She said, “I hear a lot of negativity and people always talking about what is bad here, but wouldn’t it be great if we talked about what is good?”
I loved talking and getting to know Brenda. It’s great to see people actually caring about our city, instead of degrading it. She wants to see Granite City thrive and that’s why she started all of these businesses to fit the people’s needs and wants. She said, “My business may not be everyone’s cup of tea (pun intended), but just remember that the sales tax generated from businesses helps with schools, roads, the running of the city in general plus creating jobs. So please support your favorite local business that has chosen to invest in our community; that’s the way we’ll grow together!” Before we talk negatively about Granite City, let’s think, “What’s the solution and how can I be a part of it?” and always remember, there’s no place like home!
Go check out Brenda’s businesses!