Burlington Business Owner, Honored Community Advocate, Social Justice
Leslie McCrorey-Wells does it all.
When the co-owner of Burlington restaurants Pizzeria Verita, Trattoria Delia and Sotto Enoteca is not busy running her three restaurants, she sits on the boards of countless Vermont organizations. As a business leader and community advocate, she has worked for decades to advance environmental, social and racial justice causes.
In honor of her work, McCrorey-Wells received the Catherine McAuley Award from the Burlington-based nonprofit Connections of mercy during a ceremony on Tuesday, June 22.
The Mercy Connections Board of Directors applauded McCrorey-Wells’ commitments to fair compensation for employees, creating a positive work environment and local and sustainable sourcing.
“I want to be a company that gives back to its community and helps it stay strong,” said McCrorey-Wells.
She aspires to one day provide some level of health insurance to employees and eliminate the tip model because of its “inherently sexist and racist elements.” She also hopes her position as a black woman business owner and community leader can inspire others.
“I employed young women who told me when they saw me in this role it blew them away,” said McCrorey-Wells. “I’m glad it means something to people.”
John Rao, who co-owns the restaurants with McCrorey-Wells and has worked with her since the late 1980s, is impressed by her endless energy and drive.
“He’s a shining star, incredible public support. I don’t even know how to explain it. It is a gift for the community, a great moment, ”said Rao.
McCrorey-Wells’ many contributions to her home country were recognized in a speech by her friend and colleague Erica Dean at the McAuley Awards on June 22. Dean, who served with McCrorey-Wells on the Mercy Connections board for six years, praised her friend’s commitment to making positive change and doing good.
Member of Intervale, Fleming Museum, Flynn Center and other boards
In addition to Mercy Connections, McCrorey-Wells has served on the boards of the Vermont Commission on National and community service, UVM’s Coming Home Project, Burlington School District Strategic Planning Committee, and Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle’s Anti-Racism Task Force.
She is currently a member of the board of directors of The interval center, the Flemish Museum and the Flynn Center for the performing arts. Most recently, McCrorey-Wells was appointed to the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Vermont Agriculture.
“The reason this award was so well deserved is because she is this unsung hero, this person who works behind the scenes,” Dean told Burlington Free Press. “She is always very humble, always looking to do what matters most and what will impact her community.”
Work against hunger
Dean also spoke about McCrorey-Wells’ efforts during the pandemic. When its restaurants closed, McCrorey-Wells and his team first offered on-leave staff bags and boxes of food at wholesale prices to pick up in safe places. McCrorey-Wells then partnered with Mercy Connections to provide the same to over 2,000 people in need last year.
McCrorey-Wells stressed the importance of continuing to fight hunger even as some immediate effects of the pandemic wear off.
“We must continue to come together. We are not yet in a post-COVID world, ”she said.
“Fight racism with all you have”
Growing up in Vermont, McCrorey-Wells felt uneasy about his race. She left Vermont for several years to find herself and other people of color to connect with, but eventually returned because Green Mountain State felt at home. Now she’s built her own black community here.
Beyond her own experiences, much of McCrorey-Wells’ passion for activism and community involvement comes from her parents, she said. Her dad has traveled all over the place to speak out on issues and always told McCrorey-Wells to “fight racism with all you have, but never let that be an excuse for failure.”
After many years of fighting racism in Vermont, she reflected on the immense progress that remains to be made.
“I wonder when people are really going to understand the experiences that the BIPOC communities are talking about, when we are going to overcome this horrible story that we are struggling with,” she said.
The first step?
“We need to listen to people’s experiences and let that be the truth, not question them. “
Contact Nora Peachin at 609-455-2179 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter @NPeachin.