A Publication of WTVP

Turner: Women in Business Leadership Award

by Kirk Wessler | Photo by Ron Johnson |
Christell Frausto exterior

Rebel and thinker Christell Frausto is carving a distinct entrepreneurial path in the Peoria she embraces

Christell Frausto looks at Peoria and sees potential for greatness. If you try to warn her about the city’s problems, she leans forward to cut you off.

“Everyplace has negatives,” Frausto said, her tone equal parts sugar and spice. She is neither dismissive nor naïve, but firm with conviction.

‘She has an energy that pulls you in, insights that say if the glass is not full, here’s what we need to get there’
— Yvonne Greer Batton

Since moving to Peoria from Chicago in 2015, Frausto has owned four businesses and is working on a fifth. She also is past chairperson and current vice-chair for the Greater Peoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, while serving on the boards of the Peoria Civic Center Authority, Bradley University Turner Center for Entrepreneurship and the Greater Peoria Economic Development Center. In addition, she volunteers with the Peoria Park District, Peoria Latin Soccer and Peoria Folklore Ballet, and is a former member of the Peoria Fair Housing Commission.

And that’s why she wins the Turner Center’s 2023 Women In Business Leadership Award.

“She is the perfect example of an amazing woman entrepreneur,” said Jim Foley, director of the Turner Center at Bradley University. “She’s willing to take risks to make something happen. But she’s also someone who steps away from themselves to say, ‘I want to also help lift up other entrepreneurs’ — particularly women and in her case, Hispanic entrepreneurs. She’s also incredibly authentic.”

Creating a hub

We are sitting on chairs layered with construction dust at the future site of River City Grill, a Chicago-style fast-food restaurant Frausto plans to introduce this fall on Prospect Road, a couple of blocks south of War Memorial Drive. The restaurant is at the back of a building that houses TequilaRia Wine & Spirits, which Frausto opened in December 2020.

Bright, festive colors leap from the restaurant walls. For Frausto, they evoke memories of small towns in her native Mexico. They also form an extension of the broad selection of spirits in TequilaRia, which includes products from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

When Frausto moved to Peoria, she would entertain visiting friends, but they couldn’t mix their favorite cocktails because the necessary ingredients weren’t available. The vision for TequilaRia and more grew from those experiences.

Barely a mile north of her building, Prospect cuts through the vibrant Peoria Heights business district.

“There aren’t a lot of options along Prospect on this side of War Memorial,” Frausto says. “But look along the street and you can see what it needs: local stores, food, places to eat, places that are well run. That’s what we want to provide. My hopes are for business along Prospect to continue to grow. I hope to make this a hub.”

A rebel and a thinker

Frausto was 3 years old when she moved with her parents from Mexico to Chicago. Now 38, she describes her younger self as a rebel, battling to overcome language and cultural barriers. She refused to accept limitations. She dropped out of high school because she hated the rules, but she loved learning.

“My grandfather gave me the biggest advice: ‘Be a thinker,’” Frausto said. “My grandmother told me I was wild, but she told me to embrace that and don’t let people corner you.”

Those lessons have served Frausto well. She looks for opportunity and figures out ways to bring visions to reality. When she encounters skepticism or sexism, she fights for what she believes. She is neither averse to risk nor immune to failure.

At 16, Frausto bought into an aroma therapy kiosk that her mother owned in a Chicagoland shopping mall. Rapid overexpansion became unsustainable and the business closed.

“I lost $7,000. To me, that was all the money in the world,” she said.

So Frausto earned her GED and took a sales job, first with Nextel Sprint, then with Verizon. At first, she figured this would be the rest of her life. “Just keep my head down and get paid,” she said.

But a store manager challenged her, and her ambition returned. Frausto became a floating supervisor, troubleshooting problems at different stores. Eventually, she transferred to Peoria, where physical ailments made it difficult to spend too much time on her feet. So Frausto changed course.

She and her husband at the time, Faisal Dossa, bought a gas station on Prospect. He remains her business partner. Subsequently, Frausto became licensed to sell insurance and bought a Farmers Insurance franchise, which she sold early last year. By then, TequilaRia had taken off, and Frausto had begun yet another business, CFS United Inc., which buys, renovates and rents homes on the East and West Bluffs.

‘She’s a waymaker’

Yvonne Greer Batton, chair of the Peoria Civic Center Authority Board, met Frausto about three years ago.

“She’s a waymaker,” Batton said. “She doesn’t just climb to the top of the ladder and knock it over. She stays there, encourages you and reaches down to help you. She has an energy that pulls you in, insights that say if the glass is not full, here’s what we need to get there.

“She stays hungry. People who stay hungry are always looking for opportunities to do good, not just for themselves. Christell has that hunger.”

Frausto sees Peoria as a land of opportunity.

“In Chicago, we never had a yard, and I spent a whole year of my life in traffic. I did the math on that,” she said. “Here, we can enjoy our living space and time to do things. And it’s affordable.”

Her personal dream is to build a homestead for her family. Her business and community dreams are closely tied: Build successful ventures, share her expertise and invest in opportunities that provide pathways for others to live, work and enjoy their own families and friends.

And yes, it can be done here.

“I am a huge promoter of Peoria. I couldn’t do any of this to this degree in another place,” she said. “All of these blessings I have, it’s my duty to give back and share what I’ve learned. My seat at the table, my niche, is Latinos and women. But I want everyone to take a seat and share their ideas.

“We have problems, yes. But our problems are everyone’s problems. We have a duty to work together. Peoria is for everybody. Come join us.”


Kirk Wessler

Kirk Wessler

is a former newspaper sports editor who has turned his attention in semi-retirement to a new passion as a singer/songwriter