Posts Tagged ‘dream’

Sensational Cuisine, Suburban Hospitality and Love of Family Fuels Fusion

Meet Mark Crescenzo, General Manager and Host of Fusion Café and Wine Bar in Monroe, New York.  Opened in January of this year, the family-friendly restaurant offers high end and reasonably priced American cuisine featuring Latin and Asian influences.

“There are a lot of great restaurants in Monroe, but most are Chinese or Italian,” explains Mark.  “Nothing like this.  No place offering a good quality, freshly prepared, light meal at a great price.”

The food is prepared by Chef and Owner Kathy Egan who trained with Daniel Boulud and Peter Kelly.  Appreciating the qualities of the Chef/Owner, Mark comments, “Kathy’s food is very clean.  You can leave stuffed but it’s fresh and light and everything is cooked to order.”

While Kathy oversees the smooth running of Fusion’s kitchen, Mark ensures guests receive a warm greeting and excellent service.  “I like to host, I like to throw a good party – I want people leaving the restaurant to feel like they just left a really good house party.  When guests return a second time, we’ll remember their names, remember their drinks, remember if they are gluten-free.”

Mark’s career in restaurants began at the age of twelve when he was hired as a bus boy by Cranberries, a restaurant in his hometown of Stony Point, New York.  Four years later, Mark walked into Lynch’s, another nearby restaurant, seeking a job.

“Alice Lynch (the owner) handed me a Duke pad and told me to write down my name.  A week later, she called me in, gave me an apron and the Duke pad, and elevated me to waiter.”  Mark continued working in restaurants throughout high school and college.

A restaurant has served as a backdrop for important events in Marks’ life.  He met his future husband at The Hudson House in Nyack, New York.

Mark left the restaurant word to pursue a corporate career but gave up that job to raise the couple’s daughter.  He was not out of the workforce for very long.  “I was home for nine months.  At that time, real estate was taking off and I obtained my real estate license.  I worked in real estate for just under ten years.”

Their daughter was eight years old when the real estate market collapsed and Mark took a part-time job at Ravi, another local restaurant.  This is where Mark and Kathy met. The collaboration to create Fusion began.

Fusion is located on MillPond Parkway in Monroe.  The 800 square foot restaurant has a 15 person bar and intimate tables seating an additional 46.

The location underwent extensive renovations prior to opening which locals could monitor through the restaurant’s front windows.  “People would walk by, read the menu and give us a thumbs up through the window.  They couldn’t wait for us to open.”

The final result is a restaurant that feels urban despite its suburban location.  “When you walk in, everyone says they feel like they are in Manhattan.  It’s a very clean, very sleek environment.”  It’s a very good fit for Monroe’s population, young and old, families and singles, many of whom commute to work in New York City.

Fusion’s Grand Opening took place on January 27th and things have been busy.  New customers as well as returning diners are contributing to the restaurant’s immediate success.  The repeat business is encouraging to Mark.

“We’re not the only place serving good food, but diners will come back because of how we make them feel.  They will remember that.”

Mark is passionate about family and community and his work at Fusion reflects and feeds these passions.  “My family is involved in the restaurant.  They have all been there and been involved in this.  The community is becoming our family, guests are greeted on a first name basis, the diners are part of our extended family now.”

Sourtosweet had the opportunity to dine at Fusion.  The cuisine is delicious and beautifully presented.  The wait staff is friendly and professional.  If you arrive for an early dinner around 5 or 5:30, you watch as the tables and bars slowly fill with smiling, relaxed and satisfied diners enjoying their evening – exactly as Kathy and Mark intended.

To everyone involved in creating and operating Fusion, best wishes for continued success!

If you are, or someone you know is, pursuing a passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

© sourtosweet

Not the Same Old Yoga

Meet Christa Avampato, a renaissance woman who, most recently, founded her own not-for-profit organization named Compass Yoga.  Compass Yoga is an organization dedicated to promoting the therapeutic healing powers of yoga for individuals with specific healthcare needs.

Christa has an eclectic employment history.  “I always wanted to have the opportunity to try new things, experiment, see where things lead.”  Significantly, Christa also did not compromise.  “I never took a terrible job just to make ends meet.  I didn’t realize that this was rare.”

She worked through college at the University of Pennsylvania and, upon graduation, was employed in the theatre industry for several years.  She left the theatre industry to pursue not-for-profit fundraising and then returned to school in pursuit of her MBA at the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia.  Although she intended to return to not-for-profit work after graduate school, Christa moved from Virginia to New York to be near a sick family member and soon realized that salaries in the not-for-profit world were insufficient to support life in New York.  She found employment in new product development at a large company.

“I feel like I’ve been a new product developer my whole career – always developing something new that helps people fulfill a need that they have.”

In 2007 and 2008, Christa found herself in New York City working as a new product developer and watching the economy fall apart.  “I’ve had a front row seat to the recession.  They were dark days in 2008.  It was a pretty scary place to be.”  At one point, two thirds of her business school class were unemployed.  “These were very smart, very qualified people being turned out by their companies.”

Observing these events unfold, Christa started to consider how she could take her future into her own hands.  She realized she could not expect another company to create her own future for her and contemplated becoming an entrepreneur.  “The thought was very scary.  I never thought that I would own my own company or organization.  I was really scared and I had to talk to other people who had done it and get some courage and confidence to do it myself.”

Christa pitched an idea for a column about entrepreneurship to Examiner.com.  She wanted to interview successful entrepreneurs and gain courage and confidence from their stories.  Over the course of 15 months in 2009 and 2010, she interviewed over one hundred entrepreneurs.  Christa turned twenty-seven of these interviews into a book entitled Hope in Progress: 27 Entrepreneurs Who Inspired Me During the Great RecessionHope in Progress is available online and through Kindle.  Now that Christa had the courage and determination, she needed her idea.

Compass Yoga became the focus of Christa’s newfound entrepreneuring spirit.  She always had a passion for teaching and had developed a passion for yoga as well.  These dual passions prompted her to train as a yoga instructor.  As she progressed through training, she discovered that the traditional studio business model for yoga left much to be desired.  “It seemed ridiculous to me that there wasn’t a way for yoga teachers to make a living wage.  With my business, finance and yoga background, there had to be a better way to get paid to do this.”  Christa determined to find a way to make yoga financially viable.

Christa’s training inspired a strong belief in the healing powers of yoga.  “The more I saw articles in The Times about people struggling with diabetes and heart diseases – I knew yoga and meditation could help with that.  Wow!  There is a lot of opportunity there.”  An advocate for the healing power of yoga and meditation, and recognizing the weaknesses in our current healthcare system, Christa envisions a way to blend yoga and meditation with western medicine to offer preventative, holistic medical care.

“We would look at a patient from a 360 degree view.  Someone could come to us no matter what the ailment, information could be shared across therapists and doctors to provide true holistic care to a client.”

The unique skill set developed during Christa’s eclectic employment history, her education, her passions, her front row seat to the recession, all contributed to the May 2010 founding of Compass Yoga.  Christa gathered and diverse collection of colleagues and friends to form a Board of Directors, all believing in the power of people healing themselves through alternative methods.

Christa invested her own savings, earned through her new product development work.  “My work in business and finance fuels the not-for-profit work I am passionate about.”  More importantly, using her own funds gave her control over Compass Yoga’s mission.  “I want to bring in grant money and donor money but, at the very beginning, I wanted to clearly define what we are doing.  I wanted us to shape the mission, not a fundraiser.”

Approximately one and a half years after its founding, Compass Yoga will soon have 501(c)(3) status.  Once its status is established, it will begin fundraising efforts targeting the public and private sectors.  Christa currently teaches yoga classes at Compass Yoga, as well as, hospitals, universities and other institutions in New York City.  Compass Yoga is already serving the needs of populations facing specific healthcare challenges, including veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.   Although Christa continues to work full-time, she plans for Compass Yoga to become her full time job.

Christa is proud of her accomplishments and happy to tell her story.  In addition to the Examiner.com article and other freelance writing projects, she maintains an inspirational blog called Christa in New York.

Sourtosweet is very excited that Christa has agreed to contribute a post here.  Stay tuned next week for an original Christa Avampato post designed to inspire.

“With enough will and determination your life can turn out the way you want it to turn out. – Christa Avampato

In the meantime, Christa, best wishes on continued career satisfaction and success!

If you are, or someone you know is, pursuing a passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

© sourtosweet

A Wedding Video You’ll Want To Watch

Meet Andy Owen, owner of Owen Video.  Owen Video specializes in creating unique and beautiful wedding videos for its clients.

Andy is married to his wife, Chandra, and is a stay-at-home father to their two children.

From 2005 to 2008, Andy was the multimedia support technician for a Michigan school district.  He maintained the district’s interactive video equipment and supervised the district’s video studio.  He also taught teachers how to use the equipment.

“I loved it,” Andy admits.  But “in 2007 the writing was on the wall in the State of Michigan that education financing was going down the tubes.”  Although administrators in Andy’s district tried to preserve his job, the district ultimately laid Andy off in June of 2008.

Because Andy had prior warning of his impending job loss, he was able to get a head start on the job search process.  In fact, he had twelve job interviews in the spring and summer of 2008.  In three of those twelve interviews, Andy returned for both a second and third round.  He remembers that one of the jobs was a part-time position paying “a whopping” ten dollars an hour.  None of these opportunities resulted in employment in the form that Andy was seeking.  Instead, these job interviews prompted him to strike out on his own.

Andy admits he is a reluctant entrepreneur.  “I was dragged kicking and screaming into being my own boss.  I was quite happy working for someone else.”  In fact, the first videos created by Owen Video were corporate videos, not wedding videos.

His first client was a local construction company – one of the twelve companies that interviewed him in 2008.  “They loved me but I wasn’t ready for the job.  They asked if I was doing freelance video because they had a budget for that . . . .  I offered them a bid for this project and they thought it was a steal considering other bids.  They started using me a lot because I was underbidding the competition.  I had zero business experience – I never knew what to charge.”  Andy worked on corporate videos for the balance of 2008.

In 2009, Andy was persuaded to pursue wedding videography.  This was not Andy’s first foray into wedding videos, but prior to 2009, he admits, “I hated it.”  But, in 2009, Andy received inspiration and encouragement from a Nashville wedding videographer.  Eugene, the Nashville videographer, infused interesting and beautiful cinematic effects into his videos and this inspired Andy.

Andy explains, “I realized there was untapped potential for weddings to be creative.”  This was his turning point.

Advertising through craigslist, he booked seven weddings in 2009.  In 2010, Andy was fully booked for the year by April.  Owen Video now has its own website and facebook page featuring some of Andy’s work.  However, Andy finds that most business comes from referrals by other wedding vendors.

Andy praises his wife, Chandra, for allowing him the freedom to become an entrepreneur and stay-at-home dad.  Chandra is a financial aid counselor at Michigan State University and the family has health insurance benefits through her employer.  “My wife is supporting me and I could never have done this without her.  Her supporting the fact that I wanted to do this was great.”

For Andy, the best advantage to his wedding videography business is his ability to be a stay-at-home father.  “I have always wanted to be a dad.  I wanted to have kids, boy or girl, to play catch with.  My passion is the fact that I get to be a stay at home dad and spend time with my kids.”

The occasional assistance from friends and family has helped Andy achieve his current level of success.  Andy’s mother-in-law watches their three year old daughter and five month old son on Tuesdays so Andy can squeeze in some weekday business.  When Andy first started shooting videos, his equipment was loaned from a former colleague.  Andy improved his videography skills with the constructive criticism of friends like Eugene and a Lansing photographer named Jason Aten.  Although Andy is the primary employee and videographer for Owen Video, he also has assistance from time to time from family and friends who he introduces on his website.

Some final thoughts from Andy – “I am passionate about what I do.  It is just one of those things that I fell into and fell in love with doing.  I don’t know that I will be doing this for the rest of my life, but for now, I am definitely in love with doing it and I will do it as long as I enjoy it.”

If you are, or someone you know is, pursuing a passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

© sourtosweet

Out with Edison, In with Nimble Jack

Meet Jack D’Alelio, owner of Nimble Jack Enterprises.  Founded in 2009, Nimble Jack Enterprises is devoted to “finding innovative solutions to everyday problems.”  Translation – Nimble Jack invents those consumer products that make you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Jack’s career began in 1979.  He worked as a chemist for over 10 years in the biotech industry.  Through the course of his career he migrated out of the laboratory and into the office where he played a regulatory role.  His last job, as a Senior Quality Engineer, started in October 2007 and ended in July 2008.  The company experienced difficulties and Jack was laid off in the first of five waves of layoffs.

“My job was to make sure we put out a good quality product.  I really loved that job and getting laid off was a bit of a shock even though we knew there were rumors – but still it came as a surprise, sort of unexpected.”

After being laid off, Jack decided that he had the knowledge and experience to be his own boss.  He wanted to invent a product, develop it, and successfully license it to a company interested in manufacturing and mass marketing it.

Nimble Jack Enterprises was born.  As owner and sole employee of Nimble Jack Enterprises, Jack invented, developed and is in the process of patenting the company’s first product, the Magic Toob Lampshade Leveler.

Jack envisioned and developed the Magic Toob to meet a specific need he discovered during the course of his everyday life.  As a result of federal law passed in 2007, Americans are expected to replace their energy-wasting, incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient spiral fluorescent light bulbs.  The differing shape of the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs creates an unanticipated dilemma.   Individuals with clip-on lampshades manufactured for incandescent light bulbs experience tremendous difficulty fitting such shades over the fluorescent light bulbs.

“I knew these were bulbs coming and knew that it was going to pose a problem,” Jack explains, “I had a few lamps that use clip ons and they don’t fit the new bulbs at all.”

Enthusiastic about his invention, Jack describes, “The product is incredibly simple – high temperature silicone tubing that I am able to wrap around a bulb clip.  It becomes part of a bulb clip.”  With the silicone tubing in place, the lampshade fits securely and levelly around the spiral fluorescent light bulb.

Customers have found alternate uses for the Magic Toob as well.  “A lot of people like the product for keeping their mini-shades straight on chandeliers.”

The Magic Toob first entered the market in 2009 and over 250 have sold.  “Ninety-five percent of people find my product by looking for a way to keep a clip-on lampshade to fit one of those bulbs, they do a google search and find the product on my website.”

Jack also sought to advertise his product by applying for a spot on the ABC show, Shark Tank.  He hoped that the national exposure Shark Tank would provide would attract the attention of someone interested in licensing and manufacturing the Magic Toob.

So far, Jack has succeeded in two of his three goals but he is still seeking the opportunity to license the Magic Toob to a company interested in taking the product to the marketplace.

“I developed this product from an idea to a fully developed, shelf ready product in nine months.  What I would like to do is license the product or sell the rights completely and move on to the next thing.”  Jack’s joy is in the inventing stage of the process, not in manufacturing, advertising or retail.  “I call myself an inventor/entrepreneur – I’m a reluctant entrepreneur.  I would rather just invent.”

Jack is married and he and his wife have a daughter who just began her freshman year in high school.  He credits his ability to operate Nimble Jack to his wife.  She is a teacher and provides the family with a steady income and health benefits while Jack pursues his passion.

“I can honestly say it is the best job that I have ever had.  There have been days when I am working 16 hours a day but it doesn’t feel like work.  When you’re doing something you want to do, something you believe in.”

If you have, or someone you know, is pursuing their passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

© sourtosweet

The Newest Mobile Dog Groomer on the Block

Meet Christine the owner of The Good Life Mobile Dog Grooming Company.  Christine is a trained and certified dog groomer who travels to her clients’ homes and provides grooming services to their furry loved ones.  She resides in Rockland County, New York and The Good Life operates locally, serving customers in Rockland County and lower-Westchester County, New York and Bergen County, New Jersey.

When Christine talks about her company, her face lights up.  She is animated, enthusiastic and happy.  To her, The Good Life is not a job, grooming dogs is her pleasure and joy.  “When I have a dog in front of me, I know that is where I belong.  I don’t look of these animals as a business.  There are a lot of injustices done to animals in this world.  I won’t be part of that.”

Christine has an eclectic employment history.  “I’m the kind of person who always looks for a window when doors seem to be slamming.  I’m a survivor.”  She worked as a manicurist, freight auditor and, most recently, a telecommunications salesperson, before pursuing dog grooming.

After eleven years as a telecommunications salesperson, Christine realized that she had had enough.  She thought seriously about pursuing a dog grooming as a career path.  She did her research, made phone calls, and discussed her thoughts and dreams with her loved ones.  Finally, in January of 2011, she pulled the trigger.  “I threw it up in the air like confetti and walked away,” she said.  She described how eleven other employees who heard her story followed her lead and left the company to pursue other options.  “It was crazy.  You could feel the energy.”

When Christine left her job in January, she had already put a deposit down on the biggest investment for her future, the truck.  She ordered the truck from Wagon Tails, a family business in Michigan that manufactures grooming vans.  During her planning phase the previous year, Christine determined that she could pay for the van and pay her living expenses while her company got off the ground by cashing in her pension.  Although this was a gamble, she was committed to her plan.

It was a good gamble.  She learned that the dog grooming industry has not suffered during this economic downturn.  “It just snowballed,” Christine explains.  After completing training at New York Dog School of Grooming, Christine apprenticed with another local mobile dog groomer.  “She could have looked at me as a competitor but she did not.  I rode in the truck with her.  She was very helpful, very supportive.”

Finally, through word of mouth, Christine obtained her first client.  “I received a phone call from a woman who asked me to come and groom her cockapoo.  The truck was just delivered the day before.  I was thrilled.”  Christine drove the truck around as an advertisement for her business.  With the assistance of a friend, she created a company website, www.goodlifegrooming.com.

She obtains most clients through word of mouth, good work, and personal service.  “I’m looking to at it as treating people fairly,” she explains.  “I charge what I think I should charge.  Anywhere from forty and up.  I can’t tell you what I’m going to charge you until I see the animal.”

Just a few months into the business, Christine is working with a reputable accountant to help her manage her company’s financial success.

Christine’s story is atypical for this blog because she made the independent choice to leave her job in telecommunications and pursue her dream.  Nevertheless, her story provides a useful lesson to those interested in pursuing their dreams – look for an industry unaffected by the economic downturn.

There is another lesson to be learned from Christine’s story as well – go after your dream.  If you are happy doing what you are doing, then your chances of success increase exponentially.

Christine, best wishes for continued success!

If you have, or someone you know has, successfully pursued their passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

© sourtosweet

An Introduction

Welcome to Sour to Sweet!

This blog is for anyone who is has felt the impact of the bad economy on themselves or their loved ones.  Although this “Great Recession” began back in 2007, my family had been fortunate enough to avoid any serious consequences of the economic downturn until this year.  But when it hit, it hit hard.  In the space of weeks, multiple friends and family members found themselves unemployed and fearful for their financial futures.  We’ve probably been luckier than most.  The misfortune and the fear unemployment or financial uncertainty generates inspired me to start this blog.

The name “Sour to Sweet” derives from the familiar adage “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  What I am looking for are people who found themselves unemployed or suffered a loss of financial stability in recent years and turned their misfortune into an opportunity to follow their passion and achieve financial success.  I know you are out there and I am asking you to share your stories with me so you can inspire others.

I want this blog to inspire.  I want it to give people hope and courage.  I want readers who have been unable to find employment through traditional means to consider thinking outside the box and, maybe, find a way to marry their passions with financial success and security.  Wouldn’t that be a fantastic unintended consequence of our current economic troubles?

© sourtosweet