Posts Tagged ‘New York’

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

Passing through Schenectady? Visit DCP

Meet Ben Sadler, owner of Downtown Custom Printwear.  Downtown Custom Printwear (“DCP”) provides exactly the kind of service that its name indicates.  DCP specializes in the creation of custom screen-printed and embroidered products manufactured in the company’s downtown Schenectady, New York location.

Ben graduated from Union College in the Spring of 2007 with no real plan for what to do next.  “I graduated and was sort of lost not knowing what I wanted to do with my future.”

He decided to stay in Schenectady.  “I made the decision to rent a house with my friend and drive an ice cream truck around for a summer.”  He was feeling very discouraged.  “Many of my friends seemed to have big important jobs already, investment banking in New York, that kind of thing.”

One thing Ben did know was that he wanted to be his own boss.  “I always knew I wanted to own my own business.”

While studying at Union, Ben and a friend began their own import/export printwear business.  The business ultimately failed, but it provided Ben his first exposure to printing.  Ben attributes the import/export venture’s failure to the business plan itself – specifically the export of the clothing for printing.

“The whole reason I started learning how to print myself was that the problem with the import/export venture was having the printing done overseas.  The overseas printing was the real problem with the business.”

Ben determined that success in the printwear business would require learning how to print himself.  In the summer of 2007, Ben purchased printing equipment on e-Bay.  When he wasn’t operating the ice cream truck, he was printing on his own in the attic of his apartment.  Just a few months later, Ben was filling t-shirt orders for local businesses and other organizations.

As Ben describes, his printwear business “just sort of snowballed.”

DCP’s clientele is varied.  “A lot of our bigger customers are yearly charity events where they’ll order thousands of thousands of shirts.  We do a lot of work with colleges, student organizations, athletic teams, some retail stuff, and clothing lines.”

Reinvestment in the company has helped DCP expand rapidly.  “I own all of my equipment,” Ben explains.  “I have put all of my money back into the business.”  DCP’s current printing equipment is a significant upgrade from Ben’s initial e-Bay purchases and the company has added embroidery machines to its arsenal.

Only one year into operations, the company moved from Ben’s attic apartment to a location on Erie Boulevard in downtown Schenectady.  In the Spring of 2010, Ben realized his business operations required more space.  The company expanded once again, occupying a second floor at the Erie Boulevard location.  DCP now occupies a space more than five times the size of the attic where it was born.

Ben currently shares DCP’s operating space with four employees and Cassius, DCP’s resident canine.  This is actually the smallest staff for DCP in some time, Ben explains, because DCP’s work is seasonal and big orders don’t tend to come in during the winter.

Ben admits that owning his own business is not EXACTLY as he had imagined.

“I always thought that when you own a business you get to kick back and only work when you feel like it and live the life.  First of all, I can’t do that because things will fall apart.  Second, when you’ve created something all by yourself you want to commit to it.  I didn’t think it would be this hard, but I also didn’t realize how important it would be.”

Ultimately, it is Ben’s passion for printing that keeps him going.  ““This is my entire life.  I’m definitely into it.  I’m striving to be a master of this trade.”

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

© sourtosweet

There’s No Shortage of Talent During a Recession

Meet Lynn Zuckerman Gray, founder and chief executive officer of Campus Scout, LLC.  Founded in 2009, Campus Scout partners with employers to assist in recruiting top caliber talent on undergraduate and graduate campuses.  In doing so, Campus Scout reduces the money and manpower employers have had to invest in recruiting.

“Our target clients are small to middle sized businesses that hire at the college graduate and graduate levels and do not have in house campus recruiting teams or have teams that are small and can use outsourcing support,” explains Lynn.

Campus Scout also offers services to students seeking to make themselves more attractive candidates in a difficult job market.

Lynn earned a B.S. in Psychology from Tufts University and went on to obtain a J.D. from Cornell Law School.  She practiced corporate law for three years and then left practicing law behind to join a real estate investment banking firm.  Lynn became known in the real estate investment banking world for her expertise in a niche commercial mortgage lending business called Credit Tenant Lending.

One day Lynn received a call from Lehman Brothers offering her the opportunity to build a Credit Tenant Lending group for them.  Lynn accepted and spent more than eleven years at Lehman.  As readers may remember, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy on September 15, 2008 and is one of the most recognizable casualties of this recession.  When Lehman collapsed, Lynn lost her job.  This loss was the catalyst that put Lynn on the path to entrepreneurship.

Lynn acknowledges that she always had a “creative spirit” and has a talent for “continuously developing new ways of doing things.  Nevertheless, she describes herself as an “accidental entrepreneur.“  In hindsight, Lynn recognizes,“the Lehman collapse probably sent me on the way I should have been going for quite some time.”

The inspiration for Campus Scout came from recruiting work Lynn performed at Lehman.  “I had been recruiting, training and developing Millennials (Generation Y) at the rate of 10 to 15 college graduates per year.  I had always loved teaching both to our recruits at Lehman and at seminars over the years up at Cornell.”

After Lehman’s collapse, Lynn joined the faculty at NYU’s graduate program, teaching courses about Management and Advanced Recruiting of Millenials.  During her research for the recruiting course, Lynn discovered that 60% of entry level recruiting was not done on campuses and the recruiting process itself was very inefficient and ineffective.

“When I spent some time thinking about what I really loved to do and had succeeded in over the years, I decided to tackle that 60% entry level recruiting market and build a team of front office experienced professionals to provide quality services at an attractive rate.”

Lynn’s business plan is based on a strong belief in the economy’s recovery.    “Sometimes I analogize Campus Scout during this economy to opening an ice cream store in winter.  People don’t buy ice cream in the winter and people don’t need a recruiting firm when they aren’t hiring.”  Despite the tough economy, Campus Scout has found clients.  Campus Scout attracted its very first client, a European private investment firm with a large presence in New York, with an advertisement on Linked In.

As the economy improves, Lynn hopes Campus Scout will acquire a large list of clients relying upon them to visit campuses and identify candidates for hire each year.  In addition, Campus Scout will attract clients looking for training services and students looking for career advice and guidance.  Campus Scout’s client list will include not only U.S. companies, but also those in Europe and Asia.

While developing and launching Campus Scout, Lynn had the support of 28 fellow unemployed financial services professionals enrolled in Fast Trac New Venture, a short and intense training program for new entrepreneurs sponsored in part by the Kauffman Foundation.  “We were about 80% unemployed financial services professionals and it was like an investment banking Noah’s Ark: 2 from Goldman, 2 from Lehman, 2 from UBS, and on and on.”  Within three weeks, Lynn developed a business plan and logo for Campus Scout and began work on the company’s website.  “But most importantly, I had the support of 28 amazing people who were going through the same process testing out a broad spectrum of ideas and three incredible business coaches from Kauffman.”

Lynn and her classmates also benefited from the global press’ interest in the Fast Trac program.  The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNBC.com, Canadian public radio, Spanish public television, French public television and one of the leading Japanese financial newspapers all featured pieces about Campus Scout.  “This attention from the media really gave us a jump start on establishing our brand.”

Lynn shows her continuing appreciation for the Fast Trac New Venture program now by participating as a facilitator for the program, assisting new entrepreneurs jump start their businesses.

“Of all of the things that I have accomplished in my career, including originating and completing billions of dollars of complex transactions, there is nothing that I enjoyed more than recruiting and helping young talent succeed.”  Now Lynn is able to feed this passion every day as owner of Campus Scout.

Lynn, your optimism and success is inspirational.  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

A Blooming Flower in the Essex Street Market

Meet Rona Economou, owner of Boubouki, a Greek food stall located in the Essex Street Market in New York City.

Boubouki is a Greek word.  Translated into English, it means flowerbud.  “I had another name in mind that sounded similar but, when I looked up LLC names it had already been taken.  I like the sound and it actually fits.  It’s a very sweet name.  Flowerbud.  Kind of like my business is blooming or flowering right now,” Rona explained.

Rona did not anticipate becoming an entrepreneur and business owner.  Her education focused on the law rather than business.  In 2001, she graduated Fordham Law School after attending SUNY Binghamton for undergrad and began working as a litigator at a midtown law firm.  As a consequence of the economic downturn, the firm initiated a large lay off in 2009 and Rona was one of many who found themselves suddenly unemployed.

“When you have a ‘real’ job, all you talk about with colleagues is ‘if it wasn’t for my healthcare, or if it wasn’t for this or that, I would do this or that.’  Once I got laid off, I had no excuse not to pursue something else.”

That “something else” became Boubouki.  The inspiration for Boubouki came from the Essex Street Market itself.  “It just sort of happened one day.  I knew I wanted to work for myself but I had no idea what form it would take.  I was visiting the market one day and it all just crystallized in my head.”

Rona grew up enjoying delicious, home-cooked food.  “Cooking is something I have always enjoyed.  I was surrounded by women on both sides of my family who are really excellent cooks.  I grew up eating really delicious, fresh food.”  Now she shares these delicious foods with Boubouki’s customers.

From Tuesday to Sunday, Rona arrives at her 7 by 7 foot stall at around 7:30 in the morning and begins cooking.  Although Boubouki’s hours are not set in stone, Boubouki generally starts serving its customers at 10am and remains open until 6:30pm.  On the menu, spinach pie, a chickpea salad and feta flat bread, butter almond cookies, chocolate chip cookies, carrot cake and pear cake.  Boubouki also offers baklava on the weekends.  Each item is priced somewhere between two and four dollars.

Rona enjoyed practicing law, but she admits there was one aspect of her job that she disliked – the isolation.  “The thing that made me unhappy was the lack of social interaction.  I was in my office all day by myself.”

Isolation is not a problem at Boubouki.  Although Rona is the small company’s sole employee, the hustle and bustle of the Essex Street Market offers a sense of community.  In addition, since its opening in August of 2010, Boubouki has attracted regulars who stop by the stall to talk with Rona and purchase their selections for the day.

When asked about her plans for Boubouki’s future, Rona responded “I have no idea.”  Right now, she is focused on enjoying each day as it comes.  She’s happy to come to work every day and is enjoying Boubouki’s success.

Sourtosweet was lucky enough to visit Rona at Boubouki around lunchtime on a weekday.  The smells of the market itself, and in particular Boubouki’s offerings, were irresistible.  Unable to select just one item, sourtosweet sampled the pear cake, the chocolate chip cookie and the feta flat bread – all wonderful.

Rona, best wishes for continued happiness and 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

Korean BBQ On The Move

In this week’s blog post, sourtosweet hoped to feature Korilla BBQ, a company that operates distinctive food trucks serving delicious Korean barbeque to the New York City population.  The founder of Korilla BBQ is a Columbia University alum who graduated in the late 2000s into the depressed job market.  From this misfortune, the concept of Korilla BBQ emerged.

Sourtosweet discovered Korilla’s story when the company was featured on this season of the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.  For those familiar with the show, the most recent episode revealed Korilla’s dismissal from the competition on suspicion of cheating.  Tyler Florence, the show’s host, provided little detail about the actions identified as cheating before ejecting Korilla from the competition.  Communications on Korilla BBQ’s facebook page indicate that the company is contractually prevented from discussing details of the show until spring of 2012.

Before their ejection, Korilla was a frontrunner in the overall competition.  After their ejection, some audience members condemn them as cheaters.  Others await more information or Korilla’s defense.  Still others act as staunch defenders of their favorite food truck.  You can find all three viewpoints on Korilla’s facebook page.

Prior to last week’s episode, sourtosweet approached Korilla about contributing its story to the blog and Korilla agreed.  However, the circumstances of this past week would throw a wrench into the best laid plans.  It is sourtosweet’s hope that Korilla will find time in the near future to discuss how they have begun to build a Korean BBQ empire on the streets of New York City.

According to Korilla’s website, the company’s opening day was October 18, 2010.  Opening day was preceded by an extensive planning phase that began as early as 2008.  Since opening day, it appears that Korilla has experienced tremendous success as evidenced by the addition of two food trucks to its fleet.  The additional trucks came on line early this summer.

Sourtosweet had the opportunity to travel to the corner of Varick and Vandam in Soho this week to sample Korilla’s fare.  At 1pm on a Tuesday, hungry New Yorkers lined up more than halfway down a long city block waiting for the distinctive tiger-striped Korilla truck to open shop.  The line can be attributed in part to Korilla’s effective use of the latest social media tools.  For instance, Korilla tweets its truck locations and latest updates to its twitter audience.

When the truck opened its doors, the service was polite and efficient.  The food was delicious.  Sourtosweet officially recommends both the pork and beef barbeque tacos with kim chi slaw and either the Korean BBQ sauce or the Korean hot sauce.

Based on what I have seen and tasted, Korilla is a very successful business which emerged despite and because of the economic downturn when a unemployed college graduate and his friends decided to share their love of Korean Barbeque with the world.

Hopefully, sourtosweet will soon have the opportunity to post a follow up on Korilla with more detail about the company’s birth, development and success.

In the meantime, Korilla, best wishes on continued success!

If you have, or someone you know has, successfully pursued 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