Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

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 Your Grandmother’s Garage Sale

Meet Josh Horowitz, President and Founder of Sell My Stuff CanadaSell My Stuff Canada is a Toronto-based company offering organizational and sales services to individuals interested in selling the contents of their houses.  An average customer might require Sell My Stuff Canada’s services when he or she is remodeling a home, downsizing living spaces, or organizing and dissolving the estate of a deceased loved one.

Josh graduated college with a degree in business.  He “had a few businesses here or there” but nothing that lasted long term.  He was working in the condominium development business when the Great Recession hit Canada and his job dissipated during a lay off.

Organizing content sales is a tradition in Josh’s family going back to his great grandmother.  She would organize garage sales informally for a small fee.  Josh’s interest in the family business was renewed when his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease required supervision that only a nursing home could provide and Josh’s grandmother needed assistance disposing of furniture that was not going to fit in her new, smaller living space.  Josh stepped in.

“She didn’t know who to call or who could help.  Because of that I did research on the internet and found there was big potential here, a market that was not being served.”  This experience provided the kernel of inspiration for Josh’s next business, a family content sales business that followed in the steps of his great grandmother.  Josh wanted to build “a successful, more reputable business rather than weekend garage sale.”  Sell My Stuff Canada was born.

Under Josh’s leadership, the company employs a number of his family members including his parents, two brothers, sister, grandparents and aunt.  The number of people employed by the company varies from project to project.

Sell My Stuff Canada’s largest project to date was an 18,000 square foot house.  “It was a $12 million house.  It took us a couple weeks to set up and we pretty much sold everything in the house in a one day sale.”  A video depicting this project is available on the company’s website.

What exactly does Sell My Stuff Canada offer?  The company offers “a highly efficient and organized process” of tackling the “insurmountable” task of disposing of the contents of an entire home or estate.  For a percentage commission, determined on a case-by-case basis, Sell My Stuff Canada will organize a house’s contents, research and set appropriate pricing for the items involved, and invite buyers to purchase the items in a one day sale.  Buyers familiar with Sell My Stuff Canada can visit the company’s website to view digital pictures of sale items prior to the sale itself.  Sell My Stuff Canada also offers a junk removal service.

Josh’s extensive use of the internet to market and grow the company is perhaps the greatest innovation he has introduced to the family business.

“We’re the newest and the freshest out there.  It’s not like your grandmother’s garage sale.  We have a newer hipper feel.  We come up with new, fresh ways to do things.  We’re more technologically advanced.  We’re going above and beyond to make each sale successful and unique.”  In addition to its website, Sell My Stuff Canada has a presence on facebook and twitter.

Sell My Stuff Canada is now in its fourth year.  Over the next several years, Josh hopes to build the company’s reputation and brand across Canada and, eventually, into the United States through franchising and a strong web presence.  The company’s new website allows franchisees to create their own site linked to Sell My Stuff Canada’s main page.  To preserve the company’s positive reputation and brand, these franchisees are provided an extensive training manual instructing them on the appropriate Sell My Stuff Canada processes and procedures.

“We are the biggest content sale brand in Canada,” explained Josh, “and we want to be the go-to place for content sales.”

The company’s primary marketing tool is its website.  However, Josh is increasingly contacted by potential customers who heard about the company through word of mouth.  In addition, the company is in talks to develop a reality television show chronicling its activities.  The reality television show represents a tremendous opportunity to build the company’s brand and introduce Sell My Stuff Canada to an even wider audience.

Josh, 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

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

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

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