Heather Dolland: New York’s Finest Food Crawler

Heather DollandJob security isn’t everything, even in New York City, one of the world’s most competitive job markets. And sometimes you have to risk it all to figure that out. Just ask Heather Dolland who turned down a promotion from her environmental consulting firm, where she’d been for more than a decade, to start her own online company.

“There’s never a right time to leave. Usually we just need a little push out of the nest. No matter where this goes, I can say I gave it a 110%. My biggest regret would have been not trying,” Dolland says emphatically.

After 20 years in the US, Dolland’s Grenadian accent may have mellowed but it’s still music to the ears. She moved Stateside in 1995 to study architecture only to find while doing her thesis that her dream turned into a nightmare. So she switched gears and launched into environmental science, getting a Masters from the NY Institute of Technology.

She began her career with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection before moving to an environmental consultancy where she was a Business Development Manager for 11 years.

Halfway through her time at the firm, Dolland took on a side gig. “I bought a house in Long Island by myself, but I had no idea how expensive it would be. Three months into the purchase, a friend from Grenada who promoted wines and spirits asked me if I could help her with promotions in Long Island so I became a brand ambassador on nights and weekends, mostly as a means to supplement my income.”

“I really wanted to go for it, but I was so nervous to leave my job. It never seemed to be the perfect time. Then my manager offered me a promotion but made it very clear I would have to drop ‘my distraction’ and focus 150% on my work. I guess it was what I needed to hear because I said ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ and I knew then I was turning down the money to do something I really loved. Hopefully the money will follow.”

Dolland was so good at brand evangelism, hosting events, spirit tastings and launches, she took on several brands in the Bacardi family. It wasn’t an issue with her employer because she was doing the promotions outside of working time and there was no conflict of interest. But increasingly she realized which work she was more passionate about.

“Even though I was making progress and moving up in the company, I knew I had topped out. I could Heather Dolland with her booksee what the rest of my life was going to look like. I liked what I did, but the idea of living this life for the rest of my life was frankly a little depressing. I was by no means reaching my potential,” she explains.

When the work day ended, Dolland looked forward to the evenings which were spent promoting her clients products. “No matter how long the day had been, I always had energy. I loved it. I had this gut sense that this is what I was meant to do.”

The inspiration for her shift came during a visit to South Beach, Florida, with her mother who lamented they didn’t have enough time to try all the great restaurants. “I remember saying to her, ‘Who says we have to eat the entire meal at one place? Why can’t we enjoy each course as we like?’ So we did just that and had a food tour of the restaurants.”

As a huge foodie herself, it occurred to Dolland that she could market a more formal experience to others. And so, while still working as an environmental consultant, she launched a website – All the Tastes of New York – offering a food crawl concept. Clients enjoy each course at  a different restaurant within a few blocks of each other in various neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen and the East Village. Dolland arranges everything directly with the restaurants.

“I feel like my brain is a portfolio of restaurants. I have eaten through the Zagat – from Afghanistan to Zaire so I know my stuff! I do a lot of bachelorette parties and themed events like dining at places where there are celebrity chefs or eating a specific cuisine such as Italian. I tailor the experience to what the clients want and everything is built in.”

Heather Dolland Book SigningInitially, the business was just an outlet, something that gave her joy but, as the demands on her time grew, Dolland knew she had to choose.

“I really wanted to go for it, but I was so nervous to leave my job. It never seemed to be the perfect time. Then my manager offered me a promotion but made it very clear I would have to drop ‘my distraction’ and focus 150% on my work. I guess it was what I needed to hear because I said ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ and I knew then I was turning down the money to do something I really loved. Hopefully the money will follow,” she laughs.

Starting a small business is scary for anyone, but Dolland had now lost the salary that was funding All the Tastes of New York. Because she had seen the day coming, she had extended lines of credit for her business while still employed. But without the comfort of her paycheck to fall back on, she lived lean and got serious about money management.

A year and a half after she left her secure job as an environmental consultant, Dolland is seeing the Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom Book Coverpayoff of all her hard work. Match.com was an early client and, as the culinary experience she has created lends itself to movement and communication, she has many corporate clients doing team-building events. She has plans to replicate the concept in other cities like Las Vegas and South Beach and has written a book, Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom, promoting small distillers in the New York area as a way to spread word about her business but also to integrate locally produced beer, wine and spirits into her food crawls.

“If I think about the journey I’ve been on since I left my job, I know now that you can’t have one toe in. It’s all or nothing. You only really see all the aspects that you need to manage when you are fully in it. It’s not really possible to run a business effectively when you’re doing it on a part-time basis. I still feel like I’m still figuring it out but having so much fun doing it.”

Tips from Heather Dolland
  • When you start a business in a new space, be open to evolving. Don’t stray so far afield that you lose sight of who you are you. Try to build on your competencies.
  • The irony of having a small budget is that it keeps you very cautious. If I had a ton of money, I would have burned through it.
  • While it’s not sustainable in the long run, having another job enabled me to evolve slowly and cover big ticket items early on. My business wouldn’t have survived if I didn’t have that salary because I wouldn’t have been able to afford all the mistakes I made early on.

Watch this video to learn more about All the Tastes of New York.

 

Dawn Richardson: From High School Teacher to Spirits Distiller

Dawn RichardsonDawn Richardson had an unusual upbringing, but in a way one that made her the ideal candidate to take the leaps of faith required of an entrepreneur. “I was a gypsy kid and went to 20 different schools before I graduated from high school.”

Richardson’s mother was a 70’s hippie, roaming the West with her family living out of a school bus. She was the first female construction worker in the state of Utah, earning money where she could season-by-season and taking classes in small college towns along the way. “You might say she marched to the beat of her own drum,” says Dawn.

But to her daughter, it was normal, everyday life, and there were parts on the road Dawn loved. When it was time to go to college, Dawn headed to a small liberal arts school in Durango, Colorado, where she could explore lots of classes and go skiing. She got a degree in political science thinking that she might eventually head to Washington, DC and work in politics.

“My parents (Dawn’s mother married when Dawn was 13) had always pushed me to teach but I would protest, ‘I don’t want to go into that underpaid, female-dominated, and underappreciated profession,” she remembers. But ironically her desire to travel helped push her in that direction. The family travel bug got her, and she headed to Japan to see the world while earning money teaching English. She taught in Japan for two years, and then returned home and got a masters in education and a teacher’s license and, after brief forays teaching skiing, and then working for a cell phone company, headed back to the classroom.

 “Because of my unconventional upbringing, I always had an openness to it. I would think, what’s the worst that can happen? You lose your business and have to get another job? That’s not so bad.”

For the next 14 years, she taught social studies to high school students. Dawn loved teaching but felt it was time to move on. She felt additional pressure outside the classroom from parents and administrators and then a mysterious illness sidelined her and gave her time to think. “I got a virus that caused my spinal cord to swell and it really scared me. I thought it could be the stress of teaching or just being around all those germs. We still don’t know what it was. Suddenly I was faced with my own mortality and I realized, I’m not happy and I need to change that.”

Dawn and her husband, a software developer, had always talked about opening their own business some day. “Because of my unconventional upbringing, I always had an openness to it. I would think, what’s the worst that can happen? You lose your business and have to get another job? That’s not so bad.”

Together they investigated several options including a beer garden, but were deterred by the enormous start up costs of upwards of a million dollars. But when Rising Sun Distillerythey really started looking at the business, they realized the largest profit is made in alcohol. Then a story on the evening news about local distilleries caught their attention. Looking at the viability of that kind of business, it seemed to make sense.

They started slowly. Her husband continued working and Dawn got her real estate license so they could bring some money in as they were starting up.

They consulted with another distillery in Colorado where they live, and read lots and lots about the business. Then they began experimenting by making wine and beer. When they felt comfortable, they went all in. Cashing in 401Ks, and selling a rental property they owned, the Richardson’s were able to cover the start up costs of property and equipment. Additional business and home equity lines of credit covered them through a few months of operating.

Rising Sun Distillery LogoThey launched Rising Sun Distillery with a line of gin and vodka. Their niche? Local, organic, non-GMO products. And just five months into the business, they are also recipe testing some peach vodka and a pear brandy to expand their product offering soon. While any entrepreneur knows that making the product is just the beginning, the Richardson’s count themselves lucky to be launching in Colorado.

“First of all, alcohol is a highly desirable product. But also, we live in a state where we can go door-to-door and sell our product because liquor stores are all privately owned.”

While her husband and her mother take the lead on outside sales, Dawn develops the recipes and manages the in-house tasting room where they feature their liquors in a range of artisanal cocktails.

In the short four months since they’ve opened, Rising Sun can now be found in 25 different bars and liquors stores in Colorado. Slowly but surely, they are growing the business.

“It’s a bit scary for sure. We’re not paying our bills with profits yet but we’re seeing signs that sooner rather than later, that will happen. But there’s so much to learn in this industry and I feel like we’re just babies starting out. But it’s really fun.”

Richardson’s one regret?  Her freewheeling childhood gave her a comfort with risk taking, but it didn’t give her any mentors in business. I’d love to talk to other women who are doing this because it can be hard and that would be a nice support.”

Tips from Dawn Richardson
  • Assess your comfort level with risk, if you are not a risk taker and are not comfortable with the worst case scenario, then opening a business might not be the best choice.
  • Working for yourself is a 24 hour job.  The satisfaction of working for yourself far outweighs working for someone else, but it is very hard to leave work at home and have a work life balance.
  • There is so much more to opening a business than I first thought, and a lot of the tasks are not in my skill set.  It is important to know when to outsource and when to hire help or when to join with others.

Marlo Scott: The Sweetest Revenge is Just Being Happy

Marlo Scott

Everyone’s job stinks from time to time, but if you find absolutely no joy in what you do then it’s time to get out. Some of us are lucky and can do this sooner rather than later but others, like Marlo Scott, bide their time, planning and preparing for the day when they can bust out of the toxic work environment once and for all.

“I spent seven years in a hostile industry. The media business is full of bully bosses, but this was only fuel for me to figure out how to work for myself. When I was passed over for a promotion that I should have gotten, I swore I would get my sweet revenge on my bad boss. It was only a matter of when.” (more…)

Esther Nio: Bringing the Sweet Taste of Deutschland to Silicon Valley

Esther NioIf you find yourself in Los Altos one day, pining for a bite of some authentic Bienenstich so good you lick your fingers clean of the vanilla custard, then you’re in luck. A small hike from Googleplex and a straight shot down San Antonio Road lies Esther’s German Bakery. You’ll have to do U-turn and probably fight over a parking space but it’s worth every bit of aggravation to get your hands on some of Esther Nio’s Echte Laugenbrezn (real pretzels) or Schwarzbrot (rye pumpernickel bread).

“And don’t worry about the calories,” Nio says, “We use organic whole wheat flour in our cakes to make them less sinful.” (more…)

Lyndsey DePalma: Working to Create a Space to Relax

Lyndsey DePalmaAlthough it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason that Lyndsey Clutteur DePalma decided to open a tea shop, it could have been her great-grandmother Agnes, with her lifelong love of tea and appreciation for its medicinal benefits, who planted the seed.  Or it might have been DePalma’s own longing for a space for tea drinkers to relax in a world overrun by coffee shops. Or maybe it was the fact that she was turning 30 and did not relish the idea of a lifetime in human resources at a big four accounting firm.

DePalma majored in biology as an undergrad but realized about halfway through that while she did like biology, she couldn’t imagine herself working in a lab. After graduation, a friend helped her get a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she started in an entry-level administrative role. She was soon moved to the human resources department and from there worked her way through the ranks to become an HR manager. She stayed for nearly eight years.

A few years into her job she decided to go back to school part-time to get her MBA. She didn’t have any particular goal in mind at the time; she just wanted to become more business savvy and thought the degree could be useful in her career. But as she pored over the business plans of so many others as part of her MBA classes, the idea slowly began to take root that perhaps she shouldn’t just be studying other people’s business plans but actually writing one of her own. She’d always had the idea in the back of her mind of opening a tea shop, so she decided that maybe, just as an exercise, she would write a business plan. “And that’s when it all kind of came together,” she says. (more…)

Camas Davis: On a Quest to Change the Way We Think About Meat

Camas Davis
Courtesy of Shawn Linehan

Ever wonder about the provenance of your pork chops or how that juicy steak got from Farmer Fred’s field to your plate on a Friday night? Are you conflicted? Having guilty thoughts? Well don’t worry, you’re not alone. Camas Davis understands. She’s been there and now she wants to help others get intimate with meat as she once did. Seriously though, it’s not as kinky as it sounds. Davis is on a mission.

“Ninety-nine percent of the animals raised for food are factory farmed. An increasing number of people want to eat that other one percent but don’t know how to access it and are afraid of the processes by which it ends up on their tables. We teach people about factory-farmed meat and then we teach them how to source and utilize meat that isn’t factory farmed. By making the whole process transparent, putting knives in people’s hands and showing them what it takes to get good meat, we’re bringing more choice to the table, we’re creating a more informed consumer base, one that wants to eat good meat, and, often, less of it.” (more…)

Chanel Turner: Giving the Vodka Industry a Shot in the Arm

Chanal Turner
Courtesy of The Washington Post

To say that Chanel Turner broke the mold in the vodka world would be an understatement. She pretty much smashed it to pieces.

The spirits industry is fairly staid, with few new formulas being created. Most vodka companies get passed down through families for generations. But Turner developed her own formula, started her own company from nothing. She’s a woman in a field where there are very few. She’s African-American; also highly unusual in this business. She was only 25 years old when she started the company. And, oh yeah, she sells her vodka in a lightning-bolt shaped purple bottle.

Turner works as an IT specialist at the Pentagon. She attended Bowie State on a full basketball scholarship, majoring in business administration. After briefly working in the private sector doing web design, Turner began her job at the Pentagon, where she still works today.

The idea for starting a vodka company came to her while sitting around with friends, drinking vodka-based mixed drinks. When they ran out of chaser, no one wanted to go to the store to get more. And there was no way they were going to drink it straight. “When people drink vodka, they want to mask the taste, the harshness, the burn,” she says. “I thought how great it would be if there was a vodka that you could actually enjoy on its own. We all laughed about that, how someone really needed to make that vodka.” By the next morning, most people would have forgotten all about the idea. But not Turner. (more…)

Mary Molina: From the Food Bank to the Shelves of Whole Foods

mary-molina-heart-barsAnyone who signs their emails zip-a-dee-do-dah has got to be a happy person. And perhaps Mary Molina was born an optimist, but in all likelihood a little perspective brought her to her current sunny state. About four years ago, Molina was a food stamp recipient and a regular at her local food bank. But with some support and a lot of hard work and determination, mixed in with a little luck, today she is the proud owner of an all-natural, locally-sourced granola bar company.

Molina and her husband, Ernie, ran a small cellular phone outlet for more than ten years in Somers, New York. It was a family business — she did the books, he ran the shop — and all was good and well until January 2011 when everything came crashing down around them. Forced to close their doors and liquidate all assets, the Molinas and their four kids, all under the age of seven, were in dire straits within two months. (more…)

Julia Erickson: Pirouetting Her Way to a Better Barre

ericksonSo many little girls dream of becoming ballerinas, and Julia Erickson was no exception. But unlike most of us who eventually shed that dream, Erickson trained from the age of seven and worked her way up to become a principal dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Unlike many of the stories we share at Career 2.0, this one is not about leaving a job to pursue a passion, because dancing is Erickson’s passion. “Ballet is the love of my life,” she explains. “I would not leave my dance career for anything at this point.” Unfortunately, a ballet career is a finite thing, and there will come a time when Erickson will have little choice but to hang up her pointe shoes. So when inspiration struck, she was not about to look the other way. (more…)

Caren Magill: Flexing Her Muscle with the Perfect Protein Pancake

Caren MagillIt began, perhaps, with a fitness competition, which Caren Magill did not win. She finished, she says, “in the middle of the pack”.

Or maybe it began further back, when Magill was a teenager. “Growing up, healthy living was not a part of our general household conversation. I sustained myself on canned soup, white Kaiser buns, and processed cheese. From the time I got home from school until the time I went to bed, I was on the couch eating. By the time I left high school, I weighed over 200 pounds.

“I realized in my early 20’s that not only was being overweight uncomfortable, but it was going to limit me in all sorts of ways. When I finally lost the weight it made me realize I could do anything I set my mind to. It raised my level of self-efficacy, my pride in myself. It really did change the course of my life.”

(more…)

Pamela Anyoti Peronaci: Letting the Sun Shine on the Farmers of Uganda

Pamela APamela Anyoti Peronaci was born and raised in Uganda during one of the most difficult periods in the country’s history.  Under the reign of the dictator Idi Amin, for years Anyoti Peronaci’s parents struggled to provide basic things for their children.  “I didn’t have shoes for ten years of my life,” says Anyoti Peronaci. “In order to work, you need peace.”

And there was no peace in Uganda. After Amin, the region was devastated again by a civil war caused by Joseph Kony’s rebel group that lasted almost 20 years. “There was a lot of misery and a lot of people disappearing.”

But Anyoti’s family managed somehow, and her father pulled enough money together to send the children to school. “In Uganda, nature is on our side, and so we got by with what the land could provide.” (more…)

Yalonda Long: From Riches to Rags and Back Again

IMG_1091What a tale Yalonda Long tells.  Her story begins in small town, Kansas, where this daughter of a barber and a beautician mother was raised with her two brothers in a strict Jehovah’s Witness household.  As a teenager, there was no going to the movie theater unaccompanied, no boyfriends, and no parties.  Even higher education was forbidden, so when Yalonda graduated from high school, a week later she headed West to Colorado to start her life.

“I tried to learn as much about the world as I could from the public education I had because I knew I wasn’t going to college,” says Long.  “But because I spent much of my life as the outsider looking in, I learned to be a great observer and I notice everything. That would wind up serving me quite well.” (more…)