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.

 

Mary Lou Bradley: Painting the Picture-Perfect Life

Mary Lou Bradley

Mary Lou Bradley worked for the man who created Three’s Company, a TV show those of us of a certain age will remember. She also worked for Bill DeBlasio before he was the mayor of New York City. She went to culinary school and learned to make pastries. And then, at age 55, she became an entrepreneur.
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One-on-One With Alicia Syrett, Angel Investor and Start-Up Advisor

squareAlicia Syrett is the Founder and CEO of Pantegrion Capital, an angel investment vehicle focused on seed and early stage investments. She serves on the Board of NY Angels as the Chairman of the Board of HeTexted and her past and present advisory board roles include Enerknol, iFunding, Cuipo, The Pitch Deck, Beauty Booked, Cissé Trading Co. and Willa. A recurring panelist on CNBC’s PowerPitch, Alicia was voted one of Wharton’s “40 Under 40” young alumni and has been featured on Fox, MSNBC, Inc, Associated Press, Huffington Post, and USA Today, among others. She mentors start-ups and students alike and is a member of Women Corporate Directors. 

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Ginger Miller: Once Homeless, Now Extending a Hand to Others

23041-banner-ginger-miller-forms-women-veterans-interactiveThere are 52,000 homeless women veterans in the U.S. on any given night. Ginger Miller was once one of these women. Only 18 years old when she joined the Navy and 22 when she received a medical discharge, it wasn’t a smooth transition back to civilian life for Miller or her Marine Corps veteran husband.

Miller met her husband, William, when the pair were stationed at Annapolis, Maryland. They married shortly after being transferred to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and decided that Miller would stay on to serve while William would get a federal job so he could accompany her wherever she was stationed. This decision was made easier by the fact that William, who had served in Liberia and Operation Desert Storm, was suffering from undiagnosed PTSD following the suicide of a friend and fellow soldier. (more…)

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…)

Sumeera Rasul: For the Love of Handmade

unnamed (4)Sumeera Rasul was raised with an appreciation for all things handmade. In her native Pakistan, her father made his living exporting handmade furniture and clothing, and her grandmother taught sewing, knitting, and embroidery to underprivileged girls.

“We grew up around that; it was part of our culture,” Rasul says. “We were always watching my grandmother and learning from her. We had respect for people who work with their hands, as well as for the quality of the things they made. I remember my grandmother looking at certain textiles and saying ‘No, I don’t want that, it’s machine-made.’ To her that meant it wasn’t of good quality. Something made by hand, even with imperfections, feels so much more valuable.”

Throughout the years, Rasul never lost that appreciation for handmade items or the people who make them. (more…)

Aurora Anaya-Cerda: Moving her Community Forward, One Book at a Time

Courtesy of Johnny Ramos
Courtesy of Johnny Ramos

Opening an independent bookstore at time when most were shuttering their doors against the Amazon giant might seem like a risky and even foolish venture to some. But not for Aurora Anaya-Cerda. The determined California native spent six years working multiple jobs before she realized her dream of opening a literary hub in the heart of East Harlem, New York.

“I wish every neighborhood had an independent bookstore. There are stories at Casa Azul that are not told anywhere else in the city; that’s what’s magical.  Customers realize how important La Casa Azul Bookstore is for our community, how our buying power can ensure our stories remain in El Barrio. My dream of opening a bookstore has become my community’s dream.” (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…)

With Love and Quiches: A Housewife’s Journey to the Boardroom

quiche2I started my bakery business, Love and Quiches Gourmet, in my home kitchen in 1973, purely by accident, from just one quiche. I was a clueless suburban housewife with no preparation whatsoever for business ownership. My only qualification was my passion for everything and anything connected to food. I was a very good cook, famous for it in my neighborhood, and my friends traded invitations to my dinner parties.

So when my original partner (a carpool friend and another great cook) suggested we do something, I was game. We had my house licensed as a Food Processing Plant (can’t be done anymore, but this was 42 years ago) and were ready for business. We had no plan, we simply started. (more…)

Robin Siegel Lakin: Back to the Stage – Just What the Doctor Ordered!

Robin LakinWhen your heart’s not into something, it doesn’t matter how lucrative or practical a path it may be, you’ll never succeed if something else is tugging at you. Robin Siegel Lakin has twice tried to lean into a conventional career when all along she knew she belonged on stage.

As a young teen, the Brooklyn native spent her weekends trekking into New York City to study acting at the Strasberg Theatre. When she wasn’t in class she was auditioning. She landed parts for AT&T, Maxwell House, Hardees, and more. “I had a great agent early on and so I got steady work. I even did a couple of spots on soap operas. I loved it.”

It was a bit surprising, then, that at 18 she decided she should go to college and major in accounting. Guess how long that lasted?

“I stayed in college for one year. What can I say? I was very good at math and science, and so I thought it would be good to have a practical skill to fall back on. But I missed acting.” (more…)

Libby Zemaitis: The Climate Scientist Turned Sustainable Entrepreneur

Libby MurphyWarning! This is not a traditional Career 2.0 story. This woman did not plunge into a new profession after years pursuing another career. This is a story about doing what you love, finding your passion and going after it, no matter how big or overwhelming it may seem. It’s also a great business idea that we just can’t resist sharing.

For someone who is intent on revolutionizing the manufactured housing industry, it’s pretty ironic that Libby Zemaitis lives in the same house where her grandfather was born in New Paltz, not far from the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York.

But really it isn’t all that surprising that a woman who aims to bring affordable, modern and eco-friendly homes to the masses cherishes her old home and the sense of belonging.

“Our housing market is so broken, environmentally, socially, and economically. I want to build homes that are light on the earth and on your wallet. We are not aiming for niche. Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy a beautifully designed and sustainable home, not just higher income people. This is our chance to change all that.” (more…)

Kathy Lindert: The Mortgage Banker Who’ll Put You Under Her Spell

KathyLindert-head-shotKathy Lindert wants you to take her to bed. In fact, she has slept with thousands of men and women and swears it’s okay because her husband is good with it.

You see, Lindert is a hypnotist who helps people overcome any number of issues ranging from smoking to fear of flying. She records all her sessions and gives them to her clients on MP3 or CD.

“The last thing you hear, read, see, or do is what your mind works on, and so I want that to be you. I want you go to bed and listen to my voice. So tell your partner, I’m 52 and really cute, and I’m going to teach you a lot of things because I’ve got a lot of experience,” she says with a laugh. “But seriously, it really works because when a person is relaxed, they are able to change.” (more…)