For the past two months Two Buttons Deep has been producing a project known as Do The Next Good Thing.
Together with the project’s creator, Jeff Buell, we are handing out $50,000 over the next calendar year with the intent of showing the power of kindness, and the value of good conversation. We distribute the money $100 at a time to a random person in upstate New York, and we document all of their stories here.
This week we featured only stories of small businesses in anticipation of Small Business Saturday. Small businesses are vital to economic development, especially in small cities like the ones all over upstate New York. Read stats of SBS’s impact around the country.
Here are just a few stories of people who have made the leap to pursue what their heart was telling them to do.
“We are a little family here. For me that’s because it’s a couple that owns it. They care about us. They take care of us. It’s a fun concept and it’s in Troy. And Troy is fun.”
Slidin’ Dirty Restaurant and Food Truck in Troy happens to be the first thing we ever accomplished since starting Sequence Development in 2013. And Jayme has been there almost since Day One, with owners Tim and Brooke, and a bunch of others, a highly unusual happening in the restaurant industry.
“They go outside of the box and people like that. People get sick of the same old thing. We aren’t normal here. We get to do fun things. We get to mix it up.”
Jayme and Slidin’ are today’s story because you’ll never find them in the mall on Black Friday. You’ll find them inside a city where the pipes burst, the Internet shuts down, you catch flak for putting up Christmas decorations too early, and you have to argue with the City about shutting down parking spaces for 48 hours for a road race. And that was just last week.
“I don’t think we ever get bored. It’s usually very busy here and everyone keeps you on your toes.”
On the front of the servers station is a tongue-in-cheek sign that reads “Haters Gonna Hate,” and it fits the vibe. I ask Jayme about it because she happens to be one of the most pleasant people you’ll ever meet.
“I just try to stay positive. That’s not easy for me, so I try to think about it, focus on it so that I stay on track. I just try and remember the things that I have that some people don’t have.”
Are you where you thought you’d be five years ago?
“Probably not and that’s probably good. There’s so much pressure to have the classic career and to go to school and this and that. If you’d asked me five years ago what I would be doing, I probably would have thought I would be doing more of that track instead of “just” serving or “just” bartending. But I really like people and I think this is good for me. To be off the beaten path.”
As she trails off, I ask her if she’s been following Do The Next Good Thing and what it is trying to accomplish. She smiles brightly.
“I think it’s awesome. It’s inspired me a lot. I’ve been doing some research into the organization called Things of My Very Own, Inc.. I’ve talked to my family and a few friends and we are all working to put together a big tote of items people can use on daily basis- shampoo, snacks for kids, the basic things.”
She’s excited to be able to bring even more to an organization that exists solely for the benefit of children that are most in need. And somehow, in a place thats owns the haters like a badge of honor, it just all makes sense.
“People have these misconceptions based on what’s circulating on the news and social media. And all I have to say is, do you yourself know a refugee? If the answer is no, hear their story out and I’m sure that one conversation will change everything.”
Jinah is the owner of Sunhee’s Farm and Kitchenon Ferry Street in downtown Troy. Where the only thing more incredible than the Korean food they serve, is the mission behind the restaurant itself. Providing immigrants and refugees a safe place to work and learn here in the Capital Region.
“I started my professional life working in social services in New York City. I started volunteering at the Refugee Resettlement Service in Manhattan, where I taught English. I soon became a case manager where my main job was helping those refugees achieve self-sufficiency.”
The Latham-native loved her job in New York City, and said she would have been happy working there for the rest of her life. But she knew she had a heart for entrepreneurship, and even more than that, upstate New York.
“I always knew I’d come back,” she laughs.
Jinah returned to Albany and began working for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a large national organization with chapters across the country, as well as here in Albany. Her first position was as a job developer, which took refugees, sometimes right off the plane at Albany International, and helped them find jobs here in the Capital Region.
“I came here knowing I wanted to open my own business eventually, I was hoping within my first 5 years. But then it only took 5 months.”
Sunhee’s opened in May of 2016. The “farm” deriving from her parent’s farm in Cambridge, where many of their ingredients are sourced, and “kitchen” which is comprised of over 80 percent immigrant and refugee workers, designated as a safe place for them to work and develop themselves.
“We host English classes right here in the restaurant. Every day from Monday through Thursday we actually close the kitchen and restaurant from 3p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and hold free workshops for our employees and anyone in the public to learn English. We are also starting our own computer education program too.”
“We need to raise money to launch this program, so our staff actually ran in the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon to raise funds. We are also hoping to raise more money to sustain this program on Small Business Saturday. We’re hosting ‘Sunhees, the Farm, the Kitchen, and the Wardrobe.’ We’re going to transform our back room into a thrift shop filled with vintage clothing, and all of the proceeds from that will go to our computer education program.”
As for the $100, Jinah will be using it towards a Thanksgiving potluck they’re having today with their staff and English class. While everyone is bringing his or her own special dishes, the $100 will be used to buy a traditional thanksgiving meal. For many attending, it will be their first time eating turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
The question in our minds… So many people may not read this story based on just the opening quote. What do you wish people knew who may reflect negatively upon refugees?
“The screening process is extremely rigorous, extensive and difficult. They come with a legal status already. I know people who have been waiting in a camp for eight years to get into the United States. Imagine trying to leave your country and being told “one day…” And then waiting one, two, five, eight years before you get out of those conditions.”
“There’s always that personal level that I think we forget to get back to, the human level, and that’s what we’re hoping to do here at Sunhee’s. We want to share the stories of people, not the data and statistics you see in the news.”
“I literally joined the YMCA just so I could shower there. And then I just lived in the bakery while I remodeled it. It’s super against the law, I think.”
You hear stories all the time of entrepreneurs making sacrifices to chase their dreams. But not many are willing to opt for being homeless. It’s easy to look back and laugh now (“Make sure people know I was not actually baking anything while I lived here, that’s not cool.”), but for Sarah, chasing her dreams required that incredible decision.
“I never thought about it as even being that weird. I thought it was funny, but I didn’t think of it as being that big of a sacrifice. I just thought this is part of what I have to do to get where I want to be. I didn’t tell anyone until after I opened, but I think some people kind of found out. I was always here and I’d walk out the door and people would be like, ‘oh you should just live here, you’re here all the time.’ And I’d be like… ehhhh.. that’s funny….”
She’s laughing hard.
“But I really lived here.”
Sarah is the owner of Sprinkleista Bakery on Jay Street in Schenectady. And she had a deep reason for all the sacrifice.
“I took my first cake decorating class when I was 15. When I was younger I felt like I was just average at a lot of things I did. But the first time I took a baking class I was good. Really good. Everyone was struggling to make flowers and I was like, “guys, this is super easy. That was the first class I ever took, and I thought this is what I want to do. I want to open a bakery some day.”
She started taking college classes when she was still in high school. She worked for a few different places before launching the first version of Sprinkleista at Ambition Coffee & Eatery, Inc.Sarah and I share one strong commonality. We wear our emotions on our sleeves.
“I was always really prepared to work hard. That never shocked me. I’ve always worked hard my whole life. Not sleeping because you’re working so much? That never phased me. The biggest challenge for me is how much of a toll it can take on you emotionally. Because when you open a small business, you are that business. It’s you. If you’re struggling, it takes so much out of you personally. It’s a direct reflection of everything you put into it.”
“You have to really, really love what you’re doing. If you don’t, it’ll never work.”
It must help that everyone who comments on your baking says it’s the best thing they’ve ever tasted?
“I feel like I’m lucky because what I chose to do is all about celebration. Every thing I do is for a happy occasion. Being a part of people’s happy moments is very rewarding.”
When you run a small business, every $100 helps. And yet, when I hand her the money from Do The Next Good Thing I know there is no chance she will use it for herself.
Sarah regularly donates cakes to Icing Smiles, Inc., an organization that works to provide sick children with cakes. Each of them gets a giant themed dream cake, and then regular cakes after that. She is scheduled to bake a regular one next week. The dream cakes cost hundreds of dollars to make.
“I think I’ll just surprise the kid next week with a dream cake instead of a regular one. It’ll be a really great surprise.”
“It’s crazy to see how different Troy is after being away for 15 years.”
Chelsea is tending the bar at Rare Form Brewing Company late on a Sunday night. Rare Form is a small five barrel brewing company in downtown Troy. It opened three and a half years ago, Chelsea has worked there for two, after leaving the area for 15 years.
“I went to school in Boston and I was there for six, then I went to Seattle for nine. (In Seattle) I actually helped a friend open up a craft beer and wood fire pizza restaurant, right in the shadow of the space needle. I really enjoyed learning all about craft beer, but I quickly realized I liked craft beer way more than the food industry.”
“Food modifications, you wouldn’t believe what people request.” She laughs.
What is it like coming back to a place like Troy after being gone for 15 years?
“The main difference is that people actually want to go places in downtown Troy. Before it was very…different. I’m so happy it’s turned around though and it really makes me glad to be home again. And working at Rare Form is so cool. The owners are great people and the patrons are really happy to be here and learn about craft beer. And I love telling them!”
Rare Form has a special devotion to craft beer. Their passion is: “to explore, invent and experiment within the realm of the ale. We get very excited about the brewing process and see it in parallel to many other creative processes. For this reason, we see brewing as an art form.”
As for the $100, Chelsea knows right where it’s going.
The holiday season kicks off Thursday with Thanksgiving and Christmas is right around the corner. Chelsea will spread a little holiday cheer.
For the next week, Do The Next Good Thing will be featuring small businesses on our page in anticipation of Small Business Saturday, which is this Saturday, November 26th.
“I never had a dream to be a business owner, to be honest with you. It was circumstance. I was in a position where I was working for someone else. I loved planning weddings. I was good at it. It was my passion. So…”
Eight years and two weeks later Katie O’ Weddings & Events is one of the most successful wedding planners in the area. She skips the typical ‘start up in the garage’ story and instead launches her business from the dining room table in her parent’s house. No start up capital necessary. Her safety net was the confidence that she could find a job if she failed.
Katie is the first of our small business features that will run this coming week as we give thanks.Do The Next Good Thing is only possible because of small businesses, and we want to pay tribute to those around us who gave up safety nets and risked it all.
“I always have had a willingness to work, whether it was working for someone else or myself. I definitely didn’t realize that working for yourself is harder than working for someone else. I’m my harshest critic.”
Would you encourage other people, even your employees, to chase their dreams?
“Do it because you’re entirely capable. But only do it if you’re 100 percent dedicated to it being your life. You can have family, and you can have friends, but when you have your name on the window, it is a dedication like nothing else. It is a pressure like nothing else. And you need to be able to surround yourself with people that help you succeed.”
The winding road of entrepreneurship comes with interesting twists and turns and blessings. Like a new baby.
“Being a mom has certainly given me some perspective. I see her as a young girl and I can’t wait for her to grow up so that she can understand what I’ve done. I say goodbye to her every morning and tell her ‘I have to go be a wedding planner so you can have nice things.’ I joke about that. But I really want her to be able to do what she wants when she grows up. I want her to know that as a woman, and a business owner, and a mom, and a wife, and a friend that I always did what my heart wanted. And she can too.”
Katie is one of the kindest people I know. She sparkles- literally, it’s her thing. The pressure she puts on herself for the $100 we give her is expected. She’s not thinking about who could use it. No, it’s much more complicated than that.
“I want to know who needs it the most!”
And off she goes, promising to report back with the finest of details. If it’s anything like the joy that she brings to her clients each and every day, it’s sure to be an amazing story.
“A lot of family bonding went on, believe me on that.”
18-year-old Vianna stands behind the counter ofThe Dutch Udder Craft Ice Cream exhibiting the poise and maturity of someone twice her age. She’s a born story-teller.
“I’m the reason the business started, did you know that? This all started in my 5th grade class when we had to pick a state and I got Vermont. So we had to bring in something like a food to class and I ask my mom, ‘What is from Vermont?’ And she says, ‘Duh, Ben and Jerry’s.’
“So my dad has this Ben and Jerry’s cookbook. It took forever, you know churning with the handle, and tasted horrible.” She laughs hard at the joke she’s about to tell.
“Obviously they can’t put the actual recipe in there or everyone would have it.”
The project though woke something up inside of her Mom, who ventured off to take the Ice Cream 101 class at Penn State, came back home and decided she wanted to open up an ice cream store. She quit her job as a nurse and all at once the family chased the dream.
“This whole place is out of pocket, just me, my mom and my dad.”
As luck would have it, today (Friday) is Dutch Udder’s grand opening. Vianna talks about the warmth in the community and everyone that helped.
“Rare Form Brewing Company,Psychedelicatessen, Slidin’ Dirty Restaurant and Food Truck, Muddaddy Flats, Nine Pin Cider, they’ve all been amazing. It’s what we love about being down here, the world is so small. Everyone wants you do well.”
Do you think that’s one of the reasons people will randomly quit their jobs and chase a dream?
“I don’t know about other people, but I know my mom’s reason was that nursing wasn’t always happy. She would get really close to her patients and then some of them would get really sick, and it just became too much. But serving ice cream, that’s happy. Opening this business and having people come from all over just to get our ice cream makes us feel really great. It’s happy.”
Our interaction is well timed for Vianna. She’s currently studying to be a special education teacher, and her car is in the shop. She’s desperately in need of money to fix the engine.
“It’s fate!” she yells.
Do The Next Good Thing is so impressed with her energy and drive that we hand her another $100 with a caveat.
Today at 4 p.m., when they officially open their doors during the grand opening the first $100 of ice cream is on us. If you’re in Troy, head on down to River Street and take a peek at this amazing story.
Two Buttons Deep is a news & entertainment website based in upstate New York.
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