163,735 total U.S. businesses have closed since the beginning of the pandemic,1 but Grace Kelli Cupcakes is not one of them!
Meet Sandra Mathis, Owner and Founder of Grace Kelli Cupcakes
Sandra always loved to bake. She grew up in Waycross, North Carolina where she shadowned her grandmother in the kitchen and learned how to put a Southern spin on various recipes. Sandra brought that passion to NYC where she opened Grace Kelli Cupcakes (GKC), specializing in baked goods and Southern-style meals. Sandra’s ambition was evident in the many hours she devoted to perfecting her recipes and chocolate-dipped treats.
How did COVID impact Sandra’s business?
When the pandemic forced Sandra to shut down, GKC’s future was uncertain. New orders dropped to zero. Sandra worried how she would earn enough money to support her family.
How did TAP help Sandra and Grace Kelli Cupcakes?
Immediately, TAP consultants Rachel Dugoff and Mary Beth Minton helped Sandra apply for small business loans and grants to offset lost revenue; they then worked with GKC over a four-week period to stabilize and adapt her business. During that time, Rachel and Mary Beth helped Sandra brainstorm innovative product ideas suited to the new consumer landscape. They encouraged Sandra to network with other minority-owned businesses and expand GKC’s reach through an enhanced social media presence. Sandra’s passionate commitment combined with TAP’s professional expertise and empathetic support allowed GKC to stay afloat and plan for a successful future.
Source: 1 Yelp Local Economic Impact Report (Sept 2020)
The couple are the founders of Cornbread 26 Food Co, a catering company that aims to elevate comfort food classics with creativity and unique touches. They began with a few cornbread recipes, including their now famous Cornbread Madeleines, and evolved to offer specialities like lobster waffle nachos and a variety of crostini. With no formal training, Craig learned the trade through cookbooks, TV shows and instructional videos, and his determination landed him as a finalist on the very first season of Master Chef (USA). Claude always loved cooking and developing new recipes, and his career as a NYC Jazz performer often inspires his creations.
How did Covid impact Cornbread 26?
Craig and Claude, like many in the food services industry, watched their business come to a complete standstill when the Covid 19 pandemic hit the New York area. Suddenly they had no events to cater and were left wondering how they would make ends meet.
How did TAP help?
TAP consultants, Victoria Drozdov and Susan Berman quickly began brainstorming with Cornbread 26. Victoria offered her deep knowledge of operations and strategy. Susan contributed her many years of experience as a successful entrepreneur and an editor at Food and Wine magazine. The consultants encouraged Craig and Claude to reach out to old customers and to find new ones by improving their online presence. They ran through pricing exercises to determine which business segments were most profitable, and gave them suggestions for new product offerings and packaging concepts.
Where are they now?
Cornbread 26 has received orders from Apple Stores and one customer ordered 3,900 Cornbread Madeleines. They have been able to resume catering small parties and weddings and have positioned themselves to service corporate lunches when employees return to the workplace.
It is clear that Craig and Claude’s hard work and determination, combined with high quality guidance from TAP, will continue to fuel their recovery and future success.
As a professional dancer, Justin loved his craft and dreamed of sharing it with others. In 2016, he made this dream a reality when he founded The Dance Conservatory in Westchester. His background in physical therapy and injury prevention training helped him cultivate not only ballerinas in their prime, but lifelong dancers.
How Did COVID Impact Justin’s Business?
Shutdowns forced a hiatus from in-person classes, devastating to a studio that celebrates its communal passion for dance. But the pandemic also offered new opportunities for virtual classes and a population of young customers who were home from school and looking for activities.
How Did TAP Help?
Two TAP consultants, Robbie Oxnard Bent and Souha Alameddine, quickly dove in and worked with Justin to expand enrollment and reduce spending. They leveraged TAP’s customer segmentation tool to help him understand who his clients were and what financial restrictions they had. TAP then advised Justin to adopt a more flexible pricing strategy. Robbie and Souha also urged him to clearly communicate the steps he was taking to make his studio COVID-safe, so that dancers could feel comfortable returning to class. To help reduce expenses, TAP updated Justin’s accounting system and worked with him to devise a negotiation strategy so he could talk to his landlord about lowering his lease payments.
Where is He Now?
With better communication and a reworked pricing system, Justin was able to top 2019’s pre-pandemic enrollment numbers. He taped out seven by seven-foot squares on his studio floor and provided individual bars so every (masked) dancer could stay within their space. Students actually appreciated the new small class sizes, as they received more attention from teachers. Justin used his website, social media, and email to communicate the Conservatory’s additional safety precautions. He reassured parents and students that, while he’d keep offering virtual options, they could safely return to the studio in person — and once they were in the door, they kept coming.
Stylish Spoon, a modern bakery founded by mom Ilana Eck, is geared toward professional women and busy parents looking for easy and healthy grab-and-go breakfast and snacks. Ilana's best-selling OatMEAL Cup, sold online directly to consumers, was inspired by her own need for a one-handed breakfast that she could enjoy and feel good about while nursing her newborn.
How Did COVID Impact Ilana’s Business?
The pandemic swiftly brought an end to in-person sampling and marketing events, Ilana’s primary marketing tool. She also lost a lucrative contract with a NYC grocery store chain.
How Did TAP Help?
TAP consultants Adelma Hand and Robbie Oxnard Bent provided Ilana with marketing and financial resources typically available only to Fortune 500 companies. Their sales analysis resulted in a shift to focus on her popular, high-margin OatMEAL Cups. Talking to consumers in focus groups inspired a rebranding strategy; not only did this new approach help Ilana target the right consumers, but it also informed a new virtual marketing strategy with a targeted referral program, perfect for her highly loyal consumer base. In addition, the TAP consultants created an inventory tracking tool to help Ilana time her package purchasing decisions, and they customized TAP’s PPP loan tracking tool to help her maximize loan forgiveness.
Where is She Now?
Ilana was able to cut costs and is thrilled to be reporting her first positive margin. TAP's recommendations for shifts in marketing, operations and finance have helped Stylish Spoon not merely weather the pandemic, but flourish.
Senegal-born entrepreneur Mama Faye opened her Larchmont, NY fashion and cosmetics boutique, Taaru Majeure, just before COVID hit. After working for twenty-three years in retail management for powerhouse brands like Tom Ford and Estee Lauder, she decided to launch a solo endeavor. Beyond her elegant accessories and quality cosmetics, Mama Faye has distinguished her brand by developing her own ethical skincare line with fair trade organic ingredients sourced from Senegal.
How Did COVID Impact Mama Faye’s Business?
The shut-down was an early blow to Taaru Majeure, which did not yet have an online presence. Mama Faye was burdened by fixed expenses for her storefront, and needed to quickly pivot to cover them. While the economic environment was tumultuous, social support for minority-owned businesses grew with the Black Lives Matter movement. Mama Faye had a pool of prospective customers, but needed to figure out how to reach them.
How Did TAP Help?
TAP consultants Janice Hassenfeld and Justine Smith developed recommendations for a new e-commerce site including a “shop by skin type” tool, product review section, ingredient specifications, and other visual aids. The pair also worked with Mama Faye on her brand messaging, encouraging her to leverage her dynamic personality and celebrate Taaru Majeure as a black-owned business on social media. In addition, TAP helped stabilize Mama Faye’s financials by offering information on loan and grant support, cash flow tools, and rent negotiation.
Where is She Now?
The Larchmont storefront is now open, stocked, and bustling with holiday shoppers. Motivated by TAP’s support, Mama Faye has exceeded her monthly sales goals since August. With Taaru Majeure’s in-person business booming, she is also applying what she’s learned from TAP to help her social media and e-commerce venues thrive
Born in Venezuela and raised in Colombia, Yolfer Carvajal was inspired by his aunt’s traditional cooking. Wanting to pursue his dream of becoming a chef, he attended French-Jewish culinary school, resulting in a cooking style that was an eclectic fusion of his Venezuelan heritage and French inspiration. With the help of his brother Donny leading marketing and logistics, and sister Dahyanna commanding the finances, Yolfer opened Pabade Wholesale Bakery in 2016 and expanded to a cafe in East Harlem in 2019. He refers to his products as “global pastries baked in el barrio”.
How did Covid impact Pabade?
When Covid forced businesses to shut down earlier this year, the food industry was particularly hard hit. Pabade lost all of its foot traffic, and wholesale orders for their products disappeared.
How did TAP help?
TAP consultants Amy Lai, a CFA with financial expertise, and Sabrina Silva, a marketing and sales executive with knowledge of the food services industry, quickly helped Dahyanna prepare for a conversation with the landlord about deferring lease payments and encouraged her to access additional government support for small businesses. They suggested offering a lunch menu, and researched several food delivery services so that Pabade’s delicious products were accessible to those not able to come into the store. TAP helped the siblings review all of the new safety requirements for reopening and provided options for cleaning common areas. The consultants also showed them ways to manage expenses going forward.
Where are they now?
Pabade is back open for business and looking towards the future. Their delivery business is growing, and they are working on bolder long term marketing strategies. The help that TAP has given them and other small businesses during the Covid pandemic expands beyond strategy and analysis. They’ve offered encouragement and direction when small business owners feel overwhelmed and helpless. With TAP’s assistance, Yolfer, Donny and Dahyanna have regained the confidence to move forward and rebuild their business to be successful now and in the post-Covid world.
A successful not-for-profit organization often starts with the vision of one person. In the case of My Money Workshop, Dick Yaffa noticed that young people were entering the working world without any understanding of personal finance. These young adults had no idea about budgeting, saving for retirement, or the dos and don’ts of using credit cards.
Personal finance is just that – it’s personal and it affects each one of us. And yet, for many of us, it is is complex and overwhelming.
So in 2009, Yaffa created a financial literacy workshop and tested it with one group of seniors at Sarah Lawrence College.
Almost 10 years later, with its team of tremendous volunteers and partnerships with high schools, colleges, and community organizations in the tri-state area, My Money Workshop has introduced thousands of people to the world of personal finance. But despite the number of people who have taken the workshop, Rob Yaffa, chairman of the Board of Directors, was frustrated by the pace of growth. As the founder’s son, he was deeply committed to his father’s vision and he wanted My Money Workshop to be able to reach more individuals.
The problem was that like many nonprofit organizations, My Money Workshop’s nimble staff wore many hats and handled all of the workshop scheduling, client outreach, volunteer coordination, fundraising and social media. The overwhelming daily workload prevented the organization from focusing on long-term growth strategies. In spring 2018, when Rob Yaffa reached out, TAP was ready to help.
What did TAP do? We listened. And we learned. We learned that My Money Workshop needed help developing their corps of volunteer instructors. They wanted a better way to get feedback from the people who participated in their workshops. They wanted more people to know about them.
TAP helped My Money Workshop by thinking about how they could accomplish these goals with their limited staff and budget. TAP provided research on how My Money Workshop could target new volunteers and wrote a Volunteer Handbook to help bring them on. TAP also created survey templates that My Money Workshop could then develop for use with their participants and identified tools to help them understand the survey data. Finally, TAP recommended ways to reach more people through social media and by using the expansive network of My Money Workshop’s board members. Net result? My Money Workshop is positioned to continue Dick Yaffa’s legacy well into the future.
Injera*. Wat*. If these words are unfamiliar to you then you probably have never tried Ethiopian food. And you certainly have not tried Lalibela in Mt. Kisco, NY. Lalibela is a small neighborhood restaurant established in 2010. Before that, it was the dream of Selamawit Tesfaye, known to her customers as Mimi, who emigrated to the United States in 1995 and began her life here as a nanny. At night, she took ESL classes and then she began the slow but steady path that led not only to Lalibela but also, in December 2018, to the opening next door of Mimi’s Coffee House, a coffee bar.
With strong reviews from the New York Times and Westchester Magazine, among others, Lalibela has become an integral part of the Mount Kisco restaurant scene. Mimi’s vision and energy got Lalibela to its current place. Lalibela is unique, certainly for Northern Westchester (If you haven’t yet sneaked a glance below, injera is the spongy sourdough flatbread served on a large tray that serves as both bread and utensil. It is used to scoop up ‘wat’ (stew) and other wonderfully spiced Ethiopian dishes that are served on top of the injera).
Mimi went to Community Capital (a non profit alternative community lender in the Hudson Valley and Fairfield, CT) seeking a loan that would allow her to to open Mimi’s Coffee House. Before approving the loan, Community Capital introduced Mimi to TAP, asking TAP to advise her on how she could both grow Lalibela and start Mimi’s Coffee House.
TAP focused on marketing strategies and financial analysis for both businesses. For Lalibela, TAP consultants worked with Mimi to develop marketing strategies that she could pursue, in both the near and longer term, to build her clientele. TAP and Mimi discussed brand development to distinguish Lalibela, increased marketing to gain a larger lunch business, advertising at the nearby Mt Kisco train station to increase takeout business, and outreach to local corporations for catering or private parties. TAP believed that Lalibela and Mimi’s could also benefit by looking for opportunities to collaborate in the community (e.g., the Chamber of Commerce, local sporting events) to help increase visibility. TAP and Mimi also went through the menu, item by item, to ensure that Mimi was maximizing her revenue.
For Mimi’s Coffee House, TAP helped put together detailed revenue and cost assumptions. TAP consultants worked with Mimi to “stress test” the assumptions under different business and financial scenarios. They even sent Mimi on a sleuthing assignment to the nearest competitor to gather intelligence on how many units were sold of drinks/food as well as peak times throughout the day. With a five year plan in hand, Mimi was able to demonstrate the viability of her coffee house to Community Capital and secure a loan.
Mimi notes that without TAP’s guidance on the financial aspects of Mimi’s Coffee House, she would not have gotten the loan from Community Capital. Furthermore, Lalibela has seen 20 percent growth since working with TAP and Mimi’s Coffee House just got a terrific write-up in Westchester Magazine online.
Both Lalibela and Mimi’s have become go-to destinations. Mount Kisco residents are delighted to have an alternative to chain coffee stores and they continue to flock to Lalibela for its food and ambience.
*injera: a spongy, sourdough flatbread
*wat: a spicy stew or curry like dish served on the injera
HudCo was born to fill a need. While co-working spaces are a common site in cities, finding the right place in the suburbs is not as easy. More than just a shared workspace, HudCo is also a shared wellness space and a space committed to creating community in the river towns of Westchester County.
HudCo’s membership runs from accountants to herbalists, from florists to business strategists, from landscape architects to leadership coaches. What makes HudCo unique is not just the diversity of its membership, nor that it offers a range of business memberships to meet individual needs. HudCo has taken the co-working model further by offering a wellness membership, which provides space for those in the business of helping others live their healthiest lives. Yes, that means you can take your Pilates class at your co-working space. In addition, HudCo offers a rich array of programming such as speakers on diverse topics, movement workshops, and author talks. In other words, there is a place for everyone at HudCo.
HudCo was founded in January 2016 by three entrepreneurs who wanted a co-working space. Friends told friends and soon thereafter the seven invested founders leased more space. In time, the opportunity arose to lease even more space in the same light-filled building, with its exquisite views of the Hudson. The founders were in a quandary. As creative types (including an architect and designer), they understand space and environment. They all liked the concept of more space but weren’t sure how they would finance it. As entrepreneurs, they had developed a business plan, but they weren’t completely comfortable with their financial projections. They also realized that as partners, their objectives (and contributions) had diverged.
Two HudCo founders met TAP at a speed-consulting workshop run by the Armonk Chamber of Commerce. They were there for their own individual businesses but quickly determined that TAP might be able to help HudCo as well. And we were --in two significant ways. The first big piece was financial, and TAP helped break it down into smaller pieces. We discussed capital needs, looked at structuring options, and identified third party lenders. We also created a forecast model for HudCo that would give them an easy way to play with their current and future growth assumptions.
The second major piece was the business relationships among the partners. The partners gave TAP the opportunity to meet with each partner individually to better understand what each really wanted. This allowed TAP to step into the role of an honest broker and show the partners where there were synergies in their thinking and where there were gaps. We facilitated a discussion on equitable strategies for ownership and reviewed how partnership documents could accurately reflect each partner’s role and profit participation. We also provided an action plan to move the business forward on all fronts.
Now positioned for growth and the future, HudCo can focus on its mission “to integrate work, life, and being well. “
About this blog
This blog features some of our client engagements.