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Made With Care: A Q&A With Bushwick's Extraordinary Entrepreneurs

This article originally appeared in Bushwick Notebook Issue #2

All Photos by Alonzo Maciel for Bushwick Notebook

This article originally appeared in Bushwick Notebook Issue #2

With hard work and determination, anything is possible — even opening that Bushwick business you dream about. We interviewed the most eclectic group of Bushwick entrepreneurs to share their insight and inspire you to put that idea to paper.

Marshall Thompson and Eric Feldman of Braven Brewing Company

Braven Brewing Company was founded in 2013 and has already made their mark on the craft beer scene with their out-of-the-ordinary brews. Since launching in January 2015, Braven's beers have been sold in over 500 accounts all across New York City, Long Island, Westchester, Rockland, and Dutchess counties.

When was the moment you realized this switched over from a hobby to a career?

Marshall: We’ve known each other for 16 years, both moved to New York and were looking for a hobby. We had a great time brewing with a brown ale kit and kept doing it. I created a business plan and eventually told Eric, “You have to do this with me.”

Name one habit that helped you become a successful business owner.

Eric: No off-switch, I work until I fall over (laughs). You need that drive, you can’t stop.

How did you develop key retailers for your products?

Marshall: A lot of them we knew just being in the neighborhood; I’ve been living in Bushwick for three years. We’ve had a great time working with our distributors also. They’ve had faith in us since the beginning.

What did you wish you knew prior to starting your business?

Eric: You need to realize that nothing is going to be perfect and it’s okay. Take a breath, have a pint. You’ll be fine.

What surprised you most about owning a business?

Marshall: I’m surprised how well Eric and I work together. It’s tough to find a business partner you can put trust and faith in.

What is an unexpected issue that arose while creating the company?

Eric: It was our first big batch of the White IPA — going from 5 gallons to 6,200 gallons. We took a sip and it was undrinkable. We corrected the spices, but it was very scary because we didn’t have the funds if we had to recover.

What is a recommended method to keep customers coming back?

Eric: Unique, compelling brews.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Marshall: Don’t be afraid to talk about your idea. It’s scary to put yourself out there, but you don’t know who you’re going to meet to help put your plan out there.  When you’re open, things just line up sometimes.

Casey Elsass of MixedMade

MixedMade was founded in 2014 and is known for their Bees Knees Spicy Honey and Trees Knees Spicy Syrup. Both are handmade, chili-infused and contribute fantastically to a variety of food and drink. The two can be found in over 250 stores nationally and at MixedMade.com.

When was the moment you realized this switched over from a hobby to a career?

We did a 30-day experiment, investing our own money to see if we could get it back. Seems crazy, but it’s not as impossible as you think. You don’t have time to sit on things or make excuses.

Name one habit that helped you become a successful business owner.

Keeping a list of the most important things I’ve accomplished over the last year. Things are going to go wrong, but you need to remember you’ve done spectacular things.

MixedMade Products

How did you develop key retailers for your products?

We approached Whole Foods right away, because it would be a cornerstone of the business.

What do you wish you knew prior to starting your business?

If I would go back in time I wouldn’t change a thing. I think if I had known everything about business, I’d still make mistakes.

What has surprised you the most about owning a business?

The misconception that when you work for yourself, you don’t have a boss anymore. It becomes more external than internal.

What is an unexpected issue that arose when creating the company?

We were not prepared for the first holiday. A week before Christmas, we had 6,000 bottles to fill, pack and ship. But … We did it!

What is a recommended method to keep customers coming back?

Pretty airtight customer service — being honest with them at all times. Even when things go wrong, always give them personal attention.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Go for it. It’s a lot of work, way more than you think it is. If it’s what you want to do, you never know what’s going to happen.

Anit Hora of Mullein & Sparrow

Mullein & Sparrow was founded in 2012 and provides 100% natural, fully plant-based beauty and health products. All goods are handmade in small batches. They are sold in boutiques all over the U.S., Australia, Ireland and France (coming soon to India).

©AlonzoMaciel

When was the moment you realized this switched over from a hobby to a career?

I knew I wanted it to be a career right away, so I hired my first freelancer. It can be easy for anyone to slack off when it’s just them, but it’s much harder when you are responsible for someone else's livelihood.

Name one habit that helped you become a successful business owner.

Perseverance. There are a lot of ups and downs. You just have to keep going and stay true to your vision.

How did you develop key retailers for your products?

We were lucky that stores started approaching us.  We want our relationships with stores to be genuine, so we don't aggressively pursue retailers.

What did you wish you knew prior to starting your business?

How little sleep I was going to get! You are going to face a lot of challenges along the way, so you need thick skin.

©AlonzoMaciel

What surprised you most about owning a business?

How rewarding it can be to have what you do be appreciated by so many people. It makes it all worth it to get an email from a happy customer.

What is an unexpected issue that arose while creating the company?

Insufficient funding. We had to find creative ways to fulfill large orders.

What is a recommended method to keep customers coming back?

We really strive to have great customer service. We offer special deals to our repeat customers and like to send samples.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The hardest thing to do is to start. You will face a lot of challenges, but once you decide what you want to do — just take the first step.

Carmen Valerio and Leticia Castillo of Central Café & OWL Juice Pub

Central Café was founded in 2010 and offers a great breakfast and lunch selection for the Bushwick community. Their second location OWL Juice Pub, includes the same menu in addition to fresh juices and smoothies. The ladies recently launched food-and-beverage pairing evenings with Chef Brian Baskoff and a third Williamsburg cafe location is in the works!

When was the moment you realized this business was born?

Leticia: We originally wanted to open a restaurant in Manhattan, but it was too expensive. We were shown this place that was meant for a coffee shop instead and Carmen’s soul was in it. We were both raised in Bushwick, so we wanted to bring something new to the neighborhood.

Name one habit that helped this business become successful?

Leticia: Consistency. We learned how to do absolutely everything. We’re very hands on.

What did you wish you knew prior to starting your business?

Carmen: You just got to stay at it; you’ve got to be patient. Everything takes time to take off.

What surprised you most about owning a business?

Carmen: That it actually worked. After five years, we’re still here and things are great.

Central Cafe exterior

What is an unexpected issue that arose while creating the company?

Leticia: The contractors in general were inconsistent and unreliable. We try to have Carmen’s brothers help as much as possible instead.

What is a recommended method to keep customers coming back?

Leticia: Good customer service – we make sure every customer is greeted.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Carmen: Do it. Be prepared, it’s a lot of hard work. Love what you’re doing. Keep at it. You have to be hands on, you need to know everything and be able to jump in.

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