By Alicia Brown
It’s that time of year again, to look for the perfect gifts to give friends, family and coworkers. Keiwana Hanley, owner of lash extension, brow tinting and beauty product business High Kei Beauty, reminds everyone to also put themselves on their gift list in the midst of the busy holiday season. After all, self-care is the greatest gift out there.
Hanley is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to boosting esteem—“konfidence” as she calls it—for people of all ages. Her motto is “accessorize with confidence” but she makes it clear that the items she sells and services she provides aren’t intended to give the confidence, but the other way around—the wearers give the items confidence. She reminds customers to never to rely on clothing or accessories give them beauty, because they are simply there to accent the beauty that already exists in the person wearing them.
Having learned how to braid hair at the age of eight from her cousin, Hanley would often give back to her community by teaching young girls how to do their own hair. Doing this helped her see how girls were gaining confidence, power and self-esteem through the knowledge she was sharing. It served as an inspiration to launch High Kei Beauty.
After struggling with what to name her business, she asked her late father for assistance.
“With his help, I woke up with a completely different name. I didn’t choose any of the options I had. My dad is Keith, and his name is scrambled through my name. That’s when I knew it was perfect.”
Having learned how to braid hair at the age of eight from her cousin, Hanley would often give back to her community by teaching young girls how to do their own hair.
Since she earned her official lash tech certification from Lash Snob in 2019, Hanley has been kicking up the glam one girl at a time. Hanley takes the time to get to know her customers and provide them with quality products with unmatched detail.
But launching High Kei Beauty wasn’t an easy path. When Hanley relocated to Connecticut in 2009 from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, college credits weren’t transferred, which caused a setback. And when she officially made Connecticut her home, she struggled to find a place that would allow her to run her business due to certification requirements. But through it all, she was determined to start a business that would spread confidence and help women look and feel their best.
High Kei Beauty provides a plethora of accessories, including hair bows for young girls, wig caps with different hairstyles, mink lashes and so much more. Seasonal items include Christmas wreaths. One of her popular products are her money catchers—adorable bags for going out on the town or for a date night. Hanley will be adding more items and bundles to her online shop for the holiday season, including double-lined beanie hats for winter. She also offers in-home beauty appointments, which can be schedule through her website.
One thing’s for sure—Hanley is here to help women keeping up with their “konfidence” this season!
Find High Kei Beauty on Facebook, Instagram or on their website. Appointments can be made through social media or by phone at (203) 802-5817.
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By Lajeune Hollis
It’s often said that there’s no love like a mother’s love. After Val McCray, owner of Heavenly Hair Growth Oil, underwent back surgery in 2019 and soon after suffered a heart attack, her mother was so worried about her daughter’s health that she began to suffer from hair loss. Eventually, she lost all of her hair until she was completely bald.
As soon as McCray recovered from her heart attack, she knew she needed to help her mother with her hair growth but didn’t know where to begin. She had always combed and styled her mother’s hair, and hated to see her in pain. So, she searched and found a local dermatologist who administered monthly scalp injections for her mother for three months. Sadly, the painful injections yielded no results.
"I truly want women to feel good about themselves. It makes me happy to see my product work."
Frustrated and heartbroken, McCray was determined to do some research to discover what could be done to help her mother’s hair grow back. She began experimenting on her mother’s scalp with organic herbs, oils and rice water, which contained the protein that was needed for her to strengthen her hair follicles. Her tender loving care paid off and her mother’s hair grew back, along with her confidence.
Since the mixture McCray created worked for her elderly mother, she thought it could work for other family members who suffered from hair loss. Each time she applied her mixture to their hair on a regular basis, it worked! She was onto something.
Her hair growth oil was, in her eyes, truly made with love.
Because McCray and her husband own McCray Realty in Bridgeport, her time is flexible enough for her to operate her online business, which she officially opened in 2020 on a full-time basis and began operating out of her living room, then dining room, then kitchen. When she ran out of room she took all of the products and created her own “laboratory” in their basement, where she now has plenty of privacy and room to work. She hopes to one day be able to operate her business out of a free-standing building so she can hire more employees and help quickly get her products into the hands of those who need it most.
McCray’s best friend, Sarah Brooks, was her “tester” because she too was losing hair on her temples from wearing her braids too tight. The Heavenly Hair Growth Oil worked so well for Brooks that she took a leap of faith and quit her job in customer service to partner with McCray.
She says she never went into the hair growth business to make money. She simply wanted to bring joy back into her mother’s life. And now, her primary focus is seeing her customers gain the results they want from her product line.
“I’m not looking to be a millionaire,” she explained. “I truly want women to feel good about themselves. It makes me happy to see my product work. I know it works, as it is helping women (and some men) grow their hair back.”
Heavenly Hair Growth Oil is ideal for women who are losing their hair due to advanced age, poor health, Alopecia or even long-term chronic illnesses like cancer. But, her product line also includes Heavenly Hair Beard Oil, which, according to McCray, brings together alma and vitamin E to create a glorious oil that lends a rich, voluminous look to beards.
Learn more about Heavenly Hair Products on their website, which includes descriptions and information on everything they offer:
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By Camila Vallejo
When you think of your typical family-owned restaurant, you tend to imagine a business brought complete from the ground up — name, menu, space, etc. But sometimes success isn’t a matter of creating but instead reinventing. That was the case for Vinith and Cassandra Keola, the current co-owners of 50 West in Plainville.
Running for about six years under a previous owner, the restaurant had undergone several concept changes. From fine dining to a noodle bar, 50 West had tried it all with little long-lasting success. But for the Keolas it provided a foundation and following. All it needed was their special touch.
In March of 2019, they took over and developed a menu that would cater to all palettes and pockets.
“We offer high-end dishes, but without the high-end prices. We just want full bellies and full smiles,” Cassandra Keola says.
The Keolas describe their food as American comfort with an Asian flair. Some fan favorites include buffalo bleu wings with bacon crumble ($11- $20), drunken noodles with pappardelle pasta ($14) and sauteed clams in a wine sauce with chorizo ($14) — just to name a few. The menu also offers other classics like burgers, salads, flatbreads and, of course, crafted cocktails.
Vinith is the mastermind behind the menu with over 20 years of experience in the industry.
Prior to 50 West, he owned a catering business and a restaurant in West Hartford which he conceptualized on his own. The West Hartford locale eventually closed because he says he went “too big too fast,” an experience he now keeps in mind when making business decisions.
Today, his focus is not so much on the big picture, but instead on the little things that contribute to a great restaurant, Vinith says, like ingredients, flavor and customer satisfaction. He shops locally for produce two to three times a week and 90% of the food is made from scratch.
“My food is my art and my pan is my canvas. I love taking a simple dish, deconstructing it, and making it into something I would eat myself,” Vinith adds.
While Cassandra works a full-time job at UConn Health, she can attest to Vinith’s passion by just the looks of the kitchen on a daily basis. She says the amount of fresh vegetables and spices makes it seem like Vinith goes foraging in the backyard.
“We offer high-end dishes, but without the high-end prices. We just want full bellies and full smiles.”
“There are so many different spices in the world that people don't know about. We like to highlight them in our dishes. America is so used to starches and salty food that people are often forgetting about pungent, bitter, savory and spicy flavors. When you take a bite, you should taste one part and in the other bite, another.”
Good food and hospitality are in their blood, says the husband-and-wife duo. Vinith migrated to the U.S. from Laos in 1980 with his family. While his parents worked, Vinith took care of his older brother and learned his way around the kitchen. He may not have a formal culinary education, but he knows cooking is all about trial and error.
Cassandra’s mother is Scottish and Native American and her father is Barbadian. She says the mix provided her an appreciation for different cultures and, more importantly, cuisines.
Vinith uses their different cultures as inspiration for his dishes. One example is 50 West’s Cubanh Mi — a fusion between a Cubano and Bahn Mi sandwich with grilled marinated pork, Asian slaw and spicy aioli.
While creative dishes are at the center of 50 West, the Keolas pride themselves on customer service above all else.
“You can go to a restaurant every Friday and order the same thing. But, it's different when you're greeted by warm and welcoming staff. You might enjoy your food more, eat a little slower and taste things a little differently, ” Cassandra says. “We create an environment where customers feel like they’re eating with friends whether they’re dining alone or with others.”
Like many others, the COVID pandemic has not been easy for the Keolas. The state-wide shut down and restrictions came at a time where 50 West was just getting started. Nonetheless, the Keolas have been able to attract a regular customer base by providing authentic dishes in a warm and friendly environment. They and their staff of nine hope to see the end of this pandemic soon. And in the meantime, they’ll work towards the future.
“We’d like to see another location one day,” Vinith says. “There are so many things you can do with food and to stick to one location or kind of food it’s just limiting the creativity.”
50 West offers indoor and outdoor seating and catering is now available for family-style packages and special events. COVID hours are Wednesday to Saturday 4:00pm to 9:00pm and happy hour specials are from 4:00pm to 6:30pm.
Find 50 West online at 50westrestaurant.com, on Facebook and on Instagram. 50 West is located at 50 West Main Street, Plainville, Connecticut.
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