By Sarah Thompson
Minna Murphy, owner of Zeni Beauty®, has been helping people through the art of makeup for more than two decades and has a heart for helping everyone look and feel like the best versions of themselves. Zeni Beauty® truly is the brand for the everyday woman.
In the early 2000s, Murphy started working as a freelance makeup artist for a film and video production company.
“I started custom blending onset because as every makeup artist knows, trying to carry over 20 shades of foundation in your kit is heavy and expensive,” said Murphy. “The production company repeatedly hired me for almost a decade because I could match anyone’s skin tone—from the lightest to the darkest person. My beauty business was born from the requests I received from the actors and actresses asking how they could get a bottle of the color I just created, because they couldn’t find a better match at the cosmetic counters.”
In 2005, Murphy launched her first business—Makeup Mixology, Inc.—focused on custom blending for women of color, with the hopes of making custom blended foundation readily available to women like her who struggled to find the right shade of foundation. “Historically, Black women have not had as many color options available as other ethnicities,” she said. After years of working with people of every skin tone on set and private clients she refocused her business model to be more inclusive.
“While working in the film and media industry, I met people of all cultures and ethnicities. I realized that despite our perceived difference we all want the same thing and that is to be happy and look fabulous,” she shared.
Murphy combined her years of knowledge, education, and expertise and in February 2019, she launched Zeni Beauty®. Zeni is the shortened form of the word Zarazeni, which is the Czech word for inclusion. She created Zeni Beauty® because her business was growing, and she needed to separate the cosmetic brand from her cosmetic manufacturing business now known as The Makeup Mix Cosmetic Co.
“While working in the film and media industry, I met people of all cultures and ethnicities. I realized that despite our perceived difference we all want the same thing and that is to be happy and look fabulous.”
Murphy took hundreds of custom foundation formulas and created a normalized array of colors that represents the global range of skin tones. Her products are now accessible to an even wider range people.
“There’s a person behind every foundation color in the Zeni Beauty® Cosmetics line,” said Murphy.
“Today, most cosmetic companies offer various shades of brown foundation,” she added. “Custom foundation is different, understanding how to match an individual’s unique undertones is a science. While there are other companies that offer ‘custom blending,’ I understand how to adjust the formula to compensate for the way your skin will react to environmental factors. I have combined my experience as a makeup artist with my training as a cosmetic formulator and created a line of made-to-order products that can be personalized to your skins needs. This is what sets my products apart from other brands.”
All Zeni Beauty® products are environmentally conscious and free from parabens, mineral oil and talc. “Your skin is an organ, it breathes and absorbs,” she explained,” the ingredients in the products you use matter!”
While foundation is her passion and the first product she started making, Murphy’s manufacturing company produces a full line of cosmetic products including foundation powders, concealers, eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks and lip glosses, all of which can be purchased on her website, zenibeauty.com.
One of Murphy’s future goals is to work with up-and-coming beauty businesses, helping them validate and scale their product formulas. She wants to help others pursue their passions—a beauty entrepreneur helping other entrepreneurs!
“My manufacturing company is preparing to offer small scale production runs for indie beauty businesses,” she said.
She believes that beauty is much more than physical appearance. It’s a reflection of all that is good about people at their core.
“This business is an expression of who I am. I was born to do this,” said Murphy. “I’m finally living my dream.”
Find Zeni Beauty® on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube or visit www.zenibeauty.com. Zeni Beauty® offers virtual consultations and in-person services by appointment at The Alms House Salon, 53 Warwick Street, Middletown, Connecticut.
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By Cassandra McKenna
We Shine Apparel and Accessories (We Shine) is an online store run by two young entrepreneurs, Bryson and Justin, with a little help from their parents and some outside resources. The store offers clothing and other products that feature uplifting and encouraging messages with the hope of inspiring others to believe the good things about themselves and to help promote kindness and positivity. In the immediate future, the young duo plans on expanding their business to offer canvas wall art, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and more accessories.
While they have been generating ideas for their business since 2016, the boys first formally named, promoted and launched We Shine in November 2019 while preparing to participate in an upcoming Kids Pop-Up Market in their community.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
Their plans to attend every weekend craft fair and sales event within a one-hundred-mile radius had to be put on hold along with their pending offers from local coffee shops and stores to showcase their items and expand their market.
In lieu of not being able to physically attend sales opportunities, their mother Jaclyn began to learn more about social media group sales. “It’s been quite the learning curve,” she shared, “but we are trying our best to let the world know what they are offering and why it matters!”
We Shine truly is a family business.
“As Co-CEOs, both Bryson and Justin are heavily involved in creative designs and operations,” Jaclyn shared. “They both have shirt designs that they alone created. Bryson often wakes up with ideas for new designs and Justin always wakes up asking about orders to fill for the day. He is the taskmaster that ensures orders are prepared and shipped out swiftly. Mom is essentially a COO, keeping operations and fulfillment running smoothly, and Dad has been the primary investor and constant source of support and inspiration.”
When Bryson was seven years old and Justin was three, the boys came up with the idea for their business while they were out shopping for new clothes for the upcoming school year. Shortly into their shopping experience, Bryson quickly noticed that none of the shirts represented who they were. Most of the commercial inventory featured messages such as “lazy but brilliant” and other statements like “addicted to video games” and “talk to the hand”. He had no interest in wearing apparel that did not represent who he was and even said that “Mom wouldn’t buy these anyway.”
The boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea.
He was right. The boys were raised in a home where they were taught to encourage and uplift others—so their mom challenged them with one simple question: “What are you going to do about it?” Bryson thought about the question and decided they should make their own shirts that say what they want them to say. The boys discussed the idea and Justin enthusiastically agreed that it was a great idea.
According to Jaclyn, the boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea. From that day forward, Bryson and Justin began calling for family meetings where they would work together to compile positive phrases that they used at home on a daily basis. They did this with the hopes that one day they would be able to share these uplifting messages with the world.
“Over the last three years, we built a list of approximately 70 phrases and words that are design possibilities,” Jaclyn shared. “Bryson and Justin believed that the affirmations we utilize every day would be helpful for people outside of our home to use. So, they focused on building a list with positive and encouraging messages that would help people feel good about themselves.”
Whenever Jaclyn talks about her sons and the accomplishments they’ve made at such a young age, you can tell how proud she is. “Any time a five year-old and a ten year-old—their ages when they made the decision to move forward with We Shine—feel compelled to put themselves out there solely for the purpose of making the world a nicer place, you know that there is something special happening.”
The boys happily invest a lot of their free time into their business They work together to come up with designs, often engaging with design support and offering critiques and suggestions on iterations of their visions. Bryson checks the We Shine email throughout the day to monitor inquiries or incoming customer communications. He personally answers 75% of the email traffic himself, always responsibly cc’ing his mom on the exchanges.
Justin happily owns order fulfillment. Every day, without fail, he wants to know what orders came in overnight, what orders are outstanding (and why), and leads the charge for weighing outgoing shipments, printing packing slips and shipping labels. He is also the lead salesman. His insistence to share information about their business with anyone who will listen has garnered a lot of business over the last few months!
The pair also include personalized notes of appreciation with each order.
“The boys are grateful for every order and every person who supports their business. They write thank you notes—using their absolute neatest handwriting—to express their appreciation for everyone who chooses to spread love and positivity.”
Originally starting out as a way to inspire kids through positive messages, their business has grown into so much more. Wise beyond their years, they also acknowledged that adults need encouragement too, so they insisted on expanding their items to meet this need. According to Jaclyn, their hearts are what make We Shine unique.
Their most popular items? the Amazing Bracelet (click here), The ABCs of Me Journal (click here), and the "Smart, Kind, Strong, Awesome" t-shirt (click here) top the list.
We Shine focuses on long-lasting and high-quality products. “It was really important to all of us to put high quality messages on high quality materials,” Jaclyn explained. “We didn’t want to dilute the brand by choosing the cheapest shirts available and sacrificing the integrity and confidence that We Shine represents.”
The shirts are long-lasting and are made with very high-quality fibers, which is why they are so soft and comfortable. Many customers also express how much they love the bracelets due to their durability. Jaclyn described the experience that customers have with the business as being genuine, positive and heartfelt.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased a few items through their site including a t-shirt that featured the phrase “Be the Nice Kid,” which has a comfortable fit and feel. I also purchased a journal and a bracelet off of their site and I was very happy with the quality of each item and the excellent customer service. I especially loved the personalized handwritten note from the boys that was included with my purchase.
Jaclyn discussed the some of the ways in which their business offers great customer service. “Communication is key,” she said. She emphasized the importance of keeping customers informed of order updates or delays.
The boys are also actively involved with social media, creating their own posts about We Shine and interacting with customers on those platforms. Jaclyn discussed the importance of paying attention to detail as she talked about how their entire team strives to make sure that things are done properly or are promptly corrected when required.
We Shine is rooted in their community by using local vendors and suppliers, as opposed to using less expensive online options, and they partnered with various support systems during their launch and growth process.
Jaclyn mentioned the importance of patronizing other local businesses—two organizations in particular have really stepped up to assist them, Big Thunk in West Hartford and Budget Printers in Hartford. “We sincerely appreciate everyone on our team and have made great strides with everyone’s support,” she shared.
Sometimes, the We Shine team seeks professional graphic design guidance to lend creative perspective to the typography designs, but at other times Bryson and Justin have a clear vision for a design that they want to execute. The boys are actively working on gaining skills that will help them continue to build onto their business in the future.
“Bryson is currently enrolled in a graphic design course, so that he can learn the art of taking ideas and making them aesthetically pleasing images,” shared Jaclyn. “Justin hopes to also learn that skillset eventually and, by then, the two boys will be unstoppable.”
“As their parents, we hope that the pride and sense of self that they are cultivating lasts a lifetime,” she added. “We also want them to see how impactful their efforts to improve the world can be! They are so proud of themselves and truly believe that they are uplifting people and inspiring others to be better and do better. They want to help people and they also want to be successful businessmen.”
The boys hope that they will be the catalyst for a shift in how people treat each other and how they regard themselves.
“They often vocalize that they want to make the world a nicer place because people can be really harsh,” shared Jaclyn. “Who can argue with that? And who wouldn’t support two little boys in wanting to change the world from where they sit? We keep going, because telling them they can’t do it is not an option.”
At a time when kindness and positivity is most needed, it is refreshing to see children leading the way in reminding all of us to encourage and lift each other up, and to be a light in the world that continues to shine.
Visit We Shine online at www.weshine.shop or on their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
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By Sarah Thompson
It’s been quite a “season” for Lillard Royal Lewis, Jr.
Also known as “Chef Jay,” Lewis is a world-renowned chef, an insightful food philosopher, a published author and a philanthropist. He applies his philosophy and global vision of food sustainability and health disparities, plant-based economics and corporate responsibility to his Connecticut-based business, which is 100% Black-owned. His many products, which include the Baby J’s Spice label, are all driven toward two central philosophical pillars of his corporate structure: sustainability and diversity in education.
While his gourmet spice line has launched him into a class all his own, his journey started as a private chef to the stars, preparing meals for R&B legends and performers including Carl Thomas, K. Michelle, Smokey Robinson, Al B. Sure!, Styles P and Gregory Osbourne. Over the years, some clients turned into significant friends and mentors—including legendary actor and comedian John Witherspoon and business icon Curtis Robinson. Both have provided Lewis with invaluable professional guidance.
“Some of the first people to try my spices before they were even labeled were Smokey Robinson, John Witherspoon and Soledad O’Brien,” he shared. “They tasted my food, sampled the original spice blends and they were like wow, you’ve got to bottle this!”
Lewis knew early on that what would set his business apart was research and development of proprietary intellectual property. He wanted to own components and raw resources used to create in his industry.
“In the culinary world, spices and spice blends are to the culinarian as gold is to the watchmaker or platinum is to the jeweler,” he explained. “Spices are immutable commodities in my profession. Unlike raw material commodities, spice blends can be created and for the creative mind—opportunities will always abound.”
Inspired by stories of spice traders throughout Africa and Asia, Lewis began to create various herb and seasoning blends—almost daily! Eventually, he created an array of reliably delicious spice blends that were hit when used for exclusive dishes for his private clients.
"I take my products around the world, around the country and around the state and use our resources to educate on social and corporate responsibility as well as feed hungry people."
What followed was the incorporation of his business, Fūd, Inc. Built completely from the ground up and self-funded, Lewis specifically chose to incorporate his business in Connecticut because he believed in how positive the future could look.
“This is our state,” he shared. “We must invest in ourselves and in our children’s future.”
And it has always been his two young boys, Jayden and Jameson, who have been by his side as his builds his company.
“Ever since I’ve started this business, they’ve been there every step of the way,” he said. “They taste-tested and helped develop the spices. I remember bringing them to the Secretary of the State’s office, meeting Denise Merrill while I was trying to set up my business, and being there when I closed the deal with Geissler’s—they were right there with their pens and papers, with their hands raised. I think it’s a phenomenal way to teach my sons what it means to be a Black-owned business.”
Lewis and his boys are delivering some phenomenal products to people all across Connecticut and beyond. Now featured at grocery stores across Connecticut and Massachusetts, Baby J’s Errr-Thang Spice—which, according to Lewis’s sons, goes great on steak and chicken—has become a household hit.
Photo courtesy of Chef Jay
Geissler’s Supermarket, a New England-based family-owned chain founded in 1923, saw value in partnering with Lewis’ brand right away.
“We took this last year as an opportunity with Geissler’s—who has been an amazing business partner with us—to understand how retail works, how having a product in grocery stores works,” explained Lewis. “It’s a field rife with challenges but enormous benefits if one is willing to put in the time, gather and listen to advisors and work toward excellence. I wanted my sons to see this process up close and appreciate what it takes to be an entrepreneur.”
Following a logistics and strategy meeting with Rob Rybrick, co-owner of Geissler’s, Lewis’s son shared that he was “going to grow up to be a genius just like Daddy.” Soon after, Baby J’s Errr-Thang Spice arrived on Geissler’s shelves in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“The response from the community has been enormous. We’ve been getting calls for product all the way from Texas to Colorado and we’ve even shipped to California,” he said. “We have a couple of cases going overseas. We’ve gotten a really good response.” While Lewis is grateful for this uptick in business, he doesn’t want to simply benefit from the moment.
“It’s a good opportunity to fundraise,” he explained. “If we are going to get this influx in new customers and revenue streams, I think that it’s a socially responsible and corporately responsible thing to do to take some of that and reinvest it in the community so that my sons have some more tools than I did.”
Lewis has already given to his son’s schools and is currently forming an initiative that focuses on diversity in education, inside and outside the classroom.
Every bottle of Baby J’s says, “of food and philosophy,” which mirrors the heart behind Lewis’s business and the transition he’s making from the catering world to retail, business consultation and social justice education.
“In my most recent trip to Ghana, I lectured at Webster University about sustainability and corporate responsibility to a group of undergraduate and grad students,” he shared. “That’s where the company is going. I take my products around the world, around the country, around the state, and use our resources to educate on social and corporate responsibility as well feed hungry people.”
Lewis, who has a degree in Philosophy and African American Studies from Central Connecticut State University, stresses the importance of “balancing the scales” when it comes to business leadership and decision-making.
“Everything has been so data driven lately, but what we’re seeing in real time is how data-driven solutions are not necessarily the best solutions for the times,” he said. “What we need in board rooms across America is more wisdom, we need more social sciences and philosophy. Students with Liberal Arts degrees are, in my opinion, where the leaders of the future are going to be coming from. Today’s corporations, large and small, need more empathy, maturity and to be more social justice-minded.”
Lewis believes that the best way to start the day is with positivity. Often, that positivity comes from his sons, who he refers to as “living life coaches.”
“My sons have been such a phenomenal source of positivity first thing in the morning,” he shared. “When you start off with your sons believing in you—believing in themselves—and having their own ideas for the business, that’s a help!”
And, Lewis says he feels like a genius when he sees his boys wanting to start their own businesses.
What’s next? You guessed it—a new Baby J’s spice blend called Genius, which will feature young boys and girls of color on the bottles. Lewis will also feature the youth on the bottles in blog posts, sharing why they are geniuses, ultimately benefiting a charity as well.
One thing is for sure, with the next generation following in his footsteps, the Baby J’s brand is going to be just one of many great businesses to come from the Lewis family.
Find bottles of Baby J’s at Geissler’s Supermarkets across Connecticut and Massachusetts. Find locations here. Click here to connect with Chef Jay on Facebook and here on Instagram. A website featuring Baby J's Spices with purchase options will be available soon.
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By Sarah Thompson
Surf’s up, right in the heart of Blue Back Square in West Hartford! Marked with a bright pop of blue on its exterior, Playa Bowls welcomes guests with a laid back vibe. Surfboards, egg chairs, murals of mermaids, flat screen TVs streaming surfing and extreme sports and even a cozy fireplace all combine to bring a bit of the beach right to this restaurant.
But, according to owner Mitch Jackson, what stands out the most is what he calls the best acai ever.
Jackson’s background is in corporate and private business, in the information technology space, so before taking the plunge in business ownership he knew it had to be good.
“I tried the product before I bought into it—and it’s the best I’ve ever had,” he shared. “The owners of this franchise have gone above and beyond sourcing just the right acai from Brazil. It’s blended with real cane sugar, no preservatives, and everything is all natural. It’s delicious!”
From bowls to smoothies and juices, Playa Bowls offers a colorful selection of inviting and unique offerings that are delicious and satisfying. Customers love the Nutella, Pura Vita and Electric Mermaid Bowls most. The best part? Everything is prepared fresh and right on the spot.
Playa Bowls West Hartford open its doors in November 2019. Friends since their college years at UCONN and having both grown up in the area, Jackson and co-owner Mike Bogdan had noticed an untapped opportunity to bring something new and fresh to West Hartford. Having been mutual acquaintances with the CEO of Playa Bowls—a franchise that began as a pair of blenders, a patio table, and a fridge that has flourished into over 83 stores, thousands of employees, and a mission to lead communities in healthy, sustainable living—they had a great place to start.
Jackson is also an agile specialist for Deloitte, so when the challenges of running a business come his way, he handles them with optimism and wisdom.
“When COVID hit, everything had to go to a standstill,” he explained. “Once we started getting more information about it, we were able to pivot. We had already had delivery with Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Door Dash, so that gave us a huge advantage, so people could order even though our doors were closed. We took a pretty decent hit and we were a bit concerned and worried like any business owner would be in February and March, but once people started to acclimate into the new style it was as if things were regular. We actually did better than we did when we were open.”
In fact, they adapted so well that their growth created new jobs and adding more hours.
"The customers love the product and the energy. We give them a place where they can just hang out and work on their laptops and do their homework or hang out with their kids, because we appeal to all ages, whether you’re eight months old or 80 years old."
“It was great to be able to say that we aren’t going to have to let anyone go and that we could still hire some other folks,” said Jackson.
When it comes to customer service, he says “there really isn’t a secret sauce. It starts with saying please, thank you, and smiling.”
Playa Bowls West Hartford is particular about who they hire and keep on staff, because they want to ensure that customers experience a positive energy the minute they walk through the doors.
“Everything starts from being polite to maintaining safety, and then it goes from there,” explained Jackson. “We preach safety in every way, making sure they are safe, wearing their masks properly, constantly washing their hands, and looking for things that are out of sorts with food or surfaces.”
The restaurant even has an app where customers can track their purchases to earn points for discounts or free bowls.
At the leadership level, Jackson says they try to bring a positive energy to their employees.
“It’s contagious. The customers love the product and the energy. We give them a place where they can just hang out and work on their laptops and do their homework or hang out with their kids, because we appeal to all ages, whether you’re eight months old or 80 years old,” he said.
And while Playa Bowls is new to West Hartford, they have made a commitment to give back in any way they can. “We think it’s important to give back to the people who put trust in you, the customers,” shared Jackson.
Through Dine-to-Donate, they’ve been able to work with various local organizations and causes to give back a portion of their proceeds, including supporting a senior dance concert for University of Hartford students and holding a Best Buddies fundraiser to support local students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Jackson also believes their employees should represent the people in the community and that being on the Playa Bowls team means being part of a family.
“We have a multitude of different backgrounds and representation, including a minority owner. When there were Black Lives Matter rallies and protests, one of our employees spoke at one. We allowed other employees to wear BLM shirts and speak out on social media about it. We highly encourage it. I sat down with every employee and told them that if there was anything that they were struggling with that we are here as a family – not just as owners or managers or shift leaders, but as a family to talk about this and grow through this and learn from each other. We’re all in,” he shared.
Playa Bowls is located at 51 Memorial Road, West Hartford, Connecticut. They are open 8:00am-9:00pm during the summer and 8:00am-8:00pm during other seasons. Learn more or browse the menu of acai, pitaya, coconut, green, chia, banana, and oatmeal bowls, and their huge variety of smoothies and juices at: https://www.playabowls.com/.
Click here to connect to Playa Bowls West Hartford on Facebook.
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Pictured: Owner of The Singing Sliders, James Hanton. (Photo: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Alexandra Frisbie
On most Wednesday evenings parked outside the Little Red Barn in Winsted, CT, or on other days around lunchtime on South Main Street in Torrington, or in an industrial area on the town line with Harwinton, you will find James Hanton in his silver food trailer, happily cooking sliders and sandwiches for a crowd that may include hungry and tired truck drivers, workers who just want to take a break and enjoy some delicious fresh food, or patrons of the nearby brewery who would like some tasty pulled pork to accompany the beer in their bellies. Depending on how busy he is, Hanton may be singing while he cooks, a nod to his business name and slogan.
A few years ago, after working some jobs that didn’t pan out, Hanton began to dream about launching his own business venture. The idea of being his own boss and having job security was appealing. He thought about cooking, which he enjoys. Having been raised in South Carolina on Southern cooking, Hanton noticed that while there were plenty of Italian and Chinese food options, there were not many places serving fresh BBQ pork and Southern food locally in Connecticut. He and his wife also realized that at the time, there were no food trucks in their area. So they bought books and learned about the food truck business. They visited locations with food trucks, including the Long Wharf in New Haven, to see how they were run. Hanton took the CT Food Safety Management Course and got certified. In October 2018, Hanton and his wife, who co-owns the business, opened The Singing Sliders Food Trailer in Torrington.
According to Hanton, who has worked in restaurants, the big difference with food preparation in a food truck is understanding the difference between what you would like to serve and what you can serve. Despite the limitations, Hanton says he will only cook and serve food that is fresh, not previously frozen. When asked how quality translates in what he offers, Hanton replied “I like to serve food that tastes good, is good quality—fresh, not frozen. I make it with love.”
“I like to serve food that tastes good, is good quality—fresh, not frozen. I make it with love.”
Customer favorites are the BBQ bowl and pork sandwiches and sliders. Hanton explained that the sandwiches are larger than sliders; they are served on larger rolls that are sometimes lightly toasted. These days, he is constantly tweaking and adjusting the menu, entertaining customers’ suggestions and trying out healthy options. Some have requested the return of the orzo bowl with sautéed vegetables. Hanton offers a choice of sauces in which he will sauté the vegetables. If an item becomes popular, he may add it to the menu, at least temporarily. Recently, Hanton’s grandson took a cheeseburger and topped it with the mac and cheese Hanton gave him on the side. An aspiring rapper whose nickname is “OK Nitro,” his grandson topped that with BBQ sauce and raved about it. Hanton dubbed it the “OK Nitro Mac and Cheeseburger” and put it as a special on the menu.
The success in launching his food truck business did not come easy. Hanton recalled a time when he was getting started that things weren’t going well and he almost gave up. He was not confident that he would be able to make his dream a reality. Then it occurred to him that as bad as he felt, many others were much worse off. He felt compelled to help others instead of feeling down on his luck, and began to give away food once a month, no questions asked, from his food truck. He said that when he began to look at things differently, he began to see success—yet he continued to regularly provide free food. Due to COVID-19, he had to suspend this community effort, but he hopes to be able to resume soon.
I had to ask about the name of the business. Did the sliders themselves “sing” somehow, or does Hanton sing? He said that on some days he may be singing while cooking in the truck, but it was really his wife who thought up the name. He says it refers to the food—the sliders are so good they will make you sing! As for the singing sliders on the trailer, Hanton’s daughter drew the art freehand, which was transformed into an image that could be placed on the trailer.
Today, Hanton says what keeps him going is the independence of running his own business and having a job that allows him to interact with people. He says he has many repeat customers and is starting to build a fan base on social media. He likes to use Instagram and Facebook to let his followers know where he is going to be during the week. The three words he said best describe his business are “happy, satisfying and local.”
Hanton has catered for small groups (up to 150 people), including at the Little Red Barn brewery in Winsted, where he parks on Wednesday evenings. He has traveled to Waterbury and New Milford and is willing to bring the trailer to other locations in Connecticut.
One thing is for sure—if you see the silver trailer with Singing Sliders on the side, be sure to stop right away and get a bite. You won’t regret it.
South Main Street, Torrington (at the Harwinton line)
Monday and Thursday: 11:30am-3:00pm
Industrial Park/Altra Industrial Motion, Inc, New Hartford, CT
Tuesday and Friday: 9:00am-1:00pm
At the Little Red Barn, 32 Lake Street, Winsted, CT (www.lrbbrewers.com)
View the WSFB story on The Singing Sliders
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Pictured: Co-owners of Your CBD Store Simsbury, Katonya Hughey and Nakia Kearse. (Photo: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Sarah Thompson
Nakia Kearse and Katonya Hughey always knew they wanted to go into business together. A friendship that sprouted 14 years ago when they were corporate colleagues has now flourished into a business partnership with proud new roots in Simsbury.
CBD. It’s a buzz word that has been around long enough for many people to know that it has something to do with cannabis, but perhaps not long enough to fully grasp the wide range of benefits it offers. The growth of CBD products has been so immense that industry analysts predict the U.S. CBD market will reach $20 billion in sales by 2024. For Kearse and Hughey, it not only has helped them with friends, family and personal health challenges, it has offered a great way for them to give back and help people in their community improve their lives.
Hughey was born and raised in Bloomfield and has frequented Simsbury since childhood. Kearse, a resident of Simsbury for the past 14 years, has enjoyed raising her children in the town she now calls home. Both have a deep affinity for Simsbury, which is why it made perfect sense to set up their business right in the heart of the Farmington Valley town, on Hopmeadow Street.
“As I thought about my community, I reflected on the number of stories I’ve heard over the years about friends and their loved ones with health concerns or just looking for something to help them feel better. And after not finding many options locally to seek out these natural alternatives— like CBD—in a place with people you could trust and who cared—that is what we set out to create. A neighborhood store, with high-quality products and a strong community connection,” explained Kearse.
Because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all for using CBD products to address ailments, Kearse and Hughey take customized approaches to each person who
With education, consultation and community at the heart of their business model, the pair work hard to ensure that all who come into their store feel comfortable and informed.
“We strive to be consultative,” shared Hughey. “We put a premium on listening to our customers’ concerns in order to provide appropriate solutions.”
According to Project CBD, cannabis has a rich history as a medicine going back thousands of years. CBD is one of more than a hundred phytocannabinoids unique to cannabis. These cannabinoids endow the plant with its robust therapeutic profile. Cannabinoids interact with the body's Endocannabinoid System. The Endocannabinoid System is a system of receptors responsible for regulating many vital processes within the body including immune response, communication between cells, appetite, metabolism, memory, and more. CBD binds with these receptors to help your body achieve homeostasis—a state of stability, balance or equilibrium within a cell or the body.
“We make sure that customers understand that it is an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical drugs,” explained Hughey. “We talk through all the benefits and the different ways of ingestion. CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory. Each product works differently and can impact each person in a different way. We explain the whole process to them.”
Because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all, Kearse and Hughey take a customized approach to each person who walks through their doors—something they have dubbed “helping one neighbor at a time.”
“Our goal is to help,” shared Kearse. “We’re not here to sell something that doesn’t work. We want to help people discover what works best for them, their routine and their goals.”
This promise is even backed by a 30-day refund guarantee on all their products—including their most popular—Topical Creams, Oil Tinctures and delicious edible treats like and Peach and Watermelon Rings.
Kearse and Hughey also stay on the cutting edge of new developments in the market. Because the store is part of a larger footprint of stores, they are connected to regulations and how the market is evolving.
“We are excited about some of the new science exploring other powerful cannabinoids and the use of other natural ingredients to target specific needs,” Kearse explained. “Like our new CBNPlus tincture that is infused with lavender and valerian root, to help relax and calm before bed. It has CBD, but also a higher concentration of CBN, another cannabinoid found in cannabis. Or our Maxine+Morgan capsule that is includes CBD and other natural ingredients like fennel, tumeric, ginger, cramp bark and valerian root. This products helps women suffering with premenstrual and menstrual symptoms.”
After having opened their doors in February of this year, the pair was full steam ahead with doing in-store sampling and offering high-touch in-person demos to showcase the power of their high-quality CBD products. They could easily point out the unique QR codes that are on each product that link directly to third party lab reports, ensuring a consistent quality process and transparency all the way through.
And then boom—COVID.
Just one month into their new business, they were forced to shift gears. But, finding solutions is what Kearse and Hughey do best, so in a matter of weeks they launched a new website with an online store, virtual consultations, curbside pickup and even delivery.
What has catapulted them into a more grassroots effort has kept student athletes with aches and pains and people with arthritis, gout, sleep issues or anxiety reaching out for help.
And beyond helping customers find relief, Kearse and Hughey have supported first responders in Simsbury and Bloomfield with CBD care packages and are working to develop a forum that will allow community members to discuss racial injustice, bias and inclusion in a safe space.
“We both have a history in diversity and inclusion,” shared Kearse. “As we see the level of unrest, a lot of the times people just don’t know how to have the conversations and they want to help, but don’t know how. They have questions but don’t have a safe place to discuss what’s on their mind. Many may not have close relationships with people of color, so they are left looking at TV or reading something in the news as opposed to having real-life interactions.”
“We can begin to have some of these conversations that are deeply meaningful for us as a country, so this is simply not a movement for a day, but something that can have a long-lasting effect on the way we interact and live. Our goal was to be a neighborhood store, to understand the needs of the community and try to serve them not only with CBD but with other things, and this was a gap that I think we were uniquely positioned to try to help fill,” she added.
The store is also partnering with Signs Plus of East Granby to benefit Simsbury A Better Chance (ABC)—a non-profit organization making a difference in the lives of academically talented young men of color from underserved communities. Black Lives Matter signs and t-shirts printed by Signs Plus are being sold at Your CBD Store Simsbury, and $5 of the sign and shirt proceeds plus an additional 5% of CBD sales from customers who buy a sign or shirt will be donated to ABC.
Now that their store is fully operational, Kearse and Hughey are experiencing the joy of helping one neighbor at a time have health without the “high”—benefiting from the therapeutic properties of cannabis without the psychoactive effects.
“We always had a desire to do something different—something where we could truly give back and help,” said Kearse.
In just a few short months, they are fulfilling their dream of building strong, lasting relationships with their neighbors and offering high-quality service and products for a better community.
Your CBD Store, at 1243 Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury, is open Monday-Friday from 11:00am-6:00pm, Saturday 11:00-5:00pm and Sunday, 11:00am-4:00pm. Visit their online store at ycbdsimsbury.com, find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Your CBD Store offers 10% off for new customers (use code "neighbor); is hold a Fourth of July sale (July 1-5) with 25% off entire orders; and a Shop Black special on 7/7 - buy one get one 50% off.
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