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Local Businesses Adapting to Pandemic

By Jamella Smith

George Luck and Amber Boyd did not time the opening of their new smoothie and tea bar around the pandemic, but they’ve been able to make a go of it despite the COVID-19 virus.

For Danielle Blair, a creator, the pandemic is a perfect time to make candles, soaps and bath salts that grew into a business.

Many of Justin Bugg’s friends said he was such a good cook that he should open a restaurant, so with little to do during the pandemic, he started a cater-only business that is thriving.

We are currently in unpredictable and unfamiliar times with the pandemic. Many people have been given the time to focus on their creative side and maintain business for themselves, which has generated an unlikely assortment of new businesses that probably wouldn’t exist without coronavirus.

“It is interesting to see how people and especially businesses have become creative to continue to serve their customers. I have enjoyed supporting the small companies and seeing new ones open and maintain during this tough time,” said Jamara Phillips, a patron at Vibe Bellevue.

In addition, there is Lisa Burton who needs to support her daughter through college.  Burton turned to her baking expertise for supplementary income. Domanique Goodson took advantage of the interruption to everyday life, caused by the pandemic, to realize she was ready to fully focus on her web design and branding company. Going into unchartered territory, Alicia Jenkins and her husband opened the fourth ax-throwing ring in the US.

A vibe to last

Photo: Strawberry Muscle Man/Woman from Vibe Bellevue

Vibe Bellevue is a smoothie and tea bar that aims to “spread health and wellness in the community and make people healthier and happier. Spreading good nutrition, but also having a good time,” said George Luck, one of the owners.

Amber Boyd and George Luck met when she requested his service as a trainer five years ago. Luck created his first tea, Blue Lagoon, and sold them out of the trunk of his car. Seeing that he was making a significant profit, he began to look for storefront locations for the business.

Vibe opened at the end of October in 2019.  Amber Boyd, the owner, stated that when the pandemic hit, they just had to keep a positive mindset. “We had to adapt and make it happen. We knew if we shut the doors that that would hurt us,” said Luck. As an alternative to in-store serving, the focus went to curbside and delivering and no cash payments. “We actually did better through the pandemic than we did from opening up until the pandemic. The week before the pandemic shutdown occurred was our best week in business and the momentum just kept going.”

The smoothies range from basic flavors like vanilla and strawberry to adventurous ones like maple pecan, cheesecake and fruity pebbles. The teas are the same ranging from blue lagoon, which is a blueberry flavor, to a pink starburst flavor. The teas come in a small or mega-size. Everything on the menu is under ten dollars.

Creating through the craziness

Photo:AUTOMSOL’s Christmas scent line.

Danielle Blaire considers herself a creator. As an outlet throughout the pandemic, she began to make candles, soaps and bath salts. The abundance of her creative outlet led to a new business venture in April of 2020; AUTUMNSOL. According to her website, “AUTUMNSOL by Danielle Blaire is inspired by poetry, actualized through creative expression and delivered in the form of artisan craftswomanship.”. As a published poet, Blaire names all her products after one of her published poems. “This has allowed me to find a release throughout such a crazy time. It is therapeutic for me,” said Blaire.

Having sensitive skin, Blaire must be conscious of the ingredients that are in the products she uses. She started doing her own research and educating herself through YouTube and different professional sites. From there she chooses multiple scents, even ones that are not appealing to her, to assure she is servicing all her customers. A typical time frame of the creating process depends on the product. Soap can take anywhere from four to six weeks from beginning to ready for sale. Candles are created in small batches so that the scent can remain potent.

“I use candles for relaxing my mind, so I use wood wicks. It is good for the burn, for the sound and the fact that it doesn’t give off any bad toxins into the air,” Blaire said.

Blaire first depended on her family and friends for word of mouth advertisement. She would test different scents and use their feedback to determine if a product was ready for sale. Now, you can find AUTUMNSOL on social media. Purchasing and more in-depth product details can occur on the website, autumnsol-db.com.

Feeding the Streets

Photo: Justin Bugg, owner of Jus Blaze Kitchen 412

Amid state-wide restaurant being shut down and people having to rely simply on delivery and takeout, Justin Bugg opened JusBlaze Kitchen 412 in April of 2020. Growing up Justin Bugg stayed in the kitchen with his grandmother and mother, learning anything that he could. On his own, he would make comfort food meals and post them on social media.

“Everyone would always say that they wanted some of my food or I should sell it because it looks so good,” said Bugg.

On April 20, 2020, he launched JusBlaze Kitchen412, which offers one full course meal per serving day.  He started with stuffed salmon with crab meat served with asparagus and potatoes. Since then, to name a few, he has made the following meals: sweet & spicy honey glazed fried chicken over baked mac n cheese, chicken and steak tacos served with seasoned rice, pepper steak & rice served with fried cabbage & cornbread, steak quesadillas served with garlic rice, and Philly chicken cheese hoagie served with a side of season fries. The price varies from meal to meal.

Bugg has been employed as an apartment maintenance man for the last two years so his business is currently limited to catering jobs by request and serves dinners three weekends a month.  Jus Blaze Kitchen is operated from Bugg’s home.

“My next goal, in about two to three years, is to have a storefront kitchen with about three tables,” said Bugg.

Down the road, he sees a franchise of JusBlaze Kitchen412 in Pittsburgh and possibly in other states. All operations are run through social media platforms.

“I can be reached at Jus_blaze412 on Instagram, JusBlazeKitchen412 on Facebook and email Jusblazekitchen412 @gmail.com. Always look there for new menus dropping. JusBlaze Kitchen, We just trying to feed the street,” said Bugg.

Business with a vision

Photo:Strawberry caked created by Lisa Burton of Eventurous Cakes

Unemployed since March of 2019, Lisa Burton started her business, Eventurous Cakes and Event Planning full time. Her position at her job was cut in the middle of her daughter’s senior year in 2014, and she decided to start a business that would allow her to continue to finance the remainder of her daughter’s college years.

“I learned how to bake from my mother. It is funny that I have a cake business because I actually hate cake,” said Burton.

“I came into 2020 strong after making my biggest profit since the beginning of my business. The pandemic has completely shut down all operations for Eventurous Cakes,” Burton said.

Due to the pandemic, she did not make a profit in business from March to September. She had five graduation parties and two catering events that had to be canceled. She accredits her biggest challenge of sticking to the business of business, meaning not allowing customers’ backgrounds affects her when conducting her business.

Eventurous Cakes uses word of mouth and social media for marketing. She has a presence on Facebook, Instagram and most recently Tik Tok under Eventurous Cakes. Prices vary depending on cake design.

Content Creating during COVID

Photo: Domanique Goodson of Domanique Jazmin Design.

“There was a time in my previous job when I just wondered, can I do this for the rest of my life?” said Domanique Goodson.

After being referred to go into a management program the pandemic halted the process.  Goodson said, “I felt like I was stuck in a hamster wheel and when I got a break from the pandemic, I had the opportunity to realize what I really wanted for myself.”

Goodson realized that she had to focus on her business, Domanique Jazmine Designs. This is a company that focuses on branding identity and web design. Goodson has always enjoyed creating websites and finding the correct identity for various brands.

Unlike most companies, the pandemic has worked in her favor. Being able to work from home as a transfer and credit coordinator at a university has afforded her the flex in schedule to focus on more clientele.

“In the past three months I have matched my current job earning,” Goodson said by working with more customers and focusing on their brand identity and web design.

“People were uncertain in the beginning of the pandemic, but now people have had a reality check and they have thought about what they want. People who are running businesses are really going for it and that is great for me because I am serving other business owners,” Goodson said.

To work with a customer, they go to her website and fill out an information card that enters them into her system. One of the things that she found hard was understanding the clientele she wanted to serve, so a consultation is used to determine if the client and the business are a fit.

Pandemic cannot stop Valhalla

Photo: Alicia Jenkins training a customer during a session at Valhalla Axe Throwing Rage located in Monroeville mall.

Alicia Jenkins said “one day my husband, then boyfriend, called me and asked me if I wanted to open an ax-throwing range and I thought he was crazy because at the time it was not heard of in the United States. There was only one company that was in the process of opening in Philly and that was it.”

So naturally, she dismissed the idea until he called her back 30 minutes later and asked her if she wanted to open an ax-throwing range and call it Valhalla; she was sold! In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall where warriors train for Ragnarök, which is equivalent to the apocalypse.

“I was so excited because I am Swedish, and I have Viking heritage in my family. This was a way to honor my family.”

When the doors opened, Valhalla was only the fourth ax-throwing arena in the United States. After learning many lessons through a previous business Vaporium, they decided to franchise Valhalla and continue to open multiple locations. The pandemic has not affected Valhalla negatively. Thankfully following the mandates placed in order allow them to continue to focus on bettering the company in any way.

Though there have been many low valleys during this pandemic, people have found a way to overcome them and reach an accomplishment that they may not have thought possible otherwise.

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