Youngblood, Sweat & Tears

The road to entrepreneurship is not easy. Entrepreneurs are born for adversity. The story of success begins with bright-eyed determination but the middle is met with lots of blood, sweat and tears. These challenges help develop the true grit that sets the Youngblood up for future success. Read these inspiring stories of how these entrepreneurs have overcome adversity and successfully pursued their passion.

Youngblood, Sweat and Tears

Seafood Restaurant Owner Twists Up the Food Game

The aroma of fresh crab legs and garlic butter sauce hits you in the nostrils right when you walk through the doors of The Twist restaurant. Each booth is occupied with customers waiting to get their seafood fix. Owner Ken Walker is seen in the kitchen working alongside his staff of eight.

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Starting from Scratch. The Twist is the first restaurant that Walker has owned but he’s no stranger to the food industry. In high school and college, he worked for several restaurants including, Applebee’s and Red Lobster. “I’ve worked at cooking places my whole life, but I just didn’t know how to start my own,” said Walker. Ken quit his job working in the labs of Otis Spunkmeyer to pursue his dream fulltime.

He decided he would start by selling hotdogs. But without money to buy a hotdog stand, he purchased a do-it-yourself video and built wooden cart from scratch.

The cart passed the necessary health inspection, but Walker was still short on cash to pay for the $400 license. Not to be defeated, he sold boiled peanuts to raise the money. Once he was able to save enough, he purchased the license and set up his cart on a busy street corner. But Walker soon realized there were also franchise fees he needed to pay. After paying expenses, he only broke even so he was back to square one. In addition to money woes, Walker also dealt with large corporations that tried to stop him from setting up his cart near their businesses. He stood his ground though and remained persistent.

Twist It Up or Give Up. Three years later, Walker and his father built a more sophisticated cart that he called Ken’s All-Star Cart. He added wontons and spring rolls to the menu. The additions weren’t really a hit with customers. “It didn’t go over well. My lines weren’t exactly out the door. Only 10-20 people showed up,” he said.

Walker was at his breaking point and was about to give up. He took a trip home to Atlanta and had plans to close up the cart for good when he found seafood restaurant there booming with business. Walker waited in line for hours for a plate when he got the idea for his business. “A lightbulb went off in my head and I said bingo!”, he said. Walker took what money he had left, bought seafood and posted his creation on social media. The next day, 67 customers were lined up outside his cart. “I had found my niche,” he exclaimed. Business was finally booming. It was going so well that he caught the attention of Thomas’ English Muffins.

Representatives with the company wanted him to enter its National Food Truck Competition that promised a prize of $25,000. At first, Walker thought it was a joke and ignored phone calls and emails. Still unsure, the company sent Walker a $1,000 check to sweeten the offer. That was all the proof Ken needed. Ken entered into the competition confidently although he was the only food cart competing against food trucks from all across the country: “I’m the small guy. Y’all are going to remember me. I’m not going out like a punk,” he reflects.

At the start of the five-week competition, Walker was at the top. Votes from fans poured in from around the world. In the end, Walker beat out a food truck in San Francisco by 300,000 votes and took home the $25,000 prize. He is also the only African American in the World to win a national food truck competition. Walker used that money to open The Twist restaurant without having to secure a loan.

Lessons Learned Looking back on it, Walker remembers the hard work it took to get to where he is today. “I knew in my head I was going to be successful… the more I went through,” he said. “Even when I was getting kicked off street corners, I knew I had something special because nobody hates on anyone who’s not doing anything,” he added.

Word of Advice. Walker credits his success in managing his business to pure instincts. “Don’t listen to the opinions of people. Most minority businesses fail because of the opinions of others,” he advises. It’s why The Twist is only open on Friday and Saturdays despite numerous requests to open more often. “This works for me. If I opened more often and set up more locations, I wouldn’t be able to watch things as closely,” said Walker.

Keys to Success. A major key to Walker’s success is consistency. “If you’re consistently doing something, you’ll eventually get it right. People want the same flavor. That’s what makes them keep coming back,” he said.

Since winning the National Food Truck competition, Walker has become a brand ambassador for Sara Lee and is tasked with creating recipes for the brand. Right now, he is working on a project with a national television network. Walker is also adding to his entrepreneurial resume. When he’s not at The Twist or making creations for Sara Lee, Walker spends the rest of his time as a real estate agent. He’s gotten his real estate license and is working on building that business. To get to the next level, Walker hopes to have his own in-house marketing team. He says this will free him up to do other things. “You might be more skilled than me, but you won’t outwork me”, he said.

Youngblood, Sweat and Tears

Former Foster Kid Overcomes Adversity to Open Thriving Vintage Boutique

“Everything I have on is from a thrift store and I look amazing”! Naida Rutherford exudes the confidence as bold as the blue, green, red, pink and yellow rainbow vintage silk shirt she’s wearing. Since her days of growing up foster care Rutherford has always thrifted. “I never thought of it as someone’s junk,” she says. Rutherford has managed to turn other people’s trash into a successful business she named “Styled by Naida”.

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She never thought what started as a side hustle would turn into a profitable business that has afforded her the opportunity to have Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris shop at her store while on the campaign trail or that she’d be able to start the Styled by Naida Foundation which helps college students with job interview attire and hygiene products.

Life after foster care. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Rutherford is a nurse practitioner and holds five college degrees, but she hasn’t always been so fortunate. “I grew up poor”, she says. Naida grew up in foster care. “I didn’t have a positive story many children have in the system,” she adds. She says her foster mother was abusive and sometimes forced her to sleep outside and eat off the floor. Without much money, Rutherford wore second-hand clothing. Her prom dress was even thrifted. That didn’t stop her from winning prom queen though. “I don’t know how to fail. I know what it takes to win”, she states matter-of-factly. 

It’s that same determination that keeps her thriving in her business, despite the challenges she’s had to overcome in her life. Two days after high school graduation, her foster mother put her out of the streets with only a back pack and the clothes she was wearing. She bounced around moving in with several friends until she went to college where she had the opportunity to join the track team. 

Thinking of a master plan. Even though life had gotten a little better, Rutherford continued to thrift shop. Soon her closet filled with tons of clothing. Some second-hand and others designer like Gucci, Prada and Louboutin. These clothes are what she was left with once she found herself transitioning through a divorce. Cash-strapped, Rutherford experienced having her lights and water turned off. One night it dawned on her that the money she needed was in her closet. “I was lying in bed, praying and crying. I looked in my closet and said, ‘you’re sitting on thousands of dollars of worth of stuff’”! A garage sale was the answer to her financial problems. She used internet platforms such as Craigslist to advertise the sale. Her first event was a hit so she hosted two more. By her third garage sale, she had made over $20,000 and had to hire staff and security.

One month later, a friend suggested she start an Instagram account and sell her clothing through the social media network. Online, Rutherford is the face of her brand, serving as the mannequin for her unique vintage pieces. “The business is successful because of me,” she boldly proclaims. Her first followers were her friends. She started with only about one hundred followers. Soon those followers told their friends and Rutherford’s popularity exploded. Her Instagram page now has more seven-thousand followers who engage with her and purchase featured clothing.

Lessons learned.  Rutherford continued to sell clothes from her home until she was able to open a warehouse. Sales continued to increase and a year later, she opened her own storefront. That same storefront is where Sen. Harris was photographed trying on a sequined jacket. That photograph has been featured in news outlets around the world, including the LA Times. The opportunity came about when the presidential hopeful wanted to meet specifically with female entrepreneurs who had a story to tell. Since she fit the bill, a client suggested Rutherford. It’s connections like these that contribute to her success. She encourages other entrepreneurs to surround themselves with people who can provide guidance. “I don’t have everything figured out, but I sought mentors. I put myself in situations so I can ask more seasoned people,” she says. 

Rutherford reflects on her past and realizes it’s the tough times that have shaped who she is as a business owner. “You’re never going to outwork me. I have cry sessions, but I give myself a one-minute time limit. Then I figure out a solution. That’s what makes entrepreneurs win,” she advises. 

A word of advice. Having gone through and overcoming many obstacles, Rutherford offers several pieces of advice to other entrepreneurs: 1. “Figure out your why. It can’t just be about money. You won’t go far if it is.” 2. “Be a representative of what you are trying to sell.” 3. “Have a work ethic, time management and understand your workflow.”

Keys to Success. To add to this advice, Rutherford sums up her keys to success in three points: “Strong work ethic, solution-driven and faith. Pretty simple,” she says.  She plans to use these keys to move forward in her business. Her storefront is doing well but she has set her sights on a larger building. It’s at the top of her wish list. She says, “I don’t need money but I wish someone would donate a building”. She also says she hopes more people would donate their unwanted clothing: “We take all kinds of donations. We can re-purpose anything”.  

Not only does Rutherford hope for donations, she also gives back through her Styled by Naida Foundation. For the past eight years she has donated career wear and hygiene products to the “Tiger Career Closet” at her alma mater. In 2018, she gave over $10,000 in donations. She wants to help other underprivileged students get basic necessities for free. In fact, it’s her dream to see similar initiatives at every college in the country. It’s a lofty goal, but she believes it can happen. Her purpose drives her to remain faithful despite obstacles and hopes to inspire others to persevere through their circumstances. “I just want to show people you don’t have to look like what you’ve been through. That’s the why behind Styled by Naida”.

Youngblood, Sweat and Tears

Make-up Artist Turned Esthetician Creates Skin Care Product

E’Toshia McFarland is shaking up the skin care game with her beauty product Hydra Mist. McFarland has marketed herself as “your go-to skin care girl”. For seven years, she has been the go-to person for women’s beauty, first starting out as a make-up artist. With a background in performing arts, applying makeup came naturally. But it wasn’t something she aspired to do professionally.

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“I was doing my own makeup and people started asking me to do theirs,” she said. From there she put her skills to work and began building her portfolio as Faces by E’Tosh, all while working full-time as a teacher. 

Soon she was creating faces for fashion shows and glamming up bridal parties. In an already saturated market, McFarland was finding her way as a make-up artist but wanted to do something to stand out among the competition.

To expand her knowledge, McFarland enrolled in Kenneth Shuler School of Cosmetology to study esthetics. She wanted to make sure she learned as much as possible about caring for the skin in addition to applying makeup. While in school, McFarland created a YouTube series called “My Real Life as an Esthetician”. She produced content to help other estheticians see what life was really like in the industry. By the time she graduated from Kenneth Shuler, she had gained popularity online.

Stretched Thin. After graduation, McFarland started working at Massage Envy as an esthetician. Within six months, she was named Esthetician of the Year and became a trainer. She was still working full-time as a teacher. That’s when her endurance was tested. Teaching elementary school during the day, on top of producing online content and working at Massage Envy, had started to take its toll. She was also doing facials for clients at her house. “It was a lot. I had to get out of my house,” she said. McFarland was looking for ways to cut back. On one hand, eliminating her full-time job would take away a source of income and health benefits. On the other hand, cutting back at the spa would set her back professionally as an esthetician. Despite this dilemma, she continued with this grueling schedule and even added something new to the mix.

She reached out to a salon owner to strike a deal that would allow her to do facials there, instead of her home. But now she had another problem… booth rent, which added to her expenses. Her many different roles as school teacher, online beauty influencer, Esthetician trainer, salon esthetician really taught McFarland how to perfect her time management skills. “I am at the school job and working on Faces by E'Tosh. In between breaks, I’m working on the business,” she said. She faces the struggle many entrepreneurs have to deal with: how to break free from a regular job and launch a business full-time. “It gets scary. If you step out on your faith on your own, you have to make sure you’re still bringing in the money,” said McFarland.

Launching Out. To get on the path to breaking free, McFarland set out to brainstorm news services she could add to her skin care business to bring in more money. “You might have an idea, but how to convert the idea into money is the real challenge,” she said. That’s when she decided she would come up with her own beauty product Hydra Mist. Hydra Mist doubles as a toner and setting spray. Creating the product came with its own set of challenges. When it came to formulating the product, McFarland knew which ingredients she wanted to use, but went through trial and error to find the right component to bind it all together. She also noticed that her product began to lose its smell after a few weeks. McFarland sought help from Mahisha Dellinger, creator of the Curls hair care line, who advised her that her product was missing key preservatives that would help maintain the shelf life of her product. Another piece of advice she got from Dellinger was to decrease how much money she spent on producing the product. To help lower the cost she was spending on bottles, Dellinger put McFarland in contact with her bottle supplier. Having the advice from mentors would prove to be beneficial throughout the production process.

Live and Learn, Trial and Error. The next step to launching her product was designing the bottle label that would attract customers. That alone was a learning experience. McFarland created her labels using an online design program. The first problem she ran into was figuring out the right dimensions to get the labels to fit neatly onto the bottles. Once she had that down, she discovered her labels weren’t water proof. “The ink stained and bled. I had to do a lot of research,” she recalls. Once she mastered labeling, another mentor encouraged her to begin making labels for other entrepreneurs, which helped her generate even more revenue. McFarland said she was grateful for the lessons she learned from her mentors. “You’re not going to know all the answers. Have someone in the position where you want to be to run ideas by. Because they’re a master at it until you work your way to being the best” she said.

Advice for other Entrepreneurs. One of the biggest pieces of advice McFarland has for other entrepreneurs is to start sooner rather than later. “You go hard for the things you want to go hard for. You don’t want to look back and see you could have been further along. It’s time wasted. Apply your skillset to things that really matter. And don’t be fearful,” she advised.

Keys to Success. McFarland credits her success to three things: creativity, thinking outside the box and knowing what works for her audience. “If I have an idea, I’m going to make it work. I think about things in a production aspect and use that to bring in money in bulk”. McFarland also says going against the grain is key. “Look at your competitor. They’re good but how can I be better?”, she proposed. Finally, she says by honing in on your creativity and knowing what works, entrepreneurs can better target their audiences and increase clientele.

Looking ahead. McFarland has accomplished so much already, but she still has some other ideas coming down the pipeline that would take her business to the next level. She wants to open her own spa location. To get there, she is considering securing a loan and building business credit. She hopes to raise the funds by selling more products and sharing her skills through her online esthetician learning school called “Esthie 411”. McFarland also wants to host an esthetician competition, similar to the Bronner Brothers hair show. In the near future, she will launch her own esthetician apparel line complete with mugs, t-shirts and other merchandise. To reach that goal, McFarland will apply her same level of creativity along with a few other components: “I need the confidence to do it… to put it all out there and to be consistent,” she said. It looks like McFarland will continue making strides in the beauty industry. With a wealth of ideas, it doesn’t look like she is showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

To purchase Hydra Mist: www.facesbyetosh.com Social Media: Instagram: @facesbyetosh Facebook: Faces By Etosh Licensed Esthetician

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