Haiyen and Neeson Vang met when they were just fifteen years old, while growing up in Minneapolis off of Lake Street during the 90s. The neighborhood was run down and crime was commonplace. Haiyen and Neeson experienced the effects of that environment. “We were the children from a neighborhood that was a bit forgotten,” Neeson said. Haiyen adds, “As teenagers we both skipped school…we gave our parents a hard time and didn’t do what we should have done.” However, rather than simply accepting the barriers they faced from growing up in a ‘forgotten neighborhood,’ they began to imagine the possibilities.
The idea for opening up a laundromat came during college when Shantae received a rejection letter from the Department of Human Services, citing a criminal past as a reason not to hire her. Discouraged, but then inspired to not let her past stand in the way of her future, Shantae decided “I’m going to have to have my own business so I can hire myself!” She knew that two essential steps to opening her own business were writing a business plan and securing funding. She was referred to Neighborhood Development Center, where she successfully completed the Microentrepreneur Training program in the spring of 2008, with a solid business plan that would lay the groundwork for All Washed Up. What she hadn’t expected, however, was the financial assistance that would come from this relationship.
Thirty years ago, friends Ron Whyte, Bob Edmond, and Gene Sampson spent days having friendly BBQ cook offs in the park, in competition with one another to find the best combination of flavors. They collectively came up with something amazing, and people started to notice. They began to sell their hickory-smoked ribs, and Big Daddy’s Barbeque quickly emerged.
Emancipated from her family at the age of 15, and now a single mother of three, De’Monica Flye knows all too well the reality of facing and overcoming obstacles. A strong character gifted with talent, De’Monica used the challenges she faced to fuel her passion for performing and turned it into a business: D’Flye Entertainment. Within D’Flye Entertainment De’Monica acts as both a performer and a producer. Her two bands, Hi-Definition and the newly formed Another Level, perform R&B, Jazz, and Blues throughout the Twin Cities. Her production company, D-Flye Productions, books local and regional talent and hosts old school R&B and steppers nights at Arnellia’s in Saint Paul, as well as the occasional fashion show. De’Monica recently signed with Thompson Management and will be recording a new album at Waterbury Studios in Minneapolis.
Vaughn Lodge opened Dog Soldier MMA in March 2013, but the story started long before, in Little Earth. Little Earth is an urban housing complex in south Minneapolis which provides affordable housing with Native preference. Over a year ago, tension was building. Lodge remembers, “People were coming to me and saying my daughter has been attacked, or my granddaughter has been sold into the sex trade…and for me it was like, what can I do to make a difference? What can I do to make a difference?”
Aracely Zagal learned the art of piñata making growing up in Mexico. In 1999, after ten years of living in Minnesota, she seized an opportunity to turn her art into a business when she learned about plans to open a Latino-themed public market in South Minneapolis. Inspired by the absence of culturally familiar goods and services, a group of Latino immigrants worked together to create a vision for the Mercado Central. NDC, in partnership with Project for Pride in Living and Whittier CDC, helped the entrepreneurs realize their vision and the Mercado opened in 1999, with Aracely’s Dulcería la Piñata offering endless varieties of Mexican candy and handmade piñatas to wide-eyed customers.
Her first Christmas picture, taken before she was even five years old captures her spark. In it she stands in front of a brightly colored eighties kitchenette, surrounded by utensils, rubbing her hands together and ready to cook. “I grew up in the kitchen with my mother and my grandmother- Three generations. We had huge holiday parties. Fifty or sixty people would come for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’d all cook together so I learned how to cook for huge groups at a very young age.”
Owners Daymn Johnson and Dedrick Young have created a dynamic, highly visible barbershop in St. Paul, filling one of the original retail spaces in the Frogtown Square project at University Avenue and Dale Street. Grooming House has fast become a friendly, positive neighborhood gathering place, strikingly attractive in its interior, with original design and branding by the owners.
“When I started driving, I basically had nothing left. I was going into foreclosure at that time and I was only making some bills, some not. Whatever savings I had, I had used already,” Syed Hassan said, reflecting on what owning his own cab has meant for him.
Noelia and Enrique Garcia moved to the United States in 1993, right after getting married in their hometown Quebrantadero, deep in the heart of Mexico. They brought with them a dream and a recipe: a dream to create a new future for themselves in a country filled with possibilities, and a recipe passed down to Noelia from her mother Felipa Vazquez, who made and sold tamales to support her family of eight children.