by Catherine Brinkman
Dawn Kelly IS New York. She will tell you that too. As a transplant from the Silicon Valley to New York, Dawn’s first email to me read “Welcome to my City.” I knew from that first email I needed to be on my “A” game. I was slightly nervous before I hit call on my iPhone too. After all, New York can be hard to navigate when you’re new.
Born and raised in Harlem, Dawn moved to Queens and remembers Guy R. Brewer Boulevard as the main artery through the borough. After high school Dawn headed off to Howard University. She married, had two children and lived in Washington D.C. for a few years after college. Dawn returned to Queens after her divorce, staking claim on New York again. For nearly 16 years, Dawn served as the Head of Corporate Character, the Vice-President of Global Communications for Prudential Financial. When you think about it, if you can weather the financial climate of that decade’s long fiscal storm, you are 100% New York tough.
What Dawn also found tough was the commute from Queens to her Newark, New Jersey office. She noticed she was gaining weight after the divorce and the stress from her job was not helping; she went from a size 8 to a size 14 and she started juicing. When I asked Dawn why she started juicing she was quick to respond, “I am a fashionable chick. I was going into stores and not finding things in my size. I couldn’t wear certain types of heels because they didn’t fit my swollen ankles. I started to go to Jamba Juice.”
In late 2013 Dawn started her smoothie routine at Penn Station’s Jamba Juice, along with making sure she walked 10,000 steps a day. (FITBIT, if you are reading, Dawn’s FITBIT just wore out. I think she had it for a while- like it literally wore out.) Dawn started to add different things to her smoothies that weren’t part of the scripted recipe. She paid attention to the taste of the smoothie and the calorie count. At times Dawn was way off script, making up her own smoothies.
In November 2015 her Penn Station Jamba Juice experience stopped, when Prudential laid her off due to downsizing.
Dawn, who has worked in some capacity since she was 13, formed a public relations firm with a friend a month after leaving Prudential. Still gathering her thoughts, she had another idea. Dawn would open her own juicing spot. Jade, Dawn’s daughter, knew about the juicing idea and was over at her Mom’s house one day. “I asked her to come walk with me down to the boulevard. I was trying to find my space and I didn’t see it. Jade told me to keep looking harder so I did. I looked up and saw an awning with a DK right in front of me,” she told me with excitement in her voice. DK, Dawn Kelly, get it?
There is more New York perseverance in Dawn. This woman went around the building multiple times to find out how she could rent the vacant storefront. She kept going back and one day there was a contractor who gave Dawn the owner’s number. It took Dawn four days to get the keys to the storefront after meeting the contractor.
But let’s heighten the New York grit even more. Dawn, a single African American female, started The Nourish Spot with her own money. She didn’t take out any loans. Dawn used her savings and severance money from Prudential to open her store.
Dawn, who is on the A-type side of life, had a clear vision of what she wanted The Nourish Spot to look like inside and out. There were some bumps along the boulevard in getting the shop ready to open. Expectations during the build out weren’t met and opening was delayed a full year. But then it came time to paint her roll up door. Dawn lights up, talking faster. “It is the goddess of Nourishment, and she is surrounded by fruit,” Dawn says. While we talk I am on Instagram looking at the artist’s photo of the roll up door. It makes Dawn’s part of the block pop.
Anyone in the food service industry knows that permitting issues delay openings the most. Dawn wasn’t immune. Remember, she didn’t take out loans. Each delay meant that Dawn wasn’t making money. The pressure started to mount, since there were still bills to pay. Finally, on August 29, 2017 Dawn got the final permit issued. That evening and the morning of August 30th Dawn was pushing carts at the wholesale market. “The weight loss wasn’t all diet. I also push these carts,” Dawn joked.
The Nourish Spot officially opened its doors August 30th.
They did not charge for smoothies. They gave out samples and had people try the smoothies for free. Dawn, her daughter Jade and son Owen kept track of which smoothie blend was most popular. The Nourish Spot kept inventory low by gauging the most popular ingredients.
A few days after being open, but not accepting money, a man came in and asked for a smoothie. Dawn didn’t charge him. He insisted on paying and today, the first amount of revenue is hanging up on a wall in the store.
Both, Jade and Owen work full time and adjust their schedules to make sure that they can help with opening and closing when needed. But three people aren’t enough to run a store full time, that’s where her kids come in again!
Jade found out that August Martin High school had a culinary program for students. Those students needed internships within the food industry. Shifts at The Nourish Spot are filled by interns.
When I interviewed Dawn, it was Columbus Day. Schools were not in session in New York. Dawn was wondering how she was going to fill the closing shifts when she had to put me on hold. One of the interns from the high school arrived at the store, asking if they could start their shift early and work the full day through. That is a testament that Dawn is making a direct impact on the boulevard when a high school student shows up on a holiday asking for “extra experience.”
I could tell that she was about to head into lunch rush prep, so I kept it quick. When asked what was the best compliment she’d received about her smoothies, she said “A baby comes in here, Arabella. That baby sipped the smoothie and smiled at me.” The fact that the baby had a pure pallet, wasn’t used to refined sugar yet and liked her smoothie was the best win for Dawn.
The parting words that Dawn gives me, “I don’t know what your friends are telling you about the subway, Catherine. But you can take it. Ride on the conductor car. You’ll be fine. Text me when you want to come over for a smoothie. I will give you walking directions for the subway.”
That is Dawn. The fiscally sound, quick thinking New Yorker that, like Guy R. Brewer Boulevard, will be a staple part of Queens.
The Nourish Spot is on IG (@thenourishspot) but ask Dawn for her own favorite personal hashtag, it is #insidesouthside.
About the writer Catherine Brinkman: email@example.com Consultant focusing on marketing, business planning and executive coaching.