New class of entrepreneurs graduate from small business class in Orleans

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Clockwise from left front are Christine Fancher of Gaines, who plans to start a pet/care dog walking business; Debbie Kluth of Kendall, who wants to offer freelance paralegal services; and Tracy and Thom Jennings, who run Papa Thom’s Rockin’ Bagels.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 12 November 2020 at 11:44 am

Jeremiah James, left, plans to partner with former American Fast Track racing champion Brad Baker to start a cold brew coffee business. James and Baker have both broken their backs racing. Baker is paralyzed since his accident in July 2018.

GAINES – As of Tuesday night, the Microenterprise Assistance Program has graduated 545 potential new business owners.

Tuesday night’s graduation at the Village Inn saw seven more individuals move one step closer to fulfilling their ambitions.

Graduates in attendance at the closing celebration included Christine Fancher of Gaines who plans to open a pet care/dog walking business; Thom and Tracy Jennings of Albion who will open a bake-to-order bagel business called Papa Thom’s Rockin Bagels; Debbie Kluth of Kendall, a paralegal who wants to offer her services as a freelance paralegal; Megan Davenport of Medina, who hopes to open a retail pet supply business in Medina; and Jeremiah James, who plans to partner with Brad Baker of Michigan to operate Blue Groove Coffee Cart/Blue Groove Cold Brew coffee trucks.

James and Baker formerly raced motorcycles and both have suffered broken backs. Baker was the American Fast Track national grand champion until he broke his back in July 2018 and is paralyzed. He attended Tuesday’s graduation with James.

Baker said where he lives in Michigan, there are drive-thru cold brew coffee stands on every corner. James is working with a coffee plantation in Papua, New Guinea to provide the best produce available. His business will offer multiple flavors of cold cappuccino, all made in-house.  He eventually expects to bring in $800 to $1,000 a day in his first year. By year three, he told fellow graduates he plans by year three to have coffee trucks in Rochester and Syracuse.

“The cold brew market is on the rise,” James told the class. “In 2020 sales are expected to hit a record. Thirty percent of the coffee drank in the United States is cold brewed.”

James formerly worked in a motorcycle shop and raced until three years ago, when he broke his back.

He said then he knew he had to change.

James and Baker met on Instagram and just met in person when Baker came to Albion on Monday.

James credits the Microenterprise program and his mentor Jon Costello for helping him get started.

Diane Blanchard gets ready to cut the cake celebrating the graduation of seven people Tuesday at the Village Inn.

Chris Fancher has been volunteer coordinator and social worker at Hospice of Orleans, where she also is administrator of their Pet Peace of Mind Program. She decided to pursue her own pet care/dog walking business, called Fancher’s Fur Babies, after reading about the Microenterprise Assistance Program on the Hub.

She loves animals and loves walking, and thought the Microenterprise Assistance Program offered a wonderful opportunity. She will care for pets in her clients’ homes or her own. She would like to be able to care for five pets a week and offer boarding. Her five-year goal is to grow the business to where it is her sole source of income.

Thom and Tracy Jennings came up with the idea of a bagel business during the pandemic shutdown. Tracy works in finance at the Iroquois Job Corps. She has a background in banking and baking. Thom was formerly a restaurant manager has always liked to make bread, so he suggested he try making bagels.

There is no shop that specializes in bagels in Orleans County, and currently bagels are only available at Tim Hortons, Dunkin Donuts and grocery stores. In May the Jennings started making bagels in their kitchen. In July they moved to the commercial kitchen at the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Thom loves music and incorporates a musical component in every bagel.

“Each bagel we make will have the name of a song we play,” he said.

Seated at the head table at the Microenterprise Class graduation Tuesday at the Village Inn are, from left, program director Diane Blanchard, mentor Dorothy Daniels, county legislator and EDA board member Ken DeRoller and Jon Costello, mentor with SCORE.

The Jennings are upgrading a commercial mixer at the fairgrounds with a small loan from a family friend who wants to support them.

They will gradually add other complimentary items to their menu. They bake on Friday nights and deliver on Saturdays.

They credit their mentor Dorothy Daniels for helping them get established.

Debbie Kluth of Kendall took the Microenterprise Assistance Class to help further her ambition of becoming a freelance paralegal. She plans to provide notary public services, estate planning and real estate transactions.

“With 38 years of experience in various areas of law, and with knowledge gained from MAP, I feel very qualified in my field,” Kluth told the class.

Megan Davenport

Megan Davenport of Medina explained the reasons she wants to open a retail pet store in Medina.

“The pet industry was a $76 billion industry, even during the pandemic,” she said.

She hopes to open a brick and mortar store in Medina and be debt-free in three years. She said, according to the Humane Society, the majority of homes have at least one pet. While mass marketing stores and big box stores offer lower prices, they also offer lower quality. Other stores, she said, like tractor supply stores, offer less choice selection.

Davenport, who currently works at Takeform, has 25 years managerial experience and 15 years in sales. She boasts strong customer relations skills. She doesn’t plan to give up her full time job.

Two other Microenterprise graduates were unable to attend Tuesday’s ceremony. They are Jenna Chevier of Albion, whose business is Event Planner, dba Eventageous Media & Marketing; and Dawn Manchester of Middleport, who took over the family business, Travel Trailer Center.

Michelle Gallo

Tuesday’s graduation class also welcomed two guest speakers, both graduates of the Microenterprise Assistance Class.

Two successful individuals to take the class are Rich and Michelle Gallo, who graduated almost two years ago. The Gallos took the class for guidance and low-interest financing to purchase a tow truck business. Soon after going into business, they had the opportunity to purchase a junkyard in Brockport. Nearing two years in business, the couple just completed the year with $1 million in gross sales.

“Our next goal is to hit $5 million next year,” Michelle said.

They aren’t content to stop there, and have just purchased a bar and grill in Hamlin.

Her advice to the students is, “Be determined, be driven. You always have to have that entrepreneurial spirit. Push for that next level. And don’t hesitate to reach out to Diane if you need help.”

Natasha Wasuck

The other guest speaker, Natasha Wasuck of Spencerport, took the class last year.

“I had a vision,” she said.

Wasuck and her husband John Hernandez had already bought a building on North Main Street and were renovating it when they decided to take the Microenterprise class.

“The class was great and Jon worked with us,” Wasuck said about Costello. “His advice was make sure we do our due diligence. ‘Make sure there is a need for your business,’ he said.”

Tinsel, their ice cream shop, opened in June 2019. The other part of their business, a wedding/event venue, suffered from the pandemic, but Wasuck said the weddings which were canceled have all rescheduled for next year.

Her advice to graduates was to “Be sure it’s something you are passionate about. When you choose to be an entrepreneur, you are choosing to work for yourself. I believe if one business is successful, it will rub off on others in the area. Most important, don’t give up.”

The evening concluded with cake and awarding of certificates to the graduates.

The Microenterprise Assistance Program traditionally has two classes per year.

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