Hard work is … well, hard. But, late nights and long hours can really pay off when you’re working towards a dream. These four inspiring New York entrepreneurs — from a hair-care CEO that built her empire in her Brooklyn kitchen, to a sustainable designer that literally grows her wares — are proof. In partnership with Shinola, we celebrate enterprising individuals that took matters into their own hands, rolling up their sleeves to accomplish something truly great. Read on for their incredible journeys.
Emily Hyland, co-founder and COO of EMILY and Emmy Squared
Husband-wife duo Matt and Emily Hyland knew they wanted to open a pizza restaurant since college — in fact, pizza (of the pepperoni and olive variety) was the couple’s first shared meal. Over a decade later, after raising $15,000 for a custom pizza oven via Kickstarter, they finally made it happen in early 2014, launching EMILY.
The couple put in a lot of elbow grease to get the Clinton Hill space ready. “When we took over the lease, everything else in our lives took the back-seat,” explains Emily. “We were on such a tight little budget that we were incredibly hands-on. We cleaned that place ourselves, from the spiders in the corners the day we got the keys, to the final touches the night we opened. One of our favorite pictures from that time is Matt using a blowtorch to melt the scum off of a three-compartment sink drain,” she laughs. “We often worked as members of our contractor’s crew and helped demolish, spackle … whatever was needed.”
The long hours and creative problem solving amid some near-disasters (including an evening when the bathroom ceiling began to collapse while restaurant reviewers were dining) paid off. It was a hit, and the wood-fired pizza wasn’t the only thing to make major waves in the New York food scene and across Instagram. EMILY also quickly became famous for the limited availability “Emmy Burger,” a dry-aged behemoth topped with Grafton cheddar, caramelized onions, cornichons, and Korean-inspired “Emmy Sauce” served up on a pretzel bun. In April of 2016, the Hylands opened their second restaurant, Detroit-style pizzeria Emmy Squared, to similar success.
The entrepreneurial experience has been enlightening. “Neither of us have business training — Matt studied cooking and I studied poetry …. Accordingly, one of the best parts of this journey has been the tremendous amount of learning that takes place for us both on a daily basis,” Emily says.
And, when asked if there was a moment when it all ‘hit her’ that they’d accomplished what they set out to do? “I don’t think it will ever really hit us because it feels like a dream,” she says. “We have no idea what the future holds, but, as Matt’s brother advised us, it is time for us to ‘sharpen our pencils’ as business people and think critically about our future plans!”
Miko Branch, co-founder and CEO of Miss Jessie’s Hair-Care
Miss Jessie’s, the now multi-million dollar hair-care empire, started in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with a splash … quite literally. In 1999, single mom Miko Branch was bathing her young son and her straightened hair got wet. When clients in the ground-level home salon she operated with her sister Titi asked how she managed to keep her textured hair so full, she knew she was on the brink of something big. Above the salon in the brownstone’s kitchen, Miko and Titi rolled up their sleeves and began concocting early-stage products for curly and textured hair from scratch.
“First, we mixed at our kitchen table with a bowl and mixer, then with six Kitchen Aid mixers, and then graduated to industrial sized pizza-dough mixers. We mixed, filled, capped, and labeled our hair cremes. We did this until our backs hurt, and then hired people to help us and ultimately created a cottage industry in our brownstone,” says Branch.
The product line, named after the sisters’ grandmother, officially launched in 2004. “Marketing our grassroots company forced us to be scrappy and self-reliant,” says Branch. “We posted countless before-and-after photos on our website … Eventually we went on the road, city to city, to meet potential new customers as we demonstrated the effectiveness of our products. One-by-one we gained new fans and grew our company organically.”
The brand is now carried by major retailers nationwide, and in 2010, the sisters opened Miss Jessie’s Salon in SoHo. Although Titi passed away in 2014, Miko continues to build upon their vision, leading the company all the while paying tribute to their roots — the busy CEO makes a point to still spend time at the salon. “Working in Miss Jessie’s Salon is a wonderful way for me to stay connected to our beloved clients,” she says. “It lets me see what our customers want and need … it’s an extremely important component to developing new products.”
Rob Laing, founder and CEO of Farm.One
After seven years spent as CEO of a language startup, Rob Laing decided to take time off to travel and study the culinary arts. “These courses and locations really opened my eyes to new ingredients, especially local, unusual plants from different farmers’ markets,” he says. That’s when the vision for his next venture was born: “I thought, ‘What if I could grow weird and exciting things in the middle of New York, using tech? What if we could deliver from farm to table in just minutes?’”
In April 2016 after several months of prep, Laing did just that, installing a hydroponic, LED-lit farm inside the Financial District’s Institute of Culinary Education. To get their offerings in front of top chefs, the Farm.One team hand-delivered sample boxes. “We did things the old-fashioned way, taking them around on a bike or the subway in person to each target restaurant,” he says. “We knew we had a premium product, so our target list was very much based on Michelin stars, reviews, and new restaurant openings.”
The strategy worked. In August, Daniel Boulud’s Daniel restaurant became Farm.One’s first client. Today, Farm.One supplies to restaurants with over 10 Michelin stars between them. Since its inception, it’s grown about 250 varieties of rare herbs and spices, all while using 95% less water than a traditional farm of the same scale.
Farm.One’s success has come by way of hard work and perseverance. “My rule of hydroponic plumbing now is if it can break, it will break … we all have to be prepared to come in and fix things at almost any time of day or night. Things always come in threes, so the day the lights stop working is always the day the big delivery is due,” says Laing.
The CEO prides himself on being hands-on. “I’ll get in there and harvest plants, plant seeds, or even clean the floor if I need to. Especially at the beginning of a business, I think that’s vital because you really get to understand how everything works … it’s not unusual or ‘below me’ to jump on a bike to deliver something.”
Now, it’s time to expand — Laing is slated to launch a 1200-square-foot Tribeca farm in the coming months. “We say often that we don’t want to have the biggest farm, we want to have the best farms … This is exciting for the future of farming because it will mean chefs everywhere get access to amazing specialty produce grown just minutes from their restaurant, in a sustainable way.”
Danielle Trofe, founder of Danielle Trofe Design
Today, Danielle Trofe is an internationally acclaimed designer, sought after for her imaginative, eco-friendly creations — lamps quite literally grown from mushroom matter, for example.
Flashback just seven years ago. In 2010, Trofe moved from Washington, D.C. to Brooklyn with just two suitcases, an unpaid internship, and what she describes as a “healthy dose of naïve optimism and the active pursuit of a deep passion.” She had left her job in fashion sales behind and was determined to pivot into sustainable furniture and lighting design.
In the beginning, she funded her efforts with a part-time bartending job, sacrificing sleep and her savings account to support initial projects. When it comes to how difficult the journey was, Trofe is frank: “I don’t know if I would recommend entrepreneurship for everyone. It’s a tumultuous journey of instability, doubt, sleepless nights, worry, and a continuous test of patience and grit.” She continues: “But, it’s your baby and you’ll do anything for it, tirelessly, unquestionably, thanklessly, and what at times feel like without cessation.”
Within a year of moving, she’d won her first international design award for a self-sustaining vertical garden. It was then that she formally launched Danielle Trofe Design. “It was the first moment I realized I had something and it was time to get serious,” she says. “That project was the start of a six-year journey into understanding emerging technologies that affect everyday life, the importance of materials, science innovations across industries, and to look at the big picture of how we can use design to better ‘fit in’ on this planet.”
She’s since developed a number of almost unbelievably creative wares: The Mush-Lume Lighting Collection is perhaps her most famous. The biodegradable lampshades, a mixture of mushroom mycelium (essentially mushroom roots) and crop waste, are actually grown in molds over the course of 4-7 days. You might have spotted Trofe’s work around the city: the MushLume installation at the new 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, or perhaps her living wall at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
What’s next? Trofe has lots cooking in her studio in Sunset Park’s Industry City, part workspace, showroom, and grow-lab. Take for example her Sand-Powered Hourglass Lamps fueled by kinetic energy from falling sand, or her plans to develop standalone solar-powered indoor lighting modules. “Landmark projects along with additional opportunities to share my work with the public all provide points of reflection that make the tough days all worth it. I love sharing my passion with people … It’s fulfilling and adds meaning to my life.”
This is paid content produced for an advertiser by New York Brand Studio. The editorial staff of The Job did not play a role in its creation.