Start Up and Succeed: Celebrating People Who Make it Happen

by Lauren Bull

DIY projects don’t exclusively refer to making bookshelves out of ironing boards, but even when the phrase is applied to business, there’s some craftiness implied. Making the leap to work on your own is about seeing separate parts for what they could be all together. Whether you’re a filmmaker or a whoopie pie maker, a brewery owner or a food truck owner, a salon guy or an art gallery gal, the big picture has to be clear. We asked a few such leapers to share their stories. Do-it-yourself isn’t totally accurate — thesefolks appreciate the support where they can get it. But they also didn’t wait around for anybody to get started.




“Empowering creative people to surpass their own expectations drives me every day.”

What does a producer even do? Jersey native and NYC resident Allegra Cohen, who has worked as a producer in all areas of entertainment, has an answer for you: “Whether it be helping take a film from the page to the screen or developing a theatrical production, what producing means to me is this: stretching the limits of my own imagination in order to make the impossible, very much possible. I’m motivated by inspiring stories, and the people who put it all on the line in order to tell them.”


Her own story is motivating for anyone looking to break into the industry. Allegra co-produced Split the Difference, named Best Comedy Winner at the New York Television Festival and bought by NBC. Then there was The Crawl, which was sold t

o Spike TV and evolved into Spike’s Weekend Pre-Game. She also produced the web series From Down Here, starring Lynn Cohen, and directed by Troy Hall. The series chronicles a little person, Stephen Jutras, looking for love in NYC.

Her biggest accomplishment to date as a producer is currently in post-production. Putzel is an independent feature film, starring Melanie Lynskey, Jack Carpenter, Susie Essman, and John Pankow, and executive produced by the award-winning, Mary Jane Skalski (Win Win, The Station Agent, The Visitor) and Jonathan Gray (Prod. Counsel on Precious). Allegra is also returning to her musical theater roots and is currently producing Barbara Carole Sickmen’s Liberace musical “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

Allegra also finds the time to spend volunteering with several not-for-profits, including Glamour Gals, as an Advisory Board member, The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, the LiveWright Society and the Hamilton Madison House.

How would you differentiate independent films/TV shows from major studio films/TV shows (including everything from budget to content)? What are some of the advantages to working on indie projects?

On an indie film, the focus of everyone as a whole generally is on making the movie as good as it can be. Everyone chips in to do various roles. You go into an indie film completely open-minded knowing conditions might not always be ideal and the budget and scheduling might be tight, but when the cast and crew are strong, positive, and open-minded, it makes for the most satisfying and fun experience.

Hollywood still seems to pour a ton of cash into spectacle and theatrical distribution and tends not to focus as much on the smaller character stories.

What are the most essential tips for finding (or creating) consistent work in the field of entertainment?

1.  Dedication, perseverance and passion for  the arts.

2. Educate yourself in everything, even if it’s not what you’re particularly handling. Be prepared and versatile for anything and everything.

3.  Network.

4.  Be resourceful.

5.  Be willing to search for projects.

6.  Read the trade magazines and websites.

7.  Take your career in your own hands.

Many creative projects are often labors of love. What would you say to people who are looking to  support themselves creatively while also working on projects that don’t make them a lot of money initially?

Do whatever it takes to survive, whether it’s waiting tables, babysitting or dancing at bar mitzvahs. Make sure to find jobs that are flexible in order to pursue your dream.

Kickstarter, Indiegogo, the list goes on and on. In your experience, what’s the most effective way of getting a project off the ground?

First and foremost, it’s all about finding a story that makes you excited and then creatively explaining your vision to others to make them equally as excited. And then it’s all about the funding, production team, post production support, etc.

As an indie producer, I have had the experience of reaching out to private investors and raising financing based on the quality of my personal and professional relationships. My investors believe I will only work on a script that is meaningful and something I’d really like to watch as an audience member, and will therefore give my new projects consideration. I also have had success raising financing and building an initial wide fan base via Kickstarter. It’s gratifying to build something with the aid of friends and family.

New York and New Jersey are major film industry hubs. As someone who does the hiring on films, do you make a conscious effort to keep it local and offer gigs to people working in our area?

One hundred percent, especially as a Cherry Hill, New Jersey native and BFA graduate from Montclair State University!

What keeps you motivated?

Hopeful curiosity for opportunities and the joy of collaboration. It’s not just a job for me; it’s a passion and a way of life., @allegracohen



“We want to make people in New Jersey a product they can be proud of.”

The fellas at New Jersey Beer Company have most of us trumped during the where-do-you-work conversation. It’s hard to beat, “I own a brewery,” unless it’s followed by, “It’s also the only brewery in Hudson County.”

John McCarthy and Kevin Napoli, who both left corporate jobs to help launch the brewery in May 2010, are in charge of the day-to-day operations of the North Bergen facility, which has four employees and ten owners. Many of the early investors were friends.

The company distributes three year-round beers — 1787 Abbey Single Ale, Hudson Pale Ale and Garden State Stout — and produces four seasonal beers per year on draft. “Craft” is the buzzword of booze, and though the brewery got in on the ground floor of the craft craze, they’re not about categories or competition — just good product.

“We’re not competing with bigger or smaller breweries,” says Kevin. “We like to see everyone do well. The more beer coming out of New Jersey, the better.”

That spirit of camaraderie likely comes from knowing the industry — how high the highs and low the lows can be. The brewery’s employees haven’t been attending one long office party as envious beer enthusiasts might be imagining. Their bottling machine broke shortly after starting up business, forcing them to sell only draft beer and thus limiting their distribution abilities. They’ve had to hustle and make big sacrifices to stay afloat.

And then recently, someone threw out a lifesaver. Jersey City developer and small business advocate Paul Silverman partnered up with the brewery, bringing some financial relief and sage business advice. They now have a brand new bottling machine, a new head brewmaster and a new distributor. Though the possibilities seem endless right now (“It’s almost like we graduated to the major leagues,” John says) the main objective is still relatively simple: to get more people drinking their beer.

Even with new changes afoot, the team recognizes their luck in having found an investor like Silverman who trusts the beer and encourages them do what it takes to continue making a quality product. “If it makes the beer better, spend the money,” says Kevin.

There’s also big investment in doing right by our fair state, whose name appears on the bottles. “New Jersey gets a bad rap,” says John. “We wanted to put New Jersey on something the state could be proud of.”

NJ Beer Company has distributed to restaurants, bars and retail stores in and around Jersey City, and they hope to continue popping up all over, from old man pubs and craft beer bars, to high-end restaurants and holes in the wall. They want to appeal to the beer snob and the casual drinker alike. After all, the origin of their company is a lot like what you see every night of the week: a group of friends, each with a different background, who all got together for some beers.

“We want to be accessible to everybody,” says John. “We are for the entire state of New Jersey.”,, @njbeerco, Tasting Room Hours: Friday nights, 5-9 p.m.; 4201 Tonnelle Avenue, North Bergen



“I whip up classic desserts with a modern twist.”

One of the best things to happen at Digest Headquarters this summer (and really ever) was a box of whoopie pies that All Kinds of Whoopie owner Adriana Machado-Jaworski left in our possession after her photo shoot. For the sake of journalism, we devoured them. They were unfairly good.

The Weehawken native started her baking company in the summer of 2011, and since then her retro-inspired treats have gotten national attention. Cupcakes, layer cakes, tres leches cake, coconut macaroons, flan and cookies are all on the menu, but it’s the whoopie pies that are her signature. “My favorite whoopie pie would have to be our Inta-Mint Whoopie, especially when infused with peppermint schnapps,” Adriana says. “Whoopie heaven!” Luckily, you can order them right here on earth.

What inspired you to launch this business?

My inspiration for All Kinds of Whoopie is family, especially the memory of my dear grandmother, Jenny Victoria (Toyita). I have been baking and fascinated with art and design since I was a toddler and have always serious about this when I was in college. I started to throw ideas around. Should I bake pies? Cakes? Cupcakes? I quickly realized everyone is selling cupcakes left and right, so I researched and researched and finally discovered how whoopie pies would be the new  “it” dessert. So, I wove together my family recipes with new innovative techniques, resulting in a genius concoction!

Describe how the business has evolved since opening.

I started out making whoopie pies and posting photos of them on Facebook. Some of my friends asked where I got them and if they could buy them from me. As the summer progressed the demand for my whoopies grew bigger and bigger just from posting pictures on good ol’ Facebook. As the fall and holiday season came along, I came in contact with the organization Not Yo Mama’s Affairs and participated in my first Holiday Craft Fair in December 2011.

2012 has been a big year for All Kinds of Whoopie. I have participated in the majority of Not Yo Mama’s craft fairs and have acquired a huge fan base in Hudson County. In January 2012, I made an appearance at Elvis Duran and the Morning Show and AKW exploded over night. I started shipping our delicious whoopies all over the country.

You obviously have to buy product in order to make product. How have you struck a balance between money that’s going out and money that’s coming in?

Our high volume of orders allows us to purchase only the freshest and finest ingredients to produce our fabulous whoopie pies and desserts that keep our customers coming back for more.

Do you handle most of the workload, or do you have people helping you with orders?

All Kinds of Whoopie is all about enjoying and making memories with family. Fortunately, I get a lot of help from my generous parents and loving husband to fulfill all of our orders each and every week.

Where does most of your business come from? Online networking? Word of mouth?

I have made amazing connections at networking events and through promotion on social media sites, which has also generated orders from word of mouth as well. Both online networking and word of mouth have greatly fueled AKW.

There’s a definite retro edge to your company. Are you most inspired by food and fashion from the past?

Yes, I am definitely inspired by retro foods and fashions. I learned everything I know about cooking and baking from my mother and grandmother. I also love making my desserts look kitschy-cute — simple look with a punch of flavor.

Where do you hope your business will be five years from now?

We hope to continue to grow AKW and have several storefronts throughout the tri-state area serving an array of desserts and savory treats.,



Hoda Mahmoodzadegan & Jason Avon, Molly’s Milk Truck

“Roll the dice. you can’t win big if you’re not willing to go balls-to-the-walls!”

If you’re going to leave a corporate job and start from scratch, you should follow Hoda Mahmoodzadegan’s lead. Wanting to go beyond just a professional transformation, she worked with a trainer to drop fifty pounds. To help maintain the weight loss, she started playing around with healthy and delicious recipes, the kind of stuff that she never had the time to make when she was o

verworked. The food was good — good enough to sell, even.Maybe in a truck. Maybe to the bustling Hoboken crowd.

Molly’s Milk Truck, which Hoda owns and operates with business partner Jason Avon, offers healthy, affordable menu items that veer far off from the standard “lettuce in a bowl” options to which many healthy eaters resign themselves. You’re hungry and in a rush, and Molly’s gets it. Think turkey pesto sandwich and guilt-free grilled cheese. And don’t get us started on their signature iced coffee, which is the only iced coffee that we’d describe as dreamy — triple-brewed joe, agave nectar, almond milk, cinnamon and vanilla. The slogan doesn’t lie: F’in Delicious, F’in Nutritious.

Business is good when you’re feeling good. Below, Hoda breaks it down for us.

It takes two: “Right now it is my business partner Jason Avon and me — we’re all we’ve got! Responsibilities change, as Jason and I are both capable of handling all facets of the business. We do what needs to be done; we don’t have to assign tasks. We take initiative, and we get things done. All while making sure we are both okay and not overwhelmed. We work smart.”

On food truck traffic: “Every truck is different. In my opinion we all have our own story, specialty, and different approaches to the business. But besides that, Molly’s was made from all heart. It was an idea that was brought to life by a lot of hard work, determination, and perseverance. It’s our baby, and we work really hard to make it the best we can for the people we serve.”

Truck vs. Store Front: “I think every type of business faces certain challenges. Pros and cons depend on the person running the business. We have hard times with parking and tickets, others have problems with high rent and operating costs. For someone in a better financial situation, neither of those things would be a problem. It’s all relative. It’s hard on everyone when the economy isn’t doing well. We’re all just trying to make a living.”

Keeping it on the local, organic tip: “We love supporting local farms and mom and pop shops. We are also willing to pay a lot more for our ingredients than most because we are educated consumers and know that buying the cheapest product means sacrificing quality, and we’re not about that. We buy the best from the best.

On being affordable: “We don’t make a lot of money off of each item sold. It’s more like we’re trying to give our customers the best quality product without breaking the bank. We will be successful if we continue moving volume.”

Here’s the secret: “You’ve got to really love it. Do what you love. If you do what you love, it becomes a life, not a job.”,



“Hob’art is helping to restore Hoboken to its glory days when it was a thriving vibrant arts community. Art will change the world one artist at a time.” 

Elizabeth R. Cohen is the president and founder of hob’art, a co-operative gallery which has supported and encouraged artistic expression in the community since 2002.

A Hoboken resident for 34 years, Ms. Cohen understands the importance of having a forum for every kind of artist to inspire and give back.

As the only collective art co-operative gallery in Hoboken, hob’art opens it’s doors for art to be viewed, appreciated, studied, and even owned. The first mission of hob’art is to provide opportunities for artists to exhibit and sell their work in a professional, non-threatening environment. The second mission is to reach out to the larger community by providing classes and workshops in the visual arts.

Elected board members come together to build relationships with one another as professional artists, setting criteria, and assisting each other in developing further and promoting their craft. The beauty of hob’art Gallery is that the individual artists grow in their memberships by using one another’s passion to help develop their artistry and skills. Artists focus on reaching out and expanding with each other, affording more opportunity for the community to interpret, discuss, learn, and create.

Membership began to grow simply by word of mouth eleven years ago. Through the rapid growth of social media, it has continued to expand. Whether its local happenings, the revelation behind a poet’s musing or creation, or even the artist’s creative journey; all can be shared and explored in the safe haven of hob’art Gallery. The foundation and driving force for the gallery is to enhance the creative experience for the community.

The gallery is actively seeking sponsorship from local business and has launched a campaign called “Windows on Washington Street.” The goal is to beautify empty store fronts through temporary art shows. These art shows also help the store owners attract potential renters. In fact, during the opening of one of hob’art’s storefront shows last year, the property owner ultimately rented the space. This keeps the community’s local businesses united and supported.

The new permanent gallery space in the Monroe Center for the Arts is the perfect venue and atmosphere for hob’art. The Monroe Center is filled with visual and performing artists and artisans in a growing vibrant community for all ages. It provides a varied audience for hob’art’s many openings, classes, workshops, critiques, and events. A true revival for the arts, everyone works tirelessly to serve their role in providing each other with tools to grow and develop a ranging skill set to eventually utilize as an independent artist.

3rd Sunday: Hoboken’s Monthly Gallery Walk is a year round open invitation for the community to see what their resident artists are creating. This is a walking tour of ten galleries. The local galleries host receptions highlighting their new exhibits. The varied fine art is a mix of sophisticated and funky works. hob’art hopes that all of their exhibitions will help the viewer to get their creative juices flowing, or maybe inspire individuals to start their very own collections.

Public relations committee board member, Heather Leigh Corey (a brilliant artist herself), offered her insight, speaking volumes about what “goes into” and “comes out of” art: “It is almost a physical act, like someone who needs to go to the gym, a release of energy and feelings. When it’s complete, I am at peace for a moment. It’s a euphoric high that makes me need to always be creating.”

It is that passion that keep’s hob’art Gallery connected to the community at large. It will continue to be successful non-profit organization with the work of these behind-the-scenes members keeping art in the community alive.



“First off, no matter what you’re looking to build, you need to know that you’re not entitled. No one has to utilize your services. Hard work, dedication, skill, professionalism, and gratitude are how you show you’re worthy of your clients.”  

Stephen Marinaro, a professional stylist for 20 years, became a household name by creating his own opportunities. Initially, his quest began with the idea of offering individuals insight into the beauty industry, hoping that others shared in the same goal of helping people feel great about themselves.  He began recording motivational videos with a small hand held camera in his home. He focused on salon standards, tutorials and other various educational/technical topics. Through social networking sites, and his excellent relationships with other businesses and clients, Stephen was able to expand his services beyond what he ever could have imagined. Salons began seeking him out for reviews and media coverage on their business, advice, motivational speaking, red carpet events, celebrity exposure, charities, as well as other passion projects and more. In a nutshell, he developed a spin-off of what he loves to do. Stephen is a staple at the biggest fashion events in the tri-state area and has even made appearances on shows like   Jerseylicious. His continual work with some of the biggest high profile celebrities, as well as his constant outreach to his fan base, are what make Stephen a truly successful entrepreneur.

His inspiration stems from his late mother. A catalyst in his own life, she would inspire him to take his career to the next level, as well as do the same for others. He never anticipated being able to turn his craft into such a successful business venture and being able to affect so many people the way he has. Without a relentless attitude, none of his successful endeavors may have been possible. On the subject, Stephen said this: “Things do not typically get handed to you. It’s better to go about things the hard way because no one can take that away from you.”

His branding is a true reflection of the class act Stephen himself is: “Your business should always represent who you are and who you want to attract.” Stephen attributes his success to the emotional connection he establishes with clients, partners, employees, etc. “Gratitude marketing” — a refreshing approach and business model for others to emulate.,, @TheSalonGuy

About the Author/s

Lauren is a neurotic writer living in Jersey City. She could watch Jacques Pépin slice an onion on an endless loop. She edits The Digest and The Digest Online. @ltbullington

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