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Diversify Your Circle: Support POC-Owned Businesses

By Dakota Parks and Gina Castro for Downtown Crowd

Introduction

By Dakota Parks

From restaurants to grocery stores, hair salons, barbers, health and beauty shops, yoga studios, gyms, event planners and services, businesses are the backbone to Pensacola. Diversifying your circle is about shopping, supporting and uplifting people of color (POC)-owned businesses. When we shop at these businesses, we add wealth to the community, help decrease economic disparities and allow small businesses the chance to grow.


August is National Black Business Month dedicated to shopping and supporting black-owned businesses. Other POC and minority groups do not have their own business months, but they face many of the same issues and discriminatory challenges. In an effort to be as inclusive as possible, Downtown Crowd has included a wide variety of POC-owned businesses, while still highlighting blackowned establishments. Around the spread you will see circles indicating black-owned businesses.


Brian Wyer, the president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commerce spends a large portion of his job advocating for POC and minority-owned businesses, as well as educating the community on the unique issues that they face while helping businesses conquer them. In 2018, the chamber changed its name from the Gulf Coast African-American Chamber of Commerce, an 18 year namesake, to allow for a more inclusive and wider base.


“Changing the name allows us to advocate for more people,” Wyer said. “If you look at the 2012 Census for Escambia County, for example, AfricanAmerican-owned businesses accounted for about 3,000 businesses. When you incorporate all minority groups, we have around 6,000 businesses. That’s a wider base and it includes people that are facing some of the same issues but don’t have chambers to support them. When we come together, we can have a bigger impact.”


Through events like the monthly GAIN night and the Pensacola Supplier Diversity Exchange, the chamber helps connect business owners with people that teach about social media, website design, financial management and help them navigate the city and state bids and contracts.


“Minorities are both systematically and generationally behind what some of the non-minorities are struggling with. We have less experience and capital to put toward businesses,” Wyer said. “Discrimination can keep small businesses from competing with big businesses. Disparity studies show this. The city of Pensacola spent $250,000 on a disparity study in 2012 to find out why minority businesses weren’t getting contract jobs in the city.”


According to the disparity study, minority contractors won only 10 to 12 percent of the total construction and prime contracts in Pensacola. Participants responded that they felt unequal treatment and that a “good ole boy” system discriminated against small firms. Access to capital also put minority firms at a disadvantage. They reported that only 3.7 percent of non-minority loan applicants faced denial while 52.6 percent of AfricanAmerican owned firms were denied loans. While these findings relate to city contracts and bids, many of these issues are shared by other minority-owned businesses.


“There’s an old saying that says ‘as a minority, you have to work twice as hard to get half as much.’ That’s a philosophy we want to break. We want to work hard and get our equal share,” Wyer said. “At the end of the day, these are not just businesses. These are also people that have hopes, goals and dreams. They want to own something for themselves, be independent and strive toward that American Dream that we all want. When you invest in POC and minority-owned businesses, you invest in that future.”


The Dwarf

By Gina Castro

If Pensacola were to name a single place the birthplace of its arts and food scene, it would be the Belmont and DeVillers District. These four corners, also known as The Blocks, are rich in black history. Florida’s 1905 Jim Crow laws outcast black people and black business owners from Pensacola’s beloved downtown. Despite being limited to only the Belmont and DeVillers District, the black community thrived. There were black-owned barbershops, dry cleaners, dentists, beauty stores and restaurants. WBOP, the first black radio station in Pensacola, and Gussie’s Record shop, which were both located in the building Five Sisters is now in, drew in musical legends Aretha Franklin, James Charles and B.B. King. Segregation prohibited black musicians from performing in white establishments. So, the black community made their own clubs: Bunny Club and Abe’s 506 Club. When black people would leave these night clubs early in the morning, there weren’t any eateries available to them.


Until Vera Rancifer opened The Dwarf Drive In in 1963, which was one year before the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Dwarf stayed open early into the morning to serve club goers. Locals today know The Dwarf for serving the best chicken in the city, but it didn’t start that way.


“She said she started it with a hamburger,” Rancifer’s niece and current owner of The Dwarf NeeSee Jones said. “They called it the drive in because you walked up to the window and placed your order there. She started with hamburgers and then she just made her menu as her customers wished.”


Being a black woman let alone a black woman business owner was challenging. Millions of black World War II veterans were denied their rightfully earned GI Bills, so a black civilian's chances of getting a bank loan were close to impossible. However, Jones explained that colorism benefitted Rancifer.


“I think it was difficult for her, but if you met her, you would see how it made it easier for her,” Jones said. “I don't think it was as hard for her as it would be for another black person. She looks Jewish and Greek— somewhat white passing.”


For the first 48 years, The Dwarf was located where the Five Sisters’ patio is today. It was a small yellow shack or “a hole in the wall” as Jones described it. It had just enough space for them to take orders and cook. There wasn’t any dining space then. The Dwarf instantly became a highly trafficked spot for locals and celebrities alike. Black musicians would perform live on WBOP just above The Dwarf and swing by afterward for a bite.


Jones started working there when she was just 15 years old. She can’t even tell you how many celebrities she met during her days at the counter, but one of the most memorable was Gladys Knight.


“I was the first family member to actually work there. It was amazing. They used to give tips then. It was a lot of dollars for me,” Jones said. “I met a lot of stars from the nightclubs, but most of them were blues singers I didn’t know.”


In 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed The Dwarf. “Some of the brick was cracked and the owner didn't want to fix it,” Jones explained. The building owner ended up selling the building. This experience left Rancifer with a bad taste in her mouth. Jones explained that Rancifer felt like the building owner was trying to run The Dwarf off. By that time, the clubs, WBOP and Gussie’s were all distant memories. Few black-owned businesses exist at the Blocks today. Fortunately, Blue Dot has managed to hold its ground since 1937.


The Dwarf was forced to shut down for three years, but reopened on Massachusetts Avenue in 2007, miles away from its home on Belmont and DeVillers. Once Jones took over the business, she was able to bring The Dwarf back to the district where it currently stands, caddy cornered to its original location. Today, The Dwarf serves fresh, delicious chicken— following Rancifer’s original recipe, of course. Rancifer will be 93 in September and Jones confirmed that she is still sharp as a whip.


Due to COVID-19, The Dwarf has had to shorten its late night hours, but it’s still open late on the weekends. Follow The Dwarf on Facebook @DwarfChickenStand for more information.


DINING

TAQUERIA EL ASADOR

A taste of Mexico is available right here in Pensacola. El Asador is a family-owned, authentic taco and Mexican outdoor grill. It opened behind the Shell Gas Station in 2014. El Asador started out as a delicious spot known to only locals. It rose to stardom in 2017 when it ranked as the fourth best tacos in the nation by Business Insider. If this is the first you’ve heard of El Asador, it’s never too late to give it a shot. The majority of the menu is under $5. For students they offer specials on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 pm to 5 pm. El Asador’s hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:30 am to 8:30 pm.


PUPUSAS ELY

This authentic Salvadoran food truck is another one of Pensacola’s hidden treasures. Owners Oscar and Maria Mejia are El Salvador natives serving flavorful Latino street food. One of their menu’s most popular dishes is the Pupusa, which is a thick corn tortilla stuffed with cheese and a savory filling. Some of the filling options are beans, smashed pork, spinach and fish. The area Pupusas Ely is located is affectionately known as Rincón Latino, which translates to “where Latinos meet.” Pupusas Ely shares space with Tacos El Amigo, a Mexican-style food truck. You can stop by both trucks on 6201 Tippin Avenue Monday through Saturday from 10:30 am to 8 pm and Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm.


NEIGHBORHOOD ICE CREAM PARLOR

What better way to beat Florida's heat than with some ice cream? Co-owners Derrick Harris, Dena McWilliams-Grier and Brian K. Johnson of the Neighborhood Ice Cream Parlor, located in Warrington, opened the parlor to give the local children access to affordable sweet treats. Prices start at $1.50 for a cone. The parlor also sells homemade cakes and pastries. Even though it’s been open only since May 4, the parlor has made an effort to support the surrounding community. The parlor celebrated Juneteenth and promoted voting registration. You can visit the Neighborhood Ice Cream Parlor on 120 Chiefs Way. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 8 pm and 2 pm to 6 pm on Sundays.


Saigon Oriental Market & Deli

By Dakota Parks

At the crack of dawn, while most people are still sleeping, Thien Chu is up at 5 am preparing food and manning the rotisserie to ensure the whole roasted pig is ready by the time the doors open at 8 am. Food has always been a major part of Chu’s life.


When he moved to Pensacola in 1991 from Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, Vietnam at age 16, his first job was working in a Chinese restaurant while he went to the University of West Florida for his associate degree. From there, Chu went to West Palm Beach, FL, where he received a culinary degree from the Florida Culinary Institute and worked his way up to executive chef at a private country club. After cumulating 20 years of knowledge and experience in the culinary industry, Chu branched out on his own to open Saigon Oriental Market & Deli in 2015.


“Food is everything—it’s all I know. I’ve cooked every type of cuisine while working as a chef,” Chu said. “I actually started out as a biology major for pre-med. My dad pushed so hard because he was close to getting his doctorate in Vietnam before he was drafted. He wanted me to become a doctor. It was hard telling him I wanted to go to culinary school, and I still don’t think he understood all those years until he finally saw my business. I wanted something of my own, and my wife didn’t want to be a nail technician anymore.”


Saigon is a family business, and the husband-and-wife duo split the duties in the store. Chu takes care of the refrigerated and frozen foods and runs the deli and cooking, while his wife, Kim Tran runs the front end of the store and keeps the dry goods stocked and ordered. As Chu explained, the deli was the heart of the business for him.


“When I first saw the building, there was nothing there—a blank canvas. I built the kitchen from the ground up, and I got to design it how I wanted as an open kitchen layout,” Chu explained. “But, for the first couple years the kitchen was this big space that wasn’t being used, and people thought I was crazy, wasting money and space. They told me to focus on the grocery, but they didn’t understand that I had a dream for the kitchen. I had to grow the grocery and the business first to afford to finish the kitchen and deli. The deli was my bigger dream.”


From giant stacks of 25 lb bags of Jasmine rice to aisles of instant noodles, sauces, spices, snacks, fresh produce like bok choy, long beans, kabocha, Chinese okra and a deli with delicious Vietnamese staples like Phở, Bún Bò Huế beef noodle soup and Bánh mì sandwiches, Saigon has a wide selection. They sell Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese ingredients and products.


Chu designed the deli menu, perfected the recipes and still does all of the cooking. The deli employees plate and serve. He explained that consistency in taste is the most important thing to him and that most dishes are prepared in big batches one day in advance to let the herbs and spices really mix into the broth.


“Shopping in an Asian grocery isn’t that different. It’s just set up by the way you cook,” Chu said. “There’s a lot of difference and similarities between different Asian foods, but many of the recipes call for the same ingredients. Like dumplings, Chinese call it pot stickers; Japanese call it gyoza; and Korean call it mandu, but they’re all the same type of food with slightly different flavors and ingredients.”


As Chu explained, the Internet changed the way people eat and shop. Big chain grocery stores now carry international foods, produce and sauces that people used to only get from Asian groceries. A lot of his customers now find recipes on Facebook and YouTube and want to make them.


“My culinary background comes out when customers bring in recipes. I love helping them. For example, customers might come in to make miso soup and ask for premade packages, but I always tell them if they ever want to make it fresh, we have fresh miso, Kyoto paste, tofu and seaweed to make your own,” Chu said. “People appreciate that because sometimes they’re just scared. I don’t want anyone scared of trying new recipes and foods. Food is one of the best ways to experience a culture. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Come experience all of the Asian stores because we’re all different.”


GROCERIES

TASTE OF JERUSALEM

In 2018, Ray Sehweil opened his restaurant Taste of Jerusalem while simultaneously working to find a location to buy and expand to bring authentic Israeli cuisine and aesthetics to the Brownsville neighborhood. This August, Sehweil will open at his new location at 2805 W. Cervantes. The 8,000 sq. ft. building has been beautifully crafted and designed to make guests feel like they are stepping straight into Jerusalem, including olive trees grown by Sehweil and art shipped from Jerusalem. The new location will be open from 6 am – 2 am and feature the same great menu items with an additional bakery, grocery and outdoor hookah lounge. The grocery will feature Middle Eastern products, while the bakery will feature Turkish and Israeli chocolates and sweets and fresh breads like pita, challah bread and Jerusalem bagels. Follow Taste of Jerusalem & More on social media for more information.


LATIN ROOTS

Maria and Eduardo Arraez opened their restaurant Mr. Pollo a little over a year ago. Now, they have expanded to a Latin American supermarket and the food truck Boca Latin Food located at The Garden at Palafox & Main. Their supermarket Latin Roots is located right next door to the restaurant at 6400 N Ninth Ave. Guests can grab a bite to eat from the restaurant of charcoaled chicken, delicious sides like plantains, yuca, rice and black beans and pop next door to shop. The store features a wide selection of Goya products, Venezuelan dairy products, Mr. Pollo sauces for sale, Canoa fruit pulp, empanadas, spices, sodas, coffee, beer and wine. Although COVID-19 delayed their grand opening in March, the market is open 11 am–8 pm every day except Sunday.


INTERNATIONAL GROCERY & HALAL MEAT

Located at 5800 N W Street, the International Grocery & Halal Meat has been providing shoppers a wide variety of products since 2014 with customers traveling as far as 200 miles to shop. The grocery sells products for cuisines including Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Turkish and Eastern European. They have fresh and frozen vegetables, fresh meats like beef, goat and lamb and specialty dairy and cheeses like Akkawi, Nabulsi and Jadel cheeses. Customers can also find sweets, snacks, rice, lentils, curry mixes and spices, sauces and quick marinades for dishes like shakshuka and beef shawarma, pickled veggies, specialty jams, Turkish coffee—the list goes on and on! Check out the grocery on Mon. to Sat. from 10 am to 9 pm and Sun. 10 am to 7 pm.


Asher & Bee

By Gina Castro

Although western medicine has become the norm for many cultures, it’s not the only form of medicine. Folk medicine existed long before modern medicine. People created natural solutions to ailments with plants. Today, many people turn to natural or holistic medicine when pharmaceutical drugs have failed or made matters worse.


Even though Marni Woodson grew up with holistic medicine, she utilized modern medicine. Until her daughter, Asher, a baby at the time, became sick. “She wasn’t doing well. All of it was from topical steroids. They were having bad effects on her,” Woodson explained. “We just had to find another way. That’s when I remembered some things my grandma did.”


Growing up, Woodson spent summers with her grandmother. Her grandmother would grow herbs, eat from her garden and used teas to heal herself. Woodson reached out to her for help with Asher’s condition. Woodson and her grandmother worked together and Asher improved.


Seeing how herbs benefitted her daughter’s condition, Woodson became more interested in herbalism and forms of holistic medicine from around the globe. She earned a degree from the University of West Florida in cultural anthropology and is a certified herbalist. In the beginning, Woodson used her combined knowledge of human societies, cultures and medicinal purposes of plants to treat only her family’s ailments.


“I was using the things that I learned in herbalism courses to help with my family’s health specifically at first. Then people started asking me to do different things for them. I’ve always been a business owner. I’ve always worked for myself, so it made sense to open Asher & Bee.”


Asher & Bee Apothecary, Botanica, and Teahouse is a local business that opened in 2018. It’s also affectionately known as Asher & Bee. Bee is Asher’s nickname. Woodson has a multitude of products from remedies, teas and tinctures to potions and capsules. “You name it, we’ve got an herb for it.” Asher, who is now three years old, helps her mom clean Irish Moss when she can.


Asher & Bee is more than alternative medicine. It’s also a platform for Woodson to help the community cope with health disparities. Since starting Asher & Bee, Woodson has had many clients tell her they don’t understand their medical diagnosis or how to cope with the symptoms from their pharmaceutical medication. A 2016 study on racial bias in pain assessments showed that a third of 222 white medical students and residents surveyed believe black people have a higher pain tolerance than white people. The study also found that those respondents were less likely to recognize the intensity of a black patient’s pain and recommend the appropriate treatment.


“As an African-American herbalist, I hope to bridge the gap caused by health disparities in the African-American community and POC community,” Woodson said. “I feel like we’re helping in that area because we get a lot of clients that don’t understand what their health care practitioner has told them or diagnosed them with, or they don’t know anything about the medicine that they’ve been given. So, they have questions. For some reason, people aren’t as comfortable all the time with their doctors. So, I’m able to help. People bring their diagnosis and they tell me what kinds of pills they’re taking and what kinds of meds they’re on. I help supplement so that people can take their medication easier. A lot of times people will stop taking the medication because of side effects they don’t like, and they never mention it to the doctor. I think that that’s a gap that we can help fill in the community.”


Asher & Bee also hosts events centered on herbalism, spiritual wellness and meditation, to name a few. To learn more about Asher & Bee’s products and events, visit asherandbee.com. Woodson explained that Asher & Bee helps the community weekly by giving away fresh produce.


“There is a little bit of a food desert where I am at. People can’t walk to the grocery store. It’s too far. Or they don’t have a car to get there all of the time or the prices are too high for them. We get lots of donations from people weekly that bring fresh produce. We give that out to the community, homeless population and any of the clients who come over here and want fresh produce.”


If you are interested in donating fresh produce, just stop by Asher & Bee when it’s open. Asher & Bee is open TuesdayFriday 11 am to 2 pm and Saturday 9 am to 2 pm. On Wednesdays, it’s also open from 6 pm to 8 pm.


HEALTH & FITNESS

BEAUTIFUL YOU STUDIO

Beautiful You combines health, fitness and sisterhood. Mia Bolden opened this studio during her own weight loss journey. Bolden wanted access to fun, motivating workout classes like pole dancing, but none were available in Pensacola. So, she forged the path herself. This fitness studio is a judgment free zone where women can be themselves. It's about feeling empowered no matter where you are on your fitness journey. Check out their variety of classes from hip hop cardio, twerk and tone, to burlesque cardio. Check out their website for more information www. beautifulyoustudio.fitness.


PLATEFUL OF YUM

We all have heard of dog whisperers and even ghost whisperers. But have you heard of a weight loss whisperer? Titilayo “Titi” Ayanwola is a registered dietitian nutritionist, or a “weight loss whisper” as she describes. Ayanwola is dedicated to helping people successfully obtain their health goals. Plateful of Yum offers a unique experience in the science and deliciousness of clean eating. Ayanwola’s mission is to reconnect people with the Earth and foods we eat. She is evidence that you can eat delicious food and still be healthy. To learn more about Plateful of Yum, visit platefulofyum.com.


UNLIMITED FITNESS RESULTS

Power couple and Navy veterans, Ira and Venecia founded Unlimited Fitness Results (UFR) in 2009. Ira has always had a passion for fitness. He has won seven bodybuilding championships, so after retiring from the Navy, he and his wife Venecia opened their own gym. In 2018, Ira was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and almost lost his life. Fortunately, Ira recovered. UFR’s slogan “Are you ready for the challenge?” is all you need to know about their intense fitness classes. UFR’s group-based exercise programs are designed to burn fat, tone muscle, and give results within 30 days. To learn more, visit unlimitedfitnessresults.com.


Salon San Carlos

By Gina Castro

Anyone with naturally curly hair has probably experienced explicit bias toward their hair. Whether it’s comments like “You look better with straight hair” or “Curly hair is unprofessional,” natural curls are burdened with stereotypes. Black people, especially, have received backlash for just wearing their natural hair in the workplace. Recently, California became the first state to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyle. Perception Institute's “Good Hair” Study, which is the first study that examines implicit and explicit attitudes toward black women’s hair, found that on average white women rate black women’s hair as less attractive and professional than straight hair.


Unfortunately, this negative perception follows curly hair to the salon, too. The majority of hair stylists do not know how to cut and style curly hair. Salon San Carlos is one of the few salons that is certified to cut and style curly hair. Co-owner Pam Garcia attributes stylists’ lack of knowledge about curly hair to the hair industry.


“In our industry, everybody's taught to cut all hair the same way, and you cannot cut curly hair the same way you cut straight hair,” Pam explained. “So, stylists have to educate themselves and think outside the box.” Pam’s husband and co-owner Carlos Garcia suggested fear of the unknown as the culprit. “I think some people are just intimidated by curly hair -not knowing how to control it,” Carlos said. “So, they steer away from the curly hair. That's why they have to be educated.”


Pam has been styling curly hair professionally for more than 40 years, and Carlos has been in the customer service industry for just as long. Pam discovered her passion for curly hair at 16 years old after cutting Carlos’ hair. The two have been together since they were 14.


“I picked up a pair of scissors in the house, and he was my very first haircut. From then, working with textured hair became my norm,” Pam said. “I love it because I think of myself as an artist. When I cut curly hair, it's like I'm sculpting with the curls. Every head of hair is different, so I customize a cut for that client.”


Pam spent the majority of her career working at other salons and acquiring curly clients all while remaining hopeful of the day she and Carlos would open their own salon. In 2009, they opened their salon, which was formerly known as Self Salon. In the salon’s infancy, Pam followed a client’s suggestion to study a popular curl technique in New York City, which, at the time, fewer than 100 people were certified in. That experience helped Pam discover the focus of the salon: curls.


“Somebody asked us what makes us different or unique from other salons. That question really bothered me because I knew that I had a passion for what I do, but I wanted something that was going to make us different from all the other salons. That was when it hit me,” Pam explained. “Our focus became being a curly hair destination and loving multicultural hair and all different textures of hair.”


Pam is a certified curl expert for Ouidad and Rëzo, both programs train stylists on curl-specific cuts and color courses. Pam is also one of the six people in the country who is certified to teach the Ouidad cut. For many curly hair clients, Salon San Carlos is the first positive experience they’ve had at a salon.


“Maybe 90 percent of our clients of color with curly hair have had a not so great experience somewhere else,” Carlos said. “It's always great to have them be happy with their natural hair at our salon.” One reviewer said “There are not many hair stylists here who seem to have mastered the curls which sadly ends up with a lot of neglected women in the area who aren’t taken care of. We curly heads don’t have a place to go, so we either cut our curls ourselves or just go somewhere and sadly walk away disappointed. This doesn’t have to be the case anymore.”


At Salon San Carlos, all curl types are welcome and all of the stylists on staff have experience with curls, and the majority of staff, including Carlos and Pam’s sons Alec and Austin, even have naturally curly hair themselves. To see how Salon San Carlos styles a multitude of diverse hair types, follow them on social media @SalonSanCarlos.


HAIR & BEAUTY

PRIME LASH AND BROW BOUTIQUE

Prime Lash and Brow Boutique is your one-stop shop for services you need to make you feel beautiful. Ashton, the owner, has certifications in Ellebana Lash Lifts and Nouveau Contour Brow Technique. She is also a facial specialist. Prime Lash and Brow Boutique a chic beauty salon boutique that specializes in lash extensions, lash lifts and permanent makeup. They also have a facial spa room equipped to provide you with all of your skin care needs along with facial and full body waxing hair removal. The boutique is open Tuesday through Friday 10 am to 6 pm and Saturday 8 am to 12 pm. Like them on Facebook @PrimeLashandBrow.


QUEENSHEEMEE BOUTQIUE

Queen Esther, a Florida native, created QueenSheeMee in 2014 to document her own natural hair journey. Over those four years, Esther learned to love her gorgeous, natural curls as well as herself— inside and out. This boutique’s mission is to serve the African-American community safe, natural skin products. Although these products are created with melanated skin in mind, all skin colors can benefit from QueenSheeMee products. Esther’s goal is to help you “Discover the inner Queen, Who is Shee, Within Mee.” All products are made from natural ingredients. You can check out this boutique’s products and package deals on Facebook @QueenSheeMeeBoutique.


TAILOR MADE BARBERSHOP

As the name states, each haircut is tailor made for each client. Michael “Mike” Fountain opened Tailor Made Barbershop, located on East Nine Mile Road. All hair textures and hairstyles are welcome. Quarantine has made almost all of us desperate for a line up and a clean fade, and this barbershop will clean you up in minutes. Tailor Made can also tame your eyebrows and beards. You can stop by for a cut Monday through Saturday 9 am to 7 pm and Sunday 12 pm to 7 pm.


Cora's Custom Creations

By Dakota Parks

Veteran, military spouse, full-time college student, business owner, entrepreneur, children’s church teacher—these are just some of the words used to describe Coralin Allen. She served five years of active duty in the Navy as a support equipment technician and is currently a Navy Reservist. In September, Allen graduates with her degree in public health and plans to continue with another program. A combination of serendipity, ingenuity and a creative mindset resulted in starting her business, Cora’s Custom Creations in 2017.


When a friend asked her to bake a cake for a proposal, Allen challenged herself to bake her first two-tier cake. Later, when a friend needed an event catered and decorated, she challenged herself to decorating, cooking and catering an event for 50+ people. As word of mouth spread, Allen’s business grew from baking cakes to homemade relaxation treats like candles, bath bombs and body washes to full-service mobile event planning.


“I never started with a business plan. It just grew from people dropping my name when they heard someone in need of a cake, kid’s party decorations, catering or wedding planning,” Allen said. “I want to be a one-stop shop that can provide everything someone could need for an event.”


Allen explained that she had a very supportive friend help her with events when she and her husband were stationed in Virginia, but since they moved to Pensacola last September, it’s been a one-woman show. She does all of the catering, baking, decorating, creating customized gifts and planning entire events by herself.


“A lot of the times people don't understand that supporting you and your business doesn't always to have to be purchasing something from you,” Allen said. “Friends supported me by recommending me to other friends. My mother was always in the background cheering me on. I felt support from my husband for the fact that a lot of times I was running up the light bill and I wasn't the one paying the bill. Or, I would cater a big event and leave the house a mess and come home to see that he's cleaned up after me.”


Allen is constantly adding to her business repertoire. Whenever someone asks for something new that she has never done before, she sets out to challenge herself to doing it. Other times, she spots a problem and finds a solution.


“My favorite part of my job is seeing the look on a client’s face when they finally receive something from me—be it a cake delivery or walking into their wedding venue.” Allen said. When Allen first got started in the Pensacola area, she noticed that military spouses were always having to cancel date nights or dinners out with friends because they couldn’t find a babysitter. That’s when she created date-night-in.


“I started offering my service to those who couldn't necessarily leave home for date night. I come to them as a private chef and cook a fourcourse meal that includes a bottle of wine, appetizer, a soup or salad, an entree and dessert” Allen explained. “The very first night I did it, I knew I would continue offering the service. The couple needed to pause to check on the children, the mother was breast feeding and I realized that people can’t relax like this on a regular date night. They’re constantly checking their phone at dinner for the babysitter or the wife is having to go pump in a public restroom.”


Date-night-in is also a solution for couples wanting to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries during COVID-19 without going to a crowded restaurant. Allen recently met a couple at a park downtown Pensacola and served them a private meal outdoors. She explained that food orders have picked up during the pandemic and that people have also requested children’s party decorations to celebrate at home safely with just their family.


As Allen’s business continues to grow, adapt and change, she will grow with it. She plans to get her culinary certification soon. She is also researching recreational therapy programs to merge her passions and create disability-friendly and focused events. To find out more about all of the events and services Allen provides, visit corascustomcreations.com.


EVENTS & SERVICES

THE DANCER CONNECTION

The Dancer Connection is a group of passionate dancers in the Panhandle dedicated to maintaining and upholding the Latino dance community and hosting or promoting quality Latino dance events. The group promotes a variety of events from dance instruction in salsa, bachata, and kizomba to the Latin nights on Wednesdays at Seville Quarter and on Friday at Bric à Brac in Destin. While COVID-19 has suspended a majority of events in town, stay tuned for future events hosted or promoted by The Dancer Connection by following them on social media @DancerConnection.


ANYDAY DJ

Ramsey Coates, a Pensacola local, proud father and sports enthusiast is the founder of AnyDay DJ and has been a DJ since 1999. ThaRam-Z or DJ Ram-Z started DJing weddings in 2009. You may have heard him on the local Podcast “We Are Wed Talks,” where he discusses the intricacies of the wedding industry and interviews special guest vendors to educate others. AnyDay DJ is available to provide energetic, dancecentered music at a variety of events including weddings, reunions, anniversaries, parties and clubs. To book service visit anydaydj.com or email booking@ anydaydj.com.


STRIKE A SELFIE OPENAIR PHOTO BOOTH LLC

Tokesia Jackson started her business Strike A Selfie Open-Air Photo Booth in 2017 to get a head start on saving for her daughter’s college expenses, as well as teaching her about work ethic and communication. As the name implies, the photo booth is sleek and modern, instantly printing or emailing photos and resembles nothing of the small, enclosed photo booths of the past. Along with props, they also have a handheld selfie camera that looks like a chic mirror. The service is available to book 2-3 weeks in advance for weddings, parties of any occasion, corporate events, charity events and pop up events. To learn more, visit strikeaselfiephotobooth.com.



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