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Salt of the Earth

We talk with gritty, hilarious people who run successful small businesses.
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Salt of the Earth
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Sep 13, 2016

Bobby Finan started in the craft distillery business when he was 21, and co-owned his Tommyrotter distillery at 23. From failed early business ideas, to inspiration from Shia Labeouf, to now winning Gold Medal awards for his gin, Bobby talks about making it as a millennial. 

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Sep 6, 2016

Jeff Coleman and Jules Lambert run PROBAR in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Aug 30, 2016

Robert Mermin is a clown who ran away from home and started his own circus, Circus Smirkus. It's an incredible story from pitching Dr. Seuss (yes, that Dr. Seuss), to juggling his way out of the USSR. 

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Aug 23, 2016

Jason Fried is the CEO of Basecamp.

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Aug 16, 2016

Almost any time you walk into Piccolo’s Restaurant in Hoboken for a cheesesteak, you can hear Patty lumbering around, coming out of the kitchen every once in a while to curse out his favorite customers. In his restaurant, his regulars call the 60-odd year old “Patty Boy”, a vestige of the time when his father ran the restaurant and Patty was the boy helping out in the back. Now the boy is very much a man, but keeps the 61 year old restaurant operating in a very similar fashion to the way his father used to do it. No menu, and the options for the cheesesteak are “with” or “without” onions. But the city around Piccolo’s is changing, and in Patty’s words, “the restaurant will die with me”. There is no succession plan.

Piccolo’s is situated in the south of Hoboken, where his father bought the plot of land where the restaurant sits for $1,000 in the 1950’s. It started out as a late-night spot serving the bar next door that used to host acts like The Temptations while they were still trying to make a name for themselves. In the 1960’s it became a daytime spot that became known for the cheesesteaks it still serves today.

Patty isn’t the most successful character we’ve had on the show. His marketing wisdom can be summed up in 3 or 4 words: “I don’t know”, with “f***ing” being the optional one. But if there is a paradigm of the old-school restaurant owner, who loves his customers as much as his restaurant, Patty is the guy. In a building that may one day be a Jamba Juice or a Chop’t, the foul-mouthed, unapologetic Patty is going down slinging cheesesteaks.

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Aug 9, 2016

Laurie Woolever is a writer and Anthony Bourdain's assistant. She and Anthony are releasing a cookbook called Appetites this fall. Pre-order it on Amazon.

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Aug 2, 2016

Paula Varsalona has designed and made over 60,000 dresses during her long career in New York City. Originally from Independence, Missouri, Paula arrived in the 70's and started out living with 5 girls in a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side and finding work where she could. 

The bridal industry wasn't easy, and she was hired and fired a few times before venturing off on her own. In the 1980's, she opened her own shop with a partner and quickly lit up the NYC bridal scene. In an industry that was surprisingly male-dominated, she became one of the most popular designers in the country. "People threw money at me", she says, somewhat reminiscently. 

In this interview, I was struck by how demanding the design profession is. Paula is in her 60's now. She says she tries to get one day off per month. And design is literally the first step in a very long process to sell something. The outcome of a designers work is affected by so many other variables like seasonality, marketing, cheap imitations. And yet Paula gives the impression that the entire success of that dress is in her craftsmanship. Maybe it is. 

Jul 26, 2016

Marty Raney runs the Alaska Stone and Log Company in Wasilla, Alaska. He's also on Discovery's Homestead Rescue. His site is MartyRaney.com.

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Jul 19, 2016

Stephanie Rothstein Bruce is an inspiration to a lot of athletes because of her real stories of being a mom and a professional athlete. Some of those fans might not even know that she also has a successful organic energy bar business.

Stephanie formed Picky Bars with two other athletes: Jesse Thomas and Lauren Fleshman. In the beginning, the product was created specifically for Jesse, who was gluten intolerant and needed a bar to provide the right energy balance for a triathlete. After a year rolling together “balls of mashed up dates” with some other foods, Stephanie googled how to build that into a business. An industrial kitchen and a chance article in Runners World got them kickstarted, and now they are sold from REI, Trader Joe’s, as well as their unique subscription-based e-commerce store.

As another shot at the Olympic dream passes, Stephanie also talks about how she can represent Picky Bars as a pro athlete, knowing that her career as a runner is a short one. 

Thanks to Stephanie and our sponsor Mailchimp

Jul 10, 2016

Aaron Draplin runs the Draplin Design Co. in Portland, Oregon. His new book, Pretty Much Everything, is available at ddcbook.com.

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Jul 5, 2016

Dave Nevogt is on his “third or fourth” online business, he doesn’t really remember. And it is not as if the previous companies have failed, some of those ventures hit $2 million+ in annual revenue. But in David’s words, “a lot of online companies have short life spans”. So David’s e-commerce business and fledging SEO business were eventually made obsolete by Amazon and Google’s changing algorithm. Now on his third—or fourth—David thinks this one will last, but also knows that it really doesn’t matter.

David’s current company, Hubstaff, provides tracking software for remote teams. If you’ve got a remote team member Hubstaff will track the amount of time they worked, take random screenshots, and even measure a user’s “activity rate” to gauge how productive your workforce is. In addition, Hubstaff offers tools to help with payroll, invoicing, scheduling, and all other myriad needs of remote teams. Since being founded in 2012, Hubstaff is now doing well over $1M annual revenue.

Hubstaff decided early on to do something that very few small business do. They publish their metrics. That means that anyone can see how much money Hubstaff makes, how many users they have, and how many folks have cancelled that month. It’s definitely “a little scary”, says David, but it is part of the mission of being transparent. It helps engender trust, and get on podcasts. On the negative side, it can also inspire copy-cat businesses but David says it is all about execution.

David is an absolute zen master when it comes to productivity, digital marketing, and remote team management. In terms of tangible nuggets of advice, David is full of them in this episode. And for those who really want more, we can recommend his website.

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Jun 28, 2016

Peter Metcalf ran Black Diamond Equipment from 1989 to 2015.

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Jun 21, 2016

Allison Robicelli moves fast. The woman who got engaged only 6 weeks after meeting her husband and co-owner has opened a store in Brooklyn, closed it, grew a wholesale business, opened another store, wrote a book, closed another store, and is now building the prototype for a new franchise model in Baltimore.

Robicelli’s Bakery grew up during the Great Cupcake Movement in New York City during the 2010’s. But unlike the now-defunct Crumbs, Allison recognized the headaches involved with keeping up storefronts that only sell $4 cupcakes, and quickly transitioned her business to a wholesale business, baking top quality baked goods and selling those to restaurants and coffee shops.

Nowadays, Allison says that they are thinking 10 years down the road and she has a few predictions for the food industry. Especially where she operates in New York City, the food industry is a challenging place. “I know restaurants where it’s a packed house every night that are lucky if they make any money at the end of the year”. Increasingly, Allison sees food moving towards the delivery model with websites like Seamless and GrubHub doing well. Not just because it is economical to move restaurant operations away from high foot traffic (read: high rent) areas, but also because of the “No Pants Incentive”. Nowadays, more and more of us can work, socialize, entertain, and now feed ourselves from behind our computer screen. Hence, the incentive to wear pants is diminishing especially when your laptop provides all the leg warmth you need. Which is also an economical way to repurpose heat energy from your laptop. But I digress…

Robicelli’s had some really great thoughts in this one about where the food industry is going and what they are doing to adapt to that with their new franchise model in Baltimore. We think they’ll come out ahead. Why? Because we like eating cake with no pants on, that’s why.

Jun 14, 2016

 

Chris Linton came to this country from Trinidad as an illegal alien in 1990. After spending 7 years working as a day laborer starting at $40 per day, he ended up getting his citizenship and launching C & M Floors in Hoboken. C & M floors has now been in business for 20 years, and Chris credits a lot of his success to some hometown help. 

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Jun 7, 2016

James Nelson and Jeremiah Tallerine run Bravado Spice, a hot sauce company in Houston, Texas.

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May 23, 2016

Freddy Zeideia started and runs The King of Falafel and Shawarma in Astoria, Queens.

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May 17, 2016

Peter Shankman stumbled upon a multi-million dollar business when he started e-mailing his journalist friends from his couch. Founder of Help a Reporter Out, Peter tells the story of getting his business started, selling it, and how to get in touch with other busy people. 

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May 10, 2016

Ashley Albert and Jonathan Schnapp are the founders of the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn, NY.

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May 3, 2016

Michael Miqueli is the founder of San AntonioBrokerServices, a trucking company in North Bergen, New Jersey.

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Dec 17, 2015

Brad's an electrician in Dorset, Vermont. He employs 10 people, has 1600 customers, and has a masterful command of the English language when it comes to backwoods slang.

We caught up with him in his barn for this interview. Brad shared what is was like to buy a business from his father, how he keeps business flowing in a "little hick town", and what he thinks the upcoming workforce could learn from the old guys.

We're taking a break to record more interviews but we'll be back online soon. Thanks so much for listening!

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Dec 10, 2015

Will's a rancher from Bluffton, Georgia. He's the fourth generation owner of White Oak Pastures. Will transitioned White Oak from a traditional cattle ranch to an exemplar of sustainable agriculture. He now raises and slaughters cattle and poultry right on the farm in addition to running a vigorous produce business.

Will speaks with the conviction of someone who's spent years considering the purpose of his work. In our interview he shared his thoughts on the nature of raising and slaughtering animals, finding dedicated workers, and how he polishes off a bottle and a half of wine each night.

Nov 26, 2015

Audra grew up changing oil and swapping tires. She's a fourth generation mechanic and owner of Great Bear Auto Repair in Queens, NY. Since taking the reins at Great Bear she's also started WomenAutoKnow.com, a site that teaches people how to properly maintain their cars and helps them understand what to expect when taking them to a mechanic.

Listen to this episode to hear Audra's perspective on running her business in a mostly male industry, dealing with the preconceptions that mechanics are crooks, and quadrupling her revenue since the recession.

Nov 19, 2015

Joe Ray thought he was pretty tough at 18. So tough, he thought, that he might have a career as a boxer. He hired a boxing coach and quickly found himself with plenty of black eyes and no wins. But Joe’s coach still gave him a chance–a chance selling fish. He thrived at his coach’s fish market and so begins the story of Joe Ray, owner of Free Range Fish & Lobster, a $15M fish distributor and retailer.

Joe cut his teeth working boats in Maine and Alaska before settling down in Portland, Maine. He spent nearly a decade learning the ropes from other distributors in Portland before setting off on his own with one business partner. Free Range Fish & Lobster now consists of a large wholesale business, a restaurant sales division, and retail shops in Portland and Wakefield, NH.

We met Joe the old fashioned way–we walked into Free Range and asked to talk to the owner. Joe waved us in and within two minutes asked if we were ready to do the interview. We grabbed our stuff from the car and started. Joe’s full of hilarious anecdotes and sharp insights, especially on sales. We couldn’t have asked for a better interview with a nicer guy. We had a blast recording this one and think you’ll really enjoy it.

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Nov 12, 2015

After being fired from her corporate job and with a new six-month old, Harriet Mills needed to find work, fast. So she did the logical thing: headed for the local "paint-and-sip" studio, had a few glasses of wine, and took a painting class. At the end of the class, she had a pretty decent painting and the inspiration for a new business: Wine & Design.

Today, Wine & Design is one of the largest paint-and-sip franchisors in the country, with 62 locations and plans to get to 100 by next year. They started out small, in 2010, with one location and an $8,000 loan. Through Groupon, Facebook, and some local media coverage, they gained immediate interest, and in 2011 they opened their second store. From there, they started franchising and have continued to grow. Hear about Harriet's first job (a lemonade stand), how she used to find artists, and what she is doing to ensure the long term success of Wine & Design. 

Also, check out our website at saltpodcast.com and sign up for the newsletter to see Harriet's first painting, the one that inspired her to start her own business. 

Nov 5, 2015

Luke Holden & Ben Conniff started a restaurant in the East Village with $30,000 and one product in 2009. Since then, they've expanded into Boston, Chicago and even locations in Japan. And the focus is still on serving a fresh, simple lobster without the high price tag. 

In 2009, Luke was leaving a job in finance and Ben was looking for a job in the food industry. "Entry level kitchen jobs" is how Ben describes the job he was looking for. They ended up finding each other through Craigslist and opened the doors to their first inglorious shop in October. With 8 seats, no restroom, and no air conditioning, they earned a profit on their small investment within the first month. We talk to them about sketchy NYC handymen, marketing their first shops, and managing a growing workforce.

Luke's Lobster is probably our most interesting "blueprint", as an episode, so far. Two guys with a simple idea and $30,000 enter one of the more challenging industries in NYC, and come out with a $10M/year+ business. 

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