Feed Your Body, Feed Your Ideas: Rockaway’s Haven for Enterprising Women
In a quiet house tucked away on a side street in the Rockaways, Rachel Krieger begins to cook. Depending on the night, anywhere from eight to 25 women might show up and she wants to make sure every mouth is fed.
Food has become a cornerstone of the monthly meetings for Ladies of Business Rockaway Beach (LBRB), a symbolic gesture for the type of warmth and support found at each event. Just shy of 2 years old, the group has become a haven for enterprising women staking their claim within the burgeoning Rockaways scene.
Since the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, many have followed the siren’s song to rebuild and resettle within the seaside town, including a number of ambitious women discovering prime potential for opening their dream restaurants, wine bars, dessert concepts and other businesses.
“Since Hurricane Sandy, there’s been an explosion of new businesses just focusing on expanding the community,” says Galit Tsadik, an accountant and CEO of Tsadik G Management, who serves as treasurer for the group. “The storm swept away everything, which allowed anyone with an idea to get in while everything was rebuilding under a new market.
One person who took note was Krieger, a yoga teacher who leads classes at Rockaway Love. A Long Island native who came back to her East Coast roots in 2013 after a stint in California, she began connecting with other female business owners on the advice of her brother, Zak Krieger, and his business partner Elizabeth Gilchrest of boardwalk storefront La Fruteria and now-shuttered Veggie Island next door.
Krieger recruited several other enthusiastic women business owners, and the LBRB was born: a developing organization that has steadily grown its membership by word of mouth. Along with the group, Krieger now serves on the executive board for the Rockaway Business Alliance, which they work with to generate ideas that can help all businesses in the area.
“The Rockaways are very special because the people moving here are artists, creative thinkers who really want a different way of life. This is a place that’s really open game,” says Jaime Schultz, owner of the Rockaway Retreat House that serves as the group’s meeting place.
Leyla Yrala was among the first recruits to join LBRB. A native of Peru who has lived in the Rockaways for the past 12 years, Yrala was one of the pioneers transforming the Rockaway food community in the wake of Sandy with her successful seasonal boardwalk pop-up La Cevicheria and year-round rotisserie, Chicks to Go.
“There weren’t many options. It was Chinese and pizza. Now, we have so many options,” she says.
Those new options include several LBRB members, including: MUD (Mindfulness Using Desserts), a plant-based dessert business owned by Miriam Kwietniewska. It began as a boardwalk pop-up three years ago; it’s tripled its production and is now distributed throughout the state.
Jianna Heuer, a psychotherapist and recent transplant by way of Manhattan, found the group as an area newcomer and was inspired to pursue her dreams of opening a bookstore-wine bar-cafe concept called Avoid the Day.
One of the group’s most inspiring members is Nicole Russell, owner of Last Dragon Pizza and the recipient of a $10,000 grant. Russell, who had been the sole food vendor at Rockaway Brewing Company, was referred to LBRB by the brewery’s owner.
“I went to the meeting and I thoroughly liked it. I thought it was great that women were coming together to discuss business challenges and the organization agreed to provide resources for us,” she says. “They always have great speakers, how to raise capital, market our business, but it’s always up to us to really follow through. You can only get what you follow through.”
Among those resources was a guest speaker who tipped off Russell about the grant. As luck would have it, she was the only applicant.
“When I came back, it was my pleasure to share it with the group. Some members are applying now and I’m offering help for whatever they want to know,” she says. “There was no organization in Rockaway that was saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be a resource for you to get more information and education on whatever level you are, from an independent sole proprietor to a small business with 25 employees.’ At some point we share the same problems with seasonality and slow months.”
The options may have improved substantially, but challenges still remain for the community that is still viewed as a seasonal destination for the majority of the city.
Rashida Jackson, who owns wine shop Ship to Shore and Sayra’s Wine Bar, says this past winter marked the first time she’s been able to stay open year-round thanks to the influx of new residents-turned-employees.
“The first winter when we opened was after the storm so it was very brutal. Since we’ve been consistent, it’s not the overflow of summertime, but it’s been a nice year-round,” she says. “The homes are almost done with repairs, so people are back in their homes, and people who visited during the summertime decided to stay for the winter. … Every year it gets better and better.”
Because the group attracts women business owners from all walks of life, collaboration is key for fostering one another’s success. Yrala of La Cevicheria and Chicks to Go buys her wines from Jackson’s Ship to Shore wine store and sells Kwietniewska’s MUD desserts at the restaurant. Krieger helped get Heuer’s Avoid the Day bookstore pop-up off the ground at Rockaway Love before it found a new home as a monthly event at Rockaway Brewing Company. Heuer doles out drink tokens for Sayra’s to patrons at her pop-up, bringing in new regulars to the wine bar.
Besides backing up each other financially, the core draw of the group is its emotional support and resourcing. During every meeting, members share an “ask and offer,” where they list which areas they need support or resourcing, and what they’re able to offer to the rest of the group. Jackson, for example, will frequently refer her accountants, wine reps, vendors, menus and share her pitfalls. “I talk to them until their ears fall off. Whatever I learn, I tell them,” she adds.
The experience of being a female owner comes with its own set of challenges, which is another reason the camaraderie LBRB provides is so special.
“I think female owners have different challenges that male owners don’t necessarily have… It’s usually a bigger risk for women to take a chance on ourselves,” Russell says. “There is a need for women to come together and have their resources in numbers. That’s what the group really provides. When women come to that meeting, they’re talking about things that don’t have to do with business because you just have to figure it out. That’s the importance of having the women’s group.”
In October, the Ladies of Business Rockaway Beach celebrated two major milestones, their one-year anniversary and receiving non-profit status from the IRS. Both hallmarks cement an impressively ambitious year that has tipped off one member to a $10,000 grant for her pizza business, given resources for another to take the leap for her dream bookstore-wine bar pop-up, and supported the efforts of yet another to expand her dessert business. All of which keeps the members enthusiastic about growing the group and leading the case for the Rockaways as a year-round destination.
“When I founded the group, I was going through a really hard time,” Krieger says. “I showed up not knowing what to do with myself. I moved here for the beach, and I fell in love with it. I’ve lived my whole adult life in New York and never have had a community like I found here. Everyone thinks the Rockaways is for summer, but there’s so much more here.”
Ladies of Business Rockaway Beach | @ladiesofbusinessrockawaybeach
Tsadik G Management
Rockaway Love | @rockawaylove
La Fruteria | @lafruterianyc
Rockaway Business Alliance | @rockawaybuisness
La Cevicheria | @lacevicheriany
Chicks to Go | @chickstogony
MUD (Mindfulness Using Desserts) | @eatmudco
Avoid the Day | @atdbookbar
Last Dragon Pizza | @lastdragonpizza
Rockaway Brewing Company | @rockawaybrewco
Ship to Shore | @shiptoshorewines
Sayra’s Wine Bar | @sayraswinebar