Sheer Ambrosia: a businesswoman’s journey

Story by JUSTIN GALLETLY

Sherrita “Rita” Magalde is the owner of Sheer Ambrosia, a small business based in Salt Lake City dedicated to baking baklava to sell to customers.

Over the last year, Magalde’s business has reached new heights.

She’s seen a big spike in sales and has met arguably the greatest commercial success of her business’s lifetime.

However, it wasn’t always glitz and glamour for her brand, as she, like many up-and-coming small-business owners, ran into many roadblocks along the way.

Many of these roadblocks predate her business’s very foundation and go back several years before she even came up with the idea to sell homemade baklava.

During a phone interview, she explained that she’s been involved in independent, entrepreneurial endeavors stretching as far back as the mid-90s.

In 1996, she and her then-husband moved from Spain to Salt Lake City due to its reputation as a great place to go skiing.

She started a small mortgage brokerage and later ran a travel agency with her husband.

Despite her success with her independently run business, her relationship with her husband wouldn’t last in the long run.

“We were six years into running the travel agency when we got a divorce and neither one of us wanted to leave the business. So we tried to make it work, but I was very unhappy so I decided to quit. I still wanted to be a business owner, but I wanted something that was all my own, so he bought me out of the agency in 2008, which is when I also started the bakery,” she said.

Rita Magalde

Magalde always enjoyed cooking and baking, having grown up learning from her mother.

Baklava, the dessert Magalde’s business is built around, was primarily learned from hanging around a Greek family she worked with while growing up in North Carolina.

“The baklava has stuck with me through the years, so I decided I wanted to see if I could turn it into a business. So I decided to start slow from home and got a cottage food license from the Department of Agriculture and began my baklava business then,” Magalde said.

Despite her experience running independent businesses in the past, the transition was not a smooth endeavor.

“One of the big differences between running a travel agency and a bakery is now you have to deal with inventory,” Magalde said. “It also isn’t as lucrative a business as a travel agency, so I’m selling my baklava at $3 a piece and wasn’t able to hire people right away. Also, unlike when I began the travel industry, I now had two children and was without a partner.”

She also refused to take any bank loans and only used the funds she gathered from selling her share of the travel agency.

The barrier to entry felt much steeper than previous endeavors.

Over time, she was able to find a degree of success with her business.

In 2013, five years after beginning Sheer Ambrosia, she took a big step to legitimize her business.

She ventured out into a commercial space in hopes of getting more people to take her business seriously.

“I put $50,000 of my own money into the space to build it out and was able to legitimize my business and really bring Sheer Ambrosia to the forefront. People weren’t taking me seriously until I did that,” she said.

Although while her business continued to do well, it didn’t do as well as she had hoped.

After the death of her father, Magalde decided to cut back, as the long hours which required her to work upward of 16-hour days every day of the week took its toll on her.

“I decided to sell the space to another bakery and moved Sheer Ambrosia back into my home,” Magalde said. “I fell into some debt, and my son who was graduating high school wanted to go to an expensive college. So I said I’m going to sell my home so I could get out of debt and allow my son to go to the college he wanted to attend.”

Things got especially stressful when the pandemic hit.

 Magalde’s business, like many small businesses, was severely hit when it all began.

“No one wanted baklava, they all wanted toilet paper and hand sanitizer, so I had to get another job to make ends meet when the pandemic hit,” she said.

Rita Magalde

Then, in the midst of the pandemic, a tragedy occurred that shook the entire nation to its core.

“In horror, we got to see George Floyd murdered before our very faces by a Minneapolis police officer. Black people have been watching this kind of thing happen for years, and it seems as though the white community has been oblivious to it,” she said. “Right after that, there were so many white folks in the community who decided they wanted to support local Black-owned businesses.”

While Magalde was initially reluctant to embrace this swell of support because she didn’t want to feel she was capitalizing off a tragedy, she changed her mindset when she realized how it played into a good cause.

“I started to think about it and saw that these were people who don’t necessarily want to protest in the street. They don’t want to get out there and hold a sign and yell, and walk the street protesting that way. This is their way of putting their money where their mouth is by supporting Black-owned businesses,” she said.

She also came to realize that while they may initially support her business because she’s Black, that didn’t mean they would continue their support if her products weren’t satisfying.

“It’s still my job as a business owner to make sure they want to come back by giving them a quality product and amazing service. So it’s not going to be free service, I still have to earn their repeat service, so this a challenge for me,” she said.

The success led to a busy holiday season, one where she would need some additional help if she was going to continue thriving.

Helene Simpson and her daughter, Desi Hayda, offered their services.

“She’s very dedicated. She’s very grateful for everything, and it’s hard that it was the death of somebody which created an influx of sales, her product is what continues her business and for people to come back to her,” Simpson said during a phone interview. “It’s not just because people think ‘Black Lives Matter’ and only supporting her for that reason. She sells quality products, has excellent customer service.”

Simpson said she appreciates Magalde’s positive guidance.

“I think she’s very thorough. Just how she explains things to you and wants things done, and that’s to be expected because everything she does is pretty perfectionist, so you just follow her instructions and help her out when you can. She’s awesome to work for,” Hayda said.

“Now I’ve got a following that I can parlay this into growth for my business, and I’m hoping for one day to quit my second job and go back to running my business full-time,” Magalde said.

Steven L. Johnson, CEO of Luke, Johnson & Lewis and Utah Black Chamber Chair, speaks about activism for Utah’s Black community

Story by SUNWHEE MIKE PARK

Steven L. Johnson watched in awe, as the legendary California Congresswoman Maxine Waters commanded the attention of a crowd in Utah’s prestigious Alta Club – an institution that formerly did not allow memberships to women or Black people. He could not believe that he was seated at her table, much less that they had just discussed the growth of Utah’s Black economy together. A surreal sense of pride washed over Johnson in that moment, as it dawned on him that in this room, he stood among Congresswoman Waters’ ranks as a revered and respected activist.

But it would take nearly a decade of devotion to Utah’s Black community before such a moment could arrive.

In 2000, Johnson packed up everything he owned and moved to Utah from Denver, Colorado. A freshly divorced ex-sister-in-law who needed help getting settled was reason enough for him to make the arduous 500-mile move. This decision was the first of countless others in Johnson’s new life in Utah in which he would move mountains to help those he cared for.

Throughout his first year in the Beehive State, Johnson became increasingly aware of the stark contrast between his native Denver and Salt Lake City. Chiefly, he noticed that the Black community in Utah was not only small (comprising roughly 0.7% of the entire state’s population then), but seemed also to be stalling and struggling.

Steven L. Johnson is chair of the Utah Black Chamber, and CEO of Luke, Johnson & Lewis. He is a devoted activist who has served UT’s Black community for almost a decade. Photo courtesy of Steven L. Johnson.

At this time, Johnson was used to the thriving Black community in Denver, which he recalled was akin to those of Black meccas like Atlanta or Detroit. In Denver, Johnson reminisced, Black-owned businesses had longevity and were often core components of the city’s booming economy. In Salt Lake City, however, he had trouble finding Black businesses that branched out from the archetypal barbeques or barbershops.

After a decade of wondering who and where the state’s Black professionals were, Johnson finally found himself at the Utah Black Chamber’s annual community barbeque hosted in Sugarhouse Park.

At long last, there they were. Utah’s Black business owners, professionals and community leaders. Observing Utah’s Black community at large for the first time, Johnson finally felt at home in a land that had only been unfamiliar to him until then. “I met more Black people at that event than I had seen in the [years] that I had been here,” says Johnson over the phone in a surprisingly youthful voice. “It was really eye-opening. It made me feel comfortable.”

There he met James Jackson III, founder of the Utah Black Chamber, known then as African Americans Advancing in Commerce, Communication, Education and Leadership (ACCEL). The fateful meeting, spurred on by Johnson’s wife (then-girlfriend), sparked the flame that produced two of Utah’s most revered Black leaders today. “When I met James, it was like a new beginning,” Johnson says, “[like] I might have the chance to help make a difference or a change here in Utah.”

Inspired by Jackson’s passion and devotion to the growth of Utah’s Black community, Johnson found himself increasingly involved in activism as well. But his methods transcended attending community events or facilitating networking between Black Utahns.

In 2011, Paul Law Office – where Johnson worked as a collections manager – shut down indefinitely. Johnson, however, did not lament his new unemployment. Using his final paycheck, Johnson jumped headfirst into entrepreneurship. He founded Luke, Johnson & Lewis (with partner Preston Lewis), a debt arbitration business that specializes in third-party recovery and collecting receivables.

For Johnson, this new venture was more than a simple means to earn profit. As one of the state’s handful of Black CEOs, he wanted his business to serve as a “beta test” for other pioneering Black businesses in Utah. By watching and learning from Luke, Johnson & Lewis, he hoped, future generations of Black-owned Utah businesses would thrive like those he remembered from his years in Denver.

Meanwhile, James Jackson had plans of his own for Johnson. Seven years into the growth of the Utah Black Chamber, Jackson was eager to increase its influence on a statewide level. In order to achieve such a feat, he required the strategic expertise and interpersonal skills of a seasoned legal professional. He brought Johnson on as the Black Chamber’s board chair in 2015, and later made him the chair of its membership committee as well. “Based on [his] leadership, experience, and desires … I felt [these positions] fit him the best to help grow the [Black] Chamber,” Jackson says in an email.

James Jackson III (left) and Steven L. Johnson receive awards from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. for their work in the Utah Black Chamber in 2018. Photo courtesy of Steven L. Johnson.

Nicknamed the Black Chamber’s “Swiss Army knife,” Johnson took on a range of responsibilities – from strategizing the expansion of the Black Chamber’s membership, making connections with sponsors and spotlighting member businesses on a monthly basis, to furthering plans to establish the long-awaited Black Success Center.

Johnson, in addition to running his own business, was now leading the state’s largest Black-based organization. Yet his activism was still only in its fledgling stage.

Johnson explains that his personal philosophy forbids him from feeling as though he has ever done enough. “If you feel satisfied, you’ve closed the book. The chapter’s over,” he says. That’s why, in 2017, Johnson began a partnership with state lobbyist Craig Hulinsky to start the Good Deed Law Project.

Johnson explains that the Good Deed Law Project was founded with the goal of helping people in debt find alternative ways to pay off or reduce their overdue payments. Acting as the project’s Debt Initiative director, Johnson discovered methods to persuade businesses to write off debts as charitable donations, while allowing debtors to work off their sum in community service or work hours.

So far, Johnson’s debt arbitration model at the Good Deed Law Project has resolved $385,000 of debt while producing 10,000 community work hours. Johnson explains excitedly that his model has put over 500 debtors back on track to financial stability.

“He sets an example … in the Black community. His lifestyle is to be copied,” writes Rev. France A. Davis in an email interview. Davis, pastor emeritus of the Calvary Baptist Church, is another one of Utah’s highly revered Black leaders and an individual that Johnson considers his personal mentor. As part of the latest addition to Johnson’s activism, he and the reverend have recently become members of the Racial Equity in Policing Commission for Salt Lake City. There, the pair are able to review and make recommendations to the city’s police department about its policies, specifically regarding racial biases.

Twenty-one years ago, Johnson arrived in Utah without a job, without a home, with only the feeling that he was needed, that he could help. Now, as one of the state’s most active and respected Black leaders, his foundational drive to help those in need remains the same. Despite his many titles and roles – CEO, board chair, director, commissioner – Johnson’s activism is only just beginning.

“Utah’s Black community is growing … and I want to be there to witness [its] development,” Johnson says humbly about the very community that could not exist today were it not for his tireless efforts.

HoneyComb Café: A taste of a rising small business that’s using one of Utah’s natural ingredients

Story by KENZIE WALDON

New Year’s resolutions always open the possibility for new opportunities. That’s how Bailey Johnson and her sister BreAnna King felt at the beginning of 2020 when they made their goal of opening a bakery/coffee shop. This was the year they were finally ready to conjure this lifelong dream into a reality.

Then the pandemic struck. COVID-19’s chaotic attack on daily life led to postponement and reconfiguration of beginning the business they always envisioned.

“We felt super bummed out,” Johnson said in an email interview, “but then ultimately decided that Utah needed another Black owned business this year.” 

By October 2020, Johnson independently opened the virtual doors to the HoneyComb Café, a “Black and women owned bake shop,” serving dairy and vegan pastries with honey harvested from local hives by the team.

The HoneyComb Café’s logo, courtesy of its Instagram profile. Designed by Victor J. Herrera.

Johnson initiated this online bakery offering local delivery or pick-up from their new Cottonwood Heights-based industrial kitchen at 1164 E. Hemmingway Drive. Since its opening, the HoneyComb Café has quickly grown in popularity with the use of social media platforms, such as Instagram, and through involvement in the local community.

“We started with a pop-up shop with two other vendors to get our names out there and get our feet off the ground,” Johnson said. She credits their fast growth to “an amazing community of fellow bakers, [but] word of mouth has been what we’re striving for at the moment,” she said.

Menu favorites at the HoneyComb Café include the “danishes and beignets,” Johnson said. These multi-layered and fritter-type pastries can be custom made with dairy or vegan ingredients. 

The HoneyComb Café’s stand-out quality is that it will substitute sugar for honey from honeybee hives that they harvest and maintain. “All of our honey in our products came from our beautiful hives that we’ve [taken care of] for [the last] three years,” Johnson said. 

Unfortunately, due to severe winter exposure, three out of four hives unexpectedly died this season. But Johnson plans to rebuild more honeybee hives this spring that will have more resilience to the ever-evolving Utah climate. “Our hives were so special and cherished,” Johnson said. “We are excited to start a few more this year and work harder to make sure they’re safe for the off season.” 

The HoneyComb Café team harvesting honey from the honeybee hives. Courtesy of the HoneyComb Café website. Photograph by Joe Johnson.

The HoneyComb Café’s delectable goodies have garnered consistent loyalty from its clientele since the beginning. From highlighting chocolate pudding pie to matcha bread on the website, the HoneyComb Café offers a dessert experience that is uniquely their own. “When every customer enjoys my pastries, I hope they are so happy and realize that 3 colonies of Honeybees, which is over 240,000 working bees, are the reason we are living, breathing, and enjoying HoneyComb Cafe’s pastry,” Johnson said.

Johnson reciprocates this loyalty back into her business by consistently considering her mantra: “Always put people over profit.” She hopes to expand enough in the upcoming years to transition HoneyComb Café into a storefront where customers are welcome to stay, relax and enjoy its high-quality pastries and coffee. 

Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit is driven by the people she loves and supports her — including her HoneyComb Café team. 

“I am dedicated to making sure this business takes off,” said Valerie Evans in an email interview, a baker at the HoneyComb Café and Johnson’s mother. “I’m dedicated to providing goods to our customers, and I’m dedicated to learning everything about vegan eating,” she said.

Evans has been helping Johnson with HoneyComb Café since it opened in October. “It was honestly a dream come true for her to ask me to not only help bake, but to also formulate the menus and try out new recipes,” Evans said. 

The HoneyComb Café’s displayed goodies during a pop-up shop in October 2020. Courtesy of the HoneyComb Café’s Instagram. Photographed by Bailey Johnson.

With this being the first time she’s worked at a locally owned business, she noted the contrast from previous jobs. “It’s so different because I feel like I’m helping achieve a dream while also building customer connections with different kinds of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Evans said.

Tyce Hawkins, the marketing director and customer relations associate at HoneyComb Café, has also been with the business since Day One. 

Similar to Evans, this is Hawkins first time working at a locally owned business — seeing it as an opportunity he didn’t want to pass up. Hawkins said he enjoys feeling viable and not like a “cog in a system.”

“Every week we improve in a new way and the work that we do helps the café grow and connects us to the community in a more meaningful way,” Hawkins said. 

This support pushes Johnson’s drive to further represent the Black-owned business community in Utah, striving to benefit the Salt Lake City area for the better.

If there’s one thing that Johnson wants her customers to take away from supporting the HoneyComb Café, rather than just an experience filled with tasty treats and a new appreciation for the Beehive State’s resources, is “how amazing Black owned businesses are, and how amazing and life-changing honeybees can be.” 

Versatile Image: helping artists monetize

Story by ERIC JENSEN

Finding a way to monetize art can be hard. It is especially hard for those in the Black community to do so. It can feel like there is nowhere to go to get started as a business. This is why Michelda George created her company Versatile Image.

“I’m just tired with not being able to know where to go,” George said in a Zoom interview.

Versatile Image is an artist collective. It helps artists, specifically Black artists, who want to find ways to make money for their art.

George saw how talented her friends were but also saw that they were struggling financially. So, she created a service to help deal with the back-end business side of art.

A way for artists to make money.

How those two things intersect are simple in George’s mind. The world of business cannot function without the world of creatives.

George said there are many intersections between business and art. Architects, for example, are artists. They draw and design impressive structurers and need to be able to sell them.

George also said mentions the backbone of companies are created by artists. Marketing is done largely by artists.

“You know, you don’t see a logo of a company, and where do you think they get it from? You don’t get it from the mailroom, they get it from an artist,” George said.

Michelda George presenting at a Utah Valley University economics conference. Photo courtesy of Michelda George.

It’s a cooperative ecosystem, George said, an ecosystem that needs both creatives and businesspeople functioning together. Unfortunately, the two often don’t speak the same language. So, George is the middle ground.

Offering a bridge from the corporate business world to the creative dreamlands of talented artists.

Take Chassidy Jade, for example. She is an independent film producer and the creator of Crown Me Royal Labs.

According to Jade, George helps with the business side of her film company. George also helps with the marketing for upcoming films.

“Basically, what they do is assist with the branding and marketing and helping me produce anything,” Jade said in a Zoom interview. “So, all of the paper work, the licensing, making sure everyone gets paid, coming up with different ideas of how we can promote the content. She basically builds everything from scratch on the back end.”

Jade said George handles all the things she doesn’t have time to deal with.

This gives Jade more time to focus on creating projects and developing ideas.

The business is modeled after the SCORE mentoring program. Programs like SCORE aren’t as readily geared toward Black people though, George said. Versatile Image is built to cater toward those needs.

“Black and brown people don’t have that. There’s not a place where you can go where people are really invested in your business, where they’ll kind of take you along the process and teach you as you go. So that way you can be self-sufficient one day. We don’t have anything like that in the Black and brown community,” George said.

Why did the company choose Utah though? George was raised in Ft. Lauderdale and helped her family run their store, Sun Rise Market, there. Coming to Utah was a leap out of the comfort zone.

George said she came here because of the entrepreneurial spirit she and the state share.

“Utah has one of the best economies in the country. Land is cheap here. I knew I wanted a co- working space. … And for it to be my headquarters would just make sense,” George said.

George said she was overshadowed by surface level things in Florida. The market was oversaturated and made it difficult to stand apart.

Utah provided George a place where she could grow her business. She also saw the need for diversity in the market and a lack of competition as added bonuses.

“I just wanted to start afresh, and an economy that I felt would be the best to build a business,” George said.

The advantage Versatile Image has is that it is not rooted to just helping Utah artists despite being in Utah. Salt Lake City is a central western United States city and provides a geographical advantage for businesses to branch out to other western metropolitan areas. George has clients in Florida, New York, Tennessee, the United Kingdom, and more, George said in a follow up email.

George also said she loves Utah because of its natural beauty. She can be found hiking in the mountains in the spring and fall.

George also participates in spoken word poetry in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Michelda George.

She said in Utah her perspective can be different. She can focus more on herself. George said she has more doors opened for her here than in Florida. She can connect more easily with events planners and businesses that need artists.

“The entrepreneur network here is like, unmatched,” George said.

She mentions that most everyone she meets in the business world is interested in connecting with her. Salt Lake City is a tight knit market, and everyone eventually gets to know each other within the business world here. She also says the socio-economic climate is much different than Florida.

In Florida people want to look like they have money, not actually possess it, George said. A true entrepreneur, she is motivated by the bottom line.

That isn’t all she is motivated by though. George believes in the idea of service towards others.

A belief that stems from her parents and their sacrifice to come from Haiti to make a new life for their daughter. A belief built on George’s Christian values. Her heart is set on helping people.

Jade, the filmmaker, said George has always been a motivated person, and always looked for ways to help people.

“That’s what makes it successful, that other people are successful in their businesses. It’s not for us. We’re not here for like the glitz and glory, like we’re really here to serve people in a way that they need for their business,” George said.

Michelda George is selfless, and that is the type of business Versatile Image has become. One built on helping people find ways to live off their dreams.

It is more than a company. It is the idea that if you work hard, help other people, and follow what makes you happy, you can succeed.

That’s what George loves the most about her company, the way it develops people and helps build business owners.

“I love developing things, whether it’s people, whether it’s businesses, whether it’s brands, whether it’s programs or workshops to help people,” George said. “I love the development part of Versatile Image and how it changes. It changes often. It’s not always the same, because every business is different.”

A monochromatic mountain

One family’s mixed feelings toward Utah’s slopes

Story by HANNAH CARLSON

A ski lift traversing a snowy slope. Photo by Simon Fitall on Unsplash.

“I grew up skiing in Utah’s Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons with my dad,” Micheal Bradshaw Jr. said in a collaborative Zoom interview with his sisters. “At the time, I didn’t realize that my dad and I were the only Black ones on the mountain. It doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore.”

In 1974, Micheal, a Millcreek, Utah, native, started skiing with his father, the late Micheal (Mike) Sr., at 3 years old. His younger twin sisters, Sierra and Kellie Bradshaw, started skiing two years later when they too turned 3 years old.

In order to hit the slopes each season, the Bradshaws were often required to make financial sacrifices to afford lift tickets and new ski gear for their growing children.

“Growing up, we never had cute ski outfits like most of the other kids did,” Sierra said. “I remember one year wearing blue camo ski pants and a pink jacket with fur. We wore whatever we could scrape up on clearance or whatever hand-me-downs the neighbors dropped off that year. It always made me sad as a little girl.”

The children’s mother, Ariel Jackson Bradshaw, didn’t share the rest of her family’s passion for skiing. Instead, she often read in the parked car while the others skied on the other side of the resort. She brought sandwiches and snacks.

“My mom loved coming with us,” Kellie said. “She’d always say, ‘I’d rather read in the mountains than on the sofa.’ She rarely missed a week.”

By their college years, the Bradshaw children were elite skiers and masters of the slopes.

In 1999, however, their father unexpectedly died from a heart attack just two months before his 66th birthday.

It was February, and Utah’s shimmering slopes were still covered with snow. “It felt right to go skiing,” Micheal said. “I guess it was both a way to cope and honor his memory.”

By this time, Ariel was too frail to wait in the car parked below the frigid slopes. Instead, she remained in her Millcreek home, reading, while her adult children skiied.

It wouldn’t be much longer until the rest of the Bradshaws would join their mother for warmer weekends indoors and skip the slopes altogether.

A skier pictured below a ski lift. Photo by David Klein on Unplash.

A year later, Micheal went skiing alone one Saturday morning. He was 26 years old.

“Everyone says to never ski alone out of fear for one’s physical safety,” Micheal said. “But I wasn’t worried about it as long as I stayed on populated runs. I didn’t realize at the time that falling off my skis wasn’t the only threat to my safety at the resort.”

After a morning of skiing, Micheal said he went to purchase lunch from the resort’s crowded lodge. He had never been to the lodge before. He had always packed sandwiches like his mother did for him and his sisters growing up.

With his lunch tray in hand, Micheal asked a bearded man seated at a table with his family if he could eat his lunch from one of the table’s three empty chairs.

Micheal recalled the interaction.

“F— no,” the man said while laughing. “Can’t you see that I’m trying to eat with my family here?”

Micheal apologized for interrupting the family’s lunch and asked if he could at least take one of the table’s extra chairs elsewhere to eat his meal.

“Are you kidding me?” the man replied to Micheal. “I just said, my family and I are trying to enjoy our meal. We don’t need a lone n—– like yourself here. F— off.”

Nobody came to Micheal’s defense, despite the room being full of snacking skiers, snowboarders, and stares of shock.

With everyone’s goggles and helmets taken off to eat, he quickly realized that he was the only Black person in the lodge of one of Utah’s most popular ski resorts.

Micheal now understood why his mom waited in the family’s car bundled in jackets and blankets rather than inside the lodge beside the fireplace.

Kellie spoke of her mom as a young mother, having had a similar experience to that of Micheal’s. She was asked to relocate to the other side of the ski lodge after making some of the resort’s regular guests “feel uncomfortable.”

“She was just reading a book,” Kellie said.

In a later attempt to purchase ski pants from a popular outdoor clothing company, Sierra also came face-to-face with the ski industry’s lacking inclusion. After trying on multiple pairs of ski pants that didn’t fit, she was eventually referred to plus-sized alternatives.

“I was 5-9 and 150 pounds at the time. I didn’t wear plus size in any other type of pant. Just in ski pants,” Sierra said. “Those ski pants were made to fit white women, not a body type like mine and my sisters who carry our weight differently.”

Kellie added, “Don’t even get us started on helmet sizing.”

After Micheal’s frightening incident in the lodge, and a few subsequent instances of microaggression later, the Bradshaws retired their skis and hung up their helmets.

“It’s not worth it anymore. The fun of skiing has become so tainted by the lack of inclusion,” Micheal said. “When my father died the bubble of ski bliss popped and we were introduced to the reality that he and my mother tried so hard to keep us from while growing up.”

While the Bradshaws’ story may air extreme, they aren’t alone in skipping out on the slopes. Many of Utah’s minority groups aren’t interested in racing to the resorts each winter either.

An infographic illustrating the racial distribution of Utah’s ski and snowboard population during the 2019-2020 winter season. Image by Hannah Carlson.

 In 2019-20, a Snowsports Industries America participation study reported that 88% of the season’s ski visits were made by people who identify as white or caucasian.

Native Americans and Blacks each represented only 1% of that population. Asian and Pacific Islanders made up 4% and those identifying as Latino made up 5%.

Skiing is also an extremely expensive sport to pursue. In Utah, the average price of a single-day lift ticket last year was $95. The cost of a resort season pass ranges anywhere from $300 to $1,500.

On top of a lift pass, a skier or snowboarder would also require a pair of skis or a snowboard, ski poles, boots, pants, a jacket, a coat, gloves, goggles, and a helmet.

For a median household income of $71,621 in Utah, skiing isn’t an easily approachable sport. Especially for larger families, where Utah ranks first in the country.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Micheal said. “I just wish that I could take my daughters skiing without them having to experience what many of us already have.”

Hip & Humble, keeping business and positivity during a shelter in place

Story by MEG CLASPER

storefront

Hip & Humble creates a safe and comforting atmosphere. Photo courtesy of Hip & Humble.

During a time with a lot of stress and negativity, it helps to know people are out there sharing hope and positivity. Hip & Humble, a woman-owned boutique, focuses on being a safe place and happy environment for the surrounding community. With two locations, one in Salt Lake City, at 1043 E. 900 South, and the other in Bountiful at 559 W. 2600 South, Hip & Humble is accessible to customers in the Salt Lake Valley. Employees of H & H are positive and are always ready to help.

H & H has spent over two decades embracing perseverance. In June 2019, Salt Lake City made the decision to update 900 South. The construction shut down most of the street and the sidewalk outside and the store was in the middle of it all.

Hip & Humble offers free same-day delivery through the shelter-in-place mandate. Photo courtesy of Hip & Humble.

“For clients it was frustrating and confusing where to drive, park, and even access the store,” said owner Sheridan Mordue in an email interview. With a pile of rocks almost blocking the storefront, it was a task for customers to get to the store. To maintain business, the employees at

The construction of 900 South had its challenges. Photo courtesy of Hip & Humble.

H & H set up curbside pickup for online orders. This allowed customers to still purchase items and have them delivered to their car by an employee.

By the time H & H began to finally regain its original numbers and regular customers, it had to close its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though customers may not be able to browse in person, online shopping is encouraged. Same-day delivery in the Salt Lake metro area has been implemented, and customers love the service. “It is something I see us continuing beyond the stay at home order,” Mordue said.

Not all products offered in stores have been made available on the online store front. If customers are unable to find what they’re looking for, they can call and have their own in-store personal shopper. Employees take calls and connect with shoppers to find what they are looking for in the store.

Dammit Dolls are a good way to relieve stress and anger. Photo courtesy of Hip & Humble.

The employees at H & H are positive in the current hard times. They show up for work ready to offer the best customer service possible. One way they share positivity is through the blog. Available on its website, these posts share tips, showcase new products and tell Hip & Humble’s story.

The most recent post, “10 H&H ways to connect and thrive while ‘sheltering in place,’” offers a “thrive all” guide to staying at home and spotlights useful products. The first product mentioned is a “Dammit Doll.” These dolls are meant for stress relief. The user slams it against the wall or countertop. Some variations come with markers for coloring the doll before destroying it.

These gel crayons are washable for big imaginations. Photo courtesy of Hip & Humble.

The post also suggests keeping little children busy with clean coloring fun. Color-changing gel crayons and “Chunkies” paint sticks are a no-smudge washable way for kids to color.

Other products are suggested to help people relax while working from home. Weighted lavender-scented neck wraps help to relax with the aromatherapy and weight. A 500-piece puzzle, featuring a women’s march, is a therapeutic distraction from everything.

Above all, one of the biggest suggestions made in the post is to support one another. Sending something to a neighbor, friend, or grandmother can give them a nice surprise. H & H supports this idea with the offer of same-day delivery.

This 500-piece puzzle of a women’s march is fun and helps to relieve stress. Photo courtesy of Hip & Humble.

Hip & Humble has a project to look forward to once the “stay at home” mandate is lifted. With renovations to the Salt Lake City International Airport currently happening, Hip & Humble has been chosen to have two locations in the new airport.

The renovations are prompted by the overcapacity of the current accommodations of the airport. Before the upgrades, the Salt Lake City International Airport was built to serve 10 million people but has been projected to have 27 million people a year, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. With the first phase adding an extra 30,781 square feet to the airport and an additional 14,554 square feet in the second phase.

Though the airport has lost 90% in retail sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mordue is still optimistic. “We are expecting a 2 year turn around on the airport economy. Which in retail time can be really short. In the end I am still optimistic and I am so proud of my brand and to represent SLC in the airport.”

It is projected that the retail section of the new airport will open in August 2020 and inventory stocking will happen in early July. Along with the other retail stores in the airport, Hip & Humble will have street pricing. This means the prices you would pay at airport locations will be the same prices as you would pay at the Salt Lake City and Bountiful locations.

By keeping busy and looking forward to the new locations at the airport, Hip & Humble has built its staying power. It keeps focused on the positive and holds contact with its customers in high value. Hip & Humble shares a lot of positivity during hard times.

Some businesses remain closed while others attempt to brave the COVID-19 storm in Salt Lake City’s west side

Some businesses remain closed while others attempt to brave the COVID-19 storm in Salt Lake City’s west side

Story and photos by MARTIN KUPRIANOWICZ

klub deen

Klub Deen in west Salt Lake City’s Poplar Grove neighborhood has been closed since early April when the coronavirus began shutting down the nation’s economy.

Business owners everywhere are getting hit hard by the financial impacts of COVID-19 as hundreds if not thousands are being forced to temporarily suspend physical operations.

One such owner is Newton Gborway, the owner of Klub Deen, a nightclub with a focus on African culture, music, and dance in Salt Lake City’s west-side Poplar Grove neighborhood. 

“Music and dancing are a huge part of life in Africa,” Gborway said in a phone interview. “It brings people together and it’s a great way for everyone to have fun, especially refugees who may be struggling after they move here.”

Gborway is from the West African nation of Liberia. Like most other Americans, he was taken by surprise when everything started shutting down because of social-distancing mandates. His business — which operates on the coming together of large groups of people — was hit especially hard.

“Every day that we’ve been closed we’ve been losing money,” Gborway said. “We had to shut down in the beginning of April because of what the public health order said, and now they’ve just pushed it back until the end of the month. We want to set a good example by following these health orders and doing what the government is telling everybody.”

As Utah’s stay-home directive gets extended until May 1, Gborway can only patiently wait to get the green light to re-open business doors. He hopes that the spread of COVID-19 is reduced and public health orders allow for some normalcy to return. Otherwise, his night club business will continue to suffer financially every day it remains closed. 

klub deen 2 

klub deen 1

A COVID-19 health notice posted on the outside of Klub Deen.

Some other west-side business owners are more fortunate than others. Those who own or operate what Utah decides are “essential businesses” are still able to keep their workplaces open for now. Christine Mason — the owner of Rise by Good Day, a Polish grocery located in the same Poplar Grove neighborhood as Gborway’s club — is still running her store at this time. However, she has had to make drastic changes to the way she does business and she, too, has suffered near-catastrophic financial loss.

“When the shutdown started, I had to close down my catering business,” Mason said. “I lost 98% of my revenue stream with that alone.”

Mason said in a phone interview that times have been tough for the Polish grocery store. As the coronavirus put its grip on the economy nationwide and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert urged his state’s citizens to “stay home, stay safe,” Mason had to make modifications to her shop.

“We’re hanging in there. We’ve had to adapt since this has happened, and a lot less people have been walking into the store,” Mason said. “But we’ve just ordered sneeze guards and a new hand sanitizer station and we’re going to continue to stay open as long as we can. We’re just going to have to take this one day at a time.” 

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Mason. She’s optimistic about the future. She just hired a new chef and plans to stay open as long as possible. “People still need food,” Mason said, and with that in mind she’s confident she can get through this crisis. 

For business owners like Gborway and Mason, there’s not much else they can do besides wait and remain positive and adapt their businesses where they can. They do not know what the future will bring. 

In the meantime, Salt Lake City’s nightclubs will stay closed hoping they can reopen soon, and food stores deemed “essential” will continue to strive to give their customers what they need. As Christine Mason put it, you can only take things now one day at a time. And as time goes by, sanguine west-side business owners along with an anxious nation are all doing just that. 

Rise by Good Day

A pre-pandemic photograph of Rise By Good Day in west Salt Lake City’s Poplar Grove neighborhood.

 

Kilby Court provides venue for emerging artists

Story and photos by LIAM ELKINGTON

Tucked into a corner just outside of downtown Salt Lake City, Kilby Court sits at the end of an unassuming street with hardly any indication that a music venue is there. The décor has a homemade feel, with walls covered in posters and stickers. While the venue is inconspicuous, Kilby Court’s small size combined with its active promotion of small acts has made it a staple of the local music scene.

Named after its location at 741 S. Kilby Court, Kilby Court promotes itself as “Salt Lake City’s longest running all-ages venue,” and “a springboard stage for beginning local and touring artists alike.”  

kc4

Kilby Court welcomes artists both local and touring.

Salt Lake City resident Brittany Burrahm praised Kilby Court in an email interview, saying that the venue was “professional, yet still felt personal. It’s one of the better concert venues I’ve been to.”

The types of musical acts one can expect to see at Kilby Court vary widely. Bands from nearly every genre of popular music have performed at Kilby Court, from Hip Hop to Indie to Punk Rock. Performances are booked nearly every night of the week and represent the range of musical talent present in Salt Lake City. Upcoming shows at the venue are frequently promoted on other well-known community platforms like the radio station KRCL and SLUG Magazine.

While there are many venues in Salt Lake City, they vary in their accessibility. Kilby Court’s size, location and do-it-yourself philosophy allows for an all-ages venue with ticket prices rarely exceeding $20. Kilby Court has also been known to host lesser-known bands that go on to achieve greater acclaim, such as Joyce Manor, Tigers Jaw and George Watsky

Kilby Court is owned by Sartain and Saunders, a promotional and event planning company that collaborates with venues, concert halls and restaurants within Salt Lake City to book and promote events. S&S also own Urban Lounge and Metro Music Hall, two other venues that host a variety of musical acts, including local artists.

Given the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Kilby Court has joined many other Salt Lake City venues in postponing or canceling all events through early May, providing refunds to those who had already purchased tickets. Rescheduling information is not currently available, although the venue does intend to continue with the Kilby Court Block Party event scheduled for May 2, an all-day event that is slated to feature over 20 local bands.

Offering a flexibility of function that is not as commonly seen in other Salt Lake City venues, Kilby Court can adapt its space for various conditions. The interior space is little more than a garage, and one of the walls can open up into a courtyard featuring a fire pit and seating. Kilby Court operates throughout the year, able to repurpose the relatively limited space to different crowd sizes and outdoor conditions.

The size of Kilby Court is often brought up in reviews for the venue, and is primarily cited as a positive feature of the space, allowing for a more intimate show for both performers and audience members. Reviews on Kilby Court’s Facebook page praise this aspect of its concert experience. Reviewer Tristan Marie Montano said in 2018, “I live for intimate venues like this where everyone feels like they are a part of everything going on.”

Salt Lake City resident Burrahm found it easy to recommend Kilby Court for this reason. “It’s a bit cramped but they do a good job with the space they have. It’s a cozy experience and the sound quality is great.”

Kilby Court is focused on providing a professional and memorable experience for Salt Lake City concert-goers. Venues also play a significant role in the success of a performance. “It allows the audience to get a really close-up and personal contact with the musicians, which is important, rather than them being so high up on a stage. It’s like you’re on the same level,” said Kendra Squire, a musician who has been performing in the Salt Lake and Provo areas for the past few years. She spoke about performing at other venues in Salt Lake City, stating that communication between artists and organizers is key to producing events that are successful.

Having a venue that supports local, independent artists is vital to those who rely on them as an outlet to a broader scene. “It’s community building,” Squire said. “If people that are trying to start up have nowhere to go, then that becomes the whole question: where do they go?”

Kilby Court not only provides a stage for artists that encourages local audience engagement, but also a place for notable touring artists to reach a larger number of people. Kilby Court stands alone in the Salt Lake City community as a venue dedicated to the promotion and celebration of artists who may not otherwise have an opportunity to perform for a large audience. Having these types of spaces fosters a community that supports musicians, no matter their goals for performing. “I don’t think that every musician or band necessarily wants to make it big,” Squire said. “I think a lot of people just want someone to hear.”

Read, and hear, more about Kilby Court in this piece by Palak Jayswal.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Marisa’s Fashion is a model for west-side Hispanic-owned businesses

Story and photos by JACOB RUEDA

Hispanic-owned businesses in Salt Lake City are becoming the staple in the local economic landscape. The rise of such businesses began in the early to mid-1980s and has become prevalent due to the influx of people migrating from other states and other countries. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2019 says Hispanics or Latinos are the largest non-white ethnic group in the city.

Despite their growing numbers in Salt Lake City, the presence of Hispanics is not as commonplace compared to places like Los Angeles or Houston. While Hispanic-owned businesses in those cities are typical in their local economies, their impact went unrecognized in Salt Lake City until recently.

Marisa’s Fashion was one of the first Hispanic-owned businesses in Salt Lake City. The store is located at 67 W. 1700 South.

“Marisa’s Fashion is one of the first Hispanic-owned stores in Salt Lake City,” says Refugio Perez, a local business owner and entrepreneur who started the clothing and general retail store 40 years ago. After arriving from California and receiving settlement money from a work-related injury, he started Perez Enterprises and created Marisa’s Fashion from it, naming the store after one of his children.

“It is the only one that is still in business out of an initial group of five stores that were established,” Perez says in Spanish.

The store located at 67 W. 1700 South has had the support of the Hispanic community from the beginning. Although at the time the Hispanic population in Salt Lake City was small, people around the Wasatch Front and other states knew of Marisa’s Fashion and came to shop there.

“We started to grow quickly because there weren’t that many places and people were limited as to where they could shop,” Perez says. “We had people from as far as Ogden, Park City and Wendover [Nevada] coming to our store so it worked out for us and we were able to grow our business.”

Refugio Perez is the founder of Perez Enterprises. He started Marisa’s Fashion in the early to mid-1980s.

Marisa’s Fashion grew as a result of demand but also from knowing the responsibilities of running a store. One of the challenges in today’s business world is lacking that knowledge. Perez says some Hispanic entrepreneurs today go in ambitiously without being aware of basic operational skills.

“Nowadays, someone starts a business and they do it without knowing the basics of how to start or run a business,” he says. Aside from the legal and financial responsibilities, staying on top of technological advancements in the digital age is essential in today’s market.

“There have been a lot of professional Hispanic businesses of late and that’s why they are important tools for success,” Perez says.

The longevity of Hispanic-owned businesses is determined by the ability to overcome obstacles. Perez says it has not always been easy staying on track, especially in times of a national crisis.

“9/11 really affected us,” Perez says. “I felt at that time that the State of Utah was the last to get hit economically because of what happened in New York.” An analysis from online small business website The Balance says the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, caused a recession at the time to worsen. Perez decided to hand over responsibility of Marisa’s Fashion to his brother as a result.

“I told him that if any of the businesses survived, I’d prefer it be his and that’s what happened,” Perez says. Since then, the business has carried on in Salt Lake City’s west side. Economic downturns and other setbacks aside, Hispanic-owned businesses like Marisa’s Fashion and Perez Enterprises continue to grow and establish themselves permanently in the area’s commercial landscape because of the economic and social influence they have.

Aaron Quarnberg, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says “understanding the Hispanic business community” is necessary “for any company looking to grow.”

In his welcome letter to the 2019 Hispanic Small Business Summit, Aaron Quarnberg, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says “understanding the Hispanic business community” is necessary “for any company looking to grow.” Statistics website Statista reports the buying power of the Hispanic community in the United States is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by the end of 2020. (That figure was calculated before the impact of COVID-19 in March 2020.)

“Latinos are contributing a lot not only with their businesses but with their taxes and it’s something that I think governments should really pay attention to,” says Moises Olivares, a Realtor and author based in Los Angeles, in a Facebook chat. He also says Salt Lake City can learn from cities like Los Angeles by expanding the perception of the Hispanic community as more than just what is propagated through stereotype.

A February 2019 study from the Peterson Institution for International Economics says “Hispanics, especially the foreign born, exhibit higher levels of entrepreneurship than other ethnic groups in the United States.” Despite these findings, Perez from Perez Enterprises says the Hispanic community in Salt Lake City still lacks recognition for its overall economic contribution. 

The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce helps Hispanic-owned businesses thrive in the local economy while helping them comply with city regulations.

“People like to spend cash,” Perez says. “We know that helps business, even [non-Hispanic] businesses. If they did not have the economic support from the Hispanic community, they wouldn’t be in business.”

Regardless, Salt Lake City’s west-side Hispanic-owned businesses continue in spite of setbacks, crises or perceptions from others. Weathering the ups and downs of the market, cultural shifts, and technological changes helps businesses like Perez Enterprises and Marisa’s Fashion endure for as long as they have.

“When one is patient and is secure in the knowledge that they have to keep at it and keep going,” Perez says, “it becomes important so we can keep fighting and not give up to the last breath.”

Editor’s Note: Read more stories about local entrepreneurs, the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the impact of the Hispanic community in Utah.

 

Even in good times: the west side struggles

Story and photos by SPENCER BUCHANAN 

In February 2020, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., stirred up controversy when she said in part, “It’s a physical impossibility to lift yourself up by a bootstrap, by your shoelaces.”

Ocasio-Cortez and others explained further that the original meaning of the idiom “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was meant as a joke and that the narrative has driven out good policy in helping struggling people. The narrative the idiom formed is one that disregards the barriers that the working-class and marginalized have to deal with, despite the recent economic gains and the shrinking unemployment rate. 

It can be hard to break into the job market. It can be particularly difficult for immigrants and refugees to find stable, well-paying employment. Many struggle to apply for jobs and even more face structural challenges in acquiring the skills and training necessary to qualify for positions. These problems can be found nationwide but the impact can be seen on the west side of Salt Lake City.

The west side has long been a working-class neighborhood and in recent years has become increasingly diverse. With large immigrant and refugee populations, residents of the west side often have to make huge adjustments to enter the American job market.

Organizations like the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) Hartland Partnership Center, the Rose Park Neighborhood Center, and the Utah Department of Workforce Services work to help west-side residents deal with barriers that are commonly overlooked.

“Individuals come in seeking support in finding jobs. So that can vary in need. Sometimes we’ll make resumes. We have a lot of templates and we’ll actually help make the resumes with individuals. And often we’ll just help apply for jobs,” said Amelia Cope, an intern at Hartland and social work student at the University of Utah.

Cope explained that those who come to Hartland need help with several issues. Many clients don’t have an email account or computer access, several don’t have transportation, and many speak English as a second language. 

The Rose Park Neighborhood Center at 754 N. 800 West.

Lenn Rodriguez, a site coordinator at Hartland, stated that beyond the technology gap and language difficulties, many recent immigrants and refugees have experienced or are experiencing trauma that can be debilitating. According to Rodriguez, this is why the Hartland Partnership Center also provides counseling and therapy for many new immigrants and refugees.

“A lot of the people that are coming here have trauma from wherever they came and haven’t processed that. That affects your ability to seek out employment and other services,” Rodriguez said. 

But a major problem that Rodriguez sees is the lack of “good jobs” and training for immigrants and refugees.

 “We work with a lot of professionals, also with people that hold degrees in other countries like engineers, doctors, teachers, from Iraq, from Syria, from El Salvador. They come here and they can’t work in that field that they studied. So they become cleaners, they work at the airport, and hotels,” Rodriguez said.

The University Neighborhood Partners Hartland Partnership Center, located at 1578 W. 1700 South.

Rodriguez stated that many professionals have to start again in education and training if they want to work in their original field. Unfortunately, many job seekers in the west side are suffering from a wider issue in the market.

“The problem is: it’s very difficult to do training,” said Cihan Bilginsoy, a professor in economics at the University of Utah who specializes in labor issues.

According to Bilginsoy, the nature of training and educating would-be job seekers is a costly and lengthy process. This process keeps many employers from implementing the necessary training or education that can lead to more stable, fulfilling, and well-paying jobs.

This cost and investment draws companies away from creating large training programs. He said many employers will instead invest in a few seasoned professionals and have other positions filled with very specifically trained but generally low-skilled employees. These “task-oriented” workers are put in vulnerable positions without marketable skills.

“These semi-skilled workers can be shed very easily, they receive low wages, they’re marginal and dispensable,” Bilgonsoy said.

The Associated General Contractors of Utah is one of the few organizations in the state that provides professional training.

In his research, Bilgonsoy has found that most western nations have a skills gap issue. Nations like Germany or Australia have created social and government structures that organize stakeholders like the government, the unions, and employers to cooperate and fund training in various fields. There have been pushes by the federal and some state governments to incentivize training programs mostly in the form of tax credits and work programs, but what’s being offered is often insufficient for companies to wholly invest into programs.

“We need to provide incentives for employers to provide training, we need to solve the problem of market failure in training. International evidence shows that states, or federal governments need to take a leading role in bringing together employers and trade unions, so these stakeholders share the risk,” Bilgonsoy said.

The challenges facing west-side residents go beyond Salt Lake City. The struggles that new immigrants, refugees, and the working-class have in finding gainful employment can be linked to a lack of skills necessary for an ever-advancing economy. Organizations like the Hartland Partnership Center do well to help west-side residents meet the basic needs for job seeking, but a large market and social change is necessary to meet the needs of the residents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: