Heather (2)

Heather smiling

Heather smiling

(2/3)

“It all kind of started because, you know Pedro Concepcion is in the restaurant business, and it’s been an idea of mine since I first moved here. So when we first started dating I told him, “You should help me open my juice bar/restaurant.” I would tell him that from time to time and this Top Tank contest came up and he was like, “You should open your own juice/bar restaurant.” And I had a lot of stuff going on so I just kind of put it off and one day I came home and the laptop was open and he goes, “You sit down and you fill this out, answer these questions and put your vision on paper and I’ll make dinner.” So I did it and I’m really excited to be one of the finalists.

‘A La Carrot’ kind of represents my journey in a way. It has the smoothies, it has the juices, it has the healthy foods and the understanding of proteins and complex carbs and making the food work for you and that clean eating aspect as well. We’re all different people from different parts of the world, with different metabolisms, with bodies that process things differently and so what works for me may not necessarily work for you.So, I basically want to have a place that serves healthy food and gives you options in the menu.

Pedro has been helping me out a lot. I met Pedro when I moved here and he’s been the greatest gift ever. He’s so amazing with my son and to me and some days I just cry because I’m so grateful. It’s so great to have a partner like that.”

Heather

Heather looking away from camera

Heather looking away from camera

(1/3)

This is Heather. A California native, Heather has been in Topeka for eight years now. She’s a professionally trained stylist with hopes of winning the $100K from Top Tank Topeka to open A La Carrot, a juice bar/restaurant.

“I used to weigh 280 pounds. I was overweight from the age of nine and I tried probably every single thing there was to try. Most of life I was on reduced milk, or I couldn’t eat certain things that my siblings could eat and things like that, so I tried everything and nothing was working. Then I really started educating myself about food and kind of learning what it does for you and about complex carbs and proteins and just reading about all that stuff. I’m kind of obsessed with it. I think it’s really interesting. So, I just started out slowly, eating low-carb-no-carb and then healthy foods in general, and as I progressed I just wanted all the fake stuff out of my diet and it felt really good. So that kind of got me into first doing smoothies and then graduating into juicing.

I used to literally lay in bed at night crying and begging God to give me the tools to change my weight and I promised that I would never let it happen again. For years I cried about it. Some days were totally fine and some days were really hard. When I got bullied or teased, those were definitely tougher days. I’ve always hidden behind humor or hidden behind certain things, but there’s nothing like the freedom of being able to be myself without having to have walls up of being scared, of being judged, of being made fun of or all those things that I went through the majority of my life.

I think I’m getting close to where I’m at the point where I’ve almost been like this as much as I was like that, but really, still, it’s kind of the other way around. I’m still just now adjusting to the fact that I look like this, if that makes sense at all. It kind of messes with your mind a little bit, so I’m probably a little extra hard on myself than most people would be, but also extra understanding too.

I’m grateful that I went through that, that I had my trials and triumphs because it has made me the person I am today. I’ve been able to help other people, which really means so much to me because sometimes you don’t even think it’s possible until you meet people that have gone through it. I got really lucky because when I started to lose weight and change my diet, I decided to go to the gym and I got a personal training session that was on special that day. They stuck me with whoever and I was like “No, listen. I know that you’re looking at me and thinking ‘She’s going to come once and never come again,’ but I’m really serious and I want you to put me with whoever is going to change my life.” And they put me with this girl who had lost 84 pounds and that made a huge impact on me.

I felt like she got it. She wasn’t someone who had been skinny her whole life. She understood what it felt like to be embarrassed or ashamed, or any of those things when you feel like you’re not like everybody else.”

 

Joe and Lyndsey (3)

Joe and Lyndsey smiling

Joe and Lyndsey smiling

Joe: “People drive through Westboro and they see the big houses and they think the people living here are snooty or pretentious, but that’s as far as from the truth as you can get. People here have been incredible in getting this place up and running. It’s because of these guys that we’re here.

The week of Christmas we took turns sleeping on an air mattress in the basement and working because we were that busy. Truly understand what your dreams are and how attainable they are. We gave this a go, but it wasn’t easy at first. Not that I wouldn’t have done it, but it was really hard. Make sure that it’s obtainable and it’s something that you want to spend the rest of your life doing. We’re invested in this. We don’t have a choice. This has to succeed for us.”

Joe and Lyndsey (2)

Lyndsey

Lyndsey

” If you have something that you feel that it’s your strength, even if you don’t believe that you could do it, do it anyways. If you’re good at it, people will come back for it. I still have a hard time believing I could do anything, but you can, because people here support you. I have experience and talent, but sometimes it’s hard to keep track of things, like a lot of orders or things like that. So I usually keep those mistakes in my mind and keep beating myself down, ‘I can’t run a business or I can’t keep myself on track. I’m going to make mistakes and people are going to get mad and then I’m going to fail and go out of business.’ There were times, even after we opened, where I was like, ‘I’m done. I cannot do this. I can’t.’ But luckily Joe believes in me.”

Joe and Lyndsey

Lyndsey and Joe

Lyndsey and Joe

Lyndsey and Joe are the owners of Josey Baking Co. They’ve been in business for less than a year and have grown from just being them two, to one full-time and four par-time employees. Earlier this year, they wanted to help out the family of a local girl who passed away from cancer, so they opened their store on a Monday and sold cookies with 100 percent of the profit going to the family. People from all over the city rallied and they sold over 6500 cookies that day. They also regularly feature the work of local artists at their establishment at no charge or commission on a first-come, first-served basis.

Joe has been in the restaurant business for over a decade and Lyndsey attended the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon.

[This is my first time interviewing two people at once for Kansas Young, so I’m separating the story in parts to make it easier for you guys to follow along.]

(1/3)

Lyndsey: “I went to culinary school and then kind of traveled around and then went to Sonoma, California and I helped run a bakery there and I got really burned out. I had no life outside of that place. After that, I didn’t have any desire to make another pastry ever again, so I moved back here and ended up working at a bar where we met. Then we lived together just three blocks away from here and we’d always go on walks and say, ‘Man, this place is so charming’ and at the time there were many open spots and we thought this would be a great location for a bakery. And we kept talking about it and Joe’s so resourceful; he was able to get all of this equipment little by little. He would look online at equipment auctions. Everything that we bought was used. We just bought it little by little, had it all stacked up and then one day we decided to pull the trigger.

Joe: “We had a little six port mixer in the kitchen, which we still use daily, but that was how we were going to run this bakery. We thought, ‘How busy could we be?’ As long as we made enough to keep the lights on and pay the bills, I could work full-time outside of here and Lyndsey could run the bakery by herself with this little mixer and a residential oven. So we were open for the plaza glow last year and all we did was sell cookies and we were so crazy busy that we decided that maybe we needed a commercial oven. And we also went from a six port to a 20-port and at the time we couldn’t afford it, but we had to get it in order to grow and keep up with demand. And eventually even that wasn’t enough, so we tripled the size of the mixer we use every day. We couldn’t have imagined this even in our wildest dreams. We’ve grown so fast that it’s still hard to comprehend. We’ve made this far, but I didn’t know if we were going to make it a month when first opened.”

Pedro (2)

Pedro standing

Pedro standing

(2/2) I want to thank Pedro again for his time and for sharing his heart and for his love of Topeka.

—-

“Downtown is going to take years to fully develop. We may not even see what it will become. It’ll probably be the next generation who gets to see it all, but I’m happy to take the first step and start things out. I feel like I can make a difference here. If an investor sees that I opened a restaurant with Aim Strategies, then more people will open more things and they will be less afraid of investing. NOTO is a perfect example; if you had been there five or six years ago you would have seen how empty it was. There was no Wheel Barrel, there was no Norsemen, no NOTO Burrito. But now there’s a group of people are that are trying to make Topeka different.

Look at you, you’re doing this, Kansas Young. You’re already winning. You’re so ahead of so many people right now just by the fact that you’re trying. Because there are people out there complaining, but they haven’t tried. Anyone here in Topeka who is trying is already winning, even if they don’t succeed. They’re still winning and are leagues ahead of the person who is just sitting and not doing anything. That’s why everyone who comes to me with an idea I just tell them ‘do it.’ You’re not gonna find out if it works or not if you don’t do it.

Failure will make you better. If you haven’t failed at anything, you haven’t learned or done anything. You need to fail to succeed. I took cancer as my failure. I took my health for granted, I took my family and friends for granted so now I’m just trying to rectify my mistakes. I’m trying to work a little less, spend more time with family and help the community as much as I can.”

Pedro

Pedro smiling

Pedro smiling

(1/2) This is Pedro Concepcion. Pedro was instrumental in starting the Burger Stand in Topeka, he was the owner of Boca Cafe and NOTO Burrito and he has a deep love for Topeka. He’s currently a leadership member of Forge, is helping his girlfriend start her own hair salon and is a restaurant consultant to many local establishments. On top of all that, he’s also going to manage the kitchen at the upcoming new restaurant, called Pennants. This is part one of our conversation, ‘like’ the page to be notified about part two, later tonight.

—-

“In 2013 I got diagnosed with cancer and they gave me three months to live. I went to a really dark place. I tried shooting myself, but it didn’t work out. I was just mad at the world. I was really young and it felt like I had worked my ass off for nothing. I had a girlfriend of five years and I lost her too. And I blame myself because I worked so much. I neglected her and I never called my family in Chicago because I was always working. I wanted money and to do so many things and it killed me. Now I feel like I have a second chance. Now I’m trying to take things easier and just appreciate family, friends, going out, having a day off or even honestly just breathing. I’m happy where I am right now.

My friends and my family gave me the strength to fight. But when I got diagnosed I hadn’t even told my family. They read the news online and my youngest brother Javier drove down from Chicago and knocked on my door and told me, ‘Get ready, all your family is downstairs.’ And it’s scary because the day before is when I had tried shooting myself. And when they came in the house the next day I then thought ‘Damn, it would have been horrible for my mom to see me lying here on the floor.’ I needed to shake it off. They saw the gun and they took it away. I hung in there and then I said, ‘Well, if I’m going to die, at least I want to see the world.’ So I sold everything. With the money from the sale of Boca Cafe I grabbed a backpack and tried everything that could help me. I had a bug diet for like a month, then I ate frogs, then I went to Spain and got protein treatments and took alkaline treatments in Puerto Rico and then I came back six months later and the doctors told me that the tumor was shrinking. I then had two rounds of chemo.

When I came back from my trip and wanted to work, some people thought I was crazy. But I could either go home and cry and be negative and complain about the world and how I lost everything, or I could move forward and forgive others for whatever they may have done and forgive God. I was mad at God at then for what had happened to me, but sometimes you just have to move forward and let shit go.”

Farai (2)

Farai and daughter

Farai and daughter

(2/2) I’m so thankful for Farai’s courage and strength in sharing her story with all of us.

—-

“I’m the Public Education Coordinator at the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment. My job is to go out into the community and educate people about domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. I started there working at the shelter, which houses women and children who are homeless because of domestic violence or sexual assault and human trafficking. Through volunteering at Washburn is how I got in contact and learned about the YWCA. Being a sexual assault survivor myself I wanted to help people.

It’s difficult for people to discuss issues of domestic violence or sexual assault because there’s such a stigma in our society. We have such a culture of victim blaming that makes it very difficult for people to come forward and talk about what happened to them. My sexual assault happened while I was a student at Washburn and I didn’t talk about it with anyone even though I was doing awareness work. It’s such a difficult topic because you’re afraid of the stigma, you’re afraid that people are going to judge you. And you judge yourself. I really didn’t have the courage to talk about it until I got older and dealt with it on my own.

Rape is one of the most underreported crimes that happen in our society and it’s also the least convicted crime too. It happens so much, but we don’t talk about it. Lately I’ve been more comfortable talking about it. I wrote an article about it for The Capital-Journal in April, which is National Sexual Assault Month.

Is talking about it part of the healing process?

Yeah, for sure. It’s about not letting it have power over you and about forgiving yourself. Obviously it wasn’t my fault, but you blame yourself because that’s what you’re taught in society. ‘What were you wearing? Did you lead him on in any way?’ I want my daughter Thandie to live in a world where she can express herself safely, where she can expect better from men.

Who are your biggest influences?

My aunt Rosie. She is just an amazing, tiny-powerhouse of a woman. She rescues animals and even takes in stray animals like myself. She just takes care of so many people, almost at the cost of her self. She’s a Kansas farm girl, living on the farm with her animals and she’s brilliant.

There’s also Sharon Sullivan, who is a professor at Washburn. She’s just tireless in the work that she does for students and for women’s rights. She’s smart, funny and kind.

And my mom, whom my daughter is named for. She died when I was really young, but from what I know of her, she was a hardworking and strong woman.

So I come from a line of very powerful, strong women.”

“And now you’re raising one.”

“And now I’m raising one.”

Farai

Farai, looking at the camera

Farai, looking at the camera

(1/2) This is Farai, She’s the co-owner of the newly launched yoga studio in Topeka, Wild Yoga. She was born in Zimbabwe, raised in Botswana and has been living in Kansas for the past seven years.

—–

“What was the hardest part about starting your business?”

“It’s still hard. We’re still at the beginning stages of everything. Just learning and accessing the information is hard because I’m not a business minded person. I just have an idea and want it to sprout into the world. I think the hardest thing is knowing your stuff and making the right choices. It’s not easy being a young person in Kansas if you’re not affluent, if you don’t come from money, so finding loans and being literate in that business language is important.

Haley told me how her goal was to open an all inclusive yoga studio. And for me, since I work with domestic and sexual assault survivors, that’s really important. There’s something called trauma informed yoga. It’s yoga for people who have gone through some sort of trauma and it basically helps them heal and process what happened to them. So that’s what I want to do, to get certified in Trauma Informed Yoga. I told Haley ‘if you ever want a teacher or a partner, let me know because this is one of my passions.’

I really care about marginalized people, people who don’t show up in most people’s radar. And it was the same for her, so we decided to form a business together.

Because of my Mass Media background, I’m really passionate about the representation of people of color in all different areas of life. When most people think of yoga, they think about white soccer moms in lululemon leggings and the perfect hair, with the perfect yoga outfit and the perfect yoga mat. And that’s not what yoga is about. Yoga is for the people. It’s for everybody.

So Haley and I have this idea to make it a safe space for people who are overweight, or gay, or whatever. It’s about making safe spaces for people to be themselves. They don’t have to look a certain way. They don’t have to be dressed a certain way. They can just be comfortable in learning this practice and be around people who look like them. We even have yoga classes for police officers and military veterans and we offer so many other safe spaces. We want to encourage community in Kansas, in Topeka especially, and we just want help people out.”