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As an entrepreneur myself, one of my biggest regrets about my college career was never darkening the doorway to a business class. Thankfully there are a number of resources available, including the Small Business Center at Wilson Community College, but it definitely is an uphill battle without that knowledge.
For that reason, I figured I’d mix it up this week and highlight a few of my favorite, lesser-known small businesses that I love to share when friends come to town.
D&J Smashers and El Mana Alimento Divino Exodus 16:31 have a lot in common. Both take pride in the fact that Christ is at the center of their family-owned and authentic food businesses. In fact, members of the Bailon family said God inspired their business, their recipes and their name.
The family’s patriarch, Angel Bailon, traced the start of the business to a church service where the preacher said five people in the congregation had visions of more and while the pastor didn’t know the Bailon family, the blue-collar worker had dreams of owning a business.
“The preacher didn’t know me, but he said, ‘I see you selling food, I see you selling tacos,’” said Bailon. “We were just astonished.”
He and his wife were married for 23 years with three kids: 22-year-old Angel Jr., 19-year-old Valeria and 13-year-old Emmanuel. His steady job provided for their needs, but he wanted to do more. He’d helped his mother sell her own honey back in Mexico while his wife, Sandra Ramirez, had helped her own mother sell jewelry.
Two months later, on June 9, 2017, the entrepreneurial couple along with their children setup shop at the corner of Tarboro Street and Ward Boulevard in the parking lot of Firestone Complete Auto Care. And while Ramirez had been cooking dishes like sopes, quesadillas, tacos and tortas for years, she prayed for God’s help to perfect the recipes.
“The seasonings had never been created until the food truck. The hot sauce was never made in our home, but everybody likes it,” said Angel Jr. “And we believe that is because it is God’s seasoning.”
D&J Smashers co-owner Jenea Lucas related to creating recipes specifically for the business. She and her husband, Toby, had wanted to find a business they could do with their four children: Jordan, Jason, Deja and Destini. When a friend told them about a fresh lemonade business that was for sale, they prayed about it and jumped at the opportunity, naming it after their kids and forging ahead despite having no previous business experience.
“We have been blessed to be surrounded by, worked under and with very business-savvy people and friends that wanted to see us win,” she said. “That and a lot of faith and God’s favor has carried us through this.”
The husband-wife duo started the business in 2015 with fresh-squeezed lemonade, strawberry lemonade and mango lemonade.
“When we started, we had no idea what we were doing, but people liked it and we’ve added a new flavor every summer,” Lucas said. “As long as we can keep coming up with new flavors with fresh fruit, we’ll do it because that is what sets us apart from other vendors.
“Our lemonade is simple with real fruit just like Grandma used to make.”
The business, which often is at Galot Motorsports Park events in Benson and plans to have a booth at the N.C. Whirligig Festival in Wilson, has expanded its menu to include pineapple lemonade, cherry lemonade, peach lemonade and passion fruit lemonade. All flavors — as well as watermelon lemonade, reduced or no sugar — are available by the gallon with a 48-hour notice through Facebook or Instagram.
In previous years, Lucas said they’ve set up shop at events like the First Fridays on the Lawn, but schedule conflicts kept them on the road. To give back to Wilson where the couple has raised their family, D&J Smashers set up a pop-up shop and gave away free drinks on July Fourth in a store parking lot. Lucas said they have plans to do another pop-up event soon.
“Wilson has been good to us,” she said. “We started here. We live here and we never want to forget all this community has done for us.”
Valeria Bailon estimated 70 percent of the taco truck customers have been before, but every day, she’ll meet newcomers who’ve heard about the family’s food from friends. Angel Bailon said customer service is a top priority and when combined with authentic Mexican cuisine, fresh ingredients and homemade mais tortillas, customers constantly ask them to expand the hours.
“We’ve been thinking about opening a restaurant, but we’re waiting for God’s calling. Whenever he opens the door and says we’re ready, we’ll do it,” he said. “The reason we started with tacos, sopes, tortas and quesadillas is we wanted families to be able to eat together without a pricey bill. With a food truck, we can keep our prices low, so we love seeing families pull a few tables together and sit down to eat.
“We’re a family-oriented business, so we’re always glad to see families enjoying the food and having a good time.”
Lucas said there is potential for growth of D&J Smashers.
“We’ve created such a good friend and family base with a lot of people in our community supporting us along the way. We always have people pushing us and putting our lemonade in the hands of new customers, but we don’t take any of it for granted,” she said. “We don’t know where this is going to take us and the sky is the limit. People love our products, so we’re just going to keep going and see where God takes us.”
D&J Smashers has a page on Facebook and Instagram while El Mana — which is open from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. every Thursday as well as 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays — has a Facebook page.
When I started the path toward opening my own business, I learned every community college in the state has a Small Business Center with a variety of free seminars held every month. Advance registration is recommended for Wilson Community College upcoming events, which include how to write a business plan, how to start a nonprofit business, financing your business with N.C. Rural Center Funding and a crash course in email marketing for your business. Visit tinyurl.com/y7r57n5y to sign up for the seminars or call Small Business Center Director Melissa Evans at 252-246-1232 for more information on services for entrepreneurs.
Got an idea for news to include in next week’s Main Street Minute? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 252-265-7821 or firstname.lastname@example.org.