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Berkeley Heights

Di Maio’s Cucina

Nomination from Mayor Angie D. Devanney

DiMaio’s Cucina, a family-owned small business restaurant in Berkeley Heights, used innovative thinking to not only remain financially afloat during the pandemic but avoided having to lay off any employees in the process. The restaurant is a COVID-19 success story and deserves to be recognized as a Union County Community Champion.

DiMaio’s, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria, was originally founded in 1978. It has been owned for over 30 years by Salvatore (Sal) Passalacqua, a 1st-generation immigrant from Sicily, and his wife Tammy. Sal and Tammy have always been active supporters of the Berkeley Heights community, and DiMaio’s boasts many “locals” who regularly dine in and/or do takeout.

The COVID-19 pandemic immediately placed DiMaio’s in a perilous situation. Sal and Tammy’s profit margin depended on revenue from its indoor seated dining rooms, and the pandemic meant this portion of the business had to close. Sal and Tammy were determined not only to keep DiMaio’s going, but to protect their employees’ jobs to the fullest extent possible. This was a high bar to clear, to say the least!

Recognizing that increased takeout capacity would be critical for short-term survival, Sal and Tammy constructed a wood and canvass extension to the restaurant, enabling them to expand their smaller takeout infrastructure to meet newfound demand. Their commitment to high-quality Italian cuisine, and the well-deserved loyalty of their customers, meant long lines of customers could soon be found snaking around the building every evening. Increasing their takeout business also enabled DiMaio’s to avoid layoffs as employees were retrained to manage a takeout-focused approach.

Sal and Tammy also saw the opportunity to transform their parking lot into an outdoor dining area. They quickly obtained high-quality tents that made the most of their limited space, allowing them to restart their seated restaurant as soon as Berkeley Heights’ government passed an ordinance enabling restaurants to do this. DiMaio’s provided diners with excellent meals al fresco while faithfully following all COVID-19 safety precautions. When colder weather arrived, Sal and Tammy installed high-quality heaters to ensure patrons could continue to eat in comfort.

When the second wave of the pandemic hit New Jersey and Berkeley Heights in the Fall, and the pandemic seemed at its worst, Sal and Tammy donated their tent space to the senior citizen community for bingo. Every Monday, seniors would gather in rain, heat or freezing temperatures to sit inside the DiMaios’ (heated) tents—100% donated by Sal and Tammy.

While DiMaio’s has seemingly emerged unscathed from the worst of the pandemic, the truth is that the Passalacquas have only made it look easy. Their hard work, dedication to quality and the well-being of the employees, and swift implementation of innovative planning, all helped keep DiMaio’s in business even as many other small, family-owned restaurants either failed to stay afloat, or simply shut down entirely. That they did so without laying off a single employee is a tribute to the community-focused vision of Sal and Tammy, and it makes them an excellent choice for a Union County Small Business Community Champion award.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The last year has been an exercise in transformation for all restaurants. Menus and business models have been completely overhauled. Problem solving in a Covid world have been reimagined. The reasons behind all survival are people: Owner’s making tough choices, employees showing up to work day after day, and community showing their support.

To keep up with the new demand for takeout we built a small extension to the restaurant to keep up orders. We had to invest in expanding outdoor dining giving up a portion of parking lot and adapted to colder weather conditions with heaters. These extra steps kept the business going and allowed us to keep our staff on board. We’re grateful for the support of our staff and loyal customers.

Pure Movement Dance Center

Nomination from Michele Lettington

This has been an incredibly trying time for everyone but especially for children who don’t fully understand the gravity of what we have been dealing with. The changes in schedules, the isolation, the lack of routine, and of course the fear of getting sick, have all greatly impacted the mental health of our children. Lindsay Doris and Dana Millette immediately thought outside the box to keep their dancers engaged and to give them some sense of schedule and normalcy during this past year. When we were all in lock down they made the effort to teach online, in real time with all their students.

They learned Zoom, and they trained their faculty, some of whom were teaching from out of the country in places like Canada and Italy. All last Spring the dancers attended their classes at their normally scheduled times, perfecting dances, learning new dances and preparing for the Showcase in June, even before we knew what that would look like. In June they again thought outside the box putting together an outdoor stage and putting on the annual showcases in person so the dancers could once again dance together. Throughout that whole time and through the summer these two women outfitted their studios with hepa-filters, and kept tabs on every single health and safety requirement with the hope of opening their doors to their dancers in the fall.

Thankfully, and mostly due to their diligence, the dancers were able to take classes in the studio, wearing masks. However if anyone had to quarantine or felt unsafe dancing in person, large monitors and cameras were placed in every studio so students could continue to stay on their schedule and keep a routine. This has been such a tough time for everyone but what Dana and Lindsay did for their dancers and what they continue to do, goes above and beyond what anyone expected, and I truly believe it is what has helped so many of our kids maintain their mental and physical health throughout this pandemic.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We at Pure Movement Dance Center are so proud to be recognized as a Union County Small Business Community Champion. The past 16 months have been filled with many challenges, from figuring out how to shift from in-person to online learning, to managing exposures once we did return to in-person training.

Our first task was to shift the training of our 280 young dancers from over 100 classes a week in 4 large studios to training at home during lockdown. Our entire faculty and staff worked to adapt our entire syllabus to accommodate dancers at home in vastly different conditions. From space constraints, different levels of internet connections, to siblings or family members in the background there were many challenges to remote dance instruction. We had to reimagine our entire classroom experience, including launching a “Virtual Classroom” on our website that dancers of all ages could easily navigate themselves. In addition to maintaining most of our regular weekly schedule live via Zoom, we prepared digital content and provided additional subscription classes with well-known master teachers to our dancers. Our dancers at home rose to the challenge by getting creative with items they found at home, such as chairs or the stools to use as ballet barres or pillows to help during stretching or leap training.

Once the lockdown was lifted, but still prevented from performing in a theater, we were thrilled to celebrate the hard work of our dancers and faculty with an outdoor dance recital in our own parking lot. We were rewarded with the joy of our dancers being reunited in person. Our number one goal during this time was to ensure that the dancers got to finish what they had started before Covid-19 was even a thought. We worked to ensure that their training continued and progressed, and to provide them with a constant in their lives that had been turned upside down. There was a triumphant feeling to have made it over that first hurdle.

Then came the second major obstacle: how to re-open, in-person, safely and responsibly. In September 2020 we were allowed to be back in our space with our students but still with restrictions that made it far from the normal we were used to. We again reformatted our classes to follow social distancing guidelines, adjusted class schedules to stay under occupancy limits and adapted to dancing and teaching in masks. Touchless hand sanitizer stations and medical grade hepa filters were installed in every room. We performed daily temperature checks and created a new entrance/exit plan to minimize exposures in high traffic areas.

Additionally, every live class was made available in the virtual classroom for the families who weren’t ready to join us in person again or, in the event of a quarantine, there was an option for those dancers to still have a training experience from the comfort of home. Each studio was equipped with a new virtual setup that included music integration, wireless headsets for the teachers, webcams and large screen tvs so that the teachers could clearly see the virtual students and give constructive feedback.
During the course of the year we had to navigate quarantines and exposures, making sure we communicated protocol information with our staff and clientele effectively. Each week brought additional challenges that our faculty and staff had to overcome and for us as owners to learn from.

We are so proud that we were able to survive and thrive during such a difficult time. We capped off this unique year with a triumphant Showcase of our young dancers at Governor Livingston High School. There is nothing we are more proud of than seeing our dancers succeed. Be it the small successes in learning a new step, supporting your fellow dancer in need, or achievements on stage. But, this year, seeing our faculty, staff, dancers and parents show their resilience and overcome all of these obstacles was truly remarkable.

Shock Room Fitness

Nomination from Renee Murillo

This is one business that surely deserves recognition in so many ways. They are called Shock Room Fitness located in Berkeley Heights, NJ. They are the very first wireless EMS Workout (Electro Muscle Stimulation) in all of NJ!! They had just opened 3 months before the pandemic shut them down.

I became a client right when they opened and was amazed at what this technology was capable of doing for me. I had broke my ankle and was not able to do my normal workout anymore and this was when someone told me about them. I looked into it and read the suit you wear contracts your muscles for you. So it’s a full workout, without lifting any weights or putting pressure on any part of your body with more effective results. Sounds so crazy right?? I thought the same thing but they offered a free trial so I had nothing to lose and being upset that I wasn’t able to workout for a while, I really felt the need to try it. Boy can I tell you, this is one thing in my life I am so happy I did!!

Then all of a sudden they got shut down. The owner Richard Maggio, MD was totally devastated the pandemic completely stopped his brand new business from flourishing. We spoke a few times about the sadness and stress this was having on him, (and of course all of us) but he then informed me if he doesn’t figure out a different plan ASAP, he most likely would not be able to continue. Owning a closed facility and having to pay full rent and tons of expenses especially from opening a new business, he could not last much longer. The Fitness Industry was really getting hit one of the hardest. I am absolutely amazed at the resilience this small business owner strived for. He gave his all not to lose everything. In order to survive he had to create a completely different business plan, so that’s what he did. His new program involved giving his suits to trainers and gyms for free so they could earn money with this new technology. It’s a wireless suit so the trainers could take it anywhere, socially distanced and still keep business and his suits would now be located in so many more places.

Due to his new business plan, determination and not giving up, this has led him to a huge manufacturing deal and becoming the only distributor in the entire US with this revolutionary technology.

Now what he did next was the real reason I am writing to you. Besides making the most out of this horrific pandemic and actually trying to rebuild his business, he also created and is offering FREE Women & Teens Self Defense classes!! It just shows you the kind of person he is and why having small businesses are still so important to our community’s. Rich reached out to our local Union County Police Departments, Berkeley Heights and Summit to see if they would be interested in participating and they absolutely loved the idea of helping to teach classes with him as well!!

They started in June and with just a few classes they have officially taught almost 100 Women and their teens already!! Not only is the self-defense class Free but Shock Room Fitness gives each attendee a Free Strengthening Class as an extra gift along with a little goody bag with some great stuff to use!! This is coming from a business that just suffered through the worst of the pandemic. So each participant learns awareness, techniques and will achieve strength and power for their mind and body like they have never experienced before. One small business can change the world when you have someone that truly cares.

Giving this business any kind of recognition would be so greatly appreciated. It would show them how much they truly deserve for all their hard work and efforts they have put into changing and being resilient through the toughest of times and now they can teach us how to be tough and resilient as well. They have so much to offer. Giving them the recognition will let our neighbors know about these Free Classes and it’s a very nice way to also thank the Union County Police for their support in this program as well.

I do believe this recognition would go to a small business that has not only shown significant changes it made through the pandemic, surviving it, creating new jobs, helping people like me with injuries, bringing brand new technology to the US, thanking our Union County Police Departments and most importantly creating a Free program that is here to help save lives!!

Now if this isn’t a business that worked endlessly to make good from one of the worst times of our lives…I don’t know many others that could have achieved all of this.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Shockroom Fitness was opened in December 2019 as the only wireless EMS studio in New Jersey and only one of a handful in the United States. Popular in Europe, Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) suits are worn by individuals and the electrodes in each training suit allow the user to experience up to 28,000 muscle contractions in over 300 muscle groups during a single 20-minute workout. These contractions cause the engagement of all muscle fibers, including those that are not used during a traditional workout. Thus a 20-minute EMS session is equivalent to a 3-hour conventional workout.

Our suits are wireless and Bluetooth connected so they can be used indoors or outdoors and up to ten suits can be controlled by a single tablet.

We began getting the word out and in January began to see our class enrollment grow. Then in March of 2020 the lock-down started and we were forced to shut our doors. With no clients we were forced to change our plan. With such an amazing technology that we felt so strongly about we got a manufacturing contract and now market to gyms and training facilities as well as having our headquarters in Berkeley Heights where we train clients in our facility.

Because of the kidnapping that occurred in Summit and with our doors being closed, several months ago I decided what better way to give back to the community then to offer free women’s self-defense classes as well as a free session with Shockroom Fitness. During such a devastating time for our community, our "Shock Your Attacker" self-defense classes have been extremely successful and are offered on a monthly basis at our studio in Berkeley Heights. Because of its success we will also be offering self-defense courses beginning in September.

Shockroom Fitness was opened in December 2019 as the only wireless EMS studio in New Jersey and only one of a handful in the United States. Popular in Europe, Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) suits are worn by individuals and the electrodes in each training suit allow the user to experience up to 28,000 muscle contractions in over 300 muscle groups during a single 20-minute workout. These contractions cause the engagement of all muscle fibers, including those that are not used during a traditional workout. Thus a 20-minute EMS session is equivalent to a 3-hour conventional workout.

Our suits are wireless and Bluetooth connected so they can be used indoors or outdoors and up to ten suits can be controlled by a single tablet.

We began getting the word out and in January began to see our class enrollment grow. Then in March of 2020 the lock-down started and we were forced to shut our doors. With no clients we were forced to change our plan. With such an amazing technology that we felt so strongly about we got a manufacturing contract and now market to gyms and training facilities as well as having our headquarters in Berkeley Heights where we train clients in our facility.

Because of the kidnapping that occurred in Summit and with our doors being closed, several months ago I decided what better way to give back to the community then to offer free women’s self-defense classes as well as a free session with Shockroom Fitness. During such a devastating time for our community, our "Shock Your Attacker" self-defense classes have been extremely successful and are offered on a monthly basis at our studio in Berkeley Heights. Because of its success we will also be offering self-defense courses beginning in September.


1051 Bistro Italian Seafood Grill & Sushi Bar

Nomination from Alice Ford

It is hard to find a place that is willing to give while living in the Covid world. Nothing is certain for anyone and it’s good to know that there are people out there who care. Bistro 1051 cares. They have given so much to their community during this time I don’t understand how they stay open.

They are generous and beyond humble. From feeding frontline workers to feeing those in need they step up every chance they get.  I’ve ordered from them during the pandemic for Christmas Eve, they took the pressure off of me for my Covid family gathering.  They limited the persons picking up and brought out my order.  The portions were huge and delicious it was like my Nonna cooked dinner!

When things got better I went out to dinner with the family under the tent. Again they sacrificed space for safety and gave more than 6ft for social distancing.  They are hardworking and clean constantly.  Going out again while it still feels a little weird I have to say I feel Bistro is my safe place!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

During The 2020 Pandemic we never closed our doors kept our whole staff employed. Working 7 days a week, we never missed a beat! We helped out all the essential workers at the Hospitals, EMS, Fire Department, and Police Department. Everyone was scared and we made sure to give back to those we were keeping us safe.

Every day we delivered food to the essential workers at all hours of the day and night. We had family members set up donations for their family’s work places- Not only did I matched the donations and increased it out of pocket for each organization. We kept our doors open for the unfortunate people with no money, we gave out free meals. We offered our space for the meetings for front line workers and gathered donations of food and water.

We wanted everyone to feel safe in addition to our own daily cleaning we hired a company to disinfect (deep clean) on a weekly basis. We took our whole dining room outside in a parking lot and offered outdoor dining.  We lost all our private parties that were booked over a year in advance. We returned all the deposits if they did not reschedule-no one knew how long this was going to last and when it would be over. We struggled but we hung in there. We stayed positive and made it! Thank you for all our loyal customers and support.

Oh Brian's On The Green

Nomination from Christina Adams

Covid wreaked havoc on the restaurants. My favorite Oh’ Brian’s instead of being consumed by the chaos confronted it head on. They reimaged their menu and geared it towards to go and take out. I took a lot of comfort in getting a pizza and a burger delivered for our family game nights; it felt almost normal.

Instead of waiting for indoor dining they put out money to create an outdoor dining space and raised the bar by including TV’s and sound systems. They never took the easy way out and I’m glad I can walk thru their doors today.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

As many small businesses were negatively impacted, if not decimated by 2020 and the Covid crisis, restaurants like ours really had the challenge of adapting to survive. Fortunately, Oh’Brian’s up until this time was able evolve and withstand with the help of some great government disaster assistance programs, local community charities, and the hard work of dedicated employees who decided to hang in through tough times and make Oh’Brian’s a stronger business then before.

March 16th 2020, marked the last day of our “old business” (no masks, no restrictions, indoor dining without capacity limits). Timing for us was really tough, as an “Irish/American” pub, March 17th is our “high holy day” and a financially rewarding one. St Paddy’s day marked the first day, the restaurant world changed. We decided that day, that we would not close our doors. We ran St Paddy’s day through phone call pickup orders, and while by no means was it a huge financial success, we realized we would need to adapt, play by new rules and do the best we can with the circumstances dealt to all of us. Immediately, we realized, customers needed to feel safe, whether it was by no contact pickup orders, safety seals on food containers, or sanitizing supplies, we needed to invest in these things to give our customers as much peace of mind as possible.

We focused on creating our own online ordering platforms for pick up and deliveries. We had always offered such services, but never was a focus of our business, so that was a challenge. We had to adjust our menus to focus on best items for take-out and delivery quality. One of our focuses shifted to the Pizza side of our business, which until 2020 had been a small part of the overall business. We saw an opportunity to grow and thrive the pizza segment of our business that continues to grow to this day. While we were restricted to take-out and delivery for many months, we were fortunate to work with some local organizations to deliver meals to senior citizens, local hospitals, and to first responders. These orders helped these groups, and also helped us keep many staff members employed.

Our community of Clark and the surrounding communities, really helped us and many restaurants and their employees get through these difficult times.


i9 Sports

Business has multiple locations
Nomination from Lashanda Parrish

I9 Sports of Union County was supposed to have a session in April but had to cancel. They enrolled the children in the next session automatically and gave parents enough notice. They made it safe for the kids by having less kids on the team and making sure they cleaned all the equipment in-between sessions.

I was always impressed with Coach Johnson for wiping down the bleachers and making sure parents brought their own chairs. The coaches wore their masks and made sure that everyone hand sanitized. I can go on and on about how they made it safe for all but these are a few key details that I loved.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

During the heat of the pandemic we stopped in person training. We wanted our staff and athletes to be safe-We did not let that stop the progress of our young athletes! We made an effort to communicate more with our families and young athletes during this time. We sent videos, and training guides for them to follow! We provided families with sporting options and drills that can be completed at home often times using their existing furniture. Despite being concerned about our finances, we offered full refunds for those parents that were registered for Spring 2020. We offered extended 2 year credits with a bonus $25/registration credit for all parents that was willing to wait until we returned to play.

Once we returned to play we communicated improved safety protocols. Each parent received an email with what to expect from us and how we are planning on returning to play safely. On Game day each registered kid received a personalized drawstring book bag with their jersey inside. This new change allowed for increased safety protocols and facilitated social distancing guidelines. In addition we offered the ability to play small sided games once the restrictions were being lifted/adjusted.

Many of the safety protocols are still in place and have become the new normal for i9 Sports Union County, we disinfect all of the sporting equipment between sessions and allow a 30 minute turnaround time between groups coming to play with us. We have also reduced our team sizes to 8 which allows us to adhere to the CDC standards.

Arthur Murray Dance Center

Nomination from Kathy Geller

The Arthur Murray Dance Center did everything in their power to stay connected to their students. They instituted virtual private and group lessons and even managed to hold social events. For those students who preferred not to attend virtual lessons, the instructors kept in touch by phone and email throughout the pandemic. The student's level of comfort was always foremost in the owner's mind and they went out of their way to accommodate student's schedules. Danila & Nuria's tenacity throughout the pandemic is a testament to their professionalism and dedication to their art.

Nomination from Sima & Kevin Murphy

Arthur Murray Dance Center of Cranford is my home away from home for the past 5 years. During the pandemic restrictions, they kept us connected via classes and modified private lessons, competitions, spotlight parties and graduation ceremony via Zoom including a home-delivered meal. We even got to perform at our annual summer charitable Showcase and were able to view it via Zoom as well as together on a large screen in an open amphitheater. Once we were able to get back into the studio, we were able to resume in-person lessons and participate in pre-recorded competitions, while safely masked, of course. Through there studio's valiant efforts I was able to remain sane during the forced isolation. Through their ability to adapt and create they kept us ballroom dancing. They are my family and my Community Champions.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The nearly instantaneous economic recession triggered by the Covid-19 shutdown has wreaked havoc on businesses large and small. One pivot our Arthur Murray Schools have made in response was to offer virtual dance lessons right from the comfort and safety of home. For over 100 years we have taught the world to dance in the over 270 Arthur Murray Centers around the globe and we were not going to let our students down when they needed us most. We had virtual parties, we had virtual morning work outs, we had virtual shows, and we kept our Dance Family connected & positive. We kept going. We taught outdoors under a canopy, we kept going. We increased our business hours to avoid having a lot of people on the studios at the same time. Mask, gloves, hand hygiene was a must before entering our doors. Studios were swipe and refresh before and after each appointment. We kept going.

Our Annual Theater Showcase Fundraiser benefitting the "Sunshine Kids Foundation" was not possible indoors so we made it happen virtually. We rented a movie screen and played the show outdoors in an amphitheater. We kept going. We feel fortunate to have the most wonderful group of students and professionals around, and we thank them for belonging to our community that loves to dance and accepts everyone. Stay positive.

Cesar-Kai Karate Academy

Nomination from Christina Frescki

Cesar kai academy has been a partner in my child's education for 4 years. My son is learning a valuable life skill in karate but is also learning about being a responsible member of his community. I know the staff and appreciate the care and dedication they constantly show me and my son. They cleaned and sanitized the facility and equipment like mats throughout the day.

Large bottles of hand sanitizer were available and frequent handwashing was encouraged. For many months, classes were held virtually so that the children could continue to practice with live or pre-recorded instruction and when the weather turned warmer, classes were held outside. They are a trusted treasure!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

What could have been a punch to the gut for Cesar-Kai Karate Academy ("CKA"), Governor Murphy’s March 16, 2020 Order closing gyms in the state turned into a lesson in resiliency for the Cranford NJ dojo whose students range in age from 5 – 17. As a result of that Order, CKA closed their doors to in-person classes causing more than half of its members to freeze their membership or cancel outright. CKA was down, but certainly not out.

It was time to pivot. Within 48 hours of the shutdown, the staff of CKA had transferred the curriculum from in person to virtual – with classes taught via Zoom giving the instructors and the students a great opportunity to continue training and working hard even at home as the pandemic raged on.

Through it all, CKA kept the momentum going through continuous engagement with its students’ efforts to develop self-discipline, coordination and character, improve physical fitness and mental strength, and gain valuable social skills. CKA’s students and their parents are a family about whom CKA cares deeply and through its virtual lessons, the Cesar-Kai family stayed together during this difficult time.

Resilience is accepting the new reality, even if it's different than the one before. You can fight it. You can scream at the top of your voice about what you've lost. Or you can accept what is and move forward. Because CKA sized up its opponent early on and planned its moves with maximum tactical advantage, the pandemic was a bump in the road – and not the end of the road for CKA

Cranford’s BEST Kids

Nomination from Christina Frescki

Cranford's best kids is a trusted support especially in this unprecedented time. From before the COVID-19 pandemic through today Yesenia Torres and Mario Cesario have developed safe ways to help children still come together and helping parents like myself with childcare needs. Surfaces were cleaned several times a day and the facility was professionally sanitized.

Handwashing was performed numerous times throughout the day. Multiple bottles of hand sanitizers were available throughout the facility.

They upgraded the internet service to ensure adequate bandwidth for students to log into their school classroom. Drop off and pick up times were staggered to avoid groups of people congregating. Students were escorted into the building by a coach and no one other than staff and students (and emergency personnel) were allowed in the building. They have made an enormous positive difference in me and my son's lives

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Cranford’s BEST Kids (“CBK”) was not about to get bullied by the pandemic.

Instead of grabbing its toys and going home, CBK dug in its’ heels.

When school schedules moved to hybrid, CBK pivoted to a virtual learning camp. There was no time to waste. Schools adopted split schedules; parents had to go to work – and if parents are working from home, they need to do so without distractions. CBK was there for families that had no choice but to go to work – healthcare workers, first responders and others who were deemed essential personnel.

Owners Mario Cesario and Yessenia Torres and the staff of CBK sprang into action and worked tirelessly to expand CBK’s afterschool program to insure a safe and nurturing environment for their campers to continue their studies. CBK upgraded its internet service to ensure adequate bandwidth for students to log into their school classroom. Each student had a "study carrel” to avoid distractions. Social distancing was strictly enforced. Masks were mandatory. CBK coaches stood by to help with lessons and homework. At the end of the “school day”, CBK’s normal after school program kicked in with karate lessons, games, etc.

As the pandemic raged on, CBK ratcheted up its already strict cleaning and hygiene policies. Surfaces were cleaned several times daily to a gleam and the facility was professionally sanitized. Handwashing became de rigueur and mandated numerous times throughout the day. Multiple bottles of hand sanitizers stood at the ready throughout the facility.

Drop off and pick up times were staggered to avoid groups of people congregating. Students were escorted into the building by a coach and no one other than staff and students (and emergency personnel) were allowed in the building.

Temperatures were checked and screening questions were asked. Every student. Each and every day. No exceptions. As a result, CBK had NO instances of COVID-19, even at the height of the pandemic. Delivering a safe CBK experience came with additional costs. The unparalleled demand for PPE, essential to safety during the pandemic, created massive shortages which in turn caused prices to skyrocket. Social distancing, increased sanitation (including adjustments to CBK’s HVAC system) and reduced occupancy limits, also resulted in increased costs. But CBK stood firm.

The term “our CBK family” is not just a fancy slogan. Family are the people that stand beside you even in the toughest of times and the worst of times. We work hard together, we play hard together, we laugh together, we celebrate each other’s successes and support one another in the uncertain times. Our CBK family extends to our community, and we love the families who live here. Throughout the pandemic we were committed to being here for our CBK family. There was no other choice.

Lost & Found Tattoo Studio

Nomination from Elle Jordan

Like everything else COVID changed the world of tattooing. In the height of the pandemic there is no social distancing when it comes to tattooing! Lost & Found had to close their doors. While they had to cancel appointments they still worked on drawing up my sleeve. They kept in contact the entire time and rebooked when it was safe. It has to hurt a business when the days of walk-in visits or in-person consultations are gone.

They fight on and actually donate a lot of work to areola restoration for those who suffered from breast cancer. Shows a lot about a business that after all the hardship is still willing to donate to their local (wo)man.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When Lost & Found Tattoo Studio became Cranford's first Body Art Establishment in 2017, owners Alison Mennor and Peter Dickson pledged to donate 50 areola restoration procedures to breast cancer survivors. Lost & Found Tattoo Studio dedicates one day per week to areola restoration tattooing, and has donated over 100 procedures to breast cancer survivor, exceeding their original pledge two times over.

While Ali performs illustrative tattooing, she is additionally board certified by the AAM to perform areola restoration, a para-medical tattoo procedure.

Many local surgeons direct their patients to Ali whose areola restoration skills has evolved to serve transgender men after top surgery.

Lost & Found Tattoo Studio currently charges a small fee of $100 per session for areola restoration. This compassionate rate is far below the industry standard rate, and only a fraction of Ali's regular tattoo rate, which is $150 per hour of tattooing. A typical areola restoration session is approximately 3 hours. And 2 sessions are recommended for best results. The fee from breast cancer related procedures is put into a nonprofit fund (The Lost & Found-ation) and those funds are used to continue our work. The cost of supplies has drastically risen in 2020. In the near future, Ali hopes to attain additional certification so that she can teach this skill to other tattooers and medical professionals alike.

"We love using tattooing to help people in this way. I started doing it because I wanted to give back to the community with what I know how to do. I have been tattooing professionally for 14 years now"

The Porch Hair Salon

Nomination from Kim Vanbuskirk

Already known to be a generous supporter for local organizations fund raisers, Linda is known for her calm presence and cheerful "can do" attitude along with her noble way of thinking, and the pandemic did not change that. Her innate concern for her staff, clients and community, Linda was in constant contact with everyone, checking in making sure everyone was ok, and making sure her clients were all doing well. Linda was more concerned with how she can help instead of being concerned about her business not being open.

The Porch was retrofit with a variety of supplies to ensure the safety and comfort for all the staff and clients which include hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray at every station and sink, plastic barriers between each station and the front desk, temperature checks for everyone who enters the building and allowing only 1 customer per stylist at a time to ensure social distancing and the comfort of all. All of this impacted the salon, but Linda's main focus was not on making as much money as the salon could, her main focus was the safety of her staff and clients.

With Ms. Linda Karlovitch standing at the helm, The Porch is a shining example of hard-work and determination. If there was ever a more deserving candidate of being Union County Small Business Community Champion, I have not met them. Thank you for this opportunity in sharing with you these wonderful women’s story.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

It was definitely an unprecedented time. I honestly had no idea how I was going to keep my business and pay bills. I was also a newly elected Mayor in Kenilworth. I knew I had to be a leader to my hometown community and also reassure my employees that we would thrive when we reopened and we did just that! My staff was very supportive of me and my business and I realized that we had become a family. They would check in with me frequently and we had many fun times staying in touch over zoom, talking and laughing just like we did at work.

I was thrilled to see my clients when we reopened who supported us with calls and messages while we were closed. I kept a positive attitude and believed this crisis would pass and it did. While my business was closed, I found myself working almost full-time in my position as Mayor. I often volunteered to provide meals and support those in need and did my best to keep abreast of the community’s needs.

Once we reopened we changed the way we did business. We only serviced one client at a time. We had safety partitions between working areas and wore masks to ensure everyone’s safety. This past year was definitely a difficult time for everyone, but the support from my staff, friends, family and the community has been indispensable. I am grateful to be a part of such a wonderful community and I am pleased that we have come back even stronger.

The Max Challenge of Cranford

Nomination from Sarah Armendariz

I joined The Max Challenge of Cranford in September 2019 after having a partial hysterectomy in June 2019 and received news that I have PCOS with Insulin Resistance (meaning I have to take Metformin to control my sugar level). I needed a place where I can work out and lose weight as well as help maintain a healthy lifestyle. Mario (the owner) encouraged me to join the Max and said I can do everything modified and the instructors will modify the exercise for me which they did and continue to do. In the beginning I was kind of scared working out but after joining I soon learned that it is a place where you can work out in a group setting with support from everyone. You are encouraged by staff as well as members to keep going and keep pushing yourself to the MAX.

When the pandemic hit at the end of March 2020, the business quickly became resourceful and offered Virtual Classes via Zoom. When we went virtual, there were always two instructors on the screen: One that led the class and the other person to demonstrate how to do the exercise from modified to advanced. It was great. The owner (Mario Cesario) even allowed members to borrow equipment from the gym to continue on their fitness journey. Within a few months, they offered in-person classes at the local park. At the park we would social distance and it offered that same feeling of working out as if we were in-center but outdoors. When we could not make in-person sessions at the park, we also had Zoom recordings to watch anytime. They still offered a morning, afternoon and evening schedule to all its members. They also extended discounts on their rates.

Once we could go in-center, they offered limited space for in-person so we can social distance but at the same time they were in center, they still offer Zoom Classes. Some Zoom Classes are recorded and a member can view at any time.

I work out virtually sometimes I join the LIVE Zoom Classes and when you are on LIVE, the instructors make you feel like you are in the classes and mention your name while working out. I mostly work out playing the recorded sessions which is a great help because I can work out anytime I am free and available.

So I nominate The Max Challenge of Cranford. They have proven they can adapt and have complied with the State restrictions during the Covid 19 Pandemic. The staff and the owner continue to give us the experience we have had before the pandemic.

I am currently on disability again but the staff and members check in on me by calling at least once a week. It is more than just working out, it is a community, a health community that helps you continue on your journey. I can't wait to work out again with my extended family. They have gone above and beyond for their members and community!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The statistics are sobering. Pre-pandemic, more than three million U.S. fitness professionals helped more than 73 million Americans get and stay healthy through exercise. A study conducted by IHRSA estimates that COVID-19 forced 15% of gyms to close permanently with the industry as a whole losing upwards of $15 billion in revenue with 480,000 jobs slashed.

THE MAX Challenge of Cranford (“THE MAX”) closed its doors to in-person classes pursuant to Governor Murphy’s March 16, 2020 Order closing gyms in the state. When the dust settled, THE MAX was left to grapple with the stomach-churning reality that more than half of its members had frozen their membership or cancelled outright. Lifestyles became sedentary as folks hunkered down. Fitness was no longer just about the bikini body or six pack abs. Workouts suddenly ratcheted up in importance as an antidote to the stress, fear and anxiety inherent in the uncertainty of the pandemic.

It was time to ride or die and keep THE MAX family together during this difficult time.

Within 48 hours of the shutdown, owner Mario Cesario & his staff worked tirelessly to transfer the program from in-person to virtual with classes being taught interactively via Zoom giving members who remained active a way to safely continue their workouts and reach their fitness goals as the pandemic raged on. Replays were provided for those who were unavailable for the initial broadcast. THE MAX loaned out its in-center equipment (medicine balls, kick bags, etc.) to its members and offered the MAX from Home Kit giving them something they could use at home and which would help approximate a workout in the center. As COVID-19 restrictions began to relax, THE MAX offered outdoor classes in their parking lot, observing strict social distancing.

Despite the travails of surviving a pandemic, THE MAX Challenge held its annual MAX Day of Giving, with its members raising $5,000 for a local family battling cancer.

Members joining THE MAX Challenge of Cranford are promised a complete 10-week body renewal system that combines fitness classes, nutritional guidance, and (probably most important) motivation into one easy-to-follow program resulting in quick and lasting changes to their health and fitness. Nothing was going to stand in the way. Not even a pandemic.

It has been said that “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” When your MAX family depends on you, you have no choice but to survive – and even thrive.


555 Barbershop

Nomination from LaTisha Parsons

Raymond has always been a community driven person. His barbershop was forced to close temporarily when Covid hit. Once they were allowed to open, they weren’t able to resume business as usual, they had to take appointments which means less customers throughout the day. The customer’s safety was always a priority.

Since my son has been a customer’s of Raymond, he has done a number of toy drives and fundraisers for the community. He also has a passion for teaching new barbers and giving them the opportunity to develop skills for a career. His drive and passion that has remained steady throughout this pandemic is why I feel like he’s worthy of being a community champion.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Ever wish the world would just freeze in time so you could catch up? On March, 28, 2020, that's exactly what happened to us, at 555 Barbershop.
The very first thing we did, when the pandemic began, was not be part of the problem. We respected the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and obeyed Governor Murphy's executive order by temporarily closing 555 Barbershop, without performing a single haircut during the 3 month lockdown. It hurt us (along with many other businesses), yet, it is my belief that this particular act of selflessness returned to us in the form of blessings. Instead, realizing that everyone would be spending more time on their phones, we implemented an aggressive social media campaign that kept us relevant, throughout the lockdown.

Every day, we posted content to Instagram, Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and TikTok. Personally, while many saw the lockdown as a curse, I saw it as an opportunity to examine myself, my life and my business. For me, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to make changes on a grand scale.
In the 3 months I stayed in quarantine, I did nothing but prepare myself for the reopening of 555 Barbershop. During that time, I ate healthy, learned to exercise at home, read a ton of books, wrote as much as I read, made business plans, made personal discoveries and spent meaningful time with my children. In short, I used the free time—not to relax—but to prepare for success and feed my soul. When the lockdown was lifted and 555 Barbershop was allowed to reopen, we hit the ground running. Because we were able to harness the power of social media, our customers never forgot about us and we also gained a stream of new customers.

To ensure the safety of our clients, we allowed no more than 10 individuals at a time in the barbershop (including ourselves). We wore masks and gloves, religiously. We kept plenty of hand sanitizer for our customers and made sure everyone's temperature was normal. We kept the entire barbershop clean and sanitized, always. Our customers appreciate that we took these measures, for everyone's peace of mind.

Our social media marketing strategy continued, even after we reopened. We continued to develop our influence across all our platforms which brought us even more business.

Because I personally had an abundance of time to prepare myself (on all levels), I was able to think of a number of business solutions that usually escaped me before the lockdown. These solutions ranged from adding attractive new services to coming up with better ways to record social media content. Continuously adding new details to our services and business strategy helped 555 Barbershop thrive during the pandemic.

We hope our journey inspires others.

CMC Food

Nomination from Union County Board of County Commissioners, Chairman Alexander Mirabella

When COVID hit not only was the virus a threat food insecurity became a rising issue. Union County’s emergency food distributions were established as a lifeline for our residents during the pandemic.

CMC Food has been very generous during this troubling time and donated Fresh Eggs at the food distributions.

This family run business with deep roots within Union County continues to be resource for those in need. They are most deserving of this nomination for Union County Community Champion!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

It is an honor for CMC Food to be recognized as a Union County Small Business Community Champion. Over the past two years, many things have changed at CMC, but one thing has remained the same - the health and wellbeing of our team members, customers and community is still our top priority.

Several changes were initiated at CMC to guarantee employees felt comfortable coming to work. 

  • A “no visitors” policy went into effect at the start of the pandemic. 
  •  We installed a touchless facial scanner that not only checked temperatures, but it also alerted management when someone wasn’t wearing a mask or if their temperature was abnormal via text message or email.    
  • Tables were removed from our lunchroom, and we added a second lunchroom in another part of the building and picnic tables outside to make sure they could social distance while on lunch.
  • Desks in the offices were moved apart so we could allow for 6 feet and partitions were added. 
  • We set up a mailbox system to drop off paperwork to limit contact among employees. 
  •  Partitions were put up between each packing lane. 
  • We added a Port A John to shipping and receiving for drivers so they didn’t have to come inside.
  • We moved some of our team to another office to spread out and make sure everyone had enough room.

Many of our staff worked endless hours to keep up with the demand for eggs and we made sure to reward them for their hard work by giving them Covid Pay via gift cards on a weekly basis. We wouldn’t have been able to make it through without their hard work and showing our appreciation for them is very important to us.

Outside of the workplace, we worked hard to assist the community in many ways.  

  • We joined forces with UCNJ, Gargiulo Produce and Wakefern and donated eggs for their emergency food donation events at Kean University and Scotch Plains Vo-Tech.   
  • Other donations went out to The Community Food Bank of NJ, City Harvest, Philabundance, IYF and The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless.
  • We donated 500 cartons of milk to the Coalition for a new program to feed the homeless.   
  • Throughout the pandemic we also continued our partnership with Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen.  Since we couldn’t go volunteer in person like we usually do because of restrictions, we sent meals and fulfilled items that they had on their wish list.

Throughout the pandemic and going forward we are focused on taking care of our employees, customers and the community that surrounds us.

Don Ricky Bakery

Nomination from Carlos Herrera

Sandra has not only run a successful business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but she has also brought together businesses from the Colombian District of Elizabeth, NJ to help them gain access to assistance information for PPP loans and Small Business Relief funds from the CARES and ARP Act.

In addition, she has been one of the leading voices representing the Hispanic business community on the Neighborhood Preservation Program Advisory Board aimed at revitalizing the Historic Midtown/Colombian District. She is an example for other business leaders to follow.

Nomination from Jacqueline McNeil

During the height of the pandemic, Ms. Rojas help business owners who were not able to fill out application to receive financial aid to keep their business a float. Ms. Rojas assisted them in filling out the paper work online. Ms. Rojas is the resource person in the district people trust for guidance.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I am so grateful, being recognized by my community has to be the most rewarding feeling. I come from a very hard working family, DON RICKY BAKERY has been in business since 1976. We were the first Colombian Bakery in the State of New Jersey and in Elizabeth's Morris Ave.

Colombian District. In March 2020 when we were forced to close because of Covid 19- I saw the opportunity to remodel, I implemented a new business strategy, I removed some products, and boosted our best sellers, let some employees go and I, myself started working more hours.

While the pandemic was devastating families, businesses and lives I used my place as a liaison between the State's NPP Colombian District program and my community to help fill out applications for grants, keep businesses informed from the State, county and city entities, helped the Latino community fill out vaccine appointments on the internet and Covid testing. I also subscribed to "too good to go" an app where anyone can come and pick up food at a super reduced price. Now more than ever I realized that volunteering my time and helping others survive this pandemic was the best therapy against Covid.

I was never seeking recognition but many times had to step up and be aggressive to get people's attention on issues like vaccination, Covid testing, plastic ban and city regulations. I am still working to get Morris Ave. Colombian District clean, safe and a happy place to do business. Our merchants are very diverse in age and nationality but we all have the same purpose, to be successful and make Elizabeth a point of interest.
Many thanks to all that support my business and my community I am very proud to be in Elizabeth and continue the legacy of DON RICKY.

Elizabeth Education Association

Nomination from Oscar Cortizo

The Elizabeth Education Association is not a business but a non-profit who was instrumental in feeding the community and first responders this past year. Recently they were awarded $100,000 grant from NJEDA which help feed 10,000 residents here in Elizabeth. Last year they donated food to first responders and local churches, and shelters from their own funds. In addition to feeding the community they also partook in events throughout the city to help our youth and Senior Citizens. They’ve helped keep local eateries open by having meals catered throughout the past year.

In addition the EEA is in the process of applying for another grant to help our community and residents get through the upcoming Holiday season while utilizing their own funds to help throughout the summer months.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The Elizabeth Education Association is honored to receive the Community Champions Award.

The EEA is a non-profit organization which has been advancing the professional rights of Elizabeth’s educators and fostering cooperation between educators and the community for over 100 years.

Traditionally, our business model has focused primarily on advocacy for our members while providing support for the community. With the arrival of COVID-19 and with so many in need, we pivoted to focus primarily on the needs of the community while continuing to advocate for our members.

In cooperation with the New Jersey Education Association, we were able to reallocate funds from our annual Pride in Education grant to assist and provide relief for the community. We partnered with religious institutions, civic organizations, first responders, charities, community groups, business owners, athletic organizations, youth and senior programs, as well as local and county officials to provide thousands of meals.

To aid in our efforts, and after a lengthy application process, we were awarded $100,000 from the New Jersey Economic Development Agency as part of the Sustain and Serve NJ program. This state program afforded us the opportunity to provide thousands of additional meals from New Jersey-based restaurants that were impacted by COVID-19.

By utilizing resources made available to us by the NJEA and the NJEDA, we were able to provide more than 15,000 meals to the community and to our first responders. The EEA has also donated nonperishable items, personal protective equipment, and support supplies to local churches, charities, medical facilities, youth and senior programs, as well as directly to members of the community.

Currently, we are awaiting a decision on Phase 2 of the Sustain and Serve NJ program which could give us access to a half million dollars which can be used to support local restaurants and businesses


Little Hearts Big World

Nomination from Bruce Padulsky

Melissa started her company eight years ago when one of her friend’s daughter was diagnosed with a heart defect. Since Melissa stated her company, she had traveled to Cancun Mexico to train the firemen there in CPR and First Aid. Melissa also has recently trained the Fanwood Police and Fire Departments in CPR and has a very successful babysitting and first Responder classes through the Scotch Plains Recreation Department. Melissa has been on the Fanwood Rescue Squad for 20 years and Scotch Plains Rescue Squad for 18 years and was Captain of the Fanwood Rescue Squad.

During the pandemic, for her babysitting class she conducted the class through Zoom but she had to place the CPR manikins and AED trainers in bins deliver them to each student’s residence. Then she would watch each students CPR skills Zoom. After the three day class concluded, she would pick up the bins and sanitize each manikin and AED trainer.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

So, like everyone else once Covid began shutting things down I had to figure out how to keep things going and keep everyone safe. My company primarily teaches CPR, first aid, babysitting, and EMT courses which are all in person courses. We knew we couldn’t risk putting people together in person but all of these classes have hands on components and are regulated either by state or accrediting agency protocols. We became very creative in how to still work and stay within those guidelines.

Prior to the pandemic, I didn’t even know what Zoom was, let alone how to use it but I learned quick. We were able to take some of the Babysitting & CPR classes and teach them with a live instructor while the students were able to perform the skills from the safety of their homes. The hardest part was getting individual equipment to each student. We ended up putting CPR manikins, first aid supplies, AED trainers, and other equipment into large bins and dropped them off on students door steps for “contactless” drop off and pick up. When all the equipment was brought back after a class, we would disinfect everything and use UV lights.

Classes for EMT’s were not as easy to run. We switched over to writing online CEU classes so EMT’s could get the elective credits they needed when a lot of classes were cancelling. We delayed other EMT refresher classes initially but started doing in person classes masked and in small groups.
The other adaptation we began when the weather was nice was to hold classes outside. Whether it be at a local park, the local day care center or someone’s back yard, we found a way to teach these skills in some very unconventional ways.

We donated where we could. Fanwood police department, rescue squad, and fire department all still needed to keep their certifications active so I taught all their classes for my costs and kept the groups small. We baked and donated cookies to the Union County Covid Test Site and vaccination site. I also set it up so the Juice House in Garwood was able to supply snacks for the test site as well.

And through it all, I still rode for both Fanwood and Scotch Plains Rescue Squads. I have been an EMT for 20 years with Fanwood Rescue Squad and 17 years with Scotch Plains.

Sheelan’s Crossing

Nomination from Peter Martin

This restaurant has experienced losses and profound changes resulting from the pandemic. Nevertheless, this businesses continues to evolve in order to thrive again. While times have certainly changed Sheelen’s makes my family feel like home.

We may not be inside but taking advantage of their take out menu and outdoor dining almost makes us feel like it is 2019. So much times has passed. The owner’s invested back into their business when times were uncertain. They’ve done everything they could to stay open and I’m thankful that they are still around!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

It was a tough and hard road for our business during the pandemic of 2020. Like every small business in America, we made huge personal and financial sacrifices to ensure the survival of our restaurant and fish market. Not only was the pressure of our own financial future at stake but the financial wellbeing of our employees and their families. All of our team members sacrificed our health and the health of our families being front line workers.

In order to adjust to the changing environment, we pivoted our business into more of a takeout model and with enormous help from our community we generated enough business to keep our staff working. We rotated our staff between the two businesses to keep everyone gainfully employed.

As all businesses have done, we complied with all safety regulations and Covid 19 mandates to ensure the safety of our workers and guests. We used window pickup at our locations to keep our guests safe so they didn’t have to enter the building to pick up their take -out orders.

We participated in some great programs that offered meals to Front Line workers at a reduced rate that was funded by donations from the community.

We supplied 200 meals a day for three months to homeless families and individuals at St. Joseph Social service Center in Elizabeth, NJ, through a program setup by Saint. Helen Catholic Church. We received anonymous donations to help our business survive from a generous member of our community and the money was used to fund this meal program.

We supplied 100 meals three times during a three month time frame to Our lady of Peace Catholic church to help families in need . We received donations for this program from a devoted servant of the congregation. We participated and our currently participating in a program for the Mountainside Seniors to provide low cost meals for senior residents of the community who are on fixed incomes.

My partner and I are very fortunate to make it through the worst of the pandemic. However, we certainly have a struggle in front of us with the current inflation and rising cost of goods. We are constantly adapting, reinventing ourselves with upcoming menu changes and creative marketing promotions. We expanded Sheelen’s Fish Market to a second location in North Plainfield and were able to employ 10 new staff members under our business group.


Ace Hardware

Nomination from Lisa Bonanno

Ace Hardware never closed their doors and were non-stop during the pandemic. This local shop was my go to for masks, hand sanitizer and wipes! They were always fully stocked and friendly during the worst of times. They were constantly disinfecting the store and limited the number of customers inside. They were also very generous to frontline works and donated a lot of PPE!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We have been in business for over 30 years now and have faced some ups and downs over the years but we have never faced a challenge like this. Some of our long-time vendors and friends had to shut down their doors for good.

We were lucky to be considered an essential place and were allowed to keep our doors open the whole time. We had to make a few adjustments throughout the pandemic. We shortened our hours, limited the number of people allowed in the store, did regular temperature checks for employees, and set higher cleaning standards in place for not just the safety of our employees but our customers as well. We continued to get our regular deliveries however it was a struggle to keep things on the shelf as well as getting them in.

Therefore, we had to set limits on how many each person can take home. However, it was hard to say no to our regular customers who have supported us through the years and a few there generations. We tried to help as many communities and/ or facilities as we could. We allowed first responders to take first pick at everything we had in stock as well as donated masks, gloves, and face shields to hospitals like St. Barnabas, Overlook, and Trinitas to name a few. We wish we could have done more to help.

Our business motto is to always help our customers with what they need rather than just sell them things and we try to help them by explaining step by step what they need to do to fix their issue. We like to make our customers feel as if they were friends and that we care about them and their families and keep them in our prayers. We are thankful to our customers who chose to shop locally to support their small business hardware store.

Without them, we wouldn't be where we are today without them and for that we are grateful.

All About Paws

Nomination from Lisa Bonanno

I’m happy that All About Paws is still in business. My pup was looking really shaggy and my DYI haircuts were not the prettiest! They revamped their services to be done by appointment only. The door is always locked and you have to all for pickups.

Their doggy daycare service remained open for pet owners’ who were working during the pandemic. They are very hardworking and constantly disinfecting all areas. I always feel at ease sending my pup to All About Paws!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The health and wellness of our guests, customers and employees were our number one priority at All About Paws during the outbreak .We added a lot of additional cleaning protocols to our day to day. We had extensive daily cleaning protocols that kept our facility clean for dogs, employees and pet parents alike.

We were paying special attention to any frequently contacted areas such as door handles, latches, lobby, rest rooms, and other areas and objects that are more often used. We were asking employees to stay home if they weren’t feeling well. We all routinely wash our hands properly, use hand sanitizer, and maintain good hygiene practices.

The use of masks was mandatory to anyone entering our lobby. We did our best to keep All About Paws open during COVID-19!

Conant Street Auto Service

Nomination from Lisa Bonanno

Using the can-do attitude he learned in the military, Billy keeps his business running safely and efficiently. This local first responder employs other first responders at his shop. He is all about helping his community.

He’s worked out payment plans for residents in need- it’s a hard time for everyone and it’s one less decision for a working family to make; putting food on the table or fixing the car. He’s been during the pandemic and sanitizes throughout the day. He’s gone above and beyond to make everyone feel safe! He is a community champion!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Every owner has to be a public health expert now especially mechanics. Deemed essential my main focus went to keeping customers and employees safe. Every car that comes into this auto body shop goes a thorough disinfecting.

We had meetings with staff to go over the social distancing measures that we implementing, and ordered as much cleaning supplies as we could. These precautions cost, adding up the expenses going through cleaners, sanitizers, and gloves it’s a lot. At first nobody was going to work, so nobody needed to fix their car. It’s an upsetting feeling. You’re used to a number of customers, seeing their familiar faces every day. And bam suddenly everything stops. Seeing the streets go dead, it was out of a horror movie.

For a while the only customers needed work were first responders. Usually when they came in, it was always an emergency, their battery died, and needed transportation. As a business owner and first responder myself I recognized the need to get them in out as fast as possible. We had some local customers that fell on hard times- we helped them as much as we could by extending credit to them. We’re here to stay.

Crincoli Service Center

Nomination from Arthur Kobitz

This local auto body shop did all they could to stay open during the pandemic. They kept employees/ customers safe by offering additional features like pick up\drop off services that helped limit interactions during repair work being completed.

Not allowing walk in business had to have hurt their profits- all work was scheduled by appointment only. During hard pandemic times they extended credit for repairs to members of the community in need.

They deserve to be recognized for their commitment to their employees & the community!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The business took safety precautions so that we can continue to operate during the pandemic. These included wearing gloves and masks and sanitizing the shop and customer's car. In order to lessen the chances of exposure, we offered pickup and drop-off services.
Work was scheduled by appointments only, no walk-ins.

Weathering the storm of Covid-19 included going to work and returning home in order to keep the citizens of Hillside safe, while getting their service rendered. Not socializing is also a crucial part of keeping the business running here at Crincoli Service Center.

Fresh & Pretty Plus Florist

Nomination from Robert Rios

It is my pleasure to nominate Fresh & Pretty Plus Florist for Community Champion! During the dark and sad days of Covid this selfless florist donated many arrangements to sick homebound individuals.

These floral care packages gave people a reason to smile during the toughest times.

Even while profits were down and normal occasions were placed on hold, she managed to stay open and bring joy to her community!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

As a florist, my business includes providing fresh flowers and houses of worship (altar baskets), funeral homes, (Condolence arrangements and plants), anniversaries and birthday deliveries, However, during Covid everything came to a complete halt. With inventory still in the shop, I would make small arrangements and with the help of the senior center, attain addresses and donate them to the seniors here in town.

Standing back after a delivery and seeing the smiles on the faces of those in isolation brought joy to my heart (and often tears to my eyes). With the entire country in shut down I felt that this small gesture would at least make someone smile. And considering the alternative, losing inventory, this was an easy task. This community has been extremely good to my business over the years and yes, I lost revenue, but I gained so much more knowing that the community that I served still needed to know that they were loved and appreciated.

Survival financially during Covid is hard but having faith in the community that I both live and work in I know can be rebuilt. Yes, I have lost so much and so many friends and neighbors but by the grace of God I’m still standing.

Grilled Chicken Palace

Nomination from Dahlia Vertreese

While having a decrease in sales due to mandated closures GCP still put their community first.

Their willingness to help their community as well as frontline workers battling the pandemic is inspiring.

It's not surprising that this generous restaurant remains open! They continue to feed our community’s heart & soul!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When the decision was announced to shut down GCP, it was very scary. We had no idea as to what needed to be done to maintain.

After being closed for a month we were advised that the operation could reopen as a takeout only.

Luckily for us that is 95% of our business. Keeping in line with the mandated regulations we modified our hours & days. We also met each customer at the door to avoid entry.
Thinking of the acts that went on during those times makes me very thankful to still be here in Hillside operating our business for 13 years now.

GCP appreciates the loyalty & support that our customers have showed us throughout these difficult times.

Herb’s Diner

Nomination from Dahlia Vertreese

Herb’s Diner is one of the longest running businesses in Hillside and for good reason. Sylvia is hardworking and her home style cooking is pandemic proof.

She’s taken a lot of extra steps to keep her customers safe by having them call in orders and pick up curbside. It was a hard decision to make but she did have to reduce her staff and picked up all the additional work on her own. She worked very hard to keep Herb’s open and when things got better she brought back her staff.

She is staple in Hillside and I’m happy they have survived!!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

At Herb’s Diner it wasn’t easy to survive COVID-19.

We had to make a changes like disinfecting more often and making hand sanitizer readily available. To keep everyone safe we limited the number of people in the diner to two at a time and only took orders over the phone.

We also offered additional services like curbside pickup.
We had to let go of most of our employees for a few months until things started to pick up again.

We kept our customers by keeping our prices the same for as long as we could, it wasn’t easy with the prices of everything going up. We’ve made sacrifices & hope this will all be over soon.

Hillside Bagel & Deli

Nomination from Craig Epps

By this point, we’ve all read the headlines about COVID’s devastating impact on small business. The name of the game right now is just to survive and this small business is doing just that. They offer contactless delivery through apps and have brought in new business because of it. These apps are bringing in new faces, giving this small business a stronger presence among those who are comfortable with using technology.

For those of us who still run in to grab a quick bagel; the plastic partitions and the signage make feel comfortable going inside the store. They are supportive of their community and together we’ll get through this!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

There is no real playbook when it comes to handling Covid. We’re family run and our customers we consider our family, so safety was our first concern. Mostly a takeout business we still had extra things we had to do to keep everyone safe from COVID. We added plastic dividers and signage for safety.

We disinfect the counters regularly and have hand sanitizer when picking up orders. We also offer delivery services through apps for contactless delivery. If it wasn’t for the support of our community, we wouldn’t be in business.

Hollywood Laundromat

Nomination from Lisa Bonanno

I choose Hollywood Laundromat for Community Champion- Sally’s positive presence in my neighborhood was staying open for families without their own washing and drying machines. There were new concerns with the virus and lugging bags of daily clothes to the neighborhood laundry mats.

Laundromats are shared spaces which can be off putting for some of our residents. Many are afraid their clothing could be bringing the virus home. Many shared fears with Sally as to how they could continue using her facility safely.

She took those conversations seriously. Sally took the precautions of wiping down the inside and outside of the machines including the buttons. In addition face masks are required for the staff and employees at all times. All the while reminding her customers to disinfect whatever tote was used to transport laundry. Sally struggled through this pandemic but has always maintained her love for her customers and her township. Even in her darkest days sally has remained a champion for us all!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I have been struggling throughout this pandemic, for over eighteen months. Many difficult business decisions were made so I could remain open as mandated by the Governor. I navigated the ever changing pandemic landscape by following recommended guidance on personal protective equipment, social distancing, store maintenance, and garment handling procedures.

This public health crisis also brought structural changes complete with plexi glass safe guarding

I made sure to educate all of my customers on safety protocols all the while fearing my own economic struggles. I am thankful my business survived!

Lord’s Bagel

Nomination from Rob Rios

Brave is opening up a business during Covid – Resilient is keep one a float and surviving these uncertain times. I admire in many ways what it takes to pull off an idea-turned-business but what I admire more is the inventiveness and resilience of Lord’s Bagel who have made it through.

They have added items to promote social distancing like dividers and plexi glass. Everyone is fully masked and the team cleans frequently. Thankful to have them here in Hillside!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We took a leap of faith starting our own business during the pandemic, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 2020 was tough for small business and we are seeing challenges into this year with growing concerns about the rise in Covid cases.

We learned an immeasurable amount about perseverance and how to keep adjusting plans. We initially had a larger menu planned but when we opened we shifted to items that were more take out friendly. We disinfect regularly, everyone is masked and we’ve put up glass to create some distance. Some things never change- We stick by the mantra that good food and quality ingredients should be available to everyone at prices that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

We’re thankful for our customers and staff that make this possible!

Naomy Dominican Beauty Salon

Nomination from Lisa Bonanno

No one could prepare salons for what was coming in 2020. People needed community, they missed their routine. Naomy was there for her clients at a time when they valued their stylist more than usual. And even though most people were scared and wanted to stay inside, getting a hair touch up gave them hope and light.

Motivated by the feeling that we all still want to feel beautiful they are open by appointment only. It’s important for Naomy to make her customers feel as safe and normal as possible. The door is locked – the no walk in policy is strict but the sense of community is strong.

Their willingness to adapt for the sake of their clients shows the value in how essential their services are to their community in terms of self-care, confidence and mental health.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Covid has been a reflection what it means to survive! It showed me where we were succeeding, where we were failing and where we can do better. We changed a lot of practices in my business, and how to be creative in other ways.

Buying products at the salon was never a major part of my business. I had an idea it could be profitable, I never had (made) the time and investment. Now I realize just how important having other ways to bring in money. We were shut down we had to survive. Even when opening we couldn’t have our usual number of people inside. Appointment only – limited spaces. We tried to keep our vibes the same with music! We’re thankful for our customers and are happy to see their masked faces!

Nolasco’s Convenience Store

Nomination from Lisa Bonanno

Nolasco’s Convenience store has served as a lifeline to our community during Covid. Being able to go to a local store without lines wrapped around the building gave me a relief.

They set guidelines limiting the number of people allowed into the store and put ample signage about social distancing. They stayed stocked up on all the essentials! They should be recognized for their hard work and dedication to the community!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I know every person who comes into this store and they know me. I’m glad that I was able to stay open and stocked during these tough times. The need and rush almost reminds me of a blizzard. You get a snowstorm it’s busy for a day or so, but everybody knows that everything will be fine.

With this virus, there’s so much uncertainty its snowstorm everyday and people are stocking up. We worked very hard every day to ensure the store was clean and the shelves were stocked. We set limited to make people feel safe and always wear masks! Thank you to the community for your support!

Ola Café

Nomination from Lisa Bonanno

This community café revamped their entire business plan to survive the pandemic. Without being able to have people inside the café during the lockdown they started a delivery service. When they are allowed to have people inside the café they enforce social distancing and provide sanitizers at every table.

They also have dividers in place to create a barrier and some additional safeguard distance.

Even though times were tough they still managed to give meals to families in need. They deserve our recognition for their good deeds and hard work!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

People throughout the world have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. At Ola Café, we are doing our part to help prevent the further spread of the virus and new variants, while also supporting the needs of our patrons, employees and Hillside community. We have – and always will – put the health, safety and security of people first.

Because of this we have always respected all CDC guidelines during the pandemic, regarding social distancing, cleaning protocols and mandatory use of masks inside our business. Also we made efforts to keep Ola Cafe opened to serve Hillside community when lockdown started in March of 2020.

We reduced our business hours and number of employees to keep serving the community and adapted to this new time offering delivery service to help our customers to be safe at home without exposition to the virus.

As a social responsibility with our community we have served meals and coffee for people that were in need and didn’t have means to afford it. After the end of lockdown period and reopening for indoor dining we still care about our patrons and employee’s health and safety. Because of this, we offer hand sanitizers in all tables inside our coffee shop, we encourage the social distancing and use of masks inside our business. We believe that way we can decrease the virus spread. We are also having outdoor dining option with tables outside for those customers who don’t feel safe to indoor dining yet. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, we have implemented additional cleaning and sanitization routines inside Ola Café.

After the authorization for reopening for indoor service by New Jersey government we kept the delivery service active (which increased since pandemic started), because many people don’t feel comfortable to be back to normal life yet and we respect people choices and concerns.
We strive excellence, health and safety and we are happy to serve our customers and Hillside community during this difficult time.

Pao de Mel Bakery

Nomination from Robert Rios

Pao de Mel Bakery is my source of comfort food especially during the pandemic. They are a safe place to decompress in the world of Covid! They have taken extra steps to make their customers feel comfortable with going out again.

They moved tables for social distancing and provided hand sanitizer to everyone in the store. Employees wear masks and gloves at all times; they are constantly busy cleaning areas that are frequently touched.

They remained opened during the pandemic when a lot of stores closed.

They are deeply committed to staying open for their customers and employees!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When Covid started back in March 2020, it hit us really bad. I didn’t understand where all my customers had disappeared to, no one wanted to go out to buy anything, and everyone was locked inside of house worried about the virus. We wanted everyone to feel safe to come out again!

We took extra safety measures by wearing masks, gloves, making hand sanitizers available. When customers came back we did not allow anyone to be seated inside of store. We switched employee’s shifts to keep everyone working and give them breaks. We kept ourselves on a tight budget - we started doing food shopping less often and buying only necessary products to keep the store running.

We’re doing as much we can to keep the store open and keep the employees working. We’re proud to say that we kept the store open and never closed during of pandemic!

Phil’s Unisex Salon

Nomination from Angelo Bonanno

Barbershops have not been spared from COVID-19, they were among the hardest hit financially. Even now that they are allowed to open their doors there are a lot of the extra precautions they have to take that are so costly. I’m more than happy to go through the extra steps for safety -Phil’s is the best haircut in town!

From temperature checks to wearing masks and watching them disinfect I don’t worry about Covid when I sit in his chair. He took the time during the pandemic to put money into the business by not only disinfecting but overhauled the look. I’m glad they survived and can’t wait to see them soon!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Nicky came to America from Avellino, Italy as a young child and became a barber at age 16, taking three buses and working three jobs to pay for his schooling. He had owned 2 barber shops in Northern NJ before moving to Hillside and working alongside Phil Cardaci for over 30 years.
When Covid hit they had to shut down the barber shop. Unfortunately, during this time, Phil passed away.

After the shock and grief, Nicky revamped the entire barber shop. He hired professional cleaners to thoroughly disinfect and sanitize the entire barber shop. He repainted, redecorated and updated the furniture, equipment and supplies in the shop. He followed all safety and sanitation protocols. He currently disinfects every chair after a client is finished, using all new cleaned smocks and towels for every client. He takes everyone’s temperature upon entry to the shop and has sanitizer at the entrance and all around the barber shop. He also always wears a mask and requires all clients to wear one as well. If they forget theirs, there are plenty of masks available at the shop.

When the State allowed barber shops to reopen, it was by appointment only and a written record was kept of everyone who entered, along with their phone numbers in case contact tracing became necessary so he could let anyone know if they came in contact with a Covid positive client. Thankfully, no one contracted Covid but it they had, he was prepared to notify the client, town and county with all the necessary information.

Nicky continues to follow all safety protocols and is continually monitoring the situation in order to best serve the safety and concerns of his clients and employees. He is looking forward to working hard and getting this business back to its Pre-Covid self.

ProSign Print Shop

Nomination from Craig Epps

This small local sign business that prides itself is relationships offered deals to Hillside businesses during Covid. Instead of taking advantage the need for Covid signage they put home town relationships over funds.

This humble hardworking sign shop remains in business and their resiliency should be celebrated!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The business did not get much funding from the State and we still have a pending grant application in process. The store was closed during the majority of the pandemic so I tried to maintain the clients I had. In short the way I guess that I have been able to survive is because I try to build relationships with people before I try to earn their business.

I've been in all different types of sales roles the past 10-15 years of my career that have prepared me. Each different role gave me the ability to try my best to perfect that craft. I attended FDU for business and finance so it was always a goal to open a business and god willing be able to scale in time.

It's been up and down for years to say the very least, and close to closing the business countless times, but if you're willing to put the work in any venture you take on, perseverance will always win in the long run.

Over the past 4 years I have been able to retain a lot of loyal customers which I am greatly thankful for, and that's most likely why we survived for now!

TG Beauty Supply

Nomination from Craig Epps

Small businesses have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic. These small businesses are the backbone of the community providing goods and services that we’ve taken for granted at times.

The widespread practice of “social distancing” in response to the spread of COVID-19 is dramatically reducing the revenue of small businesses in every community. TG Beauty Number One Store takes social distancing seriously!

They changed many policies to keep their client and staff safe. They even invested in stickers to promote the recommended six feet apart! They have mask mandates and limit the number of customers in the store.

The scarifies they have made to remain in business are admirable!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Like a lot of other small businesses, it has been quite challenging staying afloat especially during the lock down and the scare that came with Covid-19.

We could not open up and sell immediately after the lock down was called off but when we eventually did we had to put the following measures In place to help reduce the spread of the virus and ensure safety of staff, customers and the community at large.

We ensured everyone within the business premises have their mask on. Even now, in light of the aggressive Delta variant, we still encourage customers who are vaccinated to wear mask, knowing that people who are not vaccinated are at very high risk of getting the virus. We’ve made hand sanitizers available for staff and customers. We encourage our staff to their wash hands often.

We put up notices in the store to advice customers of new regulations In place to help check the spread of COVID-19 for example, customers are not allowed to try on wigs and if they have to, it will be with the help of a staff and they have to get a new wig cap and are encouraged to buy the wig they tried on. No exchange or return of hair and hair accessories.

With the use of the 6 feet stickers on the floor of the store, Customers are encourage encouraged to observe social distancing.

Also, being out of business for a period cost us some. We were able to get some products from our suppliers and then pay much later after sales and that was really helpful.

Above all, we acknowledge and appreciate the Hillside community for supporting and encouraging small businesses.

Revive Salon & Spa

Nomination from Lisa Bonanno

The relief of being able to go back to Revive Salon made me feel normal during these uncertain pandemic times. When they were allowed to reopen they took so many precautions to make everyone feel safe. They no longer accepted walk in’s and everything is by appointment only.

They continue to limit the amount of people allowed inside this most certainly hurts their profits. Even when experiencing financial loss they purchased plastic dividers to separate clients, face masks for all employees, and hand sanitizers at all stations.

With all of these extra precautions temperature checks are required. The level of concern they have for not only their employees but their client makes the environment feel like family. I feel safe and I’m actually able to relax while I’m there.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

There is no preparing for a pandemic like we faced this past year and yet many small businesses like myself, are still trying to recuperate from our losses. Despite the pain we all felt as small business owners, it's nothing in comparison to those tragic lives lost. May God console and heal our community for those family members affected.

In order for my business to survive these difficult times during the shutdown and beyond… I planned ahead for the day our business would reopen.

During that 3 month period… I started ordering dividers, sanitizers, face masks, and all cleaning supplies in advance. I also developed a game plan with social distancing preparations, since we are a salon and we have direct contact with our clients on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, we are still in the negative since the pandemic began… but the preparations helped us survive and make our clients feel safe which was most important to me. Safety was my major concern so I implemented many rules for my staff to ensure our client’s safety.
We had weekly meetings to discuss how we can follow the state orders and protocols. My biggest joy was to hear my customers tell me how safe they felt coming to my business.

Once again, I’m extremely honored to be recognized for my team’s efforts to keep my clients safe and I feel blessed to be able to serve my community.

Survival financially during Covid is hard but having faith in the community that I both live and work in I know can be rebuilt. Yes, I have lost so much and so many friends and neighbors but by the grace of God I’m still standing.

Q + Beauty Supply

Nomination from Craig Epps

Q+ sells wigs, weaves, hair beauty products and everything in between. The store has always stocked gloves, but as the pandemic emerged demand greatly increased.

There were new requests for products they had not sold in the past like hand sanitizer and masks. They quickly accommodated the need for these items! Due to salons being closed the local community went to the store for supplies to up keep their routines.

Having a local store that carries these items helped with self-care and mental health during the pandemic. They made changes and have survived the worst of the pandemic!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Q+ Beauty Supply has been a family-owned and operated business serving the community of Hillside, NJ for 20 years. Within the same complex, just a few stores down the strip, stands our sister company Q+ Hair & Wigs. Both stores were heavily impacted by the pandemic and seeing firsthand the many mom-and-pops around us shutting down permanently was just gut-wrenching.

Although a significant part of our inventory always consisted of hygiene products as well as personal protective equipment from the start, we needed to shift our focus even more on these essential items given that the community was in dire need of them amidst a large shortage.

After closing our doors anyway for being "non-essential" and getting denied funding, we got right back up once the statewide restriction was lifted determined to remain open not only for our family, but just as importantly for our community.

We ramped up on sanitizing sprays, gloves, and masks by linking with the right suppliers overseas and had systems set in place inside the store locations to provide a clean/safe environment for our patrons. We even made direct in-person deliveries on many occasions for those who were unable to leave the house.

Although challenging in many different ways, our resilience truly would not have been possible without the adaptation, patience, and persistence of our customers.



Nomination from Union County Board of County Commissioners, Chairman Alexander Mirabella

To say the pandemic has changed small businesses is an understatement however it has not changed the selflessness of &grain. While suffering a loss in sales they continued to give back to their community.

Most people in need have a hard time asking for help- This business has given over two thousand loaves of bread plus numerous meals with no questions asked.  I’m thankful for the support they have given to the community and nominate them to be recognized for their generous efforts. 

Nomination from Renee Dufresne

&grain has stepped up to every challenge the pandemic threw its way. They have adapted their business in many ways to remain open and to continue serving their community. They invested not only their time but their savings to keep their dream alive.  Pre-pandemic John worked long hours but had a team by his side.

Covid made those long hours look like a walk in the park. He had to make cuts and furloughed a lot of employees but the work still needed to be done. He took on all sorts of tasks from opening to close… He was the baker making your bread, the barista making your latte, the person answering the phone for takeout orders, and even sometimes the delivery guy dropping off your order so you can be safe. When he was done at the business he was researching; looking for new opportunities and resources to be a step ahead. 

He evolved to online ordering\delivery options something he would have never considered because his pre-pandemic plan worked.  He made new plans and continues to grow his business every day. When he is not tirelessly working he’s giving back to his community.  Pre-pandemic he would donate to his community and local food drives- During the pandemic he brought it to the next level offering meals to those in need without blinking an eye. The amount of heart and sacrifice to continue to give when times are bad is a true testament to the character of &grain.  They are champions in my book.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Covid has been the best and worst thing that could have ever happened to my business.   The worse is obvious, look at my bottom line and you can easily see a 50% decrease in sales forcing me to lay off half of my staff and leaving a huge question mark on what tomorrow will bring.  Then look at what COVID has forced me to do, get out of my comfort zone, my routine, and force me into the 20th century.  If it weren't for Covid I don't think I would have ever had an online store or offered delivery.  Covid forced me to reevaluate my business and see how I could improve and adapt to the current conditions instead of sulking and pointing fingers as to why things were so bad.  I took all the available resources I had to adapt to the environment we were operating in.

I pivoted from a business that relied solely on dine in business to one that offered only takeout and delivery.  If it weren't for the roots that I had planted in the community and my solid group of loyal customers (what I call friends) I would have been out of business.   I thought how could I give back and pay forward the blessings that I have accumulated in our, at that time 8 years in business.  I thought long and hard and I came up with the idea of offering bread (and food) to those in need for free, no questions asked.  We started a campaign for free bread for essentially anyone who asked.  It was the one thing we could do to do our small part to help anyone in need.

During the pandemic we gave out over 2,000 loaves of bread plus countless meals to those in need and hit hardest by the pandemic.  While most businesses shut their doors and decided to "take a break until things blew over" we looked adversity in the face and kept grinding each and every single day.  I have to thank my loyal staff and customers for believing in us and helping us which in turn allowed us to help others thru this most difficult time. 

Thank you for this nomination and most importantly thank you for your continued support.  Together we will all get through this.  It’s like my dad always use to say "one hand washes the other and together they both wash the face."

Bella Rococo at Emilia’s

Nomination from Nikki Mulcahy

Stefanie and her team at Bella Rococo at Emilia’s were open for less than a year when Covid hit. Like all small businesses, especially those in the service industry they saw their livelihood come to a halt and the success they were enjoying now became a faint memory. Despite the unending uncertainty, they thought outside the box and thought creatively to keep business going.

They teamed up with local businesses to collaborate, they made donations to local FLAG groups even when they needed to conserve, they created new services to safely serve their customers and when they could reopen they came back stronger than ever! On June 4th they celebrated their 2nd anniversary and are on a path to great success!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

My name is Stefanie Savino and I'm honored and excited to be recognized as a Union County Small Business Community Champion. I opened my salon in June of 2019. It was my biggest dream manifested and I was so excited of what the future had in store for me and my team. March 2020 we had to close our doors and shut down due to the lockdown. At first I was extremely anxious as I was still navigating being a business owner nevertheless be a business owner during a global pandemic.

At first I thought we were going to close for three weeks at the most, but I was wrong. During the initial weeks of the shutdown, I made sure my team members were always informed and understood how to apply for unemployment benefits. We had weekly or biweekly team meeting via Zoom. During this time there were mask and glove shortages in the hospitals. A client of the salon wrote about this on Facebook and we donated every box of gloves that we had in the salon and masks. We felt that it was the least we could do to help out the medical professionals who were on the front line.

As a new business open less than a year we had to strategize how we could make money while being shut down. We could not perform services on our clients, but we wanted them to feel that we were thinking of them and that they could still look and feel beautiful (even while in quarantine). We were able to work with our distribution companies and have online stores that allowed our clients to purchase products, have it shipped directly to them and we would get a commission from the sale.

Then we connected with the Borough of Garwood and set up a way to have our clients purchase online gift cards. During this time we would have tutorials for the guests and lots of social media interaction. Two game changers that really helped us get through this difficult time and assist in making our rent and utilities payment was our at home color kits and merchandise sales. We created bags with hair color, gloves, a bowl, gloves and a brush and would deliver these to our clients or have them pick it up at the salon.

We also partnered with DpHue who manufactures color kits that people can buy and salons receive a commission per each sale. Jersey Local started by Think D'sign Print in Cranford helped raise money for local businesses by making tee shirts with business logos and sell them. The businesses would receive a portion of the sales of shirts that they sold. These two initiatives combined with donations from clients, and sales from our ecommerce sites really helped the salon during this difficult time.

I pride myself in having a business that truly values giving back. During the pandemic shutdown, we sent donuts and refresher drinks to the Garwood Police department as a thank you for all they did during that time. When everything was shut down, rainbows started to appear all over windows of houses and businesses. This sign provided hope to people that we will get through this and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. To provide a little sunshine for people walking down Center Street in Garwood, I made a front window display of rainbow streamers and a big thank you sign for all the essential workers, doctors, nurses, grocery workers, DPW, Post office and delivery workers, etc to thank them for all their efforts and hard work during this time.

June 4, 2020 was the salon's one year anniversary being in business. We didn't let the pandemic ruin our celebration of being strong and standing during this crazy time. My entire team and I had a Honk-a-Thon anniversary parade to celebrate. We invited our entire client base and business associates to come celebrate with us and honk when they drove by. We gave out product samples to people as they drove or walked by and still acknowledged that we were still standing tall regardless of the adversity we were dealing with COVID-19. 

To prepare for reopening my team and I took constant online education classes to keep on top of our skills and to stay inspired. We kept in contact by our weekly Zoom meetings and group chats. In preparing for reopening we hired a cleaning service that comes once a week for deep cleaning and disinfection of the salon. The entire team completed the Barbercide training for COVID-19 Sanitation guidelines. We followed State Board rules and regulations and had temperature check when each guest arrived, everyone wore masks, constantly cleaning the salon in between guests, distanced the stations six feet apart and had an online health form for each guest to complete. I am grateful and happy to say my entire team came back to work upon reopening and were excited to get back to providing a great experience for our guests and be around each other.

This past year has taught me a variety of lessons and there were many nights were I would lay awake wondering how this will all work out. Thankfully, each day I am able to turn the key into my salon and serve. I lead an amazing group of people who are so beyond talented and kind and that makes my job so much easier. I turn a key to a salon that people come too and feel safe, comfortable, happy and relaxed and that makes me feel accomplished. I feel good knowing that with everything we all have to deal with in this day and age I can provide a place of joy and calm. 

Thank you again for this amazing news at being a Union County Small Business Community Champion it means so much to me. At the end of the day I am in business to make people look and feel good about themselves and I'm grateful after all this I can still do that each and every day.


Nomination from Madison Szilagyi

Crossroads is the crux of what brings people together: good food and good music. It’s a Union County treasure, where you can share a meal with your favorite people while watching your favorite band or comedian on any given night. When Covid swept the globe, it didn’t just pull us all apart from the people we loved - it pulled apart the industries that help bring us together. As an independent music venue with a full bar and restaurant, Crossroads was hit hard from both sides.

Like many restaurants, Crossroads had a difficult decision to make: close up shop or adapt. Crossroads’ owner, Lee Frankel, decided to charge ahead, using the kitchen to fill to-go orders and pivot to outdoor dining once the state decided it was safe to do so. Not only did this mean investing in renovating an outdoor space, but investing in the people that keep Crossroads running. The venue managed to keep a full staff on deck — with old staff members even rallying and returning to help where they could.

Despite the challenge of keeping a restaurant and full staff running during a pandemic, Mr. Frankel also pushed to give back to the local community. With an operational kitchen, Crossroads was able to donate food to hospitals and frontline workers in the area. Additionally, they made the most of their outdoor space, using their parking lot as a drop-off area for food banks — and continue to do so.

In the spirit of community, Mr. Frankel and Crossroads banded together with other independent venues that were impacted by Covid and joined the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). Despite restrictions limiting indoor operations, outdoor dining allowed Crossroads to bring live entertainment outside. This meant that local musicians would have a place to work and perform, helping us all find a sliver of normalcy. While Crossroads couldn’t operate normally as a music venue, they pivoted their business model to include live streaming. Artists could film and stream live performances anywhere in the world, right from Crossroads. This new development proved not only to be profitable, but served as an introduction of a small business in a small town to a global audience.

Now in its 25th year of operation, Crossroads has proved its resilience as a small business in the face of ever changing circumstances. Despite the challenges presented by Covid, Mr. Frankel has found new, innovative ways to adapt and thrive to keep this local favorite alive. Having a place to congregate, to share a meal, and to experience live music after a devastating global pandemic is a testament not only to Crossroads’ fortitude, but to the positive impact it has on the entire Union County community.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Crossroads is the crux of what brings people together: good food and good music. It’s a Union County treasure, where you can share a meal with your favorite people while watching your favorite band or comedian on any given night. When Covid swept the globe, it didn’t just pull us all apart from the people we loved - it pulled apart the industries that help bring us together. As an independent music venue with a full bar and restaurant, Crossroads was hit hard from both sides. 

Like many restaurants, Crossroads had a difficult decision to make: close up shop or adapt. Crossroads’ owner, Lee Frankel, decided to charge ahead, using the kitchen to fill to-go orders and pivot to outdoor dining once the state decided it was safe to do so. Not only did this mean investing in renovating an outdoor space that would ensure a safe six foot distance between guests, but investing in the safety of the people that keep Crossroads running. The venue managed to keep a full staff on deck — with old staff members rallying and returning to help where they could. Regular temperature checks and health logs were kept and all staff have been required to wear masks. 

Despite the challenge of keeping a restaurant and full staff running during a pandemic, Mr. Frankel also pushed to give back to the local community. With an operational kitchen, Crossroads was able to donate food to hospitals and frontline workers in the area, such as RWJ University Hospital at Rahway, through FLAG and Feed The Front Lines NJ. Additionally, they made the most of their outdoor space, using their parking lot as a drop-off area for local food banks and supported holiday drives with the Garwood Police Department and Union County Women’s Rugby team, Lady Mudturtles. 

In the spirit of community, Mr. Frankel and Crossroads banded together with other independent venues that were impacted by Covid and joined the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). Despite restrictions limiting indoor operations, outdoor dining allowed Crossroads to bring live entertainment outside. This meant that local musicians would have a place to work and perform, helping us all find a sliver of normalcy. While Crossroads couldn’t operate normally as a music venue, they pivoted their business model to include live streaming. Artists could film and stream live performances anywhere in the world, right from Crossroads. This new development proved not only to be profitable, but served as an introduction of a small business in a small town to a global audience. 

Now in its 25th year of operation, Crossroads has proved its resilience as a small business in the face of ever changing circumstances. Despite the challenges presented by Covid, Mr. Frankel has found new, innovative ways to adapt and thrive to keep this local favorite alive - doubling down on business while business was down. Having a place to congregate, to share a meal, and to experience live music after a devastating global pandemic is a testament not only to Crossroads’ fortitude, but to the positive impact it has on the entire Union County community. 

Crossroads is humbled and honored to be nominated as a Union County Small Business Champion. Mr. Frankel would like to thank the County, the community, and the entire Crossroads crew for all of their unwavering support through such unprecedented times. 

Rosie’s Wine Bar

Nomination from Jennifer Love

I can't really say enough goodness about Josh and Rosie's Wine Bar. Rosie's has been a favorite of mine since they opened. You could say it is my "Cheers". They have always been a big part of the community and have been great to their customers, both regulars and new. Throughout the years, Josh has always run community driven events. He has championed for the Garwood community regularly participating in town wide events

When Covid happened, Josh stepped up to the plate as he always does and started working for the underdog. Not only was he delivering meals himself to clients, but he was making sure that he was taking care of the front line workers on a regular basis.

For me it is more personal. My mom, unfortunately, passed away in December due to Covid. Not only did Josh show up at my house with an array of food, he opened his restaurant and held the repass for my mom's funeral, free of charge. I know he did similar for his other "regulars" as they were facing challenges during this extraordinary year. I could not think of a more deserving person and establishment other than Josh and Rosie's Wine Bar.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We did everything we could.  We laid off staff.  We rehired staff.  We redid our entire menu, including getting it online when it wasn’t before.

We donated over 500 meals to front line workers.  We conducted numerous online Zoom wine tastings, including 5 local school fundraising events.  We sold cocktails and food to go, which we were not originally designed to do.  We sold essential fruit and vegetable “farm share” packages.  We petitioned and got relicensed for expanded outdoor service, both food and liquor.

We applied for 2 PPP loans and 1 small grant.  We negotiated with numerous vendors for monetary breaks including insurance, satellite music, web hosting services and our landlord for lower rent.  We also applied for the first round of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund but funds were exhausted before we were approved.  Hoping round 2 gets approved by congress.

I am sure I am missing a bunch of other things too.  But the fact that we had to do all of this and more, while maintaining PPE protocols, just to stay afloat is crazy!  Not to make money, not to break even, just to stay open!

The Juice House

Business has multiple locations
Nomination from Eve Bermudez

Arielle Cassidy, owner and founder of, The Juice House, which has two locations in Union County (Garwood, New Providence), is my nominee. Well before Covid, The Juice House has been an active part of the community but once COVID hit, Arielle used her business to do great things. Being part of a small town in Garwood, she quickly saw surrounding towns creating FLAG campaigns for the front-line workers and knew what she had to do. Creating a FLAG through her business, she took in over $15,000 dollars from donations from amazing customers. These donations allowed The Juice House to supply over 20 food drops to local hospitals, police stations, and fire departments. Totaling over 2,000 acai bowls, plus food from all Garwood based restaurants including, &grain, Rudy’s, Crossroads, Grill Creations, and Mama’s Pizza.

Although only lasting a few weeks, the impact made by The Juice House can be seen in the accompanying photos. The time period during Covid, it was wonderful to see not just The Juice House, but many businesses step up and help. The final gesture with the donations, Arielle purchased gift cards, and had donations from other local businesses which was given away via an Instagram raffle for a front-line worker. A local nurse won the gift bag and received over $1,000 worth of items! The Juice House also adapted during Covid, by updating its system to receive online payments and offering local delivery.

Often you would see a big line of cars on North Avenue in Garwood, and orders being delivered curbside! Although Covid being very challenging, The Juice House also expanded during this difficult time and signed its first franchisee, which will be opening in Freehold, NJ later this summer! I genuinely believe Arielle and the staff at The Juice House deserve to be recognized for their tremendous work during such a daunting time. Arielle maintains a wonderful relationship with St. Joe’s Social Services and provides meals, school supplies and hygienic necessities for the less privileged.

Nomination from Christine Cassidy

Arielle's Business Mantra is "be kind, be nice, have respect". She is a strong proponent of healthy choices and healthy living, which leads to strength and happiness. Once the Pandemic hit, small Businesses were crushed, especially the restaurant Industry. Down to a skeleton crew, Arielle tirelessly worked 24/7 to stay open, changing her entire business structure and complying with all State mandates. In the meantime, her compassion and empathy kicked in, as she knew that all Front Line Workers and First Responders were going above and beyond their capabilities to keep our State safe and protected.

Arielle felt the need to immediately reach out, so along with her sister - Attorney Cory Cassidy - they prepared and provided 1,000's of healthy foods and small bites choices to local Police and Fire Departments, NJ State Troopers, Doctors' and Medical Offices, many local Stores and Businesses in the area, and in particular the severely inundated Hospitals - Holy Name in Teaneck; Beth Israel in Newark, JFK in Edison, Trinitas in Elizabeth, Hackensack U Medical Center in Hackensack, Overlook Hospital in Summit; Valley Hospital in Ridgewood - to name a few. Arielle and Cory knew that the food choices had to be healthy, and quick, so they prepared and delivered many, many acai bowls, protein bites, fresh juices, fruit cups and pasta-with-vegetables bowls, most with handwritten words of support and encouragement. They knew that these grab-and-go food options would provide a quick source of energy boost during the fast paced action that descended on all Front Line Workers during this extremely difficult time

In the midst of this crisis, Arielle (and her sister) handled their own Businesses head on, and did the best they could, given the circumstances. Coupled with this, they selflessly and tirelessly paid it forward, with their support and care dedicated to the well-being of the Front Line Workers. There is no better definition of a "Champion"!

Nomination from Stefanie Dick

The Juice House was open the entire pandemic and used curbside pickup for orders. The owner collected donations for Garwood FLAG to feed the front line workers, they donated food to hospitals and held holiday drives. Arielle constantly gives back to her community and donates a lot to St. Joes in Elizabeth.

Before Covid she held monthly sandwich drives for the shelter since it wasn’t safe during the pandemic she had a drop off box. She donated hygiene products and sandwiches to the Garwood MLK day of service. They had to competently change their business model for a bit but remained safe and busy. I can’t say enough about how much this business gives back and deserves this!

Nomination from Jennifer Erdos

The Juice House is truly a Union County Small Business Community Champion! Covid changed the world and businesses were forced to overcome.

The forward out of the box thinking Arielle has done has been incredible. Not only did she offer curbside pickup she invested in her business putting up dividers to keep her staff and clientele safe. Despite the odds she faced she still made it priority to give back to others! Her business is known for collection drives to give to the less fortunate, she continued this work all during Covid.

Little bit of background -Arielle Cassidy, owner of The Juice House, began her career in healthy eating at a very young age. Her father passed away at an early age and she decided to create a new way to better balance her health and nutrition. In college, studied physiology and minored in nutrition. As a personal trainer at Equinox gym her focus would be on eating well and fueling the body with natural foods.

At the age of 22, Arielle decided to pursue her own dream of offering healthy eating options to the public. She opened the very first Juice House in Garwood, NJ. Her menu was creative and flavor filled. She has since opened other full-time locations including New Providence and Freehold, NJ.

Arielle Cassidy not only has an amazing helpful, knowledgeable staff, she has meetings with often to discuss possible improvements she can make to her stores. She continues to educate herself, and her staff, as much as possible on healthier eating/drinking options and diets.

Her dedication to her business spills over into the community often. She has spoken on many boards, panels, offering nutritional advice and sometimes motivational talks to help women open their own business.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

This has been a very confusing and terrible time for many people and at the end of the day we wanted to provide positivity in any which way possible, even if it touched just one person. 

Staying open the entire duration of the pandemic, our team whole heartedly tried to focus all of our energy on not only continuing to remain open, but helping out within the community wherever and whenever possible. A major focus was ensuring the staff was safe and taken care of, but I also genuinely wanted to keep some glimmer of hope and positivity shining through, for our community.

We changed the way we did things for quite some time, and was it VERY different? Of course! But, it was so beautiful and such a blessing to be able to speak to people (even at a distance) and to see their huge smiles as they pulled up to grab their orders. It literally kept us going mentally and physically. I will never forget how amazing every single person was, how supportive they were, and how inspiring and hopeful all of their kind words and actions were. Even during such times of uncertainty. 

It was certainly the most challenging year I have ever had. We completely pivoted and changed our business model, but I cannot say one negative thing about the experience. I still cannot get over how incredible every single one of my staff/team members (aka my second family 🙂 ) and every single one of our customers were/are during this entire time, even up until now. I don’t think any of them truly know how amazing they all are for so many unbelievable reasons. This has been a very scary time and they all showed up for us day in and day out and did what they all could to support and help, all while remaining cautious and as safe as possible. 

Fellow team members sent positive messages and encouraging words to make me feel like I was making the right moves and choices and overall our entire team was insanely positive and beyond helpful throughout the entire process. During such crazy times this was my biggest blessing and still truly leaves me speechless (and in tears). I would be nowhere without any of you!!!! Especially my husband :). The best, most emotional, aspect is that every single staff member and customer really wanted to help our mission during this time and that was to not only support local business, but to show up for the frontline workers like they have been showing up for all of us and to also help individuals in need. 

I personally know so many people who were directly effected and/or on the front lines of COVID, whether they were directly helping tend to patients or were a patient themselves or unfortunately were going through a hard time accessing basic necessities. I tried to do what I could to bring a little spark of joy to front line workers days and within the blink of an eye, customers selflessly donated hundreds into thousands of dollars because they wanted to do something and make a difference. This was all because they saw a little post of us delivering some meals to local healthcare workers and local food banks. 

We were able to provide thousands of meals, not only from The Juice House, but so many other amazing local food establishments. A lot of local food banks also ran out of food and because of both monetary and physical donations, from customers, we were able to make several huge hauls to several food banks helping them re stock their resources. Staff members and customers also selflessly donated time to help make items, to help pick up items and to help deliver items. Making this a beautiful full circle series of events.

I am truly honored to do what I do, work with such amazing humans and to be supported by such amazing customers. I’ll say it a million times, I am just so thankful.


Especially Yours

Nomination from Laura Reinersten

It is my great pleasure to nominate Mrs. Cindy Southern and her business “Especially Yours” as a Union County Small Business Community Champion. After careful consideration I firmly believe Mrs. Southern is not only eligible but highly deserving this recognition.

Local organizations know Especially Yours can be counted on for fundraiser donations, either in services or wonderful gift items and Mrs. Southern’s generosity does not stop there. Holidays provide opportunities to celebrate with the community and Cindy knows how to bring people together! Easter and Christmas events are particularly looked forward to as the Easter Bunny and Santa can always be counted on for a visit. Those visits did not stop in 2020, they looked different but still they celebrated. The pandemic did not stop Cindy, true to her character she adapted and rallied the community. Cindy believes in social distancing but not social isolation, so accommodations were made for her many special community events and also for daily operations.

Especially Yours celebrated their 20th Anniversary in 2020, maybe not the way they would have liked to. Her perseverance, commitment, creativity, and optimism are truly a blessing to Kenilworth. It was recently announced that she will be retiring after Santa’s 2021 visit. One can only hope lighting strikes twice and someone of Mrs. Sothern’s caliber steps into the shoes she will be leaving behind. Taking a page from her book, I look at how high she set the bar and remain hopeful.

Mrs. Cindy Southern of Especially Yours is a hard-working and an honest businesswoman who takes her work very seriously and managed to incorporate her love of her hometown of Kenilworth into her business plan with resounding success. For these reasons and so many more, Especially Yours and Mrs. Cindy are deserving of being Union County Small Business Community Champion.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

In March 2020, we were working on having the Easter Bunny in our shop, and we were fully stocked for the fun event. The end of the month, we were told we needed to close. Having so much money tied up was a tough thing to handle. I thought if I was feeling uneasy, so were my customers I decided to offer any Easter decorations for sale at half price. This would allow me to regain some finances at the shop, and also allow my customers to have fun things delivered to their doorstep contact free, and maybe make them smile as well. We did still have the Easter Bunny at the Shop, but he was outside waving to people on the street, or inside the window dancing and posing for pictures with anyone wanting to walk by.

I also decided we are all better if united in a cause. Along with my sister, I was able to make and sell red ribbons for our residents in town to display at their homes. The red ribbons were delivered contact free to anyone that reached out to order one, and with each bow a donation was made to the Kenilworth Fire Department. We made hundreds! Having the shop closed at this time, I would do anything to try to keep it going and Kenilworth was amazing in supporting that effort.
Once we were told we could be deemed essential, I moved a work table into the window of the shop. Since everyone had to be laid off, I worked by myself. No one could enter the shop, but they could come to the front door. I would meet them at a table outside, and give them flowers to take home. Some even had me bring them gift items to purchase. Where there is a will, there is a way!

By Mother’s Day, we were able to work more than one person in the shop. Continually sanitizing the shop was key. One person used the front computer and phone, another the back. We worked 6' apart, wore masks and gloves, and installed Plexiglas screening. Our customers still met us at the door, or their car for curbside delivery. Everyone made this so easy and it worked. My customers are the best!!!
Our next big challenge would be Christmas and our Annual visit with Santa!

Normally he is inside our shop but this would not be an option.
I contacted a woodworker, who made a beautiful 8' sleigh for Santa to sit in. We installed Plexiglas between Santa and Covid coming for a picture, and made an outdoor display. We extended the visit to two days, allowing no crowds to build up. I will say, the people that work in the shop became the key to this success. I came down with Covid and was out of work for a month. They ran this entire event flawlessly, and everyone got to visit Santa for free!!! We started planning an outdoor visit with the Easter Bunny right away. We were able to build a platform for the Bunny to sit at, make a beautiful Flowery spring backdrop, and do socially distanced visit for the children all free to the community.

Being in the flower industry, our business was really affected by Covid. We lost any weddings booked, parties were canceled, and our standing orders for churches & restaurants were halted. There were no dance recitals, no communions, and our funeral business was almost completely gone. We restructured our mindset, and buckled down, and only with the support of our town and our customers did we make it through a very tough year. We will never be where we were, but we are good….and we are grateful….and we are planning our next visit with Santa!

We have been through tough times before, and am so happy the future is looking bright.

The Greek Store

Nomination from Emmanuel Vozos

The Greek Store has been a fixture in the New Jersey community since 1950. This is a multi-generational family run business, with deep ties to the community. Small businesses like this one should be celebrated and supported, especially when they are operated by people like the Diamandas’ family, who support their community through charitable giving and support (for things like their Greek church's festival and donations to local Alzheimer's fundraisers).

During the chaos of Covid-19, they also suffered the loss of their patriarch, Steve, while keeping the store open though curbside pickup and trunk deliveries. Then, by hanging plastic sheets and keeping customers and staff safe while running the business and producing at-home cooking shows for social media! Lia and her team have pushed through this difficult time with resilience and positivity. Any list of Union County Small Business Community Champions would be incomplete without The Greek Store.

The Laboratory Catering

Nomination from Drew Campbell

Great locally owned restaurant where there is never a bad item on menu! The hardworking and generous owners fought hard to keep their business opened.

They did not let anything stop them and worked long hours just the two of them while their staff was furloughed. They put people before profits donating to local FLAG groups and hospitals during a financially difficult time. Their staff is always friendly and the restaurant is clean! I have tried a lot of different items on the menu and I have never had anything I did not like.

This hardworking business never stops, they also have a food truck for catering private parties along with attending events! They never waste food and are known to provide reduced priced unused food to local families in need of affordably priced meals.

I’m so happy their business has survived the pandemic!

Nomination from Nicholas Guerci

The Lab is a great place to try new things! I have to say that they took extra steps to make sure that everyone feels safe- They invested in plexi-glass dividers as an additional precaution during COVID. They focused on making their take-out the best experience.

Their social media posts kept us updated on all the amazing things they were able to do during the pandemic like the donating cooked meals to first responders.

The Dr Pepper sandwich called The Doctor is one of my favorites. He also made a mango fried rice that was great too. The owner and staff are very nice and welcoming to everyone. This is a unique restaurant that sticks out.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We are a small restaurant/catering and solely survived this pandemic from our loyal customers.

They kept us in business throughout the whole thing. Very grateful for all the support we have received. This was a tough year for sure and also being an Asian & Black owned business made it a bit more interesting with current events.

But it’s just been 2 of us managing everything since beginning of pandemic, we have never closed down, we just kept rocking out in order to survive.

Royal Tuxedo Wholesale

Nomination from Mel Kane

The coronavirus crisis has upended life in more ways than I can count. We were getting married during this crazy time. We were advised to start thinking about a contingency plan and just like that the shutdown began. I’m going to admit this openly I am a groomzilla, we planned every detail together.

This news upset and saddened me but we had to make other plans. We divided and conquered I was tasked with contacting Royal Tuxedo about postponing our dates. The heaviness of making that call not knowing what to expect I’ll never forget. That heaviness quickly went away.

They were amazing to work with and didn’t read off postponement guidelines like the other vendors we worked with. They were supportive and ensured me things would be ok. When finally I was able to get my tux fitted, the store was by appointment only and I wasn’t worried.  I’m grateful and even though we didn’t have the large wedding we planned; my tuxedo was spot on.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Covid crippled the event industry and our formalwear business along with others felt those effects. Proms, graduations, and weddings cancelled or postponed left us in very uncertain times. Weddings specifically even as things were better with ease of restrictions there is still the fear of postponing the couples special day. We kept in constant communication with our customers to make sure we could accommodate last minute changes in dates for their events. We eliminated any fees associated with date changes and cancellations to aid in the last minute nature of the changing conditions. Understanding times were tough financially we worked closely with our customers that owed money to make sure they could continue to operate. Working closely with them allowed us to develop unique payment terms tailored to their individual needs.

In store safety was important to us for both our customers and employees. We changed the schedule of employees to avoid and limit interactions. Some customer service was changed to at home with our new remote log in. All paperwork associated with deliveries was sent via email the night before to lessen the time a driver needed to be inside a store. We delivered to our customers 5 days earlier than normal to allow them to space out tailoring appointments. By sending out earlier deliveries this allowed them to keep the number of people in their stores low without increasing their business hours.

Understanding not only were we going through this but our suppliers were as well we took additional steps. We made sure to use as many suppliers as we could to make sure that we spread the purchases to as many companies as possible. By spreading out the purchases among various suppliers it allowed us to help as many companies as possible with cash flow. This is uncharted territory for everyone, so many vendors and businesses are being understanding of the unexpected circumstance we are in. We’re all in this together and our industry is in survival mode.

Two Ton Brewing

Nomination from Mike Stiller

I’m so glad Two Ton survived the pandemic. This small business went above and beyond to stay open.

They never really closed other than the mandatory executive order. They worked hard to stay open by offering curbside pickup and take out -which I have to say for any brewery to have their bar closed down is an automatic loss.

They put money into expanding their beer garden & created a safe environment for everyone to come back and finally relax!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Two Ton Brewing is a family owned-and-operated craft brewery small business based out of Kenilworth, NJ. The challenges brought forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic have affected us all in various ways. Businesses across the country have been hit hard, especially small businesses.

Two Ton Brewing rose to the challenge by finding creative ways to rise to the ever changing landscape while navigating state and federal regulations to keep staff and customers as safe as possible. When Two Ton was deemed an essential business, they stayed open for curbside pick up / to go orders only which kept the business barely afloat. When outside seating was allowed again, Two Ton opened an expanded licensed beer garden to keep everyone safe and socially distanced.

Now with restrictions slowly being lifted, Two Ton is continuing to strive to be creative and reach more customers while providing a safe customer experience.


Baker Tax & Accounting Services

Nomination from Latoya Wali

Baker Tax & Accounting Service has been a pillar in the community.

Baker Tax went above and beyond during COVID-19 period by assisting local union county business with services to help them to stay open and to apply for the PPP loans during this time.

Baker Tax is our hero.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Baker Tax & Accounting Services, a woman-owned business located in Linden, NJ, was forced to shutter its doors in March in the peak period of tax season when the coronavirus pandemic prompted a city mandate requiring all nonessential businesses to close.  "But when we closed our doors, we had to come up with different strategies to keep business going and engage with our customers during tax season," says Mary Baker, CEO of Baker Tax & Accounting Services. "We did know when we would open up again, but we could not wait, because it was tax season and clients’ taxes had to be filed, which is why we did everything we could to continue to bring in sales."

Baker Tax & Accounting Services learned quickly on how to be resilience.  To stay afloat, we adapted on the fly and found creative ways to change our operating models.  One of our main concern during COVID is how do we provide the same service to our clients without in-person appointments. 

Because we service, many of the small businesses in the community, we had to adjust to the changes COVID-19 had created for their businesses as well.  “We had to revamp our service strategy to innovate in-store services by including contactless transactions and to go services to address public safety concerns.”

Baker Tax & Accounting Services adjusted quickly and implemented telephone and video meetings for their clients.  Most of the clients love this process to prepare taxes out of the comfort of their homes and appreciated this new service, thanks to the government to allow this service.

During COVID it gave the company a better picture of how the small businesses in the community was surviving or will they survive during this time of pandemic.  So, we decide to assist as many small and mid-size businesses in qualifying for EIDL, PPP and Government grants and loans.  We have help businesses to receive over 1 million dollars in grants, loans, and loans forgiveness.

Baker Tax & Accounting Services is blessed to have the clients they have and without them we would not be in existence for over thirty years.  

Being able to adapt and pivot has helped many small businesses ride out the pandemic. Yet the worry is still there.

TeliApp Corporation

Nomination from Dani Armstead

TeliApp is the webmaster for the City of Linden. During the pandemic, they went above and beyond making sure that pertinent information was on the website to the extent that people started relying on the City's website as an all-in-one place to access COVID-19 related information. They embedded live content and analytics from the CDC, the NJ Department of Health, John Hopkins University and the COVID-19 Data Explorer.

Josh and his team at TeliApp made the City's summer camp webpage so interactive and so functional that the City of Linden's Department of Parks & Recreation won an award from the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association for its Virtual Summer Day Camp Website. We are grateful to Josh and everyone at TeliApp for always going above and beyond, for their deep love of their work and always looking for reasons to say yes. 

Nomination from Rebecca Tattoli

Josh Weiss is the founder and CEO of TeliApp Corporation, a technology solution provider. Josh, his family and his business took the pandemic seriously. They started wearing masks and developing sanitization, contact-distancing protocols and remote working solutions a month before the CDC did. TeliApp scaled back outgoing marketing efforts, and Josh, his family and team stopped attending face-to-face meetings and events. Predicting how the pandemic would affect us all, they turned their focus to technology solutions they predicted the industry would need. During the pandemic, Josh's firm TeliApp applied for and won various technology contracts with municipalities, including cloud-migration contracts so that municipalities can operate at peak efficiency, even when remote working is required.

In fact, they even went so far as to develop an Internet solution called FetchPro, which enables remote workers to gain fast, stable and secure Internet access. Long story short, it's essentially a "super hotspot", completely outpacing conventional hotspots, and even faster than home WiFi. The idea was that remote workers would need fast, stable and secure Internet access from home, and that they wouldn't be able to obtain this from their home WiFi, because their home WiFi bandwidth is shared with family members remote working and/or remote learning. Also, they realized that nobody's home WiFi has the security infrastructure that businesses commonly deploy at the business office. While they initially developed the solution for their own internal needs many years ago, they successfully reengineered and commercialized this service so that others could also take advantage of FetchPro. This past May, the United States Patent & Trademark Office issued a patent for the underlying technology that FetchPro uses.

The pandemic hit everyone in this country hard, including Josh, his family and his business team. And in the face of unprecedented adversity, they considered the pandemic a challenge that needed to be met head on. I'm proud of Josh, his family and his team for not giving up, always having a positive attitude and for considering every challenge as an opportunity to excel. 

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

As was the case with so many small business owners in Union County, COVID-19 hit my business and my family hard. My wife had just given birth to the newest member of our family (Nathaniel) in early February. And instead of the usual visits from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, everyone - just - stayed home. Nathaniel’s two older brothers Andrew and Elliott could no longer see their friends in or after school, and their older sister Daniella, who was “supposed to be” enjoying her senior year in high school instead had to spend half of it indoors. Life did change. On a personal level, we adapted quickly. As a technologist, I set up work stations for all of my children within a few days, quickly converting our dining room into a Montessori style classroom and lounge. I was actually a little envious that my office wasn’t as well “decked out”. I advised my children’s day school, at which I was a board member, how to quickly migrate to Google Classroom and taught many of their teachers and faculty how to create and manage their online classes. I was happy to set up a similar work station for my wife, who returned to work immediately after her maternity leave came to an end. I quickly realized that without asking for it, I became tech-support for my family and my friends who also needed professional help setting up their @home workstations. 

Our business policy regarding COVID-19 safety precautions were fairly straightforward. If you can work from home, then you shall work from home. We set everyone up @home with dual monitors. My company, TeliApp, had just finished a round of successful pitches with large law and accounting firms for our new service, called Fetch Internet, which enables a Mac or Windows computer to use the fast, stable and secure Internet access from one’s iPhone or Android smartphone; kind of a “super hotspot”. And all of a sudden, instead of moving to the contract phase, everything - just - stopped. While the sales process for Fetch Internet came to an unfortunately grinding halt, we did see it as an opportunity to continue its product development. We certainly grasped how timely our service was, given that all of a sudden millions of homes nationwide did not have a fast enough Internet connection to sustain their dual working household with children @home learning. 

Meanwhile, as COVID-19 struck, we had won a contract to provide website design and web hosting management for the City of Linden. COVID-19 created many layers of complication. As any entrepreneurial small business owner in NJ will tell you, “we do the best we can with what we have”. We successfully relaunched the MVP website within two months, and spent the next quarter making substantial improvements. We embedded information from Our World in Data, the Linden Health Department, the NJ Department of Health, the CDC, Union County Township and John Hopkins University. Within a few days, the COVID-19 Confirmed Case Data and World Data Explorer pages were launched so that Linden residents could have immediate access to the most up to date COVID-19 data. We even created a mechanism in which the Board of Health of the City of Linden could provide us with daily case information so that Linden residents could be as informed as we were simply by visiting the City’s website. 

I sit on the Board of Directors of Linden’s Special Improvement District. As a small business owner in the SID District, I knew how restaurants suffered. Together with the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Alex Lospinoso, we conceived and championed an idea that once deployed, pumped over $10,000 in revenue to our local food establishments. The concept was simple; spend $50 at any restaurant in our SID District, and choose between receiving either a $50 prepaid VISA (to use anywhere), or a $100 gift certificate toward any of the same food establishments. 

As the global health pandemic evolved, we too evolved the way in which we go the extra mile. Most recently I’ve donated my time and the time of my team members to the City of Linden’s many COVID-19 Clinics, developed through the successful partnership between Mayor Derek Armstead and Super Health Pharmacy. At these clinics we assist from a technology perspective, ensuring that the nurses and health care practitioners have fast, stable and secure Internet access using our very own Fetch Internet service. In May 2021, TeliApp was awarded a patent protecting the technology we innovated to produce our Fetch Internet service. The recent patent award has helped us in the sales and marketing department, and we’re excited to be enabled to help remote workers and learners continue to be productive and maintain their health by reducing/eliminating the risk of exposure to COVID-19. With 5G service, Internet access speeds through Fetch Internet exceed that of one’s home or work WiFi; so unless the business vertical requires a physical presence in a conventional office space, both remote workers and learners are armed with the tools they need to succeed. We all recognize that while remote working is certainly different from the formerly conventional norm, and even if everyone wants to be in the office, we must enable productive remote working and learning in case of inclement weather, acts of God and now of course, global health pandemics. We are pleased that over the last year we have assisted multiple municipalities with migrating their legacy infrastructure to the cloud and we have chosen to refocus and expand our efforts in the public sector. We’re looking to be helpful in multiple verticals, and we believe that both our experience and our expertise uniquely qualifies us to do so. 

We’re humbled to have been nominated for this award. While we always help and go beyond our professional requirements because we love and care about what we do and for whom we do it, it is always both personally and professionally satisfying to be recognized. Thank you.

The Linwood Taphouse

Nomination from John Roman

Yosh and Lori stepped up big during the pandemic. They were constantly giving out food and helping people. During the pandemic, a prolific member of our community became homeless. I was able to talk to John, the owner, and we negotiated a deal to have the gentleman stay at the Linwood (apartments above).

This deal was below market rate but the owners understood that he was a great tenant that would help out and not cause any ruckus. In late March 2020, John and Lori offered half trays of food for $20.00.... The trays could feed a family of 5 and were easily worth $50.00- They did this specifically for people who were going out of work. They helped a lot of people conserve their resources with this and for all of this I would like to nominate them as a Community Champion.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Just like the rest of the Country, we began hearing about this virus on the news in late February of 2020. We didn’t realize the seriousness of it until March when our daughters were telling us their school was getting them ready to learn at home virtually.

The media has always scared us with bird flu, ebola, but never has the entire country been shut down (not counting essential workers). When we got the executive order from the Governor that we could only sell take-out, we were shocked and baffled. What would happen to our livelihood? One thing that we realized, we weren’t the only ones going through this. Everyone was baffled.

 We began selling half trays that could feed a family of six. Things like Chicken Linwood, Chicken Parmesan, Cajun Jambalaya, and Meatball & Sausage over Linguini all ranging in price from $21.95 to $24.95. Just enough to keep our lights burning and a cash flow going.

We were able to bring most of our full-time employees back when we got Payroll Protection. With the takeout only, we were able to compensate the tips our bartenders were losing by going off their tip average for the year before.

When the payroll protection ran out, we closed for 2 and half months. We began parking lot dining as soon as they started allowing 25% occupancy indoors, and reopened with a limited menu. Since Memorial Day weekend, Restaurants are able to run at full capacity. It feels like things are getting back to normal.

We couldn’t have done it without our amazing staff!! They are the heartbeat of the Linwood Inn Tap House. Reading stories on social media of people offering to bring food to anyone that can’t go out of their house, and the community rallying to support small businesses has been an amazing and uplifting thing to witness.

We say a prayer that depressing lockdowns, face-mask, and social distancing are a thing of the past.


One Stop Grad

Nomination from James Finn

I feel like our children were cheated out of milestones due to Covid. I can’t image being a senior and having no prom or real graduation. When we found One Stop Grad we were excited to offer some type of experience to our so.

Their professionalism and understanding during this difficult time was appreciated. We look forward to better days but are thankful for One Stop Grad for turning a negative into a positive!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When I first heard the news on March 14th. 2020 that all schools would be closing due to COVID, I froze. My first thought was how would I pay my 6 employees? I knew that I would have to break the news to them that Monday that they would be furloughed, and I did not have a return date in mind. For at least the next month I was glued to the news just waiting for any type of program that the state or government would make available which would allow us to re-open.

Finally the PPP program and the EIDL loans were announced and with that I started to lay out a plan for our company's rebirth. I knew for certain that we could not go back to the same way of business and that many schools would want to cancel their existing contracts for Graduation products. That being the case I decided to get a commitment from as many customers as possible to follow through with the graduations and to do a virtual ceremony or to get the products as mementos to mark the occasion. Some were skeptical but I managed to convince 60% to complete their orders.

Because our company offers discounted packaging to underserved communities throughout NJ & NY, I knew how important this milestone was to the students and their families and it needed to be celebrated. Although we finished the 2020 graduation season with a 40% decline, we were able to survive and to retain 5 employees.

When the planning began for the 2020/2021 school season, I knew we would need to reinvent ourselves. In July of 2020 with some EIDL money still at my disposal I began to lay the groundwork for OSG studio, which would be our 2,200 sq ft, 4 station full service studio to be housed within our 10,000 sq ft. warehouse in Mountainside, NJ.

We would also need a new website that could show who we are and what we have to offer, including the ability to have students book their own portrait session and to prepay for their graduation items. On October 1, 2020 we launched OSG Studio. We stepped out on faith, built it and they came.

The response and out pouring from our customers throughout Newark, East Orange and Paterson, NJ was heartwarming and gave us the cash flow we needed to survive. The customers in the surrounding communities were over-joyed that they had somewhere to take graduation pictures and they could also touch and feel the other products which they would be purchasing like senior spirit wear. We produce everything there in our 10,000 sq ft facility and offering the parents the ability to see that the products were being made by a local black-owned business was even more gratifying to them.

The ability to have the parents and students pay us directly on our premises or online through our website, dramatically increased the up sale on additional products. We also brought on several new customers due to word of mouth spreading about the studio and the quality products and value pricing that we offered. Although we had a decrease in revenue in 2020, we are on target to do 47% more in gross sales over our 2019 numbers. Our YTD revenue is already 70% of our total 2019 gross revenue. And with students returning to the classroom this season, I expect us to close the year out strong. We recently received additional funds on our EIDL loan, which will allow us to hire another 2-3 employees so that we can serve even more schools this season.

We closed out June by signing 2 of the largest schools in Paterson, NJ which is a potential 25% of our targeted increase in revenue for 2021. We are very proud of our success and our ability to pivot.

The change in business model has allowed us to strive during this very challenging 16 months. We believe that the addition of the studio in conjunction with online sales direct from students allows our business to truly be recession proof.

Bovella’s Pasty Shop

Business has multiple locations
Nomination from Councilwoman Andre

Bovella’s Pastry Shop is a Community Champion- This hardworking pastry shop suffered major losses and made hard decisions in efforts to stay open.

They had to furlough staff and increase their own hours to stay afloat. While they were sacrificing making cuts to their budget they were selflessly making donations to frontline workers.

I know that most of their loyal customers would agree with me that they are deserving of this recognition.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

In the beginning of COVID-19, there were a variety of changes that came our way. Unfortunately, we had to let go of many of our beloved staff members.

Our staff was reduced from around 80 employees to solely 8 people operating the business. In addition, the amount of product we produced had immensely shifted, leaving us to tackle newfound financial obstacles. Throughout it all, one of our biggest worries was not being able to serve our loyal customers, who’ve been walking through our doors for years. In the midst of all of those difficulties, we strived to continue to support our community and found new ways to keep the business afloat. We tapped into different creative endeavors, including “at-home” projects and kits that allowed customers to personalize cookies, cupcakes, and even cakes to their liking!

In addition, we made our products more accessible through our delivery services, and curbside pick-up. It was of utmost importance to support our community through “Go-Fund Me” campaigns with the purpose to raise money to feed our courageous frontline workers. Other ideas included, purchasing shirts, meal plans, and hospital donations. It was a tough year; however we always focused on staying positive and most importantly being grateful for our many blessings, including our wonderful customers.

New Providence

Accent Printing Solutions

Nomination from Don Gleason

I’m grateful for Accent printing’s attention to detail during the pandemic. They were on top of their game when they reached out to me with suggestions for my business.

I was so overwhelmed with what was going on and the thought of closing that I didn’t consider signage would be important in communicating with my customers. They took the pressure off me and designed the items I needed almost effortlessly! Delivery was fast and the quality fantastic.

I’m thankful for their forward thinking and initiative

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When the Covid-19 pandemic closed the U.S. economy, Accent Printing wasn’t immune from the sudden economic closing and like most other businesses, it suffered steep sales declines. Facing an uncertain future, Mike immediately began to focus on trimming expenses. Realizing shipping expenses were a significant portion of his expenses, Mike created shipping comparison software designed to lower his shipping expenses.

After successfully working out the bugs, Mike began forming partnerships with other small and medium sized businesses to assist them in increasing their bottom line, or in reality, decreasing their losses. Besides lowering their cost, the time saving measure allows business owners to focus on their core business.

This innovation may not save some businesses from closing, but I believe every small contribution to the bottom line may save an employee’s job or can simply keep an existing business open to fight another day.

Linda’s Creative Gifts

Nomination from Brandi Lewis

Linda continues to be generous through tough times. When masks were in short supply- Linda locally sourced artists so our families could be safe with handmade masks.

She has put others first before profits; donating money to families in need here in town. She has reinvented herself through her webpage offering curbside service and delivery. She has poured her heart and soul into this business that supports artists.

This small town store has survived the ups and downs of Covid!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Linda’s Creative Gifts is a unique store. We carry the work of over 40 local (NJ) and U.S. artists. Due to the closer last year from March 21st to June 15th it impacted our business and all the artists we sell for. Linda worked alone at the store four days a week and offered to shop for customers and deliver to the curb any purchases and even offered to deliver to their home but most people were even afraid to do that. The local artists made masks for us, and we offered them to residents asking for donations as payment.

Customers were so appreciative to get the masks local, the donations were very generous. After the 3 months we raised $1,567 to donate to the town, (New Providence) Volunteer Rescue Squad and $1,307 to Silver Liming, a local foundation that supports families in need. As an artist herself, Linda loves supporting artists, which is why she opened this store, and now with the year we have had, knowing all the vendor shows/ events were cancelled, it gives the artists at least one location to sell their work.

Linda loves helping her customers find the perfect gift for friends and family and is so thankful she is still open.

Max Challenge of New Providence, Springfield and Union

Business has multiple locations
Nomination from Amy Wagner

Owners Amy Walsh and Allison DiMarzio went above and beyond to keep their fitness center members engaged and to keep their business thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the Governor mandated that they close their doors to in person classes they quickly pivoted to an online platform.

This allowed their members to stay on track with their fitness routines during a time when they needed it most. The online classes evolved over the months from taped work outs to an interactive Zoom platform and outdoor classes when weather permitted. Since being allowed to open to in person instruction they have done so responsibly and have continued the Zoom option for those who prefer that. They have continued to invest in their business and the health and well-being of their clients.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge their incredible staff of instructors who have pivoted with Amy & Allison to keep classes engaging. Malcolm, Joe, Donte, Sara and the rest of the team have been awesome.

Their dedication to all the "maxers" has been unmatched. From the bottom of my heart I thank Allison, Amy and their amazing training staff for keeping us all on track and for providing an opportunity to continue a normal, necessary routine during one of the most challenging times in history.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

At THE MAX Challenge of Springfield/Union & THE MAX Challenge of New Providence, we are honored to be recognized as a Union County Small Business Community Champion. The last year has challenged us all in ways we could have never imagined, and it has been incredibly fulfilling to be able to adapt to the needs of our community and continue to serve them.

THE MAX Challenge is a 10-week body transformation program that helps our members make fast and lasting changes to their health, physical appearance, and overall wellbeing. We do this by combining fitness classes for all levels with simple to follow Nutrition and a system of accountability like no other. Our members regularly tell us that we are so much more than their local gym, we are their support system, their family, and a place where they feel empowered to take care of themselves in a way that they hadn’t been doing before. We take this responsibility seriously, and when the world went into lockdown in March of 2020, we immediately transitioned to a virtual format so that our members wouldn’t miss even one day of self-care. We not only continued to provide daily fitness classes and nutrition support, but we nurtured our community with game nights, book clubs, coffee chats, etc. We continuously sought out opportunities to stay connected to them and foster their connection to each other. There was simply nothing more important as we were all making sacrifices to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe inside.

As the restrictions scaled back, our fitness classes took to the parks for outdoor classes. Members were so excited to be seeing each other safely in-person again and engaging with their instructors and their workouts. Despite their best efforts, many had struggled to make good choices during the previous months, and they thrived with the opening of these in-person classes. When the green light was given to go back indoors, we took cleanliness and gym safety to another level. We invested in top-of-the-line cleaning equipment and trained our staff and our members in procedures and policies that kept everyone safe. Our members regularly shared with us how incredibly secure they felt within our walls, and how grateful they were to still have their fitness home.

During the holidays, we annually have a fun and engaging competition, aptly named Fitmas, between our two Centers, and 2020 was no different. As part of our game, our members raised over $6,000 for the Union Township Community Action Organization (UTCAO), in helping feed local families hit hard by the Pandemic. We were recognized by Union County for our Community’s contribution.

We simply wouldn’t be in business today without the incredible loyalty and support of our members as they continue to be a part of our family and refer their family and friends to the program. We are honored to have expanded our services in the past year rather than having scaled them back, allowing for our virtual program to continue well past the re-opening of our doors. Core members of our fantastic staff have remained with us throughout the course of the Pandemic, keeping our members healthy, engaged, and safe. While our hearts continue to be firmly with those who lost loved ones during the past year, we recognize how much we have gained by remaining a strong and vibrant part of the community.

Thank you all for this honor!

My Gym

Nomination from Emerson Roques

Staying home with the kids has been challenging and I have to say I’m beyond thankful that My Gym took the initiative to do online virtual classes for my children.

These classes were fun and inventive- they were so engaged in the program they almost forgot they weren’t in a real gym! When it was safe to return to the gym they were excited to physically be there!

The amount of cleaning they did before, during and after we left was impressive.

I will continue to bring the kids and am happy they have a safe place to go!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

As we all know… Covid struck with a fury. On March 15, 2020 I had to shut my doors of My Gym New Providence and My Gym Westfield
Within one week of the statewide shutdown, we adapted to our new situation, offering our customers a fully virtual and live class option 5 days a week.

We were able to provide a fun & engaging program for our families to do at home with their children, while maintaining the personal approach My Gym thrives on, via ZOOM.

In addition, we worked with New Providence and Westfield townships to secure space in local parks to offer outdoor classes and even partnered with several families to set up private classes in their backyards. With everyone missing out on so much in-person interaction, we also offered incredibly unique and personal birthday celebrations for children via ZOOM, which later evolved to include outdoor backyard parties as well. Knowing how important programs like ours are for the development of the whole child, we did everything we could do to continue to provide the opportunity for physical, emotional, social, and cognitive growth in varying ways to meet our customers’ needs according to their varying comfort levels.

When we were able to return to in-person classes, our already extensive My Gym cleaning and safety protocols expanded by following additional COVID guidelines set forth by the CDC. Since children cannot yet receive protection from vaccination, we continue to be proactive in our approach by requiring mask wearing, encouraging social distancing, limiting shared equipment, and sanitizing between every class. We are so thankful to be part of these communities and hope to remain an established source of children’s enrichment for many years to come.

Providence Bar & Kitchen

Nomination from Amy Wagner

Owner Benito (Vesel Kadrija) and his amazing staff went above and beyond during the pandemic to maximize their outdoor dining space and keep the Providence Bar & Kitchen operational. Benito always greeted diners with a warm welcome and delicious food and drink whether dining inside or out. The restaurant was a bright, welcoming spot during dark times. Benito kept his large outdoor dining space warm with many portable heaters when he had to offer only outdoor dining.

Once indoor dining became possible again tables were spaced appropriately and diners felt comfortable returning.

Because of Benito’s ability to adapt to all the challenges created by the pandemic he was able to maintain his staff all of whom are excellent!

This New Providence staple is to be congratulated for their ability to adapt and thrive during such a challenging time!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I, as the owner of Providence Bar & Kitchen could not be any more proud of not just my staff but also the customers for their countless & unlimited support.

Even during this very trying times, we still donated (multiple times) to all the front liners in the area including but not limited to the: Police Department, Fire Department, EMS, Hospitals, Charities and Churches, etc.

I am happy to say that our staff remained the same since before the COVID-19 and they have provided lots of love for the business and our very loyal customers.

We were sanitizing out entire restaurant daily. Prior to opening we hire professionals to sanitize all serving areas including tables, chairs and all surfaces where our customers could possibly touch before and after each use.

Our front and back of the house staff has been using face coverings and gloves at all times and we have done weekly testing just to make sure that our patrons are safe and healthy.

Thank you again for selecting us and we are looking forward to things getting better- Where we could all be free to shake hands and hug our clients that we’ve known forever.

YK Salon

Nomination from Juliet Sawyer

This new business deserves a lot of credit for opening during COVID. I can’t image opening my dream business with such chaos all around. It appeared they did this effortlessly but in reality their hard work made it seem this way. They had to add a lot of features to their existing plan to promote social distancing.

They were new to the area and gave to their community. A blow out from this salon will get rid of all your Covid blues! I’m thrilled with the services they provide and feel relaxed in their chair!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

YK New Providence was in the midst of construction set to open its doors early April of 2020. Yoni, already having a successful salon in South Orange and previous experience opening other locations, was ready to hit the ground running with a business and marketing plan. Everything was lining up for a successful opening, until COVID hit. COVID threw a curveball at all businesses, both new and long lasting. Not only did we have to reevaluate our entire business model but everything from construction to décor came to a complete halt.

The entire beauty industry was shut down with no plans to reopen. It felt like our perfect plan was falling apart. Although at times it felt impossible, we went back to the drawing boards and constructed a new plan. We were forced to pave a path that was not only new for us, but also new to the entire beauty industry.

The roadblocks and challenges did not end there. When we did finally open our doors, nothing was as expected. Loyal clients who have been coming for years were no longer comfortable coming to the salon, no matter what precautions were put in place. Products and supplies were extremely limited, and hard to get. Opportunities to involve ourselves in our community were few and far between. Taking off as a new business, in a COVID world was one struggle after the next.

YK Salon embraced the struggle, and took the challenge of opening during a pandemic head on in Union County! We knew that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long or dark that tunnel may have looked. We gave our community free services when we had nothing, just to put a smile on people’s faces and make them feel a little better about themselves. Even for just a “quick blowout” we wanted to transcend people when they came into the salon, to forget about everything going on in the world or in their individual lives. For the short time they were there we wanted to create a calming, relaxation environment for guests to enjoy themselves.

Almost a year later, we found that light at the end of the tunnel. Our chairs are filled with happy, healthy, beautiful clients every day. We have adapted as individuals and as a whole, as we learned how to take off as a new business in a COVID world. We give back to the community as much as we can, still giving away free services in addition to donating gift cards and products. We are beyond excited to finally get to participate in community events, as Union County starts to open up more. But, most importantly, we are so grateful we survived through these trying times.


Arkad Capital

Nomination from Edna Bird

We decided to put our money into real estate during the pandemic. We were terrified we made a mistake, thankfully we were in good hands.

They not only put our mind at ease but were able to close deals quickly in the Covid world. They adapted their business model quickly and utilized technology to make us feel connected at all times.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I am a father of 2, son and husband and devoted catholic. I started and run the ONLY LATINO owned hard money lender in New Jersey. I am also the Chairman of the Downtown Plainfield SID (business owners association) and a Commissioner for the Plainfield Historic and Preservation Commission. Additionally, I am a real estate advisor to the Mayor Mapp.

About 4 years ago we decided to diversify and launch our own private lending company (hard money), Arkad Capital, with the intent to cater to investors of all sizes. Our goal was to bring to the market a product that was affordable, understandable & efficient.

As borrower's ourselves, we felt that the industry needed some improvement. Fees were high & rates were astronomical! We were able to cut the cost of rates, eliminate junk fees, & open opportunity to entry level investors.

Our already existing branding (Arkad) was another catalyst for rapid growth & success, as we launched the co, a lot of our initial borrowers’ were people whom we had already done business with in NJ. They felt extra comfort because one of their "own" was lending to them. I have been buying and developing real estate in NJ for 15 years.

Covid was a challenge for real estate, especially for a startup like ours. Although we had always been social media progressive, the pandemic forced us to pivot. It was customary for us to set up large gatherings at hotels where real estate investors meet; as it was to meet with clients at our offices face to face.

When Covid came all this had to change so we pivoted to automation, social media presence & marketing. We created a weekly "Virtual Happy Hour" on Facebook Live. Our input & knowledge sharing has allowed us to have a farther & affordable reach than any hotel gathering ever did.

As re went online, so did we. We created protocols to become part of a large amount of online groups all around the nation. With the aide of our marketing & sales team, we expanded our services to people all across the US that never thought they could be qualify for a loan like ours.

We geared up technologically & took all of our meetings to a prescheduled 1 on 1 zoom format. We started to realize that by keeping information organized, sharable & up to date by integrating a CRM, in addition to putting out concise digital marketing, we can continue to grow our audience & scale. We now have the MOST FOLLOWERS on FB and IG vs our local competitors.

I enjoy sharing my hands on experience on the RE investing side as an added value to the financing side when speaking with clients/borrowers. I get to give my input & touch the lives & business decisions of hundreds of real estate investors weekly. I get to handcraft the safest & most affordable loan in hopes of a win-win outcome. They get to grow their investment career, while I get to scale. It's a beautiful thing to grow together. Secondly, knowing that our hard lending company is the byproduct of our real estate investment story inspires me & others every day.

Parker Interior Plantscape

Nomination from Randle Cullen

My mother is a nurse in a local hospital and came home one day with a beautiful plant. She had just had a rough day and cried when I asked her about the gift.

I was so surprised that a local business would selflessly give such a nice gift. It meant more to her than you would have known. It gave her a nice distraction to keep her mind off of things. She’s not one to have a green thumb but when she called they patiently talked to her.

Thank you Plantscape for giving to those who keep us safe.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Parker Interior Plantscape has been a local business in Union County for over 75 years (Scotch Plains, now Plainfield), its 3 generations of family members grew up and reside in Union County, and we employ over 70 people.

During the pandemic, we were hit especially hard since we service live plants in commercial buildings and hospitality venues that were vacated. We were in a fortunate position to retain all of our staff, guarantee hours that were reduced involuntarily, and paid extra to our frontline workers.

We worked with customers to keep their plants alive, and donate plants that were pre-grown for them that they were unable to use to local hospitals to give away to staff that battled on the frontlines. We are thankful to our staff and customers who made this all possible.

Ponche Suizo

Nomination from Antoinette Brevard

Xavier has shown so much resiliency and tenacity in being diligent to keep this business up and running. At great personal expense he remodeled the storefront he now occupies and overcome several obstacles to finally open his business on March 6, 2020 which was only a week before mandatory shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As he continues to strive to serve the Ecuadorian specialty drink along with tasty sandwiches, he also had to take a full-time job to keep his business afloat. His positive attitude and persistence is what makes him a champion.

StarRehabs Inc.

Nomination from Dara Queen

I’m thankful that StarRehabs was able to help me during a very low point in my life. Covid hurt not only people like myself but businesses.

They were able to help me get back on my feet while I was out of work. They kept me positive about my recovery while making me feel safe to be there!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

StarRehabs is a Minority Woman owned business in Plainfield, NJ. The Physical Therapy and Occupation Therapy clinic treats geriatrics, adults and pediatric patients suffering with injuries, stroke, balance disorders, autism. Due to lack of jobs most patients in the community cannot afford high insurance costs but we continue to provide treatment for free so that people can get back to their jobs and their active lifestyle.

To maintain costs Dr. Rozario employed 3 single moms and mentored and trained them to make a career in the medical field. Dr. Rozario and her team at StarRehabs have risked their lives and worked fearlessly during the peak of the pandemic to provide medical treatment to patients that have recovered from Covid.

Queen City Coffee Roasters

Nomination from Antoinette Brevard

Queen City Coffee Roasters is a unique coffee shop that celebrated its grand opening on October 31, 2019 just a few months before ordered closed because of the Covid pandemic.

The owner has been very optimistic about the future of Plainfield where he has started this business and generously gives back to the community in several ways including a holiday toy drive for children in need.

He also gives guidance to new business owners that he encounters by walking them through some aspects of the local regulatory process.

This rich advice give them a considerable advantage which is one reason he is a community champion.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When we opened Queen City Coffee Roasters, someone once told me that “it doesn’t get easier, you just get better at it.” They were right. We opened four months before a global pandemic, and that experience has given us a lot to be thankful for each day. Our community, teammate's and vendors were an inspiration for us to continue operating Queen City Coffee Roasters knowing we had become an important part of their daily life and that our team and our suppliers counted on us.

Going into Mach 2020, we were really beginning to hit our stride as a business and had over 15 events planned at the shop! We didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until we had to cancel all events and regroup as a team to figure out what we were going to do. Should we shutter for a few months or take the proper precautions, provide to the community, and give our business a chance? It didn’t take long for us to double-down and decide as a team that we were going to not only survive the pandemic but thrive.

First, it was all about safety for our teammates and our customers. This meant ensuring the team had the proper masks, gloves and ventilation, and that all customer orders were taken via our mobile ordering site which was up and running within days! Curbside pickup became the new normal, and luckily technology made this easier. As a mom of 2, I appreciate the convenience of not having to get out of the car while being able to still maintain my small sense of normalcy by grabbing my daily coffee.

After a few weeks of adjusting to our new normal, the coffee shop was noticeably slow. Many of our wholesale clients were beginning to shutter operations for a few months winding down an important revenue stream for us. It was time to figure out a new game plan.

E-commerce became a major new focus for us after this point. We realized that if our customers can’t come to us, then we need to come to them. We began shipping coffee nationwide and getting really creative with our marketing. It was working! We offered a subscription allowing customers to select whether they wanted to replenish their beans weekly or monthly. We now have a team dedicated to the online business!

Our website even started offering our customers ways for them to feel like they were playing a role in the fight against Covid by sponsoring coffee for frontline workers like nurses, doctors, and other hospital workers. Remember those businesses that were closing? We reached back out and offered flexible payment terms and additional help once they were ready to open their coffee shop or restaurant back up. This goodwill paid dividends and helped bring on new clients!

Through it all, we never stopped serving our customers. They got us through this. Even during such a tough time, our customers showed up every time. We collected over 100 letters for the elderly during Thanksgiving. We collected over 250 gifts for the children of Plainfield during Christmas that were then distributed by the local Plainfield organization, Angels for Action.

We continue to support local artists by featuring their work for sale in our shop. We even started featuring NJ bakeries every week.

We realized how important community support really was, and we want to thank every single customer that has walked through our door.


Abe’s Auto Center

Nomination from Elias Brenes

This small business is a mechanic shop that handles all repairs on domestic and foreign cars and trucks. Services include brakes, transmissions rebuild and replace, engines, tires, oil changes, front end suspensions, rear suspensions, heating and air conditioner services, and any other mechanical work.

They have established new policies when picking up and dropping off a vehicle due to Covid. They are constantly disinfecting common areas and masked at all times.

I’m thankful this honest mechanic shop is still around! They deserve to be recognized for coming this far after living through such a tough time.

Arch Angels NJ

Nomination from Ivan Reynolds

When the pandemic hit I watched dozens of businesses shut down. Many people I knew in the beauty industry were out of jobs and looking for alternative sources of revenue. Understandably, most people were scared and feeling concerned about what they would do next. At first Migdalia was too, but then I saw a spark in her. She began reaching out to folks in the community about how she could help. She used to be a teacher, and as the parent of a young child, immediately thought about how schools were impacted.

Knowing that others may not have the same resources, she volunteered to help teachers transition to online learning. Never allowing for an idle moment, she also began strategizing for her own business. She thought about the people who she had spoken with and how hard things were without steady jobs. She started developing an online course so that she could help others learn PMU techniques.

At the time, funding for small businesses was still hard to attain, so I watched her spend her own money to make adjustments to her business so that she could reopen safely when it was time. The resilience and determination she has had is inspiring.

Migdalia has been a friend for many years. She is the person I have trusted with any cosmetic work I have done because she truly cares that each person is happy with the result. I couldn't think of anyone better for this recognition.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Permanent makeup has always been a lucrative industry but requires a great deal of expertise. People trust our highly trained technicians to make life changing enhancements. Some clients are suffering from hair loss, skin discoloration or any other number of conditions. When they enter our studio, they want the procedure to boost their confidence and help them get back to the look they love for themselves. Others are long time makeup wearers and are looking to simplify their morning routine. No matter the origin, each of our clients is deeply impacted by the services they receive from us. Many of whom become life-long friends after their procedure.

When the pandemic hit, we were forced to close our doors for some time. I didn’t know how long we would have to stay closed or if we could ever reopen. I volunteered in Rahway to help teachers transition to online learning, offering to teach as well if more teachers were needed as I have previous experience. As someone who routinely stays in touch with my community (especially online), I began connecting with other small business owners experiencing the same troubles. We began just by offering each other support and an opportunity to vent about our frustrations. The longer the pandemic went on, the more I saw fellow business owners have to shut their doors indefinitely. At that point, I knew I needed to do something to save my business and continue to make an impact on those seeking our services.

My experiences with past businesses taught me a great deal about how to market myself. I learned how to look at any situation, identify who my consumer was and develop a strategy to reach them. This time was no different. People often use unexpected time off to take care of personal errands. It was then that I decided to begin creating and teaching online courses. I knew that this would be a great way to help those impacted by the pandemic gain a new skin in a high successful industry. This would be a great way to support others in becoming entrepreneurs and make sure that they too had a source of income they could count on when regular jobs were hard to get.

Once it was safe to do so, I reopened my studio with heightened cleaning protocols of common spaces, as well as an adjusted operational structure to keep clients safe. We built in more time in between appointments. We kept non-essential staff working from home and coordinated staggered shifts for in person staff. Getting clients to return took trust. We needed to build a strong foundation of trust with each client to make sure they knew just how safe they would be with us. We made sure to make pricing more accessible since many had fallen on hard times. Each of these changes was delicately marketed, so that the community knew they had our support, but that they could also continue to be serviced by us.

Impact is key for me. I do this work because clients leave radiant, confident, and overjoyed that permanent makeup was a solution for them. My community is so important to me and really drives me to find solutions to any obstacle that I encounter.

Atelier Rosal

Nomination from Jacqueline Lombardo

Nick Rosal is an artist, a musician and the co-founder of Atelier Rosal. His artwork has been collected across the United States and is in corporate collections as well. He has done stints as the director of production for a major NYC art publisher, been a graphic designer, and spent time painting theater backdrops all while pursuing his fine art painting.

While running his business before & during the pandemic in Rahway- he remained instrumental in fostering the music scene downtown, by coordinating local musicians and bands to perform in the City's parks, paseos and venues with the support of the Rahway Arts and Business Partnership.

Nick is an asset to the Rahway Arts community and his tireless efforts have helped in bringing fresh music and faces to the downtown business community.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Atelier Rosal, a gallery and frame shop, moved to Rahway, NJ in the fall of 2017 from New York City. The business took advantage of the nearby train station and I hoped some of our loyal clients would be willing to take the train to this arts friendly city. The space would have art openings, art lectures, poetry readings and workshops as well as small, intimate music performances. I also had the opportunity to work with The Rahway Arts & Business Partnership (RABP) to collaborate on art events and program street music for The City of Rahway. That also led to my working with other venues in need of entertainment and music.

That all stopped in March of 2020.

After months of being locked down we realized we needed to make changes to our business model as the world slowly was awakened. My wife and business partner, Heidi, added more “commercial” wares for the gallery to sell like candles, gift cards, olive wood platters and bowls to contrast the one of a kind ceramics and jewelry from independent artists we showcased. These were also available online through our website. To keep our custom framing clients engaged, we zoomed, Face-timed, and Video chatted through FB Message to design framing for client artworks. Designing in the frame shop was by appointment. Browsers needed to wear masks and hand sanitizer was available for (the very few) customers that walked in. But, we were proactive too. We went to our commercial accounts and did work on site. Everything from stretching canvases to curbside pickup and delivery of custom framing for our clients. We did what was required to maintain our clientele and reworked our retail space to generate new ones.

Meanwhile, The City of Rahway had installed pavilions in certain areas of the downtown area to help restaurants with their clientele in the form of outdoor seating and dining. What was missing was the live music I had programmed with The RABP. The booked musicians were streaming their performances, but it didn’t do what it was designed to do; bring people to Downtown Rahway to learn more about the small business and restaurants tucked away on side streets. As mandates relaxed and crowds were allowed to gather, albeit six feet apart, with masks and with a maximum limit on outdoor spaces, a few of the booked musicians would perform on the street. However, it was the end of the summer music series season.

Knowing that the RABP was gracious enough to fulfill the obligations of paying the artists to perform, despite the COVID-19 circumstances that forced musicians to stream and that the summer music series didn’t draw an audience to Downtown Rahway as designed, I was inspired to create an event that would do just that. So, I called the performers from the summer schedule, my soundman and the RABP and organized the “Culture Crawl Pop-Up Music Series 2020”: a five hour music event involving eight artists that have performed for the RABP in the past. The event was held at The Rahway Train Station Plaza on November 7th, 2020 with what seemed like September weather. It was a complete success as people set up chairs after visiting local restaurants for lunch/dinner or getting their take out.

Having access to the Train Station Plaza gave me the idea to do this again as well as other events. Working with The City of Rahway, I repeated the five hour music event on April 17th 2021 as “Rahway Musicfest for Rahway Restaurants 2021” to celebrate the coming of the warmer months and (albeit controlled) gathering of people outdoors. We found a receptive audience and a crowd of people excited to see live music again. I’m hoping to do this again in the fall.

The want for normalcy, entertainment and engaged activities was palpable. Not knowing if the pandemic would ease or make a turn for the worse, I committed to creating more arts and music events to be held outdoors. That being said, I brought three pop-up shows from The Downtown Bohemian Festival (DBF is a three day art festival showcasing local artist, poets, film, music etc held at Hamilton Stage and The Fazioli Room) to public spaces in Rahway. “DBF Pop-Up Poetry and Jazz”s outdoor performance debuted in May at the Rahway Train Station Plaza. The day featured open mic spoken word and featured poets while a jazz band “mashed” with them, creating a day of improvisational music and spoken word. Also on display were local artists displaying their artwork, ceramics and other unique wares. This event will be repeated on September 4th at 4pm. The second installment of the three pop-up shows was held in the parking lot of The Gallery Space. That program consisted of spoken word and short films by NJ directors.

I wanted to bring not just music back to the community, but the visual arts, film festivals, and the spoken word.

Another genre of music people were yearning for was Jazz. I work with Watt Hotel to bring jazz to their lounge. Because of travel restrictions in 2020, they had cancelled the program (only to recently restart it as of this writing) due to limited occupancy in their hotel. I reached out to the city to have jazz at The Train Station Plaza for two reasons: 1) To have Rahway as a music mecca in August as people come for the mayor’s concert on Thursdays, the RABP’s Summer Music Series on Fridays at The Paseo (a nickname for an alley on Main St. across from Cherry St) and then Jazz on Saturdays! 2) The citizens of Rahway have grown to love the Jazz program at Watt. Without having a clue when it would start again, The City of Rahway and I gave it to them. An addendum to this concept is Watt has recently started its Jazz program again. I’m hoping there will be some crossover audiences from the Train Station Plaza to the lounge to help steady their business.

There was a need and a craving after the lockdown was lifted. People constantly asked me when music would start again, when will the art shows start, the open mic poetry? I pushed to get music back on the streets, art seen and poetry heard because I needed it too. But I also knew that the community, the business and the city would benefit from these events.

Lastly, and I hesitated to write this, but I have my wife’s blessings: all of this was happening while my wife and I were managing her health as she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2020. She’s tough though. She survived because of all the support we’ve received through this as well. She is now a year away from diagnosis and at last check up, cancer free.

But as she and I went through difficult times with people supporting us, so will this community. Because, for the most part, we’ve come together to support each other.

Flynn’s Pub House

Nomination from Meg Servedio

Just Plain Dave’s and Meatballs and Brews were both hit hard by the pandemic but they combined the businesses and managed to keep all of their employees working to continue serving delicious food and great drinks to the community. I’m not much of a drinker but I’ve been eating at JPDs for years and was so happy that they kept cooking.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I tend to be a very private person, but it’s not often that a small business owner gets the opportunity to express themselves in an open and honest way. So please bear with me as I talk about my experiences before, during, and currently, in dealing with this pandemic - because my story could easily be the same for many business owners.

Our story starts in 2017. That’s when my wife and I took ownership of the restaurant where we first met - Just Plain Dave’s. It wasn’t in the best condition and there were problems with it but it was our chance to live out our dream (really my dream). I’ve always been a big believer in the economic necessity of small businesses and the impact they can have on their local communities’ quality of life. After having spent ten years of my adult life working in finance, making wealthy people even wealthier, I grew to understand that my job produced nothing of real value. Even though I was “successful” - I felt empty.

Sure, we held fundraisers and made donations but it wasn’t done with a sense of purpose or responsibility. It was done for PR, or tax write offs, leading to larger profits. With that in mind - I came up with a few basic tenets for what our business would be about. I would provide my employees with a safe and inviting work environment. I would redistribute our revenue to other small businesses and charities as much as I could. I wanted to create something that would enrich the quality of life for those around me. Profits would always come after I made sure our core values were covered.

So, we purchased as much as we could from local vendors and suppliers. All of our produce is purchased from little bodegas, farmer’s markets, and locally owned delivery services. We didn’t have a lot of capital to start with but we had a strong support system and determination.

After years of struggles, moving to a smaller location, etc., we were finally hitting our stride. A couple months later - the world came to a halt.

As someone who has immunocompromised loved ones at home, this was a very scary time. We stopped inside dining a week before the mandates came out and I made the decision that we were going to ride this out for as long as we could without reducing anyone’s pay or hours. My staff had done nothing to deserve this and without them I wouldn’t still be doing what I do.

Unfortunately, due to the struggles we had experienced in the beginning, I was not going to be able to keep it up for long. Money was already tight before the shutdowns began.

We couldn’t afford to close, even temporarily, as we figured out what we were supposed to do. We quickly transitioned to takeout/delivery only and hoped for the best. The support from our customers was tremendous. They were willing to drive around in circles as they waited for their takeout orders (parking could be a little tough). Waited for over an hour for their deliveries. The patience and understanding was nothing short of incredible. Our community was now holding me together.

As the months passed by though, I came to the realization that we were not going to make it to the other side of this. I had donated the little bit I could (our stock of toilet paper, and gloves) to local foundations to use as needed. I had managed to keep everyone employed but I simply did not have any more options. The little bit of money I had managed to save was gone. It was one of the most depressing moments of my life. All the hard work and sacrifice of myself - but more importantly my wife and our families - was for naught. This was the beginning of July.

It was then that I heard a place nearby was getting ready to reopen but without a kitchen operation. I saw an opportunity and went to speak with the owner about the possibility of joining together. Strength in numbers so to speak. Thankfully he agreed! We opened together as Flynn’s Pub House in August of last year.

In November one of my cooks tested positive for Covid. Out of caution for myself, my wife, our staff, their loved ones, and our community - we made the decision to close temporarily as we got the rest of the staff tested and had the entire establishment cleaned and sanitized. I’d say it was a difficult decision but it really wasn’t - no amount of money is ever worth the health and wellbeing of an individual.

We withheld inside dining for a month after it was allowed to resume. Withheld bar seating for three weeks after it was allowed. I scheduled vaccine appointments for my staff. Our staff continues to wear masks inside to this day both for their, and the community’s, benefit. We are still purchasing from local vendors and no one had to lose their job to make that happen.

While companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart are being praised for offering $15 an hour now the reality is that they could, and should, have been doing that ten years ago. When AMEX promotes their “small business Saturday” they do it for their own benefit - not the local communities. If they really wanted to support the small businesses - they would waive their processing fees on that day. Or issue grants. Or literally anything of tangible assistance. Instead they mail out stickers and consider it a job well done.

This past year+ has been the hardest of my life. I know I’m not alone in that. It has been difficult for everyone. I know people that have lost loved ones, their home, their life’s savings and everything they have worked towards. My hope is as we continue to open things back up, there will be a renewed understanding of what it means to “support local”. That the patience and understanding from the beginning of the pandemic continues on. It’s become cliché for talking heads to say “small businesses are the backbone of our economy” - even though most of us were left exposed without a lifeline when this all began and continue to be to this day. I’d like to say I was smart, but truthfully I was just lucky. Lucky that I have a wife who supports and believes in me unconditionally. Lucky that I have a family who will be there when it feels like I have nothing else. Lucky that I found another small business owner willing to take a risk on me. Lucky that I have customers that were willing to deal with all of the changes and inconsistencies that come with being a first time business owner.

If this pandemic has taught me nothing else - it’s that together we, as a community, can overcome even the most horrific of obstacles if we’re honest and understanding with one another.

This recognition as a community champion isn’t really about me or the things I’ve done. It’s about the support my community, my employees, my family, and my wife, gave me when I needed it most.

Ghos Training

Nomination from Sharisse Leighten

This gym is top notch. From a client's standpoint, Nasir is friendly, professional and hard working. During the pandemic, he made sure the gym was super clean, disinfected, and mask mandated! The members continued to "Go Hard" while in the midst of this very difficult time.

I applaud Nasir and The GHOS Training Facility for all the effort put into whipping this body into shape.

I actually lost 20 lbs during the pandemic and I have my God and this organization to thank!

Nomination from Stacey Johnson

We have socialized and heard stories from Nasir on how exercise and nutrition made him into the person that he is today. He is a key player on any team .He is always willing to share his life stories, prior to the pandemic, during the pandemic and post-pandemic. His skills and leadership qualities make him invaluable to current and former clients, like us. He has found success as a Leading Trainer in Union County, helping families. He is always looking to attract former clients back so that he can continue to support improving their quality of life.W e learned new exercises that we are keeping for the rest of our lives.

In addition to his professional qualifications, Nasir has personal qualities that make him well-suited for such a recognition. He naturally falls into any role. He’s not afraid to offer suggestions for his clients to explore .In his current role as a personal trainer, he is instrumental in a platform that has proven to be very fruitful. He is committed to progress and he strives for people to do the same. In short, Nasir, is a person with vision.
On a personal note, Nasir has become a close friend over the years. His fun and friendly personality are just the icing on the cake for his many qualifications. On Monday July 12, 2021 our 33 year old daughter was visiting us from out of state here in New Jersey (NJ) and had a stroke. Our reality is that our lives have changed. The comfort and kindness he has showed us during this critical time is something he will continue to do for other families in Union County.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I made the decision to close my business weeks before the shutdown was mandated. Caring for my mom, the exposure to so many people was a concern. I converted the gym to virtual training. Gym members had the option to log into daily zoom streamed workouts.

I felt it was important to provide the members with a virtual option and send workouts for them to do on their own. Their progress is what matters to me. Many of them have come so far. There was no way I could allow this pandemic to get in their way.

When businesses were allowed to open back up members donated sanitary wipes and bleach to keep the facility clean. Members clean their equipment after use and I clean the gym after every class or personal training session.

Il Forno a Legna

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

Il Forno A Legna tackled the challenges of the pandemic with both creativity and professionalism. They were one of the first restaurants to sacrifice their parking lot for outdoor dining. The success of this business model adaptation spread throughout the city as more and more restaurants made similar changes after seeing diners enjoying wood oven pizza outside throughout the seasons.

The creation of outdoor dining spaces revitalized the downtown. This change in business model was so popular, that with indoor restrictions now lifted, they still kept and upgraded the outdoor dining experience.

The Il Forno Food Truck was also on the move during the pandemic as they kept the community engaged by giving out pizza at City Park re-openings.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

COVID was nothing short of challenging for all businesses. As a small business we were faced with many difficulties but we overcame them by using the circumstances we were facing as an opportunity to RAISE THE BAR even more!!We had no choice; we didn’t want to be discouraged and we did not want to fail!! At Il Forno we used this as an opportunity to be supportive to our community and keep pressing on!! We let go of our employees to be sure to stay healthy. By keeping only family members as employees we were able to know that we were not contacting Covid.

This also meant we were doing all the work on our own! With minimal staff we were waking up earlier, preparing all our fresh Ingredients, cleaning up ourselves, and staying later to make sure everything was correct. We followed all of the guidelines which were mandated by the state and city. Even the simple things like masks, hand sanitizer, and 6 feet distance made running a restaurant more difficult.

We were pressed to think out-of-the-box. Little by little as rules were lifted and things got better we continued to stay positive, we continued to serve and we continued to bring smiles to all the faces of our customers. So much work goes into running a small business restaurant; COVID added the workload and stress! We have families of our own and we know how important health and safety are!

We are open every day because everyone needs to eat and we were there for our community and customers to feel safe whether they were picking up food or getting it delivered. We have always believed in giving back to our community and we did just that during the pandemic! We donated to CVS, Rahway Fire Department, DPW, Rahway Hospital, Rahway Police Department and more.

We donated 20 gift cards to 20 families during that time that were in need of help as well. Through the years since Il Forno A Legna has been open our customers have become like family.

It was a pleasure to be of service to everyone who came in to pick up food and whomever we were personally delivering food to during that difficult time.


Melao Café

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

Melao Cafe & Creamery has been the pulse of the community throughout the pandemic. As businesses started shutting their doors; Melao’s coffee filled up portable containers that were sent off to local essential workers including the Rahway Department of Public Works and the Rahway Fire Department.

As the city of Rahway got creative with their outdoor recreational programming, Melao was one of the first restaurants to team up with them in a trial voucher program where residents who participated in the MT. Rahway Rock Wall event would receive a voucher to be used at Melao. The voucher business model was a huge success that went on to expand over multiple events including dozens of restaurants which all included Melao.

When Winter hit and social distancing was at an all-time high, Melao offered free outdoor coffee at the city’s Winter Wonderland holiday series to keep indoor crowds at a minimum during the holiday series. One thing that was certain, in such uncertain times, was that if you made the trip to downtown Rahway a great cup of coffee would be waiting for you.

Nomination from Brandon Givens

Melao has quickly become an important piece of the Rahway Community, since their grand opening.

Aside from great food and coffee once you step through the doors you feel all the positive energy. Just like hundreds of small businesses around the state once Covid hit they adapted to ensure survival.

I’m happy to see that they’ve been able to weather the storm, growing their business, and continuing to provide great service and quality!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Melao is a gem here in Rahway. Only open for 2.5 years but let me tell you the love we’ve got in these past few years have been amazing. This pandemic really showed us how much the city and our patrons love us. Not only did we shut down for a full month but we also cut our hours down to fight the cut in sales. When we opened back up after that month of scare we decided to change our game plan with Mobile orders and cutting down our menu but also recreating menu items.

This helped grab attention of our audience during these hard times especially through all social media platforms.

Though many customers were very cautious about picking up food, we tackled the digital world in a way that not only got us back on track slowly but made our customer base feel more secure about eating out. It’s been a journey as we are finally getting back to a norm. Social media presence has been a great way to attract the public eye and we will continue to do so! Nonetheless we are very happy to still be open as I know many others were not fortunate enough to remain open during the pandemic.

We are here strong and here to stay! - Melao Family

Nancy’s Townhouse

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

As the city of Rahway scrambled to offer outdoor seating areas for dining, Nancy's Towne House happily gave back to the community by becoming the unofficial staging area for the City’s assembly of picnic tables and chairs.

After these items were assembled and deployed to their locations, Nancy’s Towne House contributed to the outdoor dining experience themselves by building their own creative outdoor dining space, complete with tents and shrubbery. In an effort to reach isolated senior citizens that had limited ability to leave their residence, Nancy’s Towne House prepared and donated their famous thin crust pizza with Valentine’s chocolates that were delivered to senior citizens as part of the City’s “Be Our Valentine” program.

Nancy’s also adapted their business model to offer creative take home menu options like their Sangria that saw cars lined up down Main Street, looking to pick up dinner for the family.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We are honored and humbled to be nominated for Union County Small Business Community Champion.

The last year certainly has changed our industry. We found ourselves creating ways to reach out to our customers to let them know “hey, we are here!” We want to see you and we want to help. We did curbside delivery and door to door delivery for our friends that couldn’t make it out of their homes. We made and delivered our homemade soup and get well cards to our customers suffering at home with Covid.

We made pizzas and dinners for our first responders at St. Peter’s hospital as well as JFK hospital.

We participated with the wonderful Rahway Flag organization to deliver 50 Chicken Parmesan dinners to our seniors. We supported Madison school PTO with a ten percent contribution of sales to their school.
We donated meals for food for friends through the Rahway Flag organization.

We are grateful to make it through the pandemic with the support of our customers and our community. Rahway came together as a family and we are so proud to be a part of this loving, caring, proud community. Surviving these horrible times together has given our busses a new look on life.

I open my doors every morning with a new appreciation, a new gratitude and a new found desire to serve our community and our guests.

Rahway Dance Theatre

Nomination from Tonju Anik

I began working for Rahway Dance theatre during the summer of 2019. I was impressed with how knowledgeable the students in the program were and how well the business run was. I was hopeful to find a place there even as a substitute teacher, at that time not knowing that a permanent position was mine to keep. Watching Armanii the director, navigate through challenges without sacrificing the brilliance and integrity of the company encouraged me to stay.

Being fairly new, I was unaware of just how much was happening behind the scenes. In full transparency Armanii guided her staff and families through a tough time.

The passing of its founder and owner for the past 25 years Ms. Lee, relocation, and the 2020 pandemic shut down. Without hesitation we progressed forward, providing as much support and encouragement as we could to one another in an uncertain time for all. Regardless, Rahway Dance Theatre persevered, managing to overcome all obstacles along the way.

The resilience of this company is shown in the way everyone is involved, even our parents’ dance. We can’t get people out the door at the end of the day! To recognize Rahway Dance Theatre is to find a gem; not just a diamond in the rough.

Nomination from Amanda Conforti

Rahway Dance Theatre lost its’ home but found another during the pandemic.

The new owner also fought to keep Rahway Dance Theatre operating after the original owner passed. Whether it was Zoom classes, classes in the park, or classes in the new studio, this school fought to give back to its kids through adversity.

Nomination from Lisa Ferraro

They moved into a new space during COVID and were able to adapt to the changing climate to continue offering dance to adults and children. They even offered free public classes outside at the Rahway train station which were wonderful.

They are an important part of this growing artistic community and although this is a new owner the dance school has a rich history in Rahway. I am so thankful they are here!

Nomination from Christina Formica

In my time at Rahway Dance Theatre (RDT), I have seen them through highs and lows and continue to stay true to their mission fighting for dance to continue for all of us, for the babies and the adult classes; through the loss of their original studio owner, to losing the dance studio space during the pandemic, keeping classes going virtually and outdoors, finding a new dance space and remodeling the interior – laying down their own floors, they’ve been through it all and kept going with infectious positivity.

They are resilient and have created a community within the dance studio that is just as dedicated to them as they are to us, and because of that they are true champions and an asset to the Rahway community and Union County.

Nomination from Amy Garcia Phillips

Rahway Dance Theatre not only stayed open during the pandemic but found out in June of 2020 that they would have limited time in their current location as their lease would not be renewed.

The new Director (who recently took over from the previous director/owner who passed away in Jan 2020) pivoted. She taught classes in the park, online and any way she could until they moved into their new brick and mortar location in November.

This studio managed TWO online performances (in February for Black History Month and in June for the end of year recital). It wasn’t an easy year for anyone but this studio, under the leadership, perseverance and fortitude of Armanii Saahd- Tann, not only survived, but THRIVED! She deserves this honor many times over!

Nomination from Jeffery Hines

My son has a passion for dance. RDT was recommended to us from gentleman from our church (who is a dancer by profession). Ms. Armanii has partnered with my wife and I, to go over expectation we have within the program. More importantly, she allows my son Zion to feel as if can do anything he can put his mind to.”

More importantly, during this transition period with the recent COVID pandemic. Ms Armanii successfully transitioned the classes to online via zoom. Once classes were resumed back to live. All safety guidelines were followed.

The annual big showcase was held without an audience, however the families were able to down load the show digitally. My son and many of the other dancers did not skip a beat. In what was a stressful time in our lives- This is a testament to the great leadership of Ms Armanii and her staff.

Nomination from Daphne Lee

Armanii was starting an LLC, getting right with the IRS, seeked financial support from friends & family, secured a new location, and packed up the old Rahway Dance Theatre by the late Jay Skeete-Lee, was what she thought was the hard part. And that was only one step! The tears, the doubt, the mental exhaustion, and it was still only the beginning. The studio, Rahway Dance Theatre, needed to be built from the concrete floor up.

I’ll spare the details, but if you knew, YOU KNEW. Her kindness and eagerness (or naïveté) to be a business owner was taken advantage of by folks who saw a money making opportunity out of her hard work. It was 3 grueling months (July-September) of bogus contracting work, unfulfilled promises, getting the run around, and ultimately cutting ties with the people she thought wanted to genuinely help see her prosper. The building owner then hired a legitimate company to repair and complete renovations on the building, and her suite, that was left undone and sloppily. That was ANOTHER 5 weeks of time it took her to fix.

Rahway Dance Theatre reopened for classes at the top of November 2020 pending important inspections and more work that needed to be done. But they opened! There was no real moment where she didn’t feel like she was continuously stumbling forward. Her students had been waiting since March to dance in person, they were waiting since July to dance INSIDE a studio, and waiting since September to know what the holdup was. If the dictionary had a picture for “hitting the ground running” it would be a picture of Armanii. She did everything she could to keep her promises and show her dance family & new additions that the wait wouldn’t be for nothing. She felt like her back was against the wall and she had to move quickly before she lost students that she had for most of THEIR life!

November to June. The staff continued to stumble forward until they gained their legs and got a flow. But there wasn’t a good time to celebrate. They were still in the thick of COVID: double masks, no vaccines, Lysol shortages, virtual school, fear, people sick and dying, businesses closing. Ms. Sadd-Tann felt so fortunate and accomplished to finally be doing exactly what she set out to do in 2014, but it just didn’t feel like a great time to stand in that.

June to now. She completed her first ever virtual show and awards ceremony! In a weird way, the most unorthodox year just felt SO right! All 60 of her students got to see the madness through to the end of their 1st season as “RDT 2.0”. Of course every detail wasn’t pretty; some people walked away & some were left behind in the process. But this year brought her closer to the people who she know had her back & deepened her relationships with her students. Her heart is all filled up with the opportunity to inspire & lead future artists to a world of possibilities!!!

I believe that Armanii is ready to stand in her light and accept all that the universe believes she is prepared for and to humbly brag on herself! Rahway High School Class of 2010, Rutgers University Class of 2014, twenty-eight years young and a black business owner in Rahway! And now Artistic Director of Rahway Dance Theatre!

The fact that registration is now open for the fall season has been an amazing feat to see how she moved through and survived a 30 year legacy which could have closed! She made that possible to keep arts alive in Rahway.

Nomination from Danni Newbury

COVID-19 has turned the livelihood of almost all small businesses upside down in one way or another – devastating many small businesses in 2020. Minority-owned small businesses were/are disproportionately affected by the financial consequences of the COVID-19. The economic impact of COVID-19 on the arts and culture industry (creative economy) has been unarguably catastrophic. Rahway business owner Armanii Saahd-Tann’s passion, vision, perseverance and courage saved her minority-owned small arts business from the wrath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rahway Dance Theatre’s mission “to introduce and educate the local community on the value of dance in every day life” was the mission local dance students needed throughout to pandemic for physical and mental health and wellness. From pivoting between weeks of virtual programming and in-person (indoor and outdoor) classes, while moving to a new location during construction of the space, and managing the needs of new and existing students, state-mandated shutdowns, and ever-changing pandemic safety protocols RDT more than survived – Rahway Dance Theatre thrived.

With gratitude for Armanii’s dedication to the creative community in Rahway, I join a huge community of people to nominate Rahway Dance Theatre as a small business champion that continues to demonstrate resilience during the pandemic and continues to give back to the community in immeasurable ways.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I'm not sure the formatting that's preferred for this, but I'll send our story as a series of bullets to avoid writing novel!

  • January 2020 - The founder and original owner of Rahway Dance Theatre (my mentor and coach, Mrs. Jay Skeete-Lee) passed away from Multiple Myeloma cancer.
  • February 2020 - The owner of the building where Rahway Dance Theatre existed for nearly 20 years decided to no longer renew our lease as of June 2020, and cited that the bar/restaurant next door would be expanding to take over our space.
  • March 2020 - The global pandemic began and the state of NJ began it's two week quarantine period where things were supposed to return to normal after. As the weeks continued, we pivoted our live classes to Zoom classes to keep our students engaged in the meantime. Little did we know that 2 weeks would become 4 months of Zoom dance classes, daily photo/video challenges, choreography projects, and hard discussions with our students. RDT featured classes on Facebook and Instagram Live that were open to the public to keep moving during the quarantine.
  • April 2020 - RDT began a GoFundMe to support the costs of our inevitable relocation, though we didn't have a new lease secured. Our families, friends, and community members helped us to raise nearly $5000 towards flooring, ballet barres, mirrors, and more.
  • June 2020 - I took ownership of the business and secured the lease at a new location in Rahway.
  • RDT also enacted a community wide fundraiser to support a local protest organized by activist leaders in Rahway. The fundraiser sparked the "Black Lives Matter Poster Project" where we donated supplies (poster boards, markers, crayons, snacks) to kids in Rahway to create an original flyer that expressed their sentiments towards the socio-political uproar happening in our country due to police violence. The poster project was a contest that attracted nearly 50 submissions. The posters were collected, distributed and displayed at the Civil Unrest Movement in Rahway.
  • July 2020-November 2020 - It took a long time to secure the contractor work necessary to build the school from scratch, but we got it done! In the meantime, classes took place outside at Rahway Park!
  • November 2020 - We finally reopened in our new locations with COVID protocols and procedures in place. It was a heck of a first year, and we didn't complete the season unscathed, but we pulled together as a dance family and made sure that our home was supported and ready to take on the newest challenges.

Rahway Community Action Organization

Nomination from Thora Robinson

When Covid hit our family struggled deeply. Most people wouldn’t think that an educated, middle-aged mother of three, working in an office setting would struggle with food insecurity. I’m here to tell you that I did and I’m not alone. I never felt alone and I’m blessed to have Rahway Community Action Organization who helped during this difficult time. With the increase in the need of services they were resourceful in expanding their assistance offered.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

While we have always served a low-income population throughout our 54 year history, due to the COVID-19 pandemic we are seeing greater need than ever before as our clients are experiencing numerous financial, physical and mental health challenges so we have vastly expanded our Emergency Needs Program and offered an increased number of educational workshops which are opportunities not only to learn more, but to feel supported as well, and to know you are not alone.

Our Emergency Needs Food Pantry increased from an average of 6 families per week to an average of 88 families per week. Specifically, from May through December 2020, we served 1,882 families for a total of 7,778 individuals (including children and Seniors), and from January 6 through June 2, 2021, we served 1,970 families for 9,620 people including 2,466 adults, 6,252 children and 902 Seniors.

Parents of students enrolled in our early childhood education components are also struggling to balance work and family commitments. We have been working harder than ever to provide education, support and referrals to other agencies in a myriad of areas.

The waiting list for assistance from our Family Success Center, only almost halfway through 2021, far exceeds the annual resources we are allotted by the Union County Board of Commissioners. We have been networking with other agencies and organizations to help meet the need wherever we can.

One of the outcomes of these efforts is a greater understanding of the struggles faced by the most vulnerable members of our community. Two ways in which we can offer our ‘helping hands’ are through an expansion of our Workshop Series and supplies from our emergency needs program.

Sheavon Beauty

Nomination from Kaveena Miller

Sheavon Beauty’s #1 priority is their customers. There is a mask requirement sign right on the front door before even entering. All of their workers wear masks the entire time you’re there. I feel comfortable going there because there’s a huge bottle of hand sanitizer right there on the counter. The store was clean before the pandemic but they kept it up even more. I’ve seen Shavon herself wipe down the counters in between customers coming in.

It felt good to know that I can still buy what I need to look and feel good but also know this store is concerned about my health and wellbeing. When the numbers started to rise again, I was able to order from their online store! I was able to see look amazing even while being inside thanks to them! They offered delivery and curbside pickup.

For a small business, they adjusted so quickly and efficiently during the pandemic, it was truly amazing to witness!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

This is such an honor and thank you for recognizing our small business Sheavon Beauty in the community.
I started off as a stay at home mom with a home-based business in 2015 as a natural skincare line for eczema and sensitive skin. As orders started to take up our space, my husband and I decided to open up our first retail location in Rahway, NJ in 2018

In 2020 we were mandated to shut down with other local businesses due to the pandemic. After begin closed down for 6 months we reopened and pivoted into one of the only black owned beauty supplies that carries healthy fresh made skincare such as soaps, body butters, oils and more, hair supplies and we also feature other local beauty entrepreneurs in New Jersey.

At Sheavon Beauty, we provide extra safety by using high quality disinfectants and cleaners to wipe down our jars that hold our products. We spray between customer visits, sterilize door handles and also provide free face mask to all customers that want to shop inside so everyone including staff feels safe.

However we also have 2 websites which are and where customers can order for mail delivery or get curbside pickup that is bought to your vehicle by a staff member. Lastly for those that are on Instagram or Facebook we provide fun skin and hair care tips that you can use at home in your daily regimen, business advice for those looking to start a business or behind the scenes clips of what's happening so we can all feel close during this pandemic.

Our social media is @sheavonbeauty

Sinani Bakery Restaurant

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

A somewhat recent addition to the City of Rahway, Sinai Bakery Restaurant, consistently gave back to their new community by teaming up with the Gallery Space. While indoor art exhibits were shut down; the Gallery Space offered virtual art exhibits with in person; outdoor exhibit openings and closings that saw Sinai Bakery open up on their off day to provide fresh cookies and pastries.

Sinai Bakery Restaurant was also one of the first adopters of the City of Rahway’s voucher program where residents would receive vouchers to be redeemed at local businesses for attending safe outdoor events. Sinai saw their business model adapt as lunch hour hit, their bakery would transform into a Mexican Restaurant. Seemingly always open, even when they weren’t, Sinai Bakery consistently gave back to the community during the pandemic.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

During the pandemic, there was confusion and absolute silence. Rahway was like a ghost town. No one walking by, and no cars going down the streets. Safety is the number one priority during this virus. We managed to get face masks and hand sanitizer as soon as possible. Luckily we had gloves already to protect ourselves a bit more. There was some changes such as limited capacity, social distancing and some temperature checks.

Sinai Bakery participated in the Rahway frontline appreciation group. It is an honor to be recognized as a Union County Small Business Community Champion, every business deserves a round of applause surviving during the pandemic.

Sirius Sales Depot

Nomination from Jackie Ronan

We made the mistake of moving during COVID. We couldn’t find a local store that was open and all shipping options were either too expensive or took way to long. I found the Sirius Sales Depot through a community post on Facebook.

They were beyond nice and affordable. They offered curbside pickup which saved us money and time. When we picked up everyone was masked and the contact less pick up made us feel safe. Our family is nicely settled because this store pivoted their business model and offered this option to us.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We tried to meet the needs of approximately 10000 members who follow us on Facebook Marketplace during the difficult CORONA days that started in March last year, by applying CURBSIDE PICKUP methods.

We would like to express our gratitude to the people of UNION County, who trust us, especially on hard conditions.

The Coffee Box

Nomination from Anthony Deige Jr.

The Coffee Box refused to let the thriving downtown of Rahway slow down from the pandemic. When the majority of the local art and entertainment industry got shut down, the Coffee Box set up outdoor heat lamps and hired local Jazz Bands to play brunch every weekend throughout the Winter. When the City of Rahway’s Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Brunch was canceled, the coffee box stepped up and salvaged the event by providing outdoor refreshments after the annual ceremony at the monument.

When Winter hit and social distancing was at an all time high, The Coffee Box offered free outdoor hot chocolate at the city’s Winter Wonderland holiday series to keep indoor crowds at a minimum during the holiday series while keeping the holiday spirit alive.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The Coffee Box is a local independent coffee shop with locations in Plainfield and Rahway. We are very community based and connected. We had tremendous community support during COVID19.

Ways we were supported:

  • We received generous support through federal, state, county and local government grants. This provided much needed financial support in areas of payroll, rent, utilities and other costs. Without this support we most likely would not have survived.
  • Our customers were absolutely amazing. They checked in regularly with our employees making sure everyone was OK. People who were able to come out supported our business often daily. People under quarantine kept in touch with us through social media.
  • The City of Rahway was amazing. They worked very closely with local businesses every step of the way. The administration kept us well informed of safety procedures, suggested adaptations, alerted us of support programs and checked in regularly to see how we were doing. Most impressive is they converted a portion of Cherry Street into a pedestrian area where people could dine safely outside. As we all realized that COVID would be with us for a long time they built a permanent pavilion to encourage a safe place for people to come out and support the community. The result is a beautiful, friendly area that will be with us far after COVID is gone. Downtown Rahway feels more connected than ever before.

Ways we partnered with the community:

  • We partnered with FLAG (Front Line Appreciation Group) organizations in Rahway and Scotch Plains – Fanwood. They provided a framework where people could contribute financially and the FLAG organizations coordinated with local restaurants to provide meals at-cost delivering to hospitals, first responders and similar groups providing direct COVID care.
  • We actively participated in community social justice causes including Black Lives Matter rallies and LGBTQ Pride celebrations.
  • Similarly we partnered with Union County to provide at-cost breakfasts and coffee to the UC Covid Testing Center at Kean University. We also worked with Union County for drive-in concerts at the Union County VoTech.
  • We provided a forum for local musicians to perform outside our shops. Local music and art helped to improve everyone’s spirit.

Ways we pivoted:

  • Like all area restaurants we adapted step by step to follow all State of New Jersey guidelines. This started as all take out, then 25% occupancy and 50% occupancy. We implemented stringent cleaning procedures, social distancing, personal protective gear, etc. It was very important to keep our customers and staff safe.
  • We adapted hours to meet new business trends. For example we opened later as no one was taking trains to commute to New York.
  • We set up 3rd party delivery service so people could order and have items delivered directly to their door.

Overall we have emerged stronger after COVID19. We feel an even stronger bond with our local communities. We all lived through this together. We all learned how to be creative and support each other through each twist and turn.

We adapted business practices that will continue to help us grow as the conditions continue to improve.

Travel Skate Shop

Nomination from Nomination from Adam Priestly

We live in the apartments across from the skate shop and watched the dedication Josh displayed. Every day during the pandemic he went into his store without fail.

We would watch him promote his store with videos he would film right in front of Cherry Street. It was his savvy marketing skills that keep his online store booming. He never gave up he kept going when others closed their doors, he was right there fighting to stay open.

When he wasn’t promoting his shop he was hosting a ton of online fundraisers for frontline workers and families in need. He deserves this award!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I was in the process of opening up my second location in Rahway, NJ. We opened up February 28th, about two weeks before COVID-19 really started to shake the world. I ultimately decided to close my original location in Roselle Park to have a fresh start in an upcoming downtown and I was uncertain of what the road ahead was going to look like.

Prior to this, I was already open for about 6 years and already developed a close community that was growing every year. I've always done free contests that brings the community together and a chance for everyone to win free product from my store / distributors. With the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, I wasn't able to do these events and I didn't want to stop giving back.

We pivoted to online and used our social media platforms to accept donations for the ones in need. We donated 100's of pounds of food to our local food drive in Rahway, raised almost $2000 for nurses that were dealing with this head on, donated 15 complete skateboards for presents to a nonprofit for kids to have a great holiday season, met with the Mayor to open the conversation about building a skate park in Rahway and made sure to do what-ever it took to keep our doors open for the community we worked so hard to build.


Club Kali

Nomination from Yessica Chavez

Club Kali Roselle (multicultural) is the home to our children who want to learn about Mexico and it’s culture. Lucia offers traditional dance classes to our children, adults, as well as many other services to our community members. During the pandemic, Club Kali Roselle was not able to open its doors to customers, but Lucia and her husband Luis found a way to use their space to help out our Roselle residents and surrounding community.

Club Kali Roselle in partnership with Hispanos Unidos de Roselle used the space furring the month of April 2020, to collect food donations and were able to help out around 150 families from Roselle, Elizabeth, Roselle Park, Union Township, Linden, and Rahway. Even though, her business was struggling, Lucia never gave up and helped our community during such difficult times by providing her space. Also, during the month of September, Club Kali Roselle, open its doors one more time to host the Mexico Consulate and its food drive to help out 100 families in need. Together with Asociación Mexicana and Hispanos Unidos de Roselle, Club Kali Roselle has been helping out our community throughout this pandemic. Many meetings have been hosted here, including meeting and workshops to help our Spanish speaking parents navigate and understand the new programs our district was using. During a fire that took place in April 2021, Club Kali Roselle open their doors and worked together with Hispanos Unidos de Roselle one more time to receive donations for the families that were affected by the horrific fire.

Club Kali Roselle, has become a second home to our Latin community here in the Borough of Roselle.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

During the pandemic business was affected in many different ways, but that didn’t stop me from moving forward. Since we were closed due to the safety protocols and executive order of Governor Murphy, I had to find new ways to reach out to my customers.

We would offer door to door delivery, we would also offer transportation if any local neighbor needed help. We created new ways to stay in touch with our customers. During the time that we were closed, we opened our doors to help out our community.

A food drive was put together in April 2020 by Hispanos Unidos de Roselle, a group I am part of, we offered our space to receive and distribute the food that was donated to us. We were able to help many families, not only form Roselle but form our neighbor towns. We were also able to house the Consulado Mexicano en New York, who donated food for our families in Roselle. Asociación Mexicano and Hispanos Unidos De Roselle were part of our efforts to feed our community during this difficult times.

Our locations was also able to help out local parents understand and navigate the new school platform our district was using. We partner up with a local parent and we were able to offer a free orientation class to our parents.

During a fire that left many families without a place to sleep, we open our doors one more time to be the drop off location to receive donations for our families affected by the fire. Once we were able to open, I was so trill to bring our children back so that we can continue with our dance class. We took all the precautions and followed all safety orders. We have been working very hard to get back on track. We are always here for our community and especially for our families in need. This pandemic made us stronger as a business and on a personal level.

The Academy

Nomination from Erica Kripaitis

Mark Dimaio has been in the fitness industry for a little over 10 years. Since I’ve known Mark, his dream has always been to open his own youth training facility. Mark didn’t come from money, he worked for everything he had/has. He started from the bottom and worked his way up with determination & grit. In 2021, he became fortunate enough to turn his dream into a reality. Before opening his facility, Mark was training clients on his own & even throughout Covid, he never gave up. He was always stayed determined even through the worst of times.

Mark is true definition of a mentor, a leader, and a member of the community. One thing that strikes me about Mark is the love and care that he has for his athletes. One day, Mark gave his athlete his new pair of sneakers because he noticed his athletes shoes were getting beaten up & worn down (he also knew his athletes family were struggling with money due to COVID) He has driven to CT, MD and PA to watch his athletes sports games. Another time, he trained an athlete for free because he knew the family was unable to afford it. Most importantly, his athletes look up to him and that is what makes Mark and his business so special. They build athletes to be the best version of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally on the field and off the field.

Roselle Park

Pastrami & Pickles

Nomination from Dora O’Neil

Restaurants everywhere are making difficult decisions to survive. One decision that was not hard for Ahsan to make was putting his community and employees first. He provided meals to frontline workers and local families in need during the pandemic. He continues to give back to his community even during tough times and has a positive outlook.

He kept his entire staff employed during Covid, a tough decision for any owner to make. He created an App to facilitate online ordering, keeping the number of people in the store limited. They were able to stay open and are looking forward to what the future holds!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

The following changes were made during Covid in our store to help our employees and the customers. I couldn’t be more thankful to my staff and the customer to support the business.

We created our own app so that people can order from their phones, without touching a menu or a piece of paper. The employee hours were reduced but I didn’t layoff any of my employees. They understood the situation and was very cooperative.

We were already equipped with Apple Pay and stuff like that from day one when we opened the store. It is the future and I was right about that Covid 19 just accelerated the process.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to take any small business loan and I am very grateful to my customers for that.

We did our bit to help the community by providing meals to our healthcare professionals.

We provided meals for Trinitas hospital employees several times. We also did a big meal for Veterans’ Hospital in East Orange. The first few weeks we provided family meals for some families in need and we did it for 6 weeks straight.

To conclude, it’s been a life changing experience as a business owner. Thankfully the worst is behind us and we have look positively how to become better and safer.

Scotch Plains

Apple Blossom Flower Shop

Nomination from Jeff Stein

They opened and made rainbow bows to raise money for our local Rescue Squad Donates several hundred dollars. They worked very hard in getting our Local Farmers Market open to help those who needed to shop and were afraid to go into stores

They worked every Saturday to make sure people were safe and happy coming out to the Farmers Market. At the farmers market they collected food for our local food pantry. They also helped in selling masks to raise money for local food pantries.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I had to pivot my business since it is usually consists of a lot of events and with those parties not happening, I started promoting bouquets to cheer someone you love up.

It was so hard to get flowers. They had no drivers and we had to drive an hour a day to pick up inventory.

We started making rainbow bows and gave a portion to our local rescue squad.

We tried our hardest to get our Local Farmers market going so people could shop outside and we could help local vendors who did not business for months.

At the Scotch Plains Farmers Market I helped sell masks made by our local Rotary Club (which I am a member of). All monies raised were donated to local food banks- I helped deliver those checks too! In addition while at the Farmers Market we also collected food donations for the local food pantry.

Hung’s Shanghai Restaurant

Nomination from Thomas Strowe

After briefly closing in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic to develop their pandemic business strategy, Hung's Shanghai Restaurant reopened in April 2020 with an evolved business model and demonstrated resiliency by remaining open during the remainder of the pandemic until today. Hung's Shanghai Restaurant has been a family run business in downtown Scotch Plains for nearly 40 years.

In accordance with early COVID-19 guidelines, Hung's allowed curbside pickup and later, as guidelines were revised, allowed in store pickup. Hung's put up shields and a structure to prevent direct contact with customers as required by guidelines. A few weeks ago, as restrictions were lifted, Hung's now offers indoor dining as an option.

While staying afloat during the pandemic, Hung's also managed to donate food prepared by their restaurant to the Scotch Plains Police Department, Fire Department, Hospital Workers and Rescue Squad to support all of our first responders. Lunch and dinners were provided by Hung's at their own expense to each of our first responder departments throughout the pandemic. Scotch Plains is honored to have Hung's as a cornerstone of our downtown community.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

In the early stages of the pandemic, it was very difficult for everyone-it was tougher for us. As you know, just like most other restaurants, we had to close our restaurant for almost two months. The closure negatively impacted our restaurant, especially with having no source of income and still being responsible to pay the expenses of the restaurant. All of those issues caused us not to be able to afford to pay the rent. We tried to ask the landlord for help, but unfortunately they did not help us, and the landlord refused our requests. Fortunately, we got help from the government to assist us through these difficulties (I feel safer now). Without the help of the landlord, we had to reopen our restaurant at the end of April 2020 in order for us to keep up with the cost of paying the employees, rent and all other expenses.

At this time the pandemic was still very serious. We could only offer takeout which effects the business a lot and made the business very slow. We did not offer dine-in options to guests till July 2021. Due to our inside dining room being closed for more than a year, the business has suffered and profits are down. Even now there are only a few guests that will dine in, but at least we still have takeout to support us.  The take out business helps but we are still having a difficult time paying for all of these huge restaurant expenses.

We are very grateful for the help of government so we can continue to serve and give back to our society. We continue to give back to our community. We donate food often to fire stations, police stations, hospitals, and the elderly. We will always give to people who need our help! We have also donated masks, disinfectants and other materials to help prevent the spread of Covid. Our hope is that we can continue to give back to our community. We are very grateful for the help of the government and our loyal customers, who continue to support our business. Thank you to everyone who has help us along the way!

Soul Bowls

Nomination from Margaret Heisey

Soul Bowls is a 100% plant-based eatery in Scotch Plains specializing in Acai Bowls, Juices and Smoothies. This woman owned, family operated business started as a food truck in 2017. They opened their store-front in 2019. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Michelene re-designed her ordering and pick up process in order to allow customers a 0-contace experience.

Within a week of the shut down, Michelene created an on-line ordering system on her own. During this time, she also introduced weekly, seasonal produce boxes to help her clientele avoid trips to the grocery store. Produce boxes were ordered and picked up with as much 0-contact as possible. The leftover produce was donated to the Somerset-North Plainfield Food Bank. And, during the time where there was a scarcity of toilet paper, Soul Bowls left a box of it outside the store for people to take as needed.

Soul Bowls donated to First Responders & Essential Workers including but not limited to: Scotch Plains Police, Fire and Rescue, nurses at Overlook Medical Center and NY Mt. Sinai Hospital and teachers at Evergreen Elementary School in Scotch Plains. These deliveries were partially funded by donations from Soul Bowls customers, demonstrating the pay-it-forward spirit Michelene has brought to the community. Soul Bowls donated 100% of the proceeds of one of their of their food truck events to the Willow Rescue Foundation (a not-for-profit dedicated to animal welfare) in Westfield which allowed them to pay one of their largest vet bills. During this stressful time of unrest in our country, Michelene created the Compassionate Bowl to remind everyone to always have compassion and kindness for others.

Children from the community were invited to submit their rainbow drawings which were displayed in the front window of the store to lift spirits of those driving by or walking up. During the pandemic, Soul Bowls retained their staff of 13.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Thank you for the nomination for a small business community champion. We’ve definitely had one heck of a year! It’s been both challenging and rewarding. It’s the midst of COVID we’ve had to redesign our business to make it as ‘zero contact’ as possible, implement guidelines to keep employees and guests safe, and remember to help our community during this time.

With the help of our customers who made donations we were able to give out free toilet paper, donate to local teachers, hospitals, sanitation departments, police departments, fire departments, food banks each week and tried our very best to be a ray of sunshine during a very tough time for the people. We did all of this not for the accolades but because these departments were putting their life on the line for our community, we felt the least we could do is donate lunch to them

One of the things I loved the most that Soul Bowls did, was when we asked the children of our community to draw rainbows for our windows. A lot of the kids came by to drop off their drawing and it was just the sweetest thing ever! I loved seeing them and their rainbows were so beautiful and always made our customers smile All of these acts were made possible by faith in God, trusting that he would guide us through these times. 


Sophia’s Italian Restaurant

Nomination from Hanna Lee

When COVID-19 hit every restaurant was scrambling to figure out how to handle their survival. It’s hard to imagine how with only being allowed a handful of customers in at a time and having to be spaced six feet apart how a business can survive. Sophia’s is a survivor!

They revamped their service to take out and were fantastic on social media. As a customer knowing that I can order online and enjoy my favorite Ravioli makes me happy. When they opened the tent I couldn’t wait to get out of the house!

They were on top of cleaning and checked temperatures as we walked in. I’m looking forward to normal days and glad they are still around!!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

It was a struggle to keep my doors open during Covid. I’m grateful for the help of my loyal customers, local community and staff, they were the reason I was able to get through this tough time.

First off we implemented new safety and disinfecting protocols. We purchased new cleaning items and equipment that enabled us to add a rigorous daily cleaning routine. This routine included wearing masks and gloves, constant sanitizing and bleaching. I was lucky to have the support of all the local people around me. I shifted to full takeout until outdoor eating was permitted, and signed up with 3 delivery services. Since restricting were in place for indoor dining I invested in a 75 person tent for outdoor dining and sacrificed the parking lot. I made sure all my social media advertising was updated to keep people informed and encouraged them to dine out.

At the onset of allowing customers to eat outside temperatures were taken and seating was spread 6 feet apart. I gave back and participated in town donations for various organizations.

I look forward to serving our community for years to come!


Badawang Art & Your Inner Tranquility

Nomination from Kelley Addessa

When the pandemic hit, much of the world had lost its peace of mind. People everywhere felt the heavy weight of confusion, fear, and grief. As shops all around the world closed, business owners had to adapt to our new virtual life. Prior to the pandemic, Carol Schoffmann, owner of Badawang Art and Your Inner Tranquility, had been helping and guiding residents of Union County through her work as a Certified Healing Sound Practitioner, Certified Reiki Master/Teacher, Certified Meditation Teacher and Intuitive Spiritual Guide. Carol offers group meditation classes, reiki training, personal reiki healing sessions as well as Himalyan singing bowl sessions. Her home base, Badawang Art, is filled with treasures such as genuine crystals, Himalayan singing bowls, unique artwork, beautiful jewelry and clothing, essential oils, home decor, and so much more. Everything about Carol, her shop, and her healing work is absolutely magical.

Carol’s customers and clients felt a loss when they could no longer attend meditation, receive reiki healing or just stop into her store to shop for new treasures and have a chat with Carol. Within the first week or two of the pandemic Carol began to offer virtual meditations with singing bowls via Zoom twice a week. These meditations have been a gift to her Union County customers (and virtual customers around the country!) as they gave a sense of peace, relaxation, and calmness in a very unpredictable time. During the meditations, Carol was able to share her wisdom and light on all who attended.

Additionally, Carol continued reiki healing and reiki training virtually as well as creating a brand new online course exploring the chakras and the crystal associated with them. What started as a 6-week course, has catapulted into months of virtual learning in a community setting. Online orders were able to be made for in store products, and eventually Carol opened the store under proper COVID-19 protocol. As the world begins to heal, Carol is able to resume in person sessions. Her clients are thrilled to visit the store in person, but they will never forget the work Carol did to create a safe, happy and peaceful space for them to go during such unprecedented times

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Thank you for the opportunity to share my story of small business survival during the time of COVID19 2020- 2021. I had to close the physical location of Badawang Art and Your Inner Tranquility at 37 Maple Street, Summit, NJ on March 14, 2020 due to the virus. My business at that time was done all in person. I had to close the physical store for three and a half months. Upon reopening, it continued to be very quiet until May of this year.

Like many people, I began to offer my services online. For the Badawang Art retail, I offered free shipping and curb-side pickup. Phone consultation was always available but most people were shopping on Amazon. I had to get creative. Most of what I did for this past year was for Your Inner Tranquility.

I had no experience with working remotely before COVID. I had never been on a Zoom meeting and didn’t know how to offer one either. I began creating regular guided meditations with sound healing on Zoom three evenings a week. This service is still going strong. It’s called “Take A Break & Meditate”. It’s now every Tuesday and Thursday evening. I began teaching my usual in-person Reiki classes remotely on Zoom.

This turned out to be wonderful and I created a workshop on Zoom that is still going strong, that is part meditation, part learning and part community. I also started offering my Reiki services at a distance. I kept hearing from people that the meditations, classes and all other services were helping people immensely.

I heard that they were literally “saving “people from deep depression and helping with anxiety. When we were all at home, isolated and wearing masks if out in public, the meetings and meditations on Zoom, offered a place to be mask less, be seen and heard in a likeminded community. The meditations helped people stay centered and deal a little bit better with the fear and uncertainty we were all going through.

They were geared to what was going on with us collectively and helped me as well. I donated my time and offered many meditations for free. I made myself available to any of my clients who just needed to talk or needed reassurance. I am grateful for all that I learned and for all the people who supported my business then and now.

Bativia Cafe

Nomination from The UPS Store of Summit

Batavia Cafe is a small business that went above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic. They offered grocery delivery service when they were shut down to help those who needed it via Store2Door. They also participated in FLAG of Summit's efforts to provide meals to front line workers at Overlook Hospital. Overall, they put the community before their own business.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When the pandemic started in March 2020, our revenue went down dramatically, and we were forced to close our doors. We were immediately concerned with our employees' and our own capacity to earn a living.

We realized that even though our customers did not come and order food from our restaurant, they still need to eat! From our own experience, it was extremely difficult to shop groceries online and too stressful to go to grocery stores. We pivoted our restaurant and started "Store2Door" in the beginning of April 2020 to serve the needs of our community.

Store2Door was an online grocery delivery service that delivers to residents in Summit, Chatham, New Providence, Short Hills and Madison. We were different than typical online services because even though we have limited selections, we have all essential foods and household items, and we guaranteed the delivery within 24 hours. Something that other national online grocery stores could not do at the time. What we do were essentially buying the household items from our food vendors, Costco, Restaurant Depot, and even Shoprite and Kings, placing the items online, and delivering them to our customers' door. It turned out to be a successful service as it helped many people who were concerned about going out to shop or actually had members in the family with compromised immune systems.

In addition to groceries, we offered homemade Ready to Bake foods which allow customers to serve dinners to their families effortlessly. All they need to do is to an online order from Store2Door, place the Ready to Bake foods in the oven, and delicious and healthy dinners are served.
Having a majority of customers working home also made us think of another project. In July 2020 we created Batavia Lunch Club.

his program allows customers to place weekly standing order, and their order will be delivered automatically for free with a very low minimum of $10. This program proved to be very popular too because it serves what customers' needs.

Store2Door managed to support our and our key employees' families during the pandemic. As restaurants in NJ were allowed to serve outdoor and indoor, we started to get busy again last summer. We finally stopped Store2Door grocery delivery business last summer so we can focus back to our core business as a restaurant. Currently our business continuously grows and is very close to be back to pre-pandemic levels.

Ready to Bake items and Batavia Lunch Club are still in demand, so they will continue to complement our core business. All in all, we are in a good position as a business.

Brownie Points Bakery

Nomination from The UPS Store of Summit

Despite needing business for their bakery during the pandemic, Brownie Points Bakery put their community around them to help those in need.

They went above and beyond to give back during a hard time such as the COVID-19 pandemic. When they were having their own financial needs, they stepped up.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We added a curbside pickup and delivery option to our customers. We offered individually packaged items. We partnered with FLAG Summit to support local first responders. We made frequent donations of cookies, cupcakes and muffins to Overlook and other hospitals.

Additionally we have a customer who is an ER doctor at Columbia Presbyterian and we made food donations to the nurses. We we’re able to maintain our full staff through most of the pandemic.

Serra Restaurant

Nomination from The UPS Store of Summit

Serra opened up just a few months prior to the pandemic (November 2019). They were brand new to the area and stepped up immensely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They offered meals at a discounted rate to essential workers during a time where their own business need their own business and funding. They put the community first.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We opened our small family restaurant, Serra Restaurant, on November 1, 2019. Our family moved to Summit in 2016, and we loved the downtown area and wanted to bring some of our favorite Portuguese and Brazilian dishes to add to the wonderful diverse restaurants in our community.

We were so excited to meet many of our neighbors and wonderful people in town that came to experience our food. Then in 2020 we, like many other businesses in town, were hit by the effects of the pandemic. But through it all, we remained positive and grateful.

We worked hard to implement extra safety precautions, such as adding glass partitions in every booth, adding automated hand sanitizing stations and purchasing PPE for our employees. We also had to change our business from mostly indoor dining, to all take out, and eventually work on expanding to outdoor dining. We purchased necessary heaters, tables, etc, to give our customers the best and safest dining experience possible.

Unfortunately we had to significantly reduce our staff’s shifts to survive during the pandemic, and also at times limit our menu options to cut costs. Our Serra family was personally impacted when our wonderful Chef lost her husband due to the virus.

We recognized that this pandemic affected everyone in our community and wanted to give back as much as we could. We worked with FLAG to provide meals to the Front Line workers who were struggling to keep us safe, and also with Summit Warm Hearts to provide meals to our neighbors who were struggling without shelter.

We are very thankful to our wonderful customers such as Antoinette LaVecchia at the UPS Store, and our community that supported us and continue to support us.

Summit True Value Hardware

Nomination from Katherine Husveth (Incoming 8th Grader)

The family owned hardware store opened in 1978 and has NEVER closed since. It was open the entire time during the virus epidemic. The store supplies individuals, hobbyist, small business owners and companies with plumbing, electrical, cleaning, garden & home equipment plus power tools, building material and much more.

They are famous for helping individuals and groups with advice and suggestions. The store aided my Grandfather (deceased) in his antique RR (Caboose) restorations and he was able to get all his super specialized requests, when no other store could help him.

Now my Grandmother depends on all of her gardening material, as well as their expert help and suggestions. Their motto should be: IF WE DO NOT HAVE IT, YOU PROBABLY WON"T NEED IT. There is no store anywhere in Union County, where you can get the help and items you specifically need.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Covid has been a tough time for everyone. We were extremely busy throughout, which was tough on us. We were very grateful, because many businesses were crushed by Covid.

We were able to supply our customers with a safe environment by masking up and disinfecting throughout the day. Everyone respected the social distancing and we also did a lot of curb side service for those who felt more comfortable doing so.

We were able to supply everyone with masks, gloves, disinfectants throughout the crazy Covid times, even when supplies were scarce. Donated disposable suits, booties, and masks to some hospitals.

We did what we had to do to help everyone out. We were just glad that we were able to help.

Sweet Nothings

Nomination from The UPS Store of Summit

Donna is always giving time and resources to all different types of schools and organizations to help others and the community around her.

She went above and beyond to support many people including many front line workers and other small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When the pandemic hit, we were in the midst of the Easter season, one of the busiest times at Sweet nothings and a holiday we greatly depend upon.  It was such a hectic and confusing time and no handbook existed on how to run a small business during a pandemic. In order to ensure the health and safety of our employees and customers, we pivoted our business to phone orders and electronic orders offering curbside delivery and free local delivery as well as continuing to offer nation-wide shipping via the local UPS Store in Summit. Quite often, we sent customers suggestions, photos, showed them product at the door or even did FaceTime calls for virtual shopping. We also restructured employee assignments in order to be efficient, meet customer demands and again, ensure their safety. 

One of the first things we did was to purchase gloves, face masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning and disinfecting product. We took extreme care and caution in how we handled merchandise and how we conducted deliveries whether it was curbside or contact less home deliveries. Realizing how difficult it was to find these supplies, when we could get them, we would purchase extras to share with others in the community.  To this day, we continue with the same sanitizing procedures and have given away hundreds and hundreds of disposable face masks.

In the days that followed the Easter holiday, while our doors remained closed to allowing customers to come in, we not only continued to offer free local delivery and curbside delivery, we offered service on a silver platter to our young customers.  As kids were not able to come in and shop, we selected merchandise for them in order to give them choices and offered the items on a silver platter at the door. Sweet nothings has always been a fun and happy place so it was important to us to continue with that vibe especially for the children.

While our business did suffer and we did struggle (we are still feeling the effects and facing new challenges with our business), we never lost our sense of community. We have always been very community focused with the importance of giving back. We have always believed, and continue to believe, we are better and stronger together; we need each other. We partnered with the local FLAG organization to provide goodies for health care workers and whenever a customer placed and order, for example, for the local police department or first aid squad, we always added to it. We donated to various collections and food pantries.  Whenever we heard about a need, we did our best to contribute.

As schools opened in the fall of 2020, we did not change our stance on supporting our community.  We continued, and continue, to donate to fundraisers and school events.  We are a small struggling business and affected in more ways than we could have imagined by this pandemic, but we are all struggling and facing challenges and we still believe in supporting each other. Together we are better and stronger.

The UPS Store

Nomination from Micayla Mirabella

Antonietta is a true small business champion because of the tireless work she does for her community. When the COVID-19 pandemic got worse and worse, she kept the store running smoothly and efficiently. Being an essential worker was tough but she persisted to help the community.

She created lawn signs for the Class of 2020 and 2021 for the seniors who did not get a normal graduation ceremony. She also supported and encouraged frontline workers and other community members by advertising and participating in fundraisers, and food drives, etc.

Overall, despite the situation at hand, she brought brightness to so many people.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Like every other small businesses, The UPS Store of Summit had to reevaluate and pivot at the beginning of the pandemic. Back when we thought that it would take two weeks to “flatten the curve” & we would be back on track- we changed very little… Until two weeks became a month and we were deemed an essential business, and had to figure out how we would be able to support our community & its needs.

On a Sunday morning in April , we received a call that the Overlook Auxiliary was looking to raise funds for an expensive piece of equipment that was used to disinfect rooms in just 20 minutes for Overlook Hospital. The machine they previously had was not functioning so they asked if we were willing to print signs so that they could sell them as a fundraiser.

We understood that by printing these signs, it was the Auxiliary that would be needing the funds. The fact that we would not be doing the job for profit - in a time when our own business was suffering- was something we had to think about. It didn’t take long for us to agree that this was a no brainer and for the greater good.

We did not anticipate our community coming through in such a big way. Because so many signs were purchased, the sheer volume of sales helped keep our own doors open during that difficult time, AND get all the money needed to purchase the equipment for the Hospital.

To this day, there are still rainbow signs on lawns throughout Union County. Whenever we see them, we think back to not only how scary the beginning of the pandemic was for our store, but also how our community supported us and potentially saved our business. We are forever grateful.

Zappia’s Deli

Nomination from The UPS Store of Summit

They fed 400 essential workers and their families (they made dinners for 4) so that they could bring full meals home to their families after working field work. They also made dinners for a local senior housing development at discounted rates. Because the seniors were unable to leave, go shopping, etc. they literally met the workers at a municipal parking lot to bring them dinners. They put these group of people first despite the need for their own business.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Since 1985, Zappia's Deli has been a part of the Summit community’s to always try our best bringing service and quality to our loyal customers.
Helping out our front line workers during the pandemic has been a very rewarding experience. It was our pleasure to give back to the workers who put their lives on the line.

Approximately 65% of our business had been through corporate catering to the local businesses. Since the lockdown in March 2020, our customer base was essentially non-existent and as a result, we were operating with only 35% of our income while our expenses stayed the same. We offered our regular menu, but we were required to scale back our daily offerings due to lack of walk-ins. We were very much aware of the sacrifices being made by the workers who did not have a choice to work from home, such as Overlook Hospital staff, the Summit Police Department, the Summit Fire Department and Summit EMS workers. We took great pride in sending platters of sandwiches and trays of hot food to let them know we were thinking of them.

Our entire staff showed up every single day for work. We were masked, gloved, and ready to serve our customers. In between the constant sanitizing, we would bring food out to the cars for curbside pickup for the customers who did not feel comfortable coming into the store. Non-contact deliveries were something that we had never dealt with before, but like everyone else, we learned quickly how to accommodate.
We are very grateful to our customers for supporting us while we were supporting them


Carolyn Dorfman Dance

Nomination from Sue Elderman

What an amazing treasure is located right in our own back yard. The Dance Studio is designed for both the serious dance student and dance enthusiast. With a passion to study modern dance techniques with an opportunity to perform live. Early in the pandemic Carolyn was forced to recreate her business plan adapting a virtual component to a very real dance reality.

All programing went virtual for the 2020-2021. Creating educational video packaging opportunities.

As the pandemic wore on and in person work remained impossible. They held virtual classes for the public, providing a calming and relaxing escape during a grueling year.

Caroyln continued rehearsing with her professionals maintaining 308 artists through Covid. Fortunately Carolyn is an early adopter of technology and her administrative staff is pretty tech savvy so she was able to train her co members and staff in everything she needed to know about operating in this new virtual world. Her quick responses to challenging times makes her a champion in my book!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Before Carolyn Dorfman Dance knew that the world would completely shut down mid-March 2020, that we would receive help from new and established foundations, and a program like the Payroll Protection Plan would happen, Carolyn and I decided that we would keep our doors open. That meant maintaining the full company (14 full-time and 2 part-time staff), working to save all the educational contracts (all our major, lucrative residencies were underway or about to start in the March period), and continue trying to plan our annual gala (scheduled for May 2nd at NJPAC) when the world shutdown.

We immediately contacted all K-12, university partners and negotiated figuring out how to fulfill our teaching, performing and/or lecture demonstrations as they were figuring out how to operate virtually. ED Thomas and Marketing Communication/Development Manager Shaffner, participated almost daily/throughout the week in informational calls from multiple chambers, national and NJ non-profit organizations, NJ and national based arts organizations and a few social justice, civic advocacy organizations. Fortunately, Carolyn is an early adopter of technology, our administrative staff is pretty tech savvy, so we trained our company members and entire staff in everything we needed to know about operating in the virtual world.

Although all in-person galas were canceled, at the last minute we e-vited our donors and patrons for support using the image developed for the gala invitation and we were fortunate to receive approximately $30,000 in donations. As the pandemic wore on and in-person work remained impossible, we held free virtual masterclasses for the public, including taking time before class to discuss the racial/political atrocity of the week. Carolyn continued rehearsing with the dancers via zoom to fulfill the commission for Ocean County College to create a new dance work to the music of jazz legend Louie Prima, Jr. We, also, conducted a shortened summer dance intensive; and completed a virtual creation called Alone/Together with our international partners from the National Ballet of Sarajevo.

Albeit a grueling, frightening, and intense year, it also was an exhilarating year, replete with new learnings, personal and organizational determination, and emotional fortitude and resilience.

During the 2019-2020 season, in New Jersey Carolyn Dorfman Dance engaged 308 artists, including our 10-member company, and entertained/educated more than 2,800 people. Our programming: 9 Performances presented by 7 Venues; 8 Educational Residences, which included 2 Performances, equating to 121 Classes; 5 Master Classes and 12 Lectures or Lecture Series. Counties served: Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Ocean, Passaic, and Union. Our total attendance (including out-of-state) was 5,925.

All programming was virtual in 2020 and 2021. After creating an educational video package for an elementary school district in 2020 who restricted outside vendors from directly teaching their students virtually, that school district returned in 2021 to re-use the video. We made a business/financial decision that we would charge a licensing fee, and, to our surprise, they were happy to do so. Consequently, this showed us we have a new educational product that can be sold to schools, community organizations in and outside of NJ. This is a preliminary way for an organization to hire us, who may have a limited budget, schedule or as a way introduce us to their students, populations in preparation of us being hired for a more expensive, long-term residency and/or tour. We were also able to raise funds from a new pandemic funder and the NJ Cultural Trust to hire a full-time digital marketing assistant, with videography skills, to create these new packages.

Crow And The Coconut Yoga

Nomination from Clare Cruz

As a frontline worker, I saw the devastation that COVID-19 pandemic brought to mankind. I felt the pain and suffering that my patients, colleagues, friends and family went through. We spent long hours with our patients and colleagues' covered faces and muffled voices. Smiling faces have disappeared, comforting hugs were forbidden. I needed a space to calm my mind and heart, this is what "Crow and the Coconut Yoga" provided for me during the pandemic. The small businesses STRUGGLED but the studio is PASSIONATE and COMMITTED in the wellbeing of its community.

The studio offered FREE MEDITATION CLASSES during the pandemic. They also offered classes via LIVESTREAM as well as OUTDOORS. They also offered FREE OUTDOOR YOGA CLASSES when businesses were beginning to open. The studio collaborated with the town of Union to offer THREE MONTHS of FREE YOGA to the first 25 attendees at an event. The studio demonstrated its resiliency on how the owner and staff was able to modify their business model to be able to give and serve their community during the pandemic.

For this reason, I am nominating "Crow and the Coconut Yoga" as the Union County Small Business Community Champion! Thank you for this opportunity to be able to recognize and celebrate a special small business like this.

Nomination from Ashley Generallo

For so many of us, yoga is more than a workout, relaxation and meditation. It is essential to bring us strength, peace and calm in our lives just like on our mats. Jowell has done everything to give this community a safe and comfortable space, especially through the pandemic. Jowell worked tirelessly to ensure we still had outdoor and zoom classes.

She opened the studio as soon as possible since the need for yoga was even stronger. In the evening classes, the studio provides a place for me to forget the hard parts of the day and in the morning, gives me intention and energy for the day to come. My life has changed for the better significantly since the Crow opened over 2 years ago and I can’t wait to spend many more years there.

Nomination from Wendy Ramirez

During Covid lockdown, they offered classes via livestream as well as outdoors that were super helpful and safe. Free meditation & outdoor yoga classes were offered.

With Union township, they offered 3 months free yoga to first 25 attendees & I was thrilled to have won! Grateful for this welcoming and inspiring studio in my backyard!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we believed it was more important than ever to remain connected with each other while ensuring everyone's safety.

We offered classes via livestream. Free meditation classes were also available during the pandemic. When businesses were beginning to open we offered free outdoor yoga classes. We also collaborated with Union Township to offer free yoga for new students. Once we were able to open our doors we took extra precautions to ensure our student's safety. Our teachers wore masks and were required to sanitize prior to entering, while in the studio and leaving the studio.

We increased time between classes to allow for proper disinfection. Some of our teachers generously taught for free. Our students continued to practice with us. It was a challenging and humbling time. We learned from each other, embraced the changes and moved forward with our lives together. We are blessed and grateful to have our students and community's support.

Girl Talk Meet Up

Nomination from M. Stewart

In 2017 Erica hosted her 1st in-person Girl Talk Meetup, which I was in attendance for and I truly felt that Girl Talk Meetup was a sacred space for women like myself to share and grow personally and professionally together. The in-person meetups/workshops, coaching sessions and conferences included topics such as:

  • Life, Career and Business Goal Setting
  • Health and Wellness Coaching
  • Financial Literacy Information
  • Dating and Marriage Success
  • Mental Health Awareness

Over the last 4 years, Erica has used the Girl Talk Meetup platform to help inspire and empower young ladies in their 20s thru women upward in age, with a few of these women in their mid 70s this includes me and my girlfriends. I am not only a proud mother but I am also a highly impressed client. When the world was struck by a global pandemic (COVID 19) and businesses were forced to close their doors. Erica quickly shifted her mindset, energy and business.

On March 28, 2020 Girl Talk Meetup hosted it’s very 1st virtual meetup. This pivot from in-person to virtual meet-ups, coaching sessions, and conferences visually happened so naturally. The 1st Virtual Girl Talk Meetup was a Check-In and in my eyes this was so thoughtful of her to host this session to see how her coaches and clients were doing and to ask if we needed any assistance.

As the months went on in 2020, I noticed that the monthly virtual Girl Talk Meetups shifted to topics that could help women like me to make the best of our time while being at home.
The new topics included:

  • The Importance of Mindset and Intentions
  • Organizing and Maximizing Your Space
  • What to Do With the Money You're Saving
  • Help with Buying or Selling a Home

In addition to the above sessions in November 2020, Girl Talk Meetup hosted a virtual Women's Wellness Conference entitled ``Super Charge Your Life: Recognize, Accept and Nourish." This conference was awesome. It included guest speakers, breakout room coaching sessions, vendors, prizes and the opportunity to network and fellowship with each other. Again this showed how committed Erica was to providing women with resources and information to help them fulfill their personal and professional goals.

In my opinion not only has Girl Talk Meetup shown resilience during a pandemic but it has continued to contribute to the well-being of its community of women both in-person and virtually. Furthermore, providing me and so many other women with the support that we needed during a time of uncertainty, and I am looking forward to future workshops.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Girl Talk Meetup was created in 2018 to inspire and empower women to transform their personal and professional visions into reality.

During the global pandemic COVID, Girl Talk Meetup movement continued to provide virtual services to women in need of a coaching, accountability, mentoring and encouragement. Life during difficult times brought women together not only in New Jersey but across the United States. As a Certified Life and Career Coach, Erica Bell and her team of professional coaches pivoted and begin offering several coaching/educational sessions that ranged mental health and social awareness, intellectual , spiritual, physical, and occupational supportive services.

Who is Erica Bell?
30+ year resident of Union Township and graduate of Kean University.
My passion for serving and guiding others to own their destiny represents my own success story of designing my destiny.

My coaching journey started 12 years ago but my professional career as an educator extends beyond 20 years. As a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in coaching for individuals, groups, executives, and businesses, I am inspired daily by the privilege to help people like you envision your future potential, build your confidence and finally own the destiny you deserve.

I have walked my own path of self-doubt through personal losses, challenging relationships and questioning my self-worth. Coaching and therapy helped me to be who I am today and I want to get you started on your journey to self-discovery

Gladys’ Cleaning Service

Nomination from Any Oliva

Gladys´ Cleaning Service is a small business dedicated to the field of cleaning. Founded 18 years ago by Gladys Vonglahn a Latino woman from Union County who came to this country with the clear purpose of consistently working to forge a legacy for her family and generations to come. On the 18th anniversary of Gladys Cleaning Service, the COVID crisis began.

The pandemic affected the company at first as it dedicated 90 percent to the residential cleaning area. She found herself with the challenge of not being able to enter the houses of her clients. This situation far from paralyzing her company, prompted her to take the decision to make the shift to the commercial area knowing that now more than ever companies must be clean, disinfected and sanitized to be able to safely invite their employees and clientele. Gladys´ Cleaning Service started a strong campaign of Marketing, Branding and Advertising supported by the state certifications of MWBE, SBE, WBE, MBE. Gladys began serving companies such as Paycheck, Grupo La Providencia, Malqui Tax, Aerofarms, Kartago, See-More Appliance Center, Yellow Bear Cleaners, Consulate of Peru in New Jersey, among many other companies. Instead of shying away from the challenge Gladys Cleaning Service got to work and grew its clientele by 50 percent. Gladys Vonglahn was recognized for her resilient character and the way she coped with the crises by the Business Magazine, Negocios Hispanos USA Magazine, ROI NJ Business Magazine, BNI Group, Pay Check National Newsletter, Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

Gladys Vonglahn has a great spirit of helping the community, which is why in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic she co-founded a Business Platform as support and empowerment of small business owners "Presente Digital" with the firm purpose of supporting entrepreneurs to transform the crisis in an opportunity and to encourage formal and organized commerce among the Latino community through knowledge, experience and education. Gladys Vonglahn is a respected leader in the field of cleaning and an entrepreneur committed to growing the community.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

When Gladys’ Cleaning Service realized the negatively health/economic impact due Covid 19 in March 2020, we decided to implement a safety guidance for the protection of our clients and ourselves. We understand the importance of the cleaning procedures during these difficult times.
We are practicing social distancing, wearing mask covering all the time within our mouth and nose, using disposable gloves, wearing cover shoes, changing our vacuum bags after each client, and sanitizing our hands afterwards.

We were providing residential cleaning service for many years. Suddenly, the pandemic hit us so badly in the residential area that the impact towards my business plans to the commercial area which in the beginning was very affected. However, unlike big companies, we overcome the difficult challenges of Covid by staying safe and satisfying customers.

I realized the need to provide a professional cleaning service to this segment so the economy can still be running. It was a huge challenge to learn new cleaning standards, and work with new cleaning supplies.

My main motivation to keep Gladys’ Cleaning Service was the passion for my career in the cleaning industry. I had to reinvent myself, think out of the box, and make quick decisions before my business were to die like others during this difficult time. Also, I am first generation of immigrants so I can adapt easily to huge changes in life so I knew it that I have to do something great to keep my dream business alive. Besides, I am a faithful and positive women so I am used to change negative time in a great lessons of my life.

The way that I found to help our community was funding with my partner Any Oliva “Presente Digital” a live platform weekly program online to support our Latino community through motivational messages, bringing professionals like psychologists, business coaches, accounting people, community leaders, and consuls as sources of information to people who did not how to overcome the pandemic.

IRIS Environmental Laboratories

Nomination from Todd Charleson

The feeling of safety IRIS provides in a world of COIVD is unparalleled. They make sure everybody is and was checked before entering the perimeter. They ensure all the tools and samples were cleaned and sanitized.

IRIS did their best to keep their employees even during lockdown periods when the business was forced to face 65% less sales. They improved digital capabilities in order to keep social distance!

They were also AWARDED 5 franchised locations during the Pandemic and has hired new employees from the local community.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

One of the company's most critical moments was during the COVID-19 Pandemic. With the economy practically stagnated and health concerns in place, IRIS had to take several measures, not only to ensure the company would survive, but survive with stability. The first measure was to enforce health security measures among all workers, making sure they were complying with CDC regulations.

Following these procedures, that IRIS started making, IRIS made sure all samples received would go through a sanitization process, as well as the tools and supplies after using them. Second, IRIS created an institutional video about the pandemic to demonstrate that IRIS is committed with their employees and customers. Third, IRIS developed a contingency plan together with the employees to adapt to the economic downturn, which enabled them to retain their entire workforce. This set of measures has enabled IRIS to maintain the stability of the company, the safety of their employees and keep the local community serviced through Asbestos, Mold and Indoor testing and inspections.

IRIS Environmental Laboratories was formed by the dream of two brothers to come together after living apart for more than 20 years. The company started in 2012 in a bedroom with no employees and has never stopped since. At the end of 2019 IRIS started to offer a franchise model nationwide when the pandemic hit in the beginning of 2020. Even with the economic downturn IRIS decided to keep its action plan and in March 2020 awarded its first franchisees. IRIS currently has territories in NJ, FL, NY and is proud to encourage others across the country to be entrepreneurs. IRIS is proud to be born and raised in Union NJ.

Jammed Up Bakery

Nomination from Courtney Little -Vozos

Established in 2018. Jammed Up Bakery is a bakery for people & dogs, by the owners of Van Gogh's Ear Café. During the pandemic, Jammed Up started several new initiatives to adapt to the lack of in-person shopping and reduction of private parties and functions of cakes.

These initiatives included establishing nation-wide shipping and encouraging customers to send cookies and pastries to their loved ones near and far; selling "provisions" including eggs, flour, milk, and other kitchen staples; and creating to-go treat boxes, allowing their patrons to bring the magic of an extra special dessert home. The treat box packages include everything from at-home cookie decorating for holidays to the classic milk and cookies combination.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Jammed Up Bakery was opened December of 2018 to act as the bakery of our other business, Van Gogh’s Ear Cafe. In March of 2020, when faced with the COVID-19 outbreak, our first instinct was to just close the doors to the bakery and see what happens over the next few weeks. We had very few employees at the bakery, and wanted to focus on making sure we could keep our other businesses running. A few days into lockdown we had the idea to ship our cookies.

We started out as a very basic operation, shipping cookies mostly to our family and friends. But then those friends and family shipped to their friends and families, and before we knew it we were bringing back our staff to make more cookies, and ship them! Spring 2020 was a dark and lonely time for a lot of people, but it turns out cookies are a great way of telling someone you can’t be with, that you miss them. As our shipping business grew we started teaming up with local groups to send cookies to essential hospital workers locally and across the country. We even shipped cookies (along with some much needed PPE) to friends on the Navajo nation as they were getting hit hard with COVID.

Looking back we realize that COVID should have probably closed our new business down, but we actually were able to grow throughout COVID, and hire more bakers on the other end of it. We are still shipping our cookies nationwide, and change our flavor choices monthly! You can get anything from a basic chocolate chip cookie to some of our more exotic flavors like Bahama Mama or Bourbon Bacon BBQ delivered right to your door, nationwide!


Outta Hand Pizza

Nomination from Amanda K

I cannot thank Outta Hand Pizza enough for all they did during the pandemic. They found safe and fun ways for my family to frequent our favorite pizza place. The curbside pickup they worked with the town was incredibly helpful for a mom on the go! All I can say is wow the pizza kits were creative! I don't have to tell you with kids running around keeping them entertained while lock down was so hard! Making our own pizza brought us together as a family.

I also have to say how generous they have been to the community. They've made multiple food donations to frontline workers and local families in need. I think I speak for everyone else when I say thank you Outta Hand Pizza for all that you do!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Just like other small businesses, Outta Hand Pizza was faced with extraordinary challenges during Covid-19 pandemic. Many businesses chose to close down and wait out the storm. Some relied on the funds appropriated by the government. But not Outta Hand Pizza. We evolved into a take out and delivery only business. We added Make Your Own Pizza kits to the menu; families on lockdown could make their own pizza. Fun, deliciousness, and entertainment. We invested efforts and finances dedicated to turn the new business model into an efficient one. We hired more delivery personnel, expanded the kitchen and the pizza making space, redesigned the website and online ordering system. In couple of weeks we found ourselves to be the only full time operating business. The business increased tremendously. To assure the customers and the community we were the first to introduce Contact-Free-Delivery. To help curb the spread of Covid-19 we hired local companies to sanitize daily and complied with State and local requirements to prevent Covid-19. Further, we championed with the Town of Westfield to provide and assign the parking spaces in front of small businesses for curbside pick up only.

Meanwhile, the business flourished. On March 13th, 2020 we made our first delivery of 12 pizza pies free to healthcare workers at Overlook Hospital in Summit. A member of the hospital staff who had the pizza posted the gesture on Facebook. The very next day we had an influx of calls and offers to Pay-it-forward meals for Healthcare workers. Like wildfire word spread and we found ourselves in the middle of it. We had to re-shuffle, adapt and hire even more help. In the next four months we had delivered over 5000 pies paid for by the community. The donations came as far as Trenton and NYC. We had several TV appearances.

But, we did not forget those that hurt the most. Families in need, seniors and veterans. We committed to provide free meals for any family in need at least once a week; we had up to 17 families we provided for. We made weekly deliveries to up to 92 meals to veteran residents temporarily placed in Lyons VA. We made sure the local First Responders received meals at least once a week. We delivered to 16 medical and healthcare centers in 10 different towns. Newark, New Brunswick, Livingston, Elizabeth, , Edison, Rahway, Summit, Westfield, Mountainside, and Brooklyn NY.
At first, we saw the fear within healthcare workers that turned into confusion and lastly into We-Got-This. Undeterred, they fought our fight, suffered through the battles but turned the tide and won the war. We dedicated a short video to them and thanked the community for the support.

When restrictions loosened, we found ourselves fully staffed and ahead of others. Community had supported us and we gave back.

Gale Force Media

Business has multiple locations
Nomination from Jon-Henry Barr

New publisher Lauren Barr took over the helm at the Westfield Leader and Scotch Plains/Fanwood Times just one week before the pandemic lockdown resulted in a collapse of critical advertising revenue. Layoffs were kept to a minimum while remaining employees were given reduced work hours and pay, while maintaining full benefits. Loans and grants were also sought and obtained.

Additionally, a new office location was secured with lower rent but greater public visibility and free parking, resulting in further cost savings. The newspapers' social media following was increased by 60%, a brand new website was created, and UPC codes were placed on the front page to enable easier and more efficient newsstand sales. The subscription rate was also lowered, enabling a higher subscriber retention rate and growth in new subscribers.

Remarkably, on top of all of this, the newspapers co-sponsored and organized food drives for Union County residents most harmed by the economic disaster. The newspaper staff worked hard to communicate both facts and resources available during the pandemic, with an emphasis on highlighting volunteer efforts to help both residents in need and front line workers. Finally, the papers also ran a list of business and restaurants offering curbside pickup and delivery during the darkest days of the shutdown, at no charge to the businesses mentioned.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

I purchased the newspapers on March 6, 2020, and just a week later, schools were closed and the state entered into the shutdown. We watched 75% of our revenue vanish overnight as a good portion of our advertisers were themselves shut down. As the press was deemed an essential business, we were permitted to remain open, and my incredible staff never missed a beat.

We compiled lists of businesses open for takeout and delivery, which we ran at no charge. We offered the newspaper free online for months so that more people could be informed.

I was approached by a member of the community, and we worked with business owners and civic leaders to co-sponsor several food drives benefiting Rahway Food for Friends. We promoted and set up collection locations in five towns.

While continuing to report on the actions of local governing bodies, we also focused on the work of our local non-profits and pop-up mask making volunteer groups who were aiding the community and essential workers. Whether it was raising funds, garnering supplies or needing assistance, we assisted in making those connections. Several of our older subscribers who do not have internet access told us how much they appreciated our dedication to keeping them informed.

In a frightening time when misinformation was running rampant, we provided consistent verified facts to the public every week. Subscriptions to the newspaper grew during the pandemic at rates we have not seen in many years.

We were able to get first and second round PPP loans to keep us afloat. Additionally, we got a grant from Union County for three months of rent. When our lease was up, we moved to a new location to lower our costs.

Amid all of this, we built a brand new website, lowered our rates and created new advertising categories.

I could not be more proud of, or grateful to, my team.


Candy Mountain Daycare

Nomination from Lisbeth Stone

I think I speak for most parents in saying we all feel a little stuck. Having a job that cannot be done remotely while having the kids’ remote learning is a struggle. Candy Mountain Day Care was the solution to many working parents’ problems.

The level of care they take in keeping up with ever changing safety protocols is amazing. Their dedication to the little ones and employees is admirable. They have adapted their day to day, juggled new extensive cleaning duties, and manage to do all of this while staying positive. They truly are the unsung heroes in this crisis.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Child Care and small businesses have unfortunately had a lot of negative financial hardship throughput the Covid 19 pandemic. The child care industry plays a huge role in our communities for our working families. Unfortunately many parents were out of work and the demand for child care became less; leaving centers in a financial crisis with no income however all expenses remaining. 

Many centers have been forced to close their doors. As parents head back to work the demand is rising for child care again, however now there are much less to choose from. 

Child care centers that remain open are going above and beyond to ensure we are following every safety protocol for our community. 

Pre-Covid cleaning procedures are extreme, frequent, and thorough. We are always in a situation where the spread of germs can be high, so we are extremely diligent with cleaning. 

With Covid we are that much more diligent. In the beginning of Covid many cleaning products were not available. Thankfully I am always one to stock up so when we returned after 3 months we were lucky enough to have supplies to enforce maximum cleaning. 

The County and State supplied us with cleaning grants to be able to purchase supplies which was extremely helpful during this unsure time. Candy Mountain was also very fortunate to receive the PPP grant to ensure we were able to pay bills and pay staff throughout the extremely slow several months when we returned in June of 2020.

We closed on March 16th 2020 thinking it would be for two weeks- The reality was we were closed for a total of three months.

The fear and panic was setting in, questioning if and when we will reopen.  Our center previously was full with 30 children, when we returned we had only 5 children attend. The remainder of the summer through the fall were slow.  With the help of the grant I thankfully kept all of my staff employed full time.

Without amazing staff you can’t operate. We all cooperated and learned to operate in our new normal. 

Over the last few months enrollment has pick up a lot. It’s so exciting to see our classrooms filling up again. I feel extremely fortunate to have a small business that is thriving in this difficult time.  We really stuck it out and pulled through last summer. I am proud to have worked hard over the last seventeen years. I am so thankful for my amazing staff. Thank you to all of our families who support Candy Mountain and give is the opportunity to keep their children safe while out in the workforce.

We appreciate your business! We know you have a choice, thank you for choosing us!