FREE SHIPPING IN THE US!
0 Cart
Added to Cart
    You have items in your cart
    You have 1 item in your cart
    Total
    Check Out Continue Shopping

    The Porch — raleighhustleshard

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - WYATT CANTRELL ARTWORK

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - WYATT CANTRELL ARTWORK

    The first time I met Wyatt Cantrell, I immediately knew there was something special about him. He was so self-confident and sure of his surroundings while being completely curious and enthusiastic about life. We met Wyatt in early spring of 2016 at Sola Pop-Up Market. He was set up a few booths down from us selling artwork accompanied by his mother Meredith and father Ian, so we figured it was their show and he was just along for the ride. We would soon come to find that these interesting multi layered paintings were all made by a six year old. We could hardly see him behind the booth but he came around smiling, full of energy and introduced us to his work. Over the next few months we got to know him and his family, and we decided to sit down with this young hustler and entrepreneur for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustles Hard.

    Wyatt, who turns seven on Friday, has been a hustler since birth. He grew up watching his mother run a small business, and has always idolized Raleigh artists and entrepreneurs, like Adam Peele. When he was four, he had his eyes set on a $300+ Ewok Village Lego Set, so his first thought was to start a business. He began with an idea to make refurbished toys and masks from salvaged items, which proved too labor-intensive. After spotting a Star Wars decal on the back of a car one day, he and his mom decided stenciling and painting might be the best way to bring his ideas to life. At 4 years old, Wyatt taught himself how to paint. After his mother Meredith creates and cuts stencils, Wyatt goes to work painting and layering the piece with an array of colors, textures, and patterns. When I asked how he learned his skills, his answer was refreshingly simple. "Well, this was the job I chose so I just started painting." An answer only a six year old with no concept of failure or doubt could provide. Wyatt started gaining traction at local markets and events, and 100 paintings later, the Ewok Village belonged to him.

    Wyatt estimates that he’s sold close to 1,000 paintings. At first glance, that number seems high for such a young kid, but if you catch him in action, you’ll become a believer. Wyatt is full of positivity, interest, and passion. His infectious attitude and energy radiate across the booth and is visible in each customer. It’s rare to see them leave empty handed. He operates with a blind confidence. He's clear in his goals, and for now that's hustling art to buy toys. His business is fully functional and self funded. He purchases all of his own equipment and supplies exclusively from Jerry's Artarama.  He loves that store.

    Wyatt’s process is intense. He batches a few paintings at a time, working on the porch because of the mess. He uses acrylic and then draws using a paint marker or oil pastel.  Then he repeatedly layers spray and splatter paints, then stencil.  He and his mom have spent the last two years experimenting with this system of layering, the basis being the stencil ideas Wyatt comes up with like “Storm Trooper Eating a Popsicle” or “Hedgehog Riding A Skate Board”. Wyatt hustles hard and you can find him working almost every weekend around the triangle. He’s commissioned pieces for countless individuals and locals businesses like Citizen Pops and Gringo A Go Go.

    It’s easy to forget that he’s currently an elementary school student. I jokingly asked if he was in the 4th grade, and he answered, "If I was in 4th grade I probably wouldn't be doing this because I'd have all the money.” He quickly checks himself and adds, "Well, no I probably still will do it when I'm in 4th grade." True wisdom and hustle. Wyatt loves to toy hunt at the Flea Market and especially at the Lego store. "I have 102 Lego sets at home." Meredith nods behind him with a smiling sigh. What’s even better than the Lego’s is that much like myself and most 80’s babies, he absolutely loves He-Man. I’m talking favorite movie, TV show, and toy. "I like He-Man so much I have a He-Man Skeletor,” he said leaning forward, eyes bulging. We talked about the Skeletor toy for the next four minutes straight. Much like Porch Fly's own Jay Blevins, you'll rarely find Wyatt anywhere without at least one toy. When I ask Wyatt what other essentials he keeps on him at all times, he said “I like to make sure I bring at least 4 quarters with me just in case I run into a quarter machine.” God, I miss being 6...

    Obviously, at such a young age no amount of talent and drive equals success without support. Wyatt’s parents, Meredith and Ian not only make it possible, but work hard to encourage and provide an environment for the entrepreneurial spirit to grow. While they are fully supportive of his endeavors, Meredith stresses that his path remains his own. “It's better to learn tough business lessons now when he's a little guy and has the largest safety net of all than to learn them when he's grown and the net is much smaller. It could be great, a disaster, or simply fade away, but he'll be the one that determines all of that.” I have a feeling Wyatt is just getting started.

    Learn more about Wyatt and where to find his art as well as a few of his favorite places to visit in the area:

    Wyatt is done with events for 2016, but you can keep up with his future shows and view his currently available pieces at his Facebook Page HERE

    To order artwork, email: wyattcantrellart@gmail.com

    Thanks for stopping by the porch!

    - Joshua

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - THE PHARMACY CAFE

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - THE PHARMACY CAFE

     

    I first met Daniel in the fall of 2015 while walking through my neighborhood, on Person Street. He wasn’t yet a familiar face (at least to me) on the block, but something told me that the guy carrying loads of fresh produce into the newly opened The Pharmacy Café (TPC) was going to be a great addition to the neighborhood. Founded in 1910, Person Street Pharmacy & Café has been a landmark in Raleigh for as long as anyone living can remember. Known for its staples like the 10-cent popcorn machine and full service soda fountain, this was more than a pharmacy, it was a place of congregation. Since the beginning, the pharmacy consistently provided a sense of community for its family of customers. But like anything, change is inevitable. People move on, the neighborhood landscape shifts, and a new generation comes in to carry the torch. Daniel Whittaker, owner of TPC is now holding the torch with a strict understanding of the past and a bright vision for the future. We sat down with him for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustles Hard, to find out more about how The Pharmacy Café became home.

    Daniel took over TPC in November of 2015. As a self-proclaimed “Navy brat”, he spent most of his childhood moving around without a real sense of community. He moved to North Carolina in the early 2000’s working for a while as a franchise developer for Rum Runners as well as at a series of restaurant jobs. As random as Daniel makes these jobs seem, I quickly understood their value in leading up to the present. As well as the owner of TPC, Daniel sits at the helm of Green Planet Catering, an award winning, sustainably run catering company he founded in 2007.

    The Pharmacy Café reopened in June of 2015, under pharmacist and new owner, Trey Waters. Partnering with Chef Chad McIntyre from Market Restaurant, the new café promised to fill a much-needed void in the neighborhood, breakfast and lunch fare. Unfortunately, an unclear vision and lack of execution caused almost immediate problems for the café. Trey approached his friend Daniel to quickly come in and right the ship.

    After a venture designing the Market Restaurant (now Standard Foods) didn’t materialize, Daniel was left waiting for his opening. TPC was just the opportunity. “The community wasn’t perceiving a problem yet, but they weren’t enticed or super stoked to come over. We wanted to change that with a little bit of marketing and a great menu.” Daniel’s first move was bringing in Patrick Cowden, who he first met working at Michael Jordan’s restaurant in Chapel Hill nearly fourteen years ago. “I flew in chefs from all over the country, but always knew the right choice was just a few miles away. Everyone who worked in the kitchen under Patrick went on to be a head chef, private chef, or head of hospitality. He is an educator as much as an amazing chef. The fact that he holds an accounting degree doesn’t hurt either.” At the same time, Daniel was also looking for a full-time executive chef for Green Planet Catering, so the timing and opportunity proved serendipitous.

    After a complete overhaul to the menu and a re-imagining of the space, the café was quickly off and running. Daniel brought in a community table, new signage, and tabletop toys for the family. “We paid attention to our customers on what they would like to see, what was missing, and what we could do better.” With healthy and substantial breakfast offerings like “Pedro”, the Café Burrito and an assortment of fresh breads, jellies, and jams (made in house!), TPC became a neighborhood staple virtually overnight. Undeniably, the key to the café is the lunch specials. Every single day, that small chalkboard next to the register is displaying some uniquely and newly crafted creation. In over a year, I’ve literally never been disappointed!

    As a small business owner, Daniel views himself as much a facilitator as anything else. “I’m passionate about providing jobs for excellent people. People who are better than me.” Daniel, who is constantly looking for his next project, is a firm believer in “manager-managed” companies. “I always have the intention of putting stronger people than me in leadership positions so I can step back. That doesn’t always work out, but we have very little turnover.” Instead of employing an ever-shifting number of part-time restaurant workers, Daniel empowers his small staff by providing full time dedicated positions as well as the opportunity for additional hours at Green Planet Catering. With much of the staff splitting time, and the repurposing of excess ingredients, both GPC and TPC are able to run with very minimal waste and overhead.

    For Daniel, it all comes back to sustainability. “Everything is composted or recycled. No plastics except for food wrap. We are completely committed to waste reducing programs.” In 2007, he started farming with NC State Agriculture education farm, producing primarily for GPC. “For nearly 7-years, we had a private partnership with the NCSU agriculture school. We had a 6-acre spot near Yates Mill Pond where I spent 40 hours a week farming for GPC. At the same time, we developed a partnership with Pete Pagano of Tir Na Nog, running GPC from their kitchens.” Daniel and his team even began using the fryer oil from Tir Na Nog to make bio-fuel for GPC trucks. Between sustainably growing and harvesting their own produce and converting spent oils in bio-fuel, GPC began to win awards for sustainability. Today, the 65-person staff works out of a large production facility in Cary, providing everyday drop offs, boxed lunches, and hot buffets for corporate clients.

    Currently, Daniel isn’t doing much farming, except for at home, where he grows and supplies most of the fresh herbs for GPC and TPC. I learned pretty quickly that a few things are very important to him. Community empowerment, sustainability, adventure, and reflection seem to guide his path. “I need a place to ponder. I make better decisions on a surfboard on the water than I do behind the counter.” He’s known to peel off for Wrightsville at a moments notice to surf but you can typically catch him around downtown on his one-wheel. Daniel, who loves going back country camping stepped off the Appalachian Trail in June after hiking 100 miles. He’s worked out at Crossfit Invoke for the last 11 years and fought MMA for seven. “I injure myself a lot, because activities requiring a lot of intensity help me. I have to be so focused on maintaining myself that it really allows me to clear my head.”

    On the question of Hustle, Talent, or Luck, Daniel immediately interrupted me with, “Hustle”. “There are talented and lucky people all over place, but less people willing to put their head down and put in what it takes to be an entrepreneur." Besides hustle, Daniel gives due credit to the City of Oaks. “I have really strong feelings about Raleigh. That’s why I’m here. It’s the best place to run a business. As a water and adventure enthusiast, Raleigh doesn’t make much sense but damn what a vibe, what a buzz.” Like most business owners in Raleigh, Daniel has benefited greatly from the depth of staffing because of the quality of higher education in the area. “In today’s market, it can be hard for young people to get a job, so I have a lot of talented, educated people to reach out to for these projects. As a navy brat I’ve never had a sense of community. Now in this neighborhood I have a stage. Not to preach, but to listen and interact with everybody. I’ve never been anywhere this long. It feels really cool.”

    Learn more about The Pharmacy Café and Green Planet Catering as well as a few of Daniel’s favorite small businesses in the area below:

    For Private Events or Catering: 919-977-3405

    For Careers at TPC or Green Planet Catering: info@greenplanetcatering.com

    Check out the TPC Breakfast / Lunch Menu HERE

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - WEDPICS

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - WEDPICS

    The first time I visited HQ Raleigh in early 2014, I knew it was providing something special for Raleigh’s entrepreneurs and start-ups. Immediately upon walking in, I could feel the energy. People were racing through the halls, some congregating and sharing ideas near the bar, and scores of teams working together diligently behind glass offices. Everyone seemed inspired and with purpose. I knew this wasn’t an ordinary workspace. While there, I would continuously hear about WedPics and their CEO / Co-Founder, Justin Miller. As the head of the fastest growing crowd sourced wedding app on the market, Justin and his team are helping to define Raleigh’s startup boom. We sat down with local hustler and successful entrepreneur, Justin Miller, for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustle’s Hard.

    From a networking perspective, HQ Raleigh was a huge boost to WedPics. “We didn’t know anybody at the time because we spent 18 hours a day in my basement building the app.” However, the road there wasn’t always clear. Justin graduated from the NCSU School of Design with a major in graphic design. And like many graduates in Raleigh before this current culture of entrepreneurship took hold, Justin accepted a corporate design job at IBM. At the time, Justin was intrigued with what was happening in social media and curated content online. His experience with large-scale marketing events at IBM presented a chance to capitalize on what he saw as a wasted opportunity. “There was a major fault on the marketing side where IBM would spend millions of dollars on these large scale events, and after the fact there was no way for them to easily gather the photos from all the participants.”

    Founded in 2011 in Justin’s basement, Deja Mi was conceived around concerts and other live events, to provide a location-based platform for event-goers to share experiences and form a connection socially. This was pre-hashtag days so aggregating that experience in a concise way without social connections was difficult. “Early on we had some friends and family that believed in the idea and were willing to cut us checks. We got really lucky. We were basically working for peanuts so I extended equity where possible, which provided much needed incentive and drive.” Most of the people who started at Deja Mi in the beginning are still working together today. After merging with a Durham startup at the end of 2011, the company doubled to twelve people.

    Upon merging, the first build of Deja Mi was scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. “We rolled out the new version, Apple featured it in 90 countries as a new and noteworthy app and Deja Mi started getting 6k+ downloads a day with no marketing.” Unfortunately, when Apple stopped pushing the app, momentum quickly fizzled. In early 2012, with funding waning and no clear vision ahead, they began exploring other use cases for the idea. After a great response to the app at a local bridal event, they began looking hard at the $50bn wedding market. “It just made sense. In this space, we could provide a real solution to a problem that actually existed.” With WedPics, they could replace the need for disposable cameras at weddings and provide a tool to aggregate all of the content from guests, who may or may not know each other, but can still share collectively in the experience.

    By the time WedPics launched in 2012, they had received some great press locally, and nationally from most of the major tech companies. Unfortunately, not all press was good press - at least not at first. After an N&O article featured Justin and the team, they were quickly served with an eviction notice from Justin’s basement or they would face fines in excess of $500 per day. Again, Justin used social media as a solution. He shared his ordeal and was immediately flooded with not only offers for working space, but also $25k in funding from a local angel investor. The team ultimately landed at HQ Raleigh. This was the perfect springboard for partnerships with other companies and outside funding. “It was just a really good connector”, said Justin.

    WedPics didn’t start as the robust platform it is today. Ultimately, Justin sees simplicity as a reason for WedPics early and continued success. “When you come up with an idea, there is a tendency to want to put every piece of functionality in it, so it’s as big and powerful as possible. That is where you think the bar is set, but that’s absolutely wrong.” Justin and his team stripped WedPics down to the bare minimum. “We had giant whiteboards on the wall of my basement where we’d list every feature we wanted in the app, then each day would come in and erase multiple features.” They were left with only the functionality necessary to make the app work. After the launch, Justin and his team carefully monitored the backend analytics to understand how people were using the app and what kind of feedback they provided. Coupled with constant competitor analysis, they took that insight to evolve the product and scale the capabilities of the platform. “Luckily, in our market we had a huge advantage, because brides love to provide feedback, whether good or bad. Listening to our audience was key.”

    Fast-forward to 2016, WedPics has received over $12M in outside funding and has grown into the #1 wedding app on the market. Operating in every country and with over 5 million dedicated users, the thirty-person team has made an undeniable impact in the wedding industry. Over 1 million photos are shared from the 10k+ weddings hosted on the app each week. While the app has triumphed significantly from an acquisition perspective, WedPics began moving from an acquisition-based model to a revenue-based model in January. Along with its app invite cards and hi-res printed photos, which account for most of the current revenue, they’ve diversified their revenue models by bringing in non-traditional advertising. “We sell dedicated email lists, as well as offering impressions for hand selected retailers inside of the app.” WedPics now also provides an opt-in opportunity where retailers can offer exclusive deals and connect with its customers directly. “We’ve taken a different approach to advertising and are currently testing this model to understand it’s scalability and how it resonates with our audience.” He says that so far it’s been well adopted.

    Justin has become an unofficial ambassador for Raleigh, even accompanying Mayor Nancy McFarlane to speak at SXSW. He credits both the city and the continuously deep talent pool for much of its recent success. “Now that we’re getting a larger footprint of small business and tech, options for graduates have expanded to much more than just corporate opportunities. This makes Raleigh much more attractive for an early stage entrepreneur. The cost of living and creating a business is so low in Raleigh, it really provides the opportunity to operate with much lower risk.”

    While Justin agrees that Raleigh can be a nourishing environment for entrepreneurs, he recognizes the challenges of evolving from the old way of doing things. Bureaucracy and lack of innovative, solution-focused thinking sometimes presents a real challenge to helping new ideas materialize. “Things aren’t as complicated as they are sometimes made to be. Instead of always going by the book or saying no when an idea reaches uncharted territory, I’d like to see the city think bigger picture and be a partner in developing innovative solutions.” Justin has been trying to launch his side project, El Taco Cartel since early 2015, but has run into challenges bringing it to market because Raleigh hasn’t decided how to classify his food cart. He’s working with city and county officials to build out a mobile food and beverage guide to provide a framework for not only him, but to pave the way for future entrepreneurs in the same space.

     

    When asked whether he would rather be blessed with luck, talent, or hustle, Justin answered emphatically, “Hustle, 100%. Luck runs out. Talent is not necessary. With hustle, you’ll always figure out a way to get it done.

    What more needs to be said?

    Learn more about WedPics as well as a few of Justin’s favorite small businesses in the area below:

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - THE STOCKROOM / GLASSBOX / ALL SAINTS CHAPEL

    We all remember that epic wedding, hilarious company party, or life changing networking event. Whenever groups of people gather together, memories are made. However, behind those amazing memories are preparation, planning, and vision. There’s a team making sure all the pieces fit together perfectly, so we don’t have to. Mollyann Russell and Alexandra Hughes, the event managers behind The Stockroom, All Saints Chapel, and the newly minted Glassbox are the team behind the scenes making the magic happen. If you’ve lived in Raleigh long enough, it’s pretty likely you’ve attended a wedding at All Saints Chapel and/or an event at The Stockroom. Both buildings, rich with history, have emerged as Raleigh’s premiere event venues. With holiday season (which means holiday parties!) quickly approaching, we sat down with Mollyann and Alexandra for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustles Hard.

    The Stockroom is housed on the second floor of 230 Fayetteville Street, a historical building that used to house Raleigh’s bankers, doctors, and insurers in the early 20th century. The venue has been restored into a chic event space with exposed brick and beams, as well as rustic hardwood floors. All Saints Chapel has an even deeper history. After being built in 1875, it has since been moved (intact) twice, landing in 2006 in its final home (with a $1.5 million restoration) at the edge of historic Oakwood in downtown Raleigh. But with such rich history, it’s important to craft a vision for the future. That future is The Glassbox, a beautiful and bright open space at the top floor of 230 Fayetteville Street (above the Stockroom) with floor to ceiling windows, and a living room sized rooftop patio overlooking downtown Raleigh. Open since June, The Glassbox was created to function as a private event space or an add-on bridal suite for weddings.

    Mollyann and Alexandra took over management of the venues in May of 2014. They may not be business owners or entrepreneurs, but their hustle is undeniable. With only two (2) weekend bookings left in 2016, the proof is in the data. Managing three thriving event spaces comes with a multitude of ever-changing demands, but Alexandra and Mollyann are built for this. Both are NC State alums, and jumped knee deep into event management directly out of college. Mollyann who graduated in 2011, first managed events with Empire Eats, eventually transitioning to event management for the properties side of the company. She studied Interpersonal Communications at NCSU, with the hopes of an event-planning career in the future. She was always the one planning, organizing, and hosting events in college, even working with Live It Up on Hillsborough Street for a short period. “My mom was a room mother when I was growing up, and was always the one to organize the events, so I guess it got this from her.” Alexandra, who studied parks, recreation and tourism management with a concentration in program management, started her position the Monday following her graduation in 2014. “This was my first job out of school, but as a student I interned everywhere I could to get experience.” She worked with caterers and event planners in Raleigh and Charlotte (during the summer) and even returned to the Queen City to work the Democratic National Convention in 2012. “That was the craziest, most hectic week ever, but I loved it so I knew this what I wanted to do.”

    Clients have the opportunity to book all three of these amazing venues as a package deal, or rent each venue exclusively. For Mollyann and Alexandra, change is a virtue. “Although we do a lot of weddings, we like the variety of events. It keeps things really interesting. There is no wedding off-season for us because our venues are inside but towards the holidays it tilts more to company holiday parties and events, which is fun.” Currently, Mollyann and Alexandra run the show with just a single intern but with business growing and with the addition of The Glassbox, they see a potential need to expand the team. Currently, they split duties based on pre and post contract. Mollyann handles all the sales and marketing, including (but not limited to) pre booking tours, and contract negotiations. Although, she admits her favorite part of the job comes the night of the event. “Whether it’s a wedding bringing together family members who haven’t seen each other in a while, or people gathering collectively to benefit a cause. The hug from the brides mom at the end of the night makes it so rewarding.” But before that night can happen, Alexandra handles the day-to-day planning and vendor coordination for the event. With the venue(s) soaring recognition on wedding websites and magazines, Mollyann admits that cold leads are hardly necessary, but referrals from other vendors in the industry are vital, so networking is a must. Alexandra tells me, “I really enjoy the collaboration with other vendors. We network a lot internally with other professionals in the industry and it’s great because you meet a lot of great people and develop professional friendships. Once you continuously work with a trusted colleague, the professional relationship becomes pretty personal.”

     

    Both Alexandra and Mollyann grew up elsewhere, but like so many others who come here for school, they never left. Raleigh has become home to an amazing mix of young professionals, entrepreneurs, and creatives all working towards one common goal - the constant improvement and vibrancy of our community. We're lucky to have Mollyann and Alexandra as a part of that future.

     

    Looking to book an event?

    Email mollyann@empire1792.com or call 919-459-3212

     

    Learn about some of Mollyann and Alexandra’s favorite places around the area below:

     

    Thanks for stopping by the porch,

    Porch Fly Clothing

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - BIDA MANDA

    When we launched Porch Fly Clothing in the fall of 2012, there was something special happening in Raleigh that we wanted to be a part of. Young entrepreneurs were starting to call this area home, and exciting new small businesses were popping up weekly. Around the same time, owners Vansana Nolintha and his younger sister, Vanvisa Nolintha were opening the doors to what would become Raleigh’s favorite gathering place, Bida Manda. At the time, it was one of the first restaurants in the US serving authentic Laotian cuisine. Today, Laotian cuisine is as popular as ever, with restaurants like Bangkok Golden in Falls Church, VA and Thip Khao in DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, gaining national notoriety. Besides being the co-owner of one of Raleigh’s most beautiful, inviting, and delicious restaurants, Vansana, or Van is one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs we know. We had the pleasure of sitting down with him for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustles Hard.

    Van moved to the US in 1998, at age 12, from Luang Prabang, Laos. His younger sister, and eventual business partner, Vanvisa would follow two years later. Sponsored by a family in Greensboro, their parents sent them to the US to learn English, complete high school, and return home. Van remembers food being vital to maintaining their identity after moving to the US. Living now in this completely foreign place far from the rest of their family, cooking for his younger sister Vanvisa was the only thing Van knew how to do to ensure her memories of home were preserved. They didn’t have the option of going to a Laotian restaurant or to a family or friends home for Laotian cuisine, so cooking became a way of connecting with a family and life so far away. Towards the end of high school their sponsoring family in Greensboro adopted them, and Van received a full scholarship to attend NC State University to study chemical engineering in hopes of becoming a doctor. Along the way, Van made the switch to chemistry, then later to the NCSU Design School. After graduating in 2009, he was accepted into a graduate program for International Peace and Conflict Studies at Trinity College (Dublin). Van received his masters degree from Trinity in 2011 and returned back to the US to find a job. Unfortunately, that was around the peak of the recession, and finding employment for peace studies yielded few positive results. “This was one of the darkest times in my life. I had these degrees from these wonderful institutions, and I spent almost a year not being able to find a job. I poured my heart and everything I had into my studies and to graduate during the peak of the recession, send out over 300 applications, and get no offers was extremely difficult. It was a time in my life where nothing else made sense but to go back home to my family.”

    Vanvisa and Van returned to Luang Prabang that summer, without a plan. “Returning back home to Laos was the only thing I knew how to do to center myself. I really reconnected with my family, and they encouraged me to get back to a place of happiness and sense of self. That summer was transformative for Vanvisa and I.” One morning during the summer, Van witnessed a family tradition that would soon become the catalyst for the idea that would become Bida Manda. Like most days, Van awoke very early for a morning run. “I woke up at 4:30am and saw that my mom and dad were already awake. They have a tradition where they wake up very early and cook together all morning food for the entire day. My father would pour two cups of milk, warming one in the microwave for my grandmother, and bringing a cold glass to the veranda in the garden to wait for my mother to join him to cook together.” His parents’ manifestation of love and commitment through food had a profound effect on Van. During his run, he decided whatever he and Vanvisa did when they returned to the US would be about honoring their parents. A restaurant inspired by their family’s tradition of taking care of each other through food was a natural progression of that idea. Bida Manda, a Sanskrit ceremonial term for “mother and father”, was a most fitting name.

    What Van and Vanvisa lacked in experience, they made up for with passion, drive, and a willingness to ask for help. “We were young, naïve, and innocent enough to be excited about the possibility but not conditioned enough to be scared. We didn’t know enough about the risk to be intimidated.” From the development of the business plan, to the menu, all the way to the three-tons of sticks brought in from western NC and hand laid on the walls and ceilings with the help of friends (video here), Bida Manda was truly a collaborative effort. Van credits his community of friends and mentors for helping bring the idea to life. “We spent countless hours sitting at Café Helios writing the business plan and allowing our mind to wrap around why we like being in this space. My background is in design so I looked at people’s body language and how they interacted with each other in a shared space. The human experience research seems intentional now, but at the time I only knew how to approach this business plan as a designer. Before we ever thought about food, we wanted to ensure whatever we created was a warm gathering place.”

    Luckily, their timing was right. “This was around the time when Ashley (Christensen) really started to develop a wonderful way of telling stories through food. We had Angela from Centro telling her story through her food, as well as the Neomonde family cooking their grandparents’ recipes for 15+ years. This type of celebrated leadership in Raleigh’s emerging food scene helped make what we were about to say, possible. So at the time, all I knew to do was to reach out to them for help.” Van explains how instrumental the community of Raleigh chefs and restaurant owners like Centro’s Angela Salamanca, 18 Seaboard’s Jason Smith, Trophy Brewings’ Chris Powers, and of course Ashley Christensen were to bringing Bida Manda to life. “I remember sitting at my house watching Ashley on the Food Network. I emailed her that night telling her how I studied and admired her, and I had this idea for a restaurant so I asked her if she would be my mentor. Amazingly, she emailed me back right away and asked me to meet her at Fox (liquor bar) for a drink. I treasure what Ashley is doing in this community right now. She inspires us to approach and think about food and hospitality from such a simple community based level. How do we tell stories, create memories, and connect with each other through food.”

    Van and Vanvisa’s humility and willingness to ask for help was key in their success. There was so much they didn’t know, and having the courage to say “will you teach me?” made all the difference, something that Van sees as an underutilized virtue for entrepreneurs. “In the western way of thinking, independence and confidence are such highly held traits, that many times we don’t put enough emphasis on mentorship and humility. For us, mentorship happens organically within the restaurant. When we hire someone, it’s not to fill a specific role. We’re more interested in developing and maintaining relationships that we want in our life, then seeing how that manifests during our journey. There is something about creating a space where young people co-exist. With the right type of collaboration, it creates a life for everyone that might not have existed.” As an immigrant himself, Van understands the need to use his position to benefit others in a similar position. To that end, Bida Manda partners with US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), and currently employs seven refugees on staff.

    Like most creative entrepreneurs, Van has countless ideas and side projects he’d love to bring to life, but assures me that expansion has never been a primary consideration. “What I have come to learn to pay attention to is what kind of relationships are in my life that are meaningful that I want to be a part of. A lot of what is exciting for me is looking at the team we have in place, and building a business plan around that.” For the past few months, Van and Patrick Woodson have been developing plans for a brewery in downtown Raleigh. They don’t have a name or location yet, but are actively working to bring this idea to life. We were lucky enough to get Van to share some exclusive news about a new concept he’s planning. “I’ve been thinking a lot of creating a shared marketplace concept housing a brewery, cafe, library, and flower shop. The collision of people and ideas sparks creativity, so I want to create a shared space where people, who are coming for different purposes, collide, interact, and collaborate. We have this emerging local political community, a wonderful family driven community, a growing downtown residential community, and a huge influx of young, creative professionals and artists. Our hope is to create a space to allow all of those communities to interact and have a shared experience.” Van is shopping locations and hopes to open the doors to this concept in the next year.

    From emigrating from Laos, to traveling and living in over 30 countries doing service-learning work during (and after) college, and bouncing between Greensboro and Raleigh, the idea of “Home” has always been a fluid concept for Van and Vanvisa. However, after three years, Bida Manda has established itself as a powerhouse in Raleigh’s emerging food scene. It’s hard to imagine downtown without it. Bida Manda is more than Laotian cuisine. It’s a family restaurant, even if the inspiration is over 8,500 miles away. Although they have never stepped foot in the restaurant, Van and Vanvisa’s parents’ influence and tradition is felt throughout. “We hope they can eventually make it here to share in our journey and be a part of this place that means so much to the community we call home.“

    Here's a few of our favorite dishes at Bida Manda:

    • Crispy Rice Lettuce Wraps
    • Chicken Wings
    • Crispy Pork Belly Soup
    • Caramelized Ginger Pork Ribs
    • Baked NC Whole Fish
    • Green Papaya Salad (with duck)

     All cocktails are made using fresh juices and modifiers created in-house daily.

     

    Learn about some of Van’s favorite places around the area:

     

    Thanks for stopping by the porch,

    Porch Fly Clothing