Last Wednesday night, a partnership between several business organizations and community non-profits turned three nuts into leaders.
Mike Caven, Kim Johnson and Joey Jaraczewski were named winners of the Cottage Grove Business Challenge, taking home $6,000, $3,000 and $1,000 to utilize in the development of their businesses.
Cottage Grove Chamber Executive Director Travis Palmer introduced the concept to a room of approximately 50 attendees noting his dedication to Ted Talks. “My favorite one,” he said, “is on leadership. There’s a video clip of a shirtless guy dancing. As the clip goes on, you see people join the shirtless guy and another one and another one. So many, that if you’re not dancing with him, you’re the odd one out. The first followers transform him from a lone nut to a leader.”
Local businessman Harold Frazier was in the business of creating leaders from lone nuts when he walked into Palmer’s office offering $10,000 to a local business. While the original intent was to run an advertisement, and accept entries, Palmer orchestrated a larger contest and partnered with RAIN of Eugene, Cottage Grove Community Development Corporation and the Healing Matrix and several community sponsors to create the Cottage Grove Business Challenge.
Twenty-four individuals and businesses applied for the contest, including Johnson, owner of Real Life Food. When she bought Tsunami Sushi, it was a means to spend more time with her friend and partner. Now, she has six employees, two delivery drivers and 30 accounts. “We had a lot of fun growing this business accidentally,” she said. Johnson has plans to expand to Portland and buy equipment that would make creating her farm-to-table creations a bit easier. She took home $1,000 Wednesday.
Earning $3,000, Jaraczewski was the newest business, opening his doors this past summer. Sohr relies on responsibly harvested hazelnuts from Oregon to produce a protein recovery drink. “If you drive up the I-5 to the 99 to the 58 and look left you see a lot of sheep,” he said. “You also see hazelnuts and we see something that can grow into an opportunity.” Jaraczewski partnered with Andrew Ek and currently work out of a small space in Springfield but hope to move production to Cottage Grove in the coming months. In the first three months of business, Sohr managed $7,800 in net sales and wrangled four retail accounts.
Caven’s marketing director—his elementary-aged son Adrian—wasn’t at Wednesday’s gala to see the family’s business Sanity Chocolate take home first place and $6,000. “It’s amazing,” Caven said after his win. “It’s amazing and humbling not being a business person, to see our vision for the community means something.” A firefighter by trade, Caven said it ill-prepared him for the business world. After opening on September 1 on Main St., Sanity Chocolate has already made a name for itself with local nonprofits. It’s provided 400 pieces of chocolate to the Rotary Club’s Uncorked event and has recently purchased carousel molds to create a fundraising piece of chocolate for Friends of the Cottage Grove Carousel.
“This business is investing in Cottage Grove,” Caven said. “It’s an anchor and attraction to bring people in to downtown. We see our business as a tie in the community.”
Sanity specializes in bean-to-bar chocolate and focuses on sustainably harvested ingredients. “We put our hands on every ingredient,” he said, noting that Sanity’s chocolate was still a luxury but it sold its chocolate at an attainable price for the demographic of Cottage Grove.
The $6,000 will go towards a new refiner and coffee roaster. “You invest in equipment, that’s how you grow,” Caven said. Sanity’s long-term goal includes hosting its business in a building that allows residents and tourists to watch chocolate being made and enjoy a coffee house experience.