Her goal: cultivate community health in this food desert
It was a pleasure sitting beside Dawn Kelly at the Girl Scouts of Greater New York “Women of Distinction” Awards breakfast last fall.
While we were applauding the honorees on stage, I realized, after chatting with Dawn, that she was a woman of distinction with an inspiring story about her journey to becoming an award-winning entrepreneur at The Nourish Spot in Jamaica, Queens NY, as well as a role model. Dawn Kelly shares her story by answering these questions.
What is The Nourish Spot all about?
The Nourish Spot’s name speaks for itself. We want our clients, who we affectionately call Nourishers, to allow us to nourish their minds, bodies, and souls. We aim to nurture our Nourishers’ lives with good food and drink crafted from fresh fruit, non-dairy milks, nuts, proteins, seeds, veggies, yogurt and other healthy ingredients. We partner with nonprofit organizations and the City of New York to serve as an internship training site, and through that pipeline, we hire community youth and provide fair wages for their roles as health tenders.
On a daily basis, we source fresh produce to assemble into customized cold pressed juices, greek yogurt parfaits, oatmeal, salads, sandwich wraps, smoothies, and soups. We also offer homemade buttermilk, cinnamon oat, and gluten-free Belgian waffles from batter that we make daily.
Our best sellers are Green Goblin, Pineapple Mango Tango and Just Beet It and our Gingered Apple juices. Our customized salads, sandwich wraps, and hearty soups are all the rage.
Without prior food business experience, you opened this juice shop in 2015, and subsequently won accolades and awards, such as Entrepreneur of the Year from the New York State Economic Council. What gave you the courage to forge ahead, and how did you overcome the challenges and obstacles in your path?
I have been working for over 35+ years. I started out with babysitting then moved on to becoming a cashier, an administrative assistant, a librarian, a civil servant, and a PR executive. My last role of nearly 16+ years as Department Vice President of Global Communications with Prudential Financial Inc. was eliminated on September 9, 2015. It was the first time I had ever experienced job loss in my 35+ year career, and it was a blow because I was in my 50s and truly thought I was making an indelible impact. At the same time, I embarked on my personal health journey to get back to a size 8 and healthier version of myself instead of being a size 16. I changed my diet to healthier foods and smaller portion sizes.
While thinking about what I could do next, I saw a CNN news segment about a NYC rap artist named Styles P who had opened his own juice bar in Yonkers. I was intrigued and began to pray about it. I was divinely led to the street address of a closed venue whose former awning said DK Upholstery. My name is Dawn Kelly and as they say, the rest is history. We opened our doors for business on September 9, 2017 exactly two years to the exact date my corporate role was eliminated.
When U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited your restaurant, she said, “Dawn Kelly is a shining example of the entrepreneurship spirit that we see in our Black and Brown communities…” What keeps your entrepreneurial spirit burning?
What keeps my entrepreneurial spirit burning is:
- Knowing that we are helping people live longer and more vibrant lives
- Knowing that my family-owned businesses are investing in our community through the jobs we offer and wages we pay
- Knowing that I am setting an example for my children, family, friends and showing them that they should never be afraid to try something new, as well as the importance of consuming a healthy diet.
Congrats on securing a fresh from service as a concession during the 2022 US Open. What was that experience like?
We aced our Year 1 concession service in Backyard 17 of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at the 2022 US Open. Earning that opportunity was historic for The Nourish Spot because the US Open is a global stage and we are a small Black woman-led family-owned business from the southside of Jamaica, Queens. I believe it was also the first time a cafe from our side of the borough had been invited to operate a concession in that iconic venue in its history. Our staff, mostly young people of color, who had never experienced the US Open in any way, and my daughter Jade and I were amazed and grateful, each and every day, as we walked onto the grounds with our badges to serve up salads, smoothies and lemonades from The Nourish Spot concession to the worldwide audience.
What are you and Jade pursuing in terms of success for The Nourish Spot this coming year and beyond?
We dream to establish The Nourish Spot in urban areas across the country and around the world to ensure everyone can have access to fresh fruit and vegetables and the essential vitamins and nutrients they offer.
We also have dreams of using The Nourish Spot as both an entrepreneurship teaching tool and cafeteria in middle and high schools and college campuses.