We met Jewel Domino when she was accepted into UCEDC’s Virtual Incubator Program(VIP), which offers selected businesses with ownership from underserved populations free mentorship, training, and access to capital to help meet the challenges of this moment.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Ms. Domino had a career in Industrial Management. For over ten years, she worked in a lab, and then she led a team in the field, working with materials like concrete. After some medical issues, Jewel’s doctors told her she couldn’t return to the field, regardless of her passion. She hated the idea of resuming an office job, so she pivoted to her other passion, cooking and started BelleJohns’ Soul Food.
Ms. Domino says that people often came to her to make dishes for events, such as her pan-fried chicken or deviled eggs, and she realized that “cooking is just like testing concrete. It’s all numbers and measurements.” It even uses some of the same ingredients! Jewel notes, “a lot of people don’t know but the stuff that goes into the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel or a hospital wall, it’s sugar, it’s flour, it’s retarder, and it’s water, and what goes into baking? Sugar, water, flour,” she laughs and her enthusiasm for the materials she works with is clear.
When she first started BelleJohns’ Soul Food, Jewel found that the market for Soulfood was saturated in her area so she developed a niche. She started cooking for people with dietary restrictions and brought her food to local farmer’s markets that were just outside of her immediate area.
When asked about UCEDC’s VIP and what she got out of it, Jewel talks about the trailer she was able to purchase for use at the farmer’s markets and how the trailer itself has acted as a marketing piece. She says it’s increased her visibility and brand identity and helped her differentiate herself from other vendors. Jewel also mentions how valuable it was to be with a group of other small business owners from various fields and to be able to hear about their experiences and learn from them. She says the other VIP business owners continue to send her leads on business opportunities, “they’re still telling me about events. I’m still getting Instagram messages from them saying, ‘Jewel do you know about this event over here?’ In fact, we got an event in Jersey City because of one of them.”
UCEDC is currently accepting applications to the fourth session of the Virtual Incubator Program, sponsored by Northfield Bank, the deadline to apply is June 29th. For more information and to apply now visit: https://ucedc.com/ucedcs-virtual-incubator-program/