The business of sprouting joy and peace from tiny seeds in Durham

Almost 700 plants surround visitors from all angles at The ZEN Succulent. Photo by Molly Weybright.

By Molly Weybright

Shades of green — a gradient so expansive that you didn’t know so many variants of the color existed.  Colors that look like the way a granny smith apple tastes, like the feeling of damp grass between your toes, like petrichor — the earthy smell after heavy rain.  Over 100 different species of plants hang from the ceiling, rest on shelves against the walls and nestle into nooks around the floor.  Succulents and ferns surround you in the 400 square foot space that holds almost 700 plants.  They’re impossible to avoid.

Not that you would want to.

Stepping into The ZEN Succulent, a small store in Durham, N.C., is like entering another world.  It feels like Neverland — wild and untamed but also carefully crafted — every plant has a place where it belongs.  It is the type of place Peter Pan would long to call home.  The greens and browns and organized chaos exude wanderlust and magic; any minute a fairy might flit out from behind the large leaf of a philodendron.  If Tinker Bell were to ever find herself in Durham, this is undoubtedly where she would end up.

Megan George has crafted her small store to be more than just a plant shop.  She has created, as if by magic, an atmosphere of natural, easygoing relaxation that is impossibly inviting.  She wants to create a community of trust and creativity and believes that The ZEN Succulent and her plants are the best way to do it.

“Plants bring me joy, inspiration and happiness,” she said, and through The ZEN Succulent, she is able to share that with the community.


A roundabout past

Megan George grew up in Raleigh surrounded by plants.  Both of her parents were ardent plant-lovers and they often took her to greenhouses and nurseries.  Her love of plants is founded in the deep history that she has with learning about plants and how to care for them.

“The seeds that were planted way back when,” she said, “how I’m able to use them now, it’s crazy.”

She moved back to Raleigh in 2011 after graduating from business school at UNC-Greensboro.  Yearning for small-business jobs, she realized quickly that there were very few available.  She found herself working for the North Carolina Education Lottery.

She did not enjoy the job — her creativity was being stifled.  So, in an effort to combat her frustration, she started an Etsy page selling succulents and terrariums.

“Through my frustration in not being able to implement all of the things I learned at school,” she said, “that’s how [The ZEN Succulent] came about.”

And she never looked back.

Megan’s passion continued to grow as she developed ways to increase people’s knowledge about houseplants, succulents and terrariums.  She has since worked with HGTV, published a book titled “Modern Terrarium Studio” and opened The ZEN Succulent.

When Bakara Wintner, the owner of Everyday Magic, which now adjoins The ZEN Succulent, offered her the 400-square-foot space, Megan said she felt like it was fate rather than chance.

“At that point, I’d never said the words ‘I want to have a shop’ out loud,” she said.  “Even though I really wanted it, I’d just never had the opportunity.  But [Bakara] gave me that opportunity and I thought, why not?”

As soon as she knew she had a space to expand her passion, she jumped headfirst into building the business she always dreamed of having.

“In 20 years I can say ‘I did it,’” Megan said, “instead of saying ‘I wish I had done it.’”

Sarah Riazati, who works at Everyday Magic, was there when Megan signed the lease.  In less than a month, she said, Megan transformed the small, box-filled space into a “luscious, green, amazing-smelling little store.”  Sarah said she couldn’t believe how fast Megan created the green wonderland.

“That was really when I saw her design sense coming out,” she said.  “There are so many pieces that go into it.  It showed she had a really strong vision.”

Megan’s design sense and her business intuition work perfectly together to create a cohesive and thriving store where customers feel at home upon their first visit.

Megan said she wants shopping at The ZEN Succulent to be a very personal experience where customers get one-on-one attention to help their plant journey be as successful as possible.

“People can go anywhere to get plants,” Megan said, “so why do they come to me?”

One reason is the holistic approach she takes when dealing with the store.  She believes that if she has all of the things people need to create their terrariums or potted plants, then they will be more successful. So, if a customer buys a plant and a pot from The ZEN Succulent, Megan will put them together for free.

Megan’s sole employee, Julie Ragsdale, described her as knowledgeable and business-savvy as well as hilarious, kind and generous.

“I couldn’t imagine finding a more enjoyable person to work with,” Julie said.

When it comes down to it, those qualities are what make Megan and The ZEN Succulent so successful.  She is more than just a business owner or a plant lover — she is a people lover who wants to impart happiness and serenity upon everyone she meets.


Thriving in the present

Since opening the store Megan hasn’t stopped trying to involve members of the community with her business.  Her newest idea is to hold workshops at The ZEN Succulent.

She has collaborated with local artists to host watercolor painting, spoon carving, floral arranging and calligraphy workshops.  Megan herself hosts succulent terrarium building workshops where up to 10 people can make their own terrariums, each unique to the individual creating it.

“At all of the workshops everybody leaves with their own creation and something extra to recreate the exercise again,” she said.  “They are leaving with something to continue their journey.”

From her terrarium workshops participants will leave with their newly made succulents as well as instructions on how to recreate the experience in their own homes.

Her first workshop, hosted on Tuesday, April 18, sold out in five days with little promotion. Megan said that she was thrilled at how quickly the workshop sold out — she wants to help people discover the joy of owning and crafting indoor plants.

“We’re not just putting plants in glassware,” she said, “we’re making a landscape.”

As the 10 participants began to arrive on April 18, Megan put the finishing touches on the workshop spaces.  Each person would have a glass bowl; soil, sand and rocks; six succulents; and the tools necessary to put it all together.

She began the workshop by talking about how the succulents are low maintenance plants, which is what makes them ideal for small spaces with little natural light.

“I went into a low-maintenance business for a reason,” she joked.

But, unbeknownst to the 10 women participating, Megan had just spent the previous three hours getting ready and setting up for the workshop — on her day off.  The ZEN Succulent is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but that doesn’t stop her from tending to the behind-the-scenes work that makes the store so magical.

For almost three hours she flitted around the store preparing the setups for the participants, vacuuming and running out to a nearby shop to purchase complimentary wine for the women.

But Megan doesn’t mind.  In fact, she loves it.

“When you enjoy what you’re doing you really want to excel,” she said.

Many of the participants were first-time plant owners looking to find some low maintenance yet beautiful plants to liven up their living and work spaces.

Diane Ditzel from Durham lives in a small apartment and wants to garden but has no land.  She heard about Megan’s workshop and felt like it was the perfect solution to her lack of space.  As the workshop progressed Diane realized that creating the terrarium was almost its own form of gardening.  She was taking living things and putting them together to create her own miniature garden.

“It’s like art,” she said.

Other participants felt that the idea of creating a succulent terrarium from scratch was daunting, but they found that once they got started under Megan’s instructions, everything fell into place.

Kim O’Brien, a participant from Wake Forest, prefaced the workshop by admitting that she had no idea what she was doing, but by the end felt that the experience was incredibly therapeutic.

“She’s good,” Kim said of Megan’s ease with plants and people and putting the two together.

And she is.

Megan said she purposefully doesn’t make a terrarium during the workshop so that the participants can make the terrariums in their own way.

There is no wrong way to create these landscapes, she said, and the freer people are to work on their own, the more they will appreciate the creativity and uniqueness of the results.

She also lets the participants pick six out of the hundreds of succulents she has available so they can pick the plants that they are most drawn to.  Megan emphasizes that plants are not just decorations, but are living things that individuals can connect with.  She said the terrarium building process is a “very organic experience.”

Many of the participants were thrilled and astounded by the wide variety of plants they could choose from, including Cassidy Johnson from Chapel Hill.

“I’ve never seen some of these before,” she said.  “It looks like something out of Dr. Seuss.”

Some of the plants are fuzzy and some are smooth.  Some are long, skinny and loping while others are squat and round.  There are pink plants and teal plants and red plants and blue plants.  Looking at the succulents side by side does seem like a small world out of the mind of Seuss himself.

Cassidy first noticed The ZEN Succulent as she was walking around downtown Durham, and when one of her coworkers at the Carolina Women’s Center heard about Megan’s workshop, they decided to check it out.

She said that she was thrilled about how relaxing the workshop was and how much she got out of it.

“We all have pretty serious jobs,” Cassidy said, “so it felt pretty nice to come do something like this.”

That’s exactly what Megan strives for — people discovering the serenity of working with plants and taking that discovery with them when they leave.


A wide-open future

When it comes to running a small business, Megan said she feels that passion is one of the most important aspects to finding success.  Her love of plants and her business skills create a perfect niche where she finds joy and success.  She described owning and running The ZEN Succulent as an “honor, privilege and responsibility.”

Her biggest piece of advice?

“Do something that you love and be authentic when you do it.”

Striving for that authenticity is something that she says she does every day.  She knows that she needs that authenticity as she continues to build and expand upon her ideas.

“I’m very aware of the mortality of my business,” she said, “because this is something that I need to take to another level, otherwise it’s going to be very static.”

While she is always looking forward to see what she can do to expand, she can’t help but reflect back on how far she has come.

As the anniversary of opening the shop approaches in May, Megan said that it’s hard to believe how much has come out of her passion for plants and her knack for business.

“It could have happened to anyone,” she said, “but I’m glad that it happened to me.”

She is not sure what her next step is, but as far as she can see into the future, Megan sees herself with The ZEN Succulent.

“I enjoy what I’m doing,” she said.  “This could be a forever thing.”

Edited by Bridget Dye.

Coaching success: Three coaches, three winning philosophies

By Jacob Hancock

It’s the fourth quarter. It’s the ninth inning. Two-minute warning. Stoppage time. The game is on the line. If you love sports, you live for these moments. How do coaches handle these situations? How do they prepare their players for these, the most intense moments, on and off the field? There’s no right answer. No two coaches operate the same way, and there’s no real blueprint for success. What follows are three success stories from three coaches that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know during my life.

Born with a whistle in my mouth…”

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more successful high school basketball coach than Billy Anderson, who runs the show at East Carteret High School in Beaufort, N.C.

With Anderson at the helm, the Mariners have won seven consecutive 1A Coastal Plains Conference championships – perhaps one of the most powerful conferences in the state at the 1A level. Rival team Pamlico County High School gives East Carteret a good game every year. Jones Senior High School is on the rise with new head coach Tod Morgan, who played JV basketball at UNC and has coached at several successful high schools in the state. North Side High School in Pinetown joined the conference in the 2013-2014 season, and were led for two seasons by Bam Adebayo, who played for the University of Kentucky this past season and will enter the NBA Draft after playing just one year in college. Anderson also makes it a point to schedule tough teams in non-conference play, often scheduling games against schools that have success at the 2A, 3A and 4A levels.

“I believe that to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Anderson said. “I want my guys to be the best, and you don’t get that by playing weaker teams. I try to use some of those games in December as a measuring stick – see where we are in comparison to where we want to be and what we need to work on to get there.”

Mariner fans enjoyed a four-year stretch in which the team competed at the Eastern Regionals in Fayetteville each season. They also made it to the state championship in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015. The team went undefeated in 2014 before losing in the final game to perennial powerhouse Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. The Mariners, led by a trio of the most successful seniors in program history, got redemption over Winston-Salem and won the title in 2015.

“The support that the community showed us during that stretch was incredible,” Anderson said. “It hasn’t quite been the same since, which is understandable because that group was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of group. I consider myself lucky to have coached them.”

Anderson graduated from High Point University in 2000, and promptly started his coaching career as an assistant on his cousin’s staff at West Caldwell High School. He comes from a long line of coaches in his family and said he always knew he wanted to coach.

“I was practically born with a whistle in my mouth and a clipboard in my hand,” Anderson said.

Watching Anderson on the sidelines is pure entertainment – almost as entertaining as watching the team play. Every year you can count on high-octane offense from the Mariners. Anderson demands that each of his players puts his foot on the gas to get out in transition. Anderson is animated and emotional during games, pacing the sideline with his sucker in his mouth.

“It’s usually a cherry Dum Dum,” Anderson said. “It keeps me calm – sort of.”

Anderson has coached teams where the tallest player was (generously) listed at 6’2”. He’s had groups that can light it up from beyond the arc, and groups that “couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the shore.” Though he always wants his team playing at a blistering pace, he says it’s important to make slight adjustments when necessary.

“You have to have an idea of what your kids can do,” Anderson said. “Figure out what they do best, and then go from there.”

Asked about the secret to his success at East Carteret, Anderson said the answer was simply getting the kids in the gym.

“When I got here, we had some good athletes,” Anderson said. “But they weren’t in the gym every day. I started challenging them. Our guys now are gym rats. I have guys now that ask if they can come into the gym during lunch to get up shots. Now, our guys are all playing AAU during the summer and getting better year-round. Because we’ve had success, it means something to play for East Carteret, and I think guys want to live up to that.”

Anderson can be very demanding of his players, but the respect they have for him is clear. Former players are spotted at home games, and they stay after the game to see their old coach.

“That’s my favorite part of coaching,” Anderson said. “Building relationships with these guys, and seeing them grow up and become good men. It means a lot that so many of them still come back and support us. Some of them will even come around and play pickup with our guys during the summer, which is a great opportunity for the young guys to play against quality competition.”

Anderson said the toughest part about his job is having to make cuts and trying to find playing time for everybody.

“We really have a great talent pool here,” Anderson said. “There’s so many good athletes, and so many good kids. But you can’t run a program with 40 kids on your JV team.”

That’s not an exaggeration by Anderson. I tried out my sophomore year of high school, along with more than 40 of my fellow classmates. I was the last person to be cut. But Anderson encouraged me to come try out the next season, and even though I elected not to because of a heavy academic workload, I appreciated the interest that he showed in me – someone who didn’t even make the team.

“If you make the effort, and you genuinely take interest in their lives, they’re going to respond,” Anderson said. “They’re going to trust you, and that’s when you get the best out of them.”

“I was speaking a foreign language…”

When Antonio Diaz first came to East Carteret High School from Cordoba, Spain, as part of a teacher-transfer program, it had what could be called a soccer team. It had had some marginal success, winning a couple of playoff games in the 1990s, but was a complete mess in 2005.

“There just wasn’t a very good soccer presence in the area,” Diaz said. “We had guys who didn’t even play in middle school coming into high school.”

My brother was one of those guys. A freshman, he had played growing up and was offered a spot on a Classic League team in Cape Carteret that played year-round. But the traveling was going to be expensive (a 40-minute drive to practice every day), and he didn’t want to give up baseball. When he got to middle school, there weren’t enough people who wanted to play, and they couldn’t field a team.

“I knew that if I was ever going to turn the program around, I had to improve the development in the middle schools,” Diaz said.

Diaz met with members of the local parks and recreation services to encourage them start classic teams in Beaufort that would travel. This happened as I was coming up, and even though I did not play, a classic team was established and many of my friends joined. By the time I was in middle school, we had plenty of players to field a team.

“The difference that made, it was incredible,” Diaz said. “The group your freshman year was probably the most talented group in program history, and the group the next year was even better.”

The team only won four games my freshman year, but we improved at the end of the season and were competitive in a conference with Dixon High School and South West Onslow High School, two of the best 1A teams in the state. Diaz blamed himself for the early season struggles.

“I was a little hesitant to play some of the freshman at the beginning of the season,” Diaz said. “I didn’t want the older players to feel like they were being tossed to the side.”

The next year, the team made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1995, and the year after that we won a playoff game. The next season, conference alignments were adjusted, and Dixon and Southwest Onslow moved up to 2A and were replaced by North Side High School, South Side High School, and Bear Grass Charter School – all three much weaker teams. The program seemed to be peaking at the perfect time.

“Fans were starting to take notice,” Diaz said. “I think everyone could tell that big things were coming.”

The team had some unfortunate injuries early on. I sprained my ankle two days before the season opener against 3A county rival West Carteret, our star freshman sprained his the next day, and two senior would-be starters were already lost for the season.

“That was a very trying period,” Diaz said. “You really hate to see good kids out with injuries. You want them to get back out there as soon as they can, but safety is the top priority. You have to keep them motivated and make sure they understand that you have their best interest in mind. You also have to keep players on the bench mentally prepared, because they may have to replace someone at any time.”

But the team overcame those early season struggles and captured the first conference championship in program history. The team earned two first-round home playoff games before losing an unlucky draw in the third round. The next season they made it to the fourth round, losing to eventual state champion Wallace Rose Hill High School. East Carteret has now won four consecutive conference championships.

“The difference from where the program started and where it is now is night and day,” Diaz said. “It’s truly my proudest accomplishment.”

Before Diaz came to town, you might see students walking the halls wearing the jerseys of professional basketball or football athletes, but never soccer. Now, it’s not farfetched to find a student sporting a Messi or Ronaldo kit.

“The culture here has completely changed,” Diaz said. “I feel like when I came here, I was speaking a foreign language, and it wasn’t Spanish – it was soccer.”

Students love Diaz, and many opt to take his Latin class to fulfill the foreign language requirement instead of the more traditional option of Spanish. Everyone loves to listen to him talk – the difference in his voice inflection, the way he rolls his R’s, the way he pronounces “mayonnaise” (maYO-naise!). He’s a very easy-going man and is always looking for ways to make his students and players smile.

“I think it’s important to remember that soccer is just a game,” Diaz said. “It’s supposed to be fun.”

I can’t remember one day of high school in which Diaz didn’t make an effort to have a conversation with me. Whether it was in the hallway between classes, in the cafeteria during lunch or in the middle of Latin class while we worked on projects, I’m almost certain that Diaz spoke to me every single day of my high school career.

“You have to get to know each of your players,” Diaz said. “You have to figure out what they’re like, what they’re good at – both skill-wise and attitude-wise – and you have figure out how to make all of the different personalities blend into one cohesive team.”

“It takes a lot of patience…”

When Jason Salter was growing up, he never thought that he’d become a baseball coach.

“It had never even crossed my mind,” Salter said. “I don’t think anyone else who knew me would have expected it either. I was a bit of a troublemaker.”

Salter was a talented baseball player. He had the opportunity to play at UNC-Chapel Hill, but he didn’t even make it to the spring semester before flunking out.

“That was a bigtime reality check,” Salter said. “I had always been able to rely on being smart enough, not having to study. Add that with all the partying, I just wasn’t mature enough. I knew I had to make a change in my life.”

After taking some time off, Salter enrolled at UNCW a changed man. He kept his grades up and started working as an assistant at Roland-Grise Middle School in Wilmington.

“That was a good experience,” Salter said. “It made me realize that I wanted to get involved in coaching.”

After graduation, Salter spent several years working as an assistant at North Brunswick High School, a perennial power in Eastern North Carolina.

“I really learned a lot from my time there,” Salter said. “The coaching staff was so professional, and they expected the same from the players. The baseball culture there is incredible.”

In 2008, Salter became the junior varsity baseball coach at East Carteret High School. He immediately saw a difference in the culture between the two programs.

“The guys running the varsity team really didn’t have a clue of what they were doing,” Salter said. “I really didn’t want them telling my JV players what to do. It was a circus.”

Shortly before the 2010 season, East Carteret decided to promote Salter to varsity head coach. For the first several weeks of the season, he focused his practices on conditioning. Some people joked that Salter was more of a track coach than a baseball coach.

“Those kids simply weren’t in shape,” Salter said. “I didn’t have a chance to work with them in the offseason, and they hadn’t been putting in the work on their own.”

Salter struggled control his temper at times. He’s had to complete mandatory anger management classes on multiple occasions.

“It takes a lot of patience, which was something I didn’t always have when I first became a head coach,” Salter said. “It’s hard when you’re trying to change a culture. You feel like you want more for your kids than they want for themselves. I came in expecting them to play like North Brunswick, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.”

Implementing the offseason training made a big difference. The team hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2006 and hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002. In his first season, the Mariners made it to the third round of the state playoffs. East Carteret has made the playoffs every season under Salter. In 2013, the team captured its first conference championship in decades. Since then, the Mariners have won four consecutive conference championships. Salter saw his greatest success in his last season in 2016, in which the team made it to the Regional Final for the first time since 1984.

But just as his program was peaking, Salter decided to step down.

“I needed to spend more time with my family,” Salter said. “Being a high school coach is a huge time commitment. I loved doing it, but I felt that it was reaching a point where I couldn’t be fully committed to the program and my own children, and that’s not fair to either group of kids.”

Salter now helps coach his daughters’ softball team. He said he loves spending time with her, but the transition from high school baseball to middle school softball has been less than smooth.

“You can’t treat them the same,” Salter said. “With the high school boys, I could pretty well assume they knew the fundamentals. I have to be more patient with the girls. I do O.K. with my own daughters, but I struggle with other people’s kids. I always practiced tough love, but you can’t do that unless your players understand that it’s love. I think I’m still trying to figure out how to do that with a different kind of group.”

Thanks, coach

All three coaches credited their success to their ability to develop a winning culture. Whether that’s through challenging their players, harping on the tactics or showing tough love, creating the expectation for your team to win is crucial before the team can actually tally W’s. It’s also important to show a special interest in each of your players to develop a sense of trust, so that, whatever your message is, they will be willing to buy in to it.


Edited by Jordan Wilkie


Instagram restaurant brings spice to late-night food

By Lauren Tarpley

Ian Burris has always loved being in the kitchen. When he was a child, he would cook with his mom and ask to help with dinner.  As a teenager, he went to parties and when people would get hungry, Burris would start cooking. Now, at 20 years old, Burris has turned his passion of cooking into his own business.

“I’ve put my whole life into this, so it’s kind of all or nothing,” Burris said.

Burris created the Dankery in Wilmington in 2015 after waiting for the perfect time to pursue his passion, but brought the business to Durham in the summer of 2016. He and his friends were tired of waiting in long lines at Cook Out or Waffle House late at night. Plus, there just weren’t many restaurants that offered quality food after dark.

Burris saw this as an opportunity and began the Dankery, offering “dank food at a great price” from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. From his kitchen at home, Burris prepares wings, chicken tenders, shrimp, and fries with over 20 flavor options ranging from Cheerwine Barbeque to Thai Chili and delivers his homemade trays to hungry customers throughout Durham.

“These foods were the easiest to start out with,” Burris said. “I knew how to do it and I knew a lot of people would like it.”

Ian Burris launched an Instagram restaurant, serving fries, wings and shrimp burgers from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Ian Burris launched an Instagram restaurant in 2015, serving fries, wings and shrimp burgers from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Spreading the word

Business has been booming for the Dankery even though the restaurant hasn’t opened a physical location. Burris has instead managed to gain a loyal following through social media.

Burris essentially built his business using Instagram and Snapchat. While many businesses struggle with promoting their brand on social media, Burris has been able to use this marketing tool to his advantage. Since customers can’t go into the restaurant to look at the food, Burris posts photos and videos of the delicious food he prepares — bringing in new fans, new customers and new orders.

“It’s all ‘bout earned media and people spreading the word,” Burris said. “They get a tray, they like it, and they tell someone about it.”

Joshua Bumgardner, owner of Chef J’s Trays in Houston, Texas, helped Burris in the beginning stages of developing the Dankery.

“It was his own thing and he had his own hustle, but I helped with the development,” Bumgardner said. “I saw all the work and all the pay off.”

Bumgardner opened Chef J’s Trays in March and has adopted a similar business strategy to Burris, with plans to use earned media and word-of-mouth to gain a following. Although Bumgardner is still developing the social media pages for his business, he has gained a following since opening and now serves around 20 people nightly.

Albert Segars, a distinguished professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said social media is vital to small businesses because of its ability to reach a large number of people at little to no cost. However, in order for social media to be effective without being intrusive, it must be managed properly and businesses must find a balance with their social media use.

While Burris has been successful in working from his kitchen, his goal is to someday have multiple food trucks. For now, Burris is  in the process of getting the proper permits to open his food truck and will be looking to hire a staff to help run the Dankery. He hopes to have the mobile location open to the public by the end of the year.

From startup to success

Burris’ journey has not been without obstacles. He handles everything on his own, from marketing to cooking and delivery, meaning he often has to turn business away when demand is too high. Burris is solely responsible for financially backing his business, from raising the initial capital to savings funds for expansion.

“There are many challenges to starting a business,” Segars said. “The primary one is money. This means sacrifice, in most cases, entrepreneurs have to invest their own money which can be a risky proposition.”

Burris believes his dedication combined with his delicious food will help make the Dankery successful.

“I have a really good work ethic and when I want to do something, I make sure I get it done,” Burris said. “I’m kind of a perfectionist. When I’m making trays, I want everything to be perfect.”

As a young and talented entrepreneur, Burris has the qualities that can set apart a successful business from a failing one.

“Successful entrepreneurs tend to be very social, positive, and ambitious,” Segars said. “Entrepreneurs are wired differently and their passion is the business they start. Make sure that your service and product are always the best. Never accept less than perfect delivery on customers’ expectations.”

Burris’ passion and drive for his business have helped his business stand out. He has been dedicated to the Dankery and its customers, putting in years of work to build the brand. Segars said time is another challenge young businesses face.

“It requires a lot of time to get a business started,” Segars said. “You must create a product or service, market its value, and devote many hours to managing the business. You have to be willing to wait for success.”

Burris has done just that and as a result, the Dankery continues to profit and grow. But the Dankery is still in the early phases of becoming a full-fledged and well-established business. The Cousins Maine Lobster food truck is a perfect example of a food truck success story. In May of 2015, Deb Keller launched the Cousins Maine food truck in Raleigh, branching from the Cousins Maine brand, which was created in 2012. The truck is wildly popular and serves Maine lobster rolls.

“I went into this with zero restaurant knowledge other than I love eating food at restaurants,” Keller said. “Now, I’m providing the best lobster you can find and we have a beautiful following. That makes it all worth while.”

Like Burris, Cousins Maine Lobster was able to build a loyal following using quality food and superior customer service. By entering the food truck market with a unique product, the Cousins Maine Lobster truck was able to distinguish itself from competitors, which is what Burris intends to do once he is able to expand.

While the food truck market in Raleigh is relatively saturated, that is not the case in Durham. According to Jaseth Fike, a student at Durham Technical Community College, there aren’t many food trucks in the area that cater to students.

“I don’t see a lot of food trucks around campus,” Fike said. “I think if there were more options, more students would go.”

The Dankery has a unique product and high demand. Keller said she loves the concept and believes the brand could separate itself from the masses of taco and burger trucks.

“I personally believe it would be welcomed,” said Keller. “You have to have your signature.”

Edited by Hannah Smoot

Advice from the locals on transitioning to the “Big Apple”

By Lanie Phillips

Every year, approximately 250,000 people move to New York City. A different road leads each person to the “Big Apple”, but those who stumble across a life in Manhattan say that there is something special about the city that always leaves you wanting more. As I approach college graduation with a move to New York City on the horizon, I began to ask myself dozens of questions that I couldn’t easily find the answer to, and all of them came with a different answer depending on the source. This article will explore six perspectives on transitioning to and maintaining a life in New York City. I asked six people in various walks of life what led them and what kept them in the city that never sleeps, whether it’s the bright lights, trendy nightclubs, delicious restaurants or limitless opportunities for adventure.

The Commuter 

Katrine Reddin is 22 years old and graduated in December from Texas Christian University with a degree in marketing. Shortly after, she returned to her home in Stamford, Connecticut where she would live and complete the hour and a half commute each way for six months before moving into an apartment in Manhattan. Katrine’s dad has worked in New York City for years, so for her, finding a career in the city was almost a rite of passage. She discussed how she has grown up wanting to switch her walking shoes for heels before entering the building she works in, something that all women working in New York City seem to be very familiar with. She vividly remembers stepping off the train into Grand Central Station and being forced to run to keep up with the crowd. “That was the moment I knew I was not in Texas anymore,” she laughs. “[It was] also the moment I understood why you wear flats until you get to the door of your office.”

Katrine discussed in-depth how the transition period of living with her parents has made moving to and working in New York City so much more attainable. “I have a huge financial buffer, now, that has allowed me to search for an apartment with substantially less stress,” she said. “It also helps knowing that I’ll be able to explore and adventure in the city without having to worry about paying the electricity bill.” She agrees that while living with her parents for these six months has been beneficial, there is just something exciting about renting your own apartment in New York City. “I think the hardest part has been the commute. I wake up at 4:30 and catch a train and then do it all over again,” she said. “Knowing there is an end in sight definitely helps because my sleep schedule couldn’t handle this situation long-term.”

The Apartment Hunter

For Emma Griffin, the biggest adjustment to living in New York City was the process of getting an apartment. Emma, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Georgia, is a graphic designer for a small company. On the side, she does freelance work to make extra money. She laughs as she remembers trying to look for an apartment six months before she was planning on moving in. “I had just gotten my job offer and was so excited to figure out where I would be living,” she said. “The brokers I contacted politely told me to come back one month before I needed to move in and to make sure I had the necessary funds.” The process to qualify for an apartment does make it easier to ensure you will be able to pay your rent. The usual requirement is your salary equaling 40 times the amount of your monthly rent. She recalls downloading several apps that would help her search for an apartment and getting hundreds of notifications of places that would satisfy her criteria.

In a city that supposedly has a shortage of housing, there didn’t seem to be a lack of apartments coming on and off the market that were possible places to rent. “I think for everyone, the first shock of living in New York is how expensive your rent is going to be,” said Emma. “It’s awful spending a third of what I’m making on the place I sleep.” But Emma wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even though she has only been there for a year, she has zero plans on moving anytime soon. “There’s something priceless about living in a place where you meet someone from a completely different walk of life every single day.”

The Father

Zach Richards has lived in Upper West Side for the last three years. He moved there after graduating from Duke University. However, in the past three years, Zach has not only gotten married, but he and his wife recently had a baby. “There is nothing that can prepare you for living in New York with a newborn child,” he confessed. “Everything becomes more complicated.” Whether it’s a screaming baby who is sweaty from the hot subway in July, a stroller that gets caught on a sidewalk bump and almost tips over or finding a place for the baby to sleep in astronomically priced apartments, Zach walked me through some tips of the trade. “Honestly, we converted our pantry into a bedroom for the baby,” he says as he ironically trips over a stack of groceries sitting in the hall with no place to go. “It has no window and absolutely does not adhere to building codes, but it is so worth not sharing a bedroom with a newborn.”

He talks about how no one ever mentioned this transition to him. Everyone stuck to giving advice on first moving there and then adjusting to living with a spouse. “I think most people don’t want to scare you out of having a baby,” Zach said. “If I had known what I do now, I probably would’ve waited just a little bit longer.” Zach has no plans on moving to the suburbs just yet, a practice common with people who have families but still work in New York City. He said that too much of his identity has become wrapped up in living in Manhattan. “My wife and this baby have taken my sleep and my money and even my pantry,” he jokes. “They’re not taking my zip code.”

The Budgeter

Kim Emmert has lived in the city for five years and recently moved across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. She moved to New York City after completing her undergraduate degree at Boston College, which gave her a leg up in handling the cold weather. She gave great advice on budgeting for living in a city as expensive as New York City and practical tips that she has picked up along the way. Her self-proclaimed best advice for anyone moving to the “Big Apple”? Make a spreadsheet with every expense you can think of and stick to it. Leave room for unexpected expenses that you can’t prepare for. “I can’t express how important it is to stick to the budget you have,” she stressed. “There is no worse feeling that seeing your credit card bill pile up and know that you won’t be able to pay it at the end of the month.” Kim has personal experience with this. Her first two years in New York City were a financial whirlwind of overspending and she is still paying off the silly expenses she justified in order to keep up with her roommates who were making significantly more money than her.

“I also would tell you to live with people in similar financial situations,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to stay in and cook breakfast together than sit at home while everyone else goes out for bottomless mimosas and brunch.” Her last piece of advice for transitioning to life in Manhattan was simple. “Prepare to not drive a car,” she said. For her, it felt like a loss of freedom and she felt trapped. Kim said it took her close to a year to adjust to relying on public transportation. She did acknowledge that the presence of Uber does make getting around significantly easier. “But don’t forget to factor that into your budget” she said.

The Southerner

Julie Fendler is 36 years old and is contemplating leaving New York City after being there since attending undergraduate school at Columbia University. “New York is absolutely a way of life,” she explained when I asked her why she had been there for so long. “It gets in your blood and convinces you that nothing will be as exciting as the life you have here.” She said her best advice for anyone moving to the city is to just jump in 100 percent. If you don’t commit to enjoying the life you have in New York City, you’ll constantly be thinking if it would be better to just live somewhere cheaper. Julie, who grew up in a small suburban town outside of Atlanta, thinks that living in New York City has opened her eyes to different ways of life and broadened her horizons more than she could’ve dreamed. “Maybe that’s why I’m so biased about this city,” she admitted. “I think that a life in New York is out of a lot of people’s comfort zones, but I can’t begin to convey how important it is to expose yourself to different types of people.”

For those moving from the south, Julie warned of the complete absence of southern hospitality and the cold weather. She laughed at a story she remembered of bumping into someone getting out of an elevator and then apologizing and asking them how their day was going. “That man looked at me like I had killed his first-born child,” Julie said. “I realized that New Yorkers don’t care why you’re in their way, they just want to be at their destination 15 minutes ago.” Her final words were to warn me as well as other people who consider a 55-degree day to be cold that I had no idea what was ahead. “There’s nothing that can prepare a southern girl from stepping out into her first snowstorm,” she said. “The way the cold hits you in the face the second you step outside is something I would not miss at all.”

The Explorer

For the final perspective on transitioning to life in New York City, I talked with Miles Garrison, a man who has lived in countless apartments across Manhattan for the last 20 years. Out of everyone I interviewed for this story, he spoke of New York City with the most fondness. “New York is absolutely more than a place for people in their 20s to figure out how to be an adult,” he said. Miles admitted that there is a huge adjustment period though. In a somewhat crass manner, he detailed an early career in finance that allowed him to have financial flexibility, which might not have been a good thing. “I had more money but not nearly enough time to explore this place,” he admitted. “Maybe that’s why I’m still here. I’m finally getting to experience what everyone talks about.”

His advice to me was simple: Don’t look at New York City as a stop on the way to a final destination. Give it a chance to be everything it can be. If you do, maybe it could end up being your home, just like it is for Miles. His parting words: “I’ve raised three kids and had two marriages in this city and wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Several people have told me that New York City is a place that you can still feel lonely in, even though 8 million people surround you. It is my hope that the accounts given in this story by six very different people living very different lives in the city will make life in Manhattan a little more attainable for those who encounter it. It’s expensive, it’s loud, it’s bright, but as you read in this story, there’s something just a little more special about the years you spend in the “Big Apple”.

Edited by Avery Williams

Cody Abell’s path to tattoo

By Kenzie Cook

The sound of metal music reverberates through the small shop and mixes with the steady vibrating sounds of the tattoo gun. Conversation flows easily between the tattoo artist and his client.

The first customer I observe is one of Cody’s regulars, Logan. They are working on the almost-completed sleeve on Logan’s right arm. Logan’s girlfriend watches Cody work as he repeatedly pokes needles into her boyfriend’s skin. Prior to Logan’s arrival, Cody has spent close to two hours perfecting the stencils he created for the two new additions to the sleeve and cleaning up his area of the shop to health code standards.

“Do you watch combat movies?” Cody asks as he starts the needlework for a dagger that appears to be stabbing through Logan’s bicep. A discussion of Deadpool versus Spider-Man ensues, seeming to distract Logan from the pain.

Cody’s Path

Every tattoo artist has a different path he or she has taken into the profession, and Cody’s is by far the most interesting story I have heard. The main reason I find his story so intriguing is that he fell into the tattooing profession entirely by accident.

Cody did not have a normal childhood. By the time he reached the sixth grade, he had already been to 12 schools. His mother suffered from undiagnosed and untreated clinical issues, which led to her constantly lying, hurting people and running away from her problems. Once Cody was old enough to see her for who she truly was, problems began to arise between the two of them. The situation worsened when he interjected in a fight between her and her husband, which led to the state of Virginia filing assault charges against her.

By the time Cody had turned 18 and was preparing to graduate high school, his mother had given up on raising him. She and her husband moved away, leaving him alone in their home with only two months remaining on the lease. Luckily, the University of Virginia granted him a scholarship in theatrical arts, and friends’ families allowed him to bounce around their houses until he could move into the campus dorms.

While on campus, Cody had to find a job to pay for food and other necessities, so he became a receptionist for a local tattoo shop. Over the summer, the tattoo artists who worked there quit due to the questionable nature of the shop. The owner of the shop took it upon himself to teach Cody how to tattoo so the shop could stay in business. After his first few clients, he soon realized that the owner did not really know what he was doing when it came to teaching the art of tattooing, so he left to learn properly. He eventually dropped out of college, where he was studying marketing, to begin tattooing full time.

Now, nearly nine years later, he takes pride in his work and is not satisfied unless his customers are. He traces and retraces his artwork until it is practically flawless before putting it on his customers’ skin. He does not care how large or small each tattoo is. He wants each customer to love his work.

The walk

It is a long, chilly walk through the drizzling rain from Glenn’s Tattoo Service Inc. to Weaver Street Market. Cody takes this trip every day that he works, though the weather is not always this dreary.

“You’ve never been to the co-op?” he asks, incredulous. “I go here every day for a coffee and a water.”

Along the way, he recounts his first trip to the market last summer.

“My wife and I came down from Virginia to check out Glenn’s and decided to take a walk here. It was insanely hot and felt like the longest walk ever.”

Although he hated the heat, he does not seem to appreciate the cool rain either.

“If it’s raining when we head back, I’m not walking through it,” he said with a laugh. “I am not above ordering an Uber just to take me up a block.”

The Strongman

Aside from tattooing, Cody has a few side hobbies. He likes that the tattoo profession pays well enough for him to live his life exactly the way he wants to live it.

He has a personal coach and a dietician so he can train and build muscle for Strongman competitions. He won his first competition in October and qualified for the Nationals, which will take place in Las Vegas in November. He also is training for the North Carolina’s Strongest Man competition in May. These competitions do not pay whether you win or lose, and Cody recognizes that he would not be able to uphold his hobby if not for his successful job as a tattoo artist.

He also enjoys doing extreme activities, as long as he does not have to take a class or have a certification in order to do them. This fall, he plans to take his wife to Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Angels Landing is a large, steep rock formation that people hike with only a chain to keep them from plummeting to the ground 5,700 feet below.

The Ph.D. and the tattoo artist

Cody lights up when talking about his wife, who seems like his complete opposite. She has a Ph.D. in sociology and works as a data analyst for the state.

“I just thought of her as a friend because she is way too good for me. I mean, she’s got a Ph.D., what would she want with a guy with face tattoos?” He continues explaining that the two of them never actually dated. They just went straight from being friends to a short engagement and then got married in a courthouse after they moved to Durham.

Walk-ins welcome

People can request a tattoo on any part of the body. One of Cody’s walk-ins happened to want a tattoo of the UNC logo on his right butt cheek. His friend came for a much more reasonable location: his left foot. The two engaged in playful banter while the first tattoo was completed.

“How are you doing there, mate?” Eoin Buttanshall, the one waiting to have his foot tattoo done, asked.

“Not too bad,” Sam Sinclair replied with a red face.

“Can’t wait to see you with your ass out later.”

Eoin later explained that the two had made bets about tattoos surrounding the NCAA March Madness Championship game. They had bet that Carolina would lose, and since they lost the bet, they had to either get the symbol or “the ceiling is the roof” tattooed on themselves.

When getting a tattoo, I strongly suggest bringing a friend, even if it is just for moral support. Having a conversation with a person you are comfortable with serves as a solid distraction from the pain of needles constantly sticking into your skin.

Another set of friends came into the shop for a walk-in and had an entire conversation consisting of inside jokes that neither Cody nor I understood. Nevertheless, it did its job of distracting Maria Alvarez while she got a quote in French along her collarbone. Her friend Emily MacKillop’s tattoo idea was too intricate for a walk-in, so she had to make an appointment and leave a deposit.

When she came back the next day, Maria came with her and the same kind of conversation took place while she got her image of a moon inside a sun on her shoulder. Both girls were pleased with Cody’s work on their new ink.

“I love how it looks. He did a great job!” Emily said once her tattoo was finished.

The process

Wednesdays are generally slow days in the tattoo shop, so it is usually just Cody by himself or with one other tattoo artist. On both of the Wednesdays that I sat in on, Cody only had two appointments scheduled, with few walk-ins. In his free time, he works on sketches for upcoming tattoos and eats to fuel for his weight lifting.

Before each customer sits down for their new ink, Cody sets out the needles he will need and assembles his tattoo gun. He then sets out the required inks, covers everything at his station in plastic, sanitizes the chair that the customer will sit on and puts on his gloves. That is when the real fun begins.

Once the customer has signed the release form to allow Cody to tattoo them, they sit in the chair or lay on the table, depending on the placement of the tattoo. Cody asks if they are ready, the gun starts and there is no going back.

During the tattooing process, Cody continuously rubs petroleum jelly across the affected skin to keep it from tearing and scarring. He wipes away excess blood as he goes, completely unaffected by the bodily fluid.

Once the tattoo is finished, Cody covers it with more jelly and a wrap, takes the payment and sends them off with a card explaining how to properly take care of a new tattoo. The healing process takes up to four weeks and requires lots of care and protection from the sun and certain chemicals.


Although I did not receive my first tattoo from Cody, I did receive my favorite from him. All of the customers I spoke to shared my sentiment that Cody has amazing talent in the art of tattooing, despite that line of work not being his original career path. Cody has a special love for his work that leads to perfectionism, which results in near-perfect tattoos loved by all who receive them.

Edited by Samantha Miner

Dancing through life at any age

By Cinnamon Moore

I’ve never exactly been the graceful kind of girl.

Blessed with almost zero hand-eye coordination and a tendency for tripping on thin air, I preferred to stay away from most physical activities, including dancing. Instead, I opted for books and classwork.

But just because I wasn’t born with the natural instinct for dance didn’t stop me from envying dancers and their stunning grace.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are watching “Dirty Dancing” and drooling over Baby and Johnny’s final dance scene.

As I got older, my penchant for dance never faded, and finally, at 22, I decided to take my first dance lesson.

It takes a lot to make me nervous, but as someone whose physical activity consists of going to the gym or hiking, braving something as elegant and beautiful as ballroom dance for the first time was intimidating.

After looking around at dance studios in the area for a few days and reading reviews online, I decided to take my chances with Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Durham. The reviews raved about the dance instructors and it was only a short 20-minute drive from my apartment. Not to mention, they had a deal for two beginning dance classes.

I thought if I completely flopped, at least I wouldn’t pour a lot of money into it.

A few days later, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot cursing my parents for not having forced me to take dance lessons as a kid.

“Breathe,” I told myself. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Total humiliation, stepping on toes, slipping … I shook my head. Bad thoughts wouldn’t help the situation.

Before my brain could catch up with me, I grabbed my backpack, got out of my car and walked inside. I was greeted by the smiles of two other students, both at least 70 years old.

After waiting a few moments, I could hear the dance instructors approaching from the back and took up a position near the front desk.

“Cinnamon, right?” Alyona Karchanova, one of the instructors, asked.

I smiled and nodded.

“Great,” she said. “You’ll be with Vitaliy today.”

At the sound of his name, a young man appeared to greet me, and before I knew it, I was holding his hand and being whisked away to a spot on the main dance floor.

With the main floor directly across from the entrance and in view of anyone passing by, my hopes of passing under the radar vanished. If I was terrible, it seems everyone would have a front-row seat to watch.

Oy vesmir.

“Have you ever danced before?” Vitaliy Starikov asked.

“No, this is my first day,” I replied meekly.

“Wonderful,” he exclaimed. “This will be much fun.”

Moving to the United States less than year prior, Starikov’s thick Ukrainian accent, aided by his quick smile and joking personality, lent him an infectious ambiance.

With his tailored, black dress shirt complete with tie and polished shoes, he was the picture-perfect ballroom dance partner.

“OK, today we will learn a few basic dances and you can show me what you’ve got,” he said. “Do not worry, all you must do is follow my lead.”

I looked into his green eyes, put my slightly shaky hand in his and gave myself up to the music.

A few blinks later, I had learned the basics of tango, cha-cha, rumba and salsa.

And I was hooked.

The intoxication of dance

Dance, I learned, was addictive. While people begin dancing for various reasons, many who start find that they cannot and will not stop. Whether a hobby or life-long career, they’ve fallen in love with moving to the music.

Starikov began dancing at the age of 7. After hating his first dance class, his mother gave it one last attempt at convincing her son to dance by taking him to a local ballroom dance competition near their hometown.

“When I saw the yellow feathered skirts and the black suits on the men … I knew I wanted to do that,” he said. “They were so elegant and beautiful.”

Over the years, Starikov competed all over Ukraine in the standard five dances: waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. He admitted to almost quitting a few times, but after encouragement from his father, he pursued a master’s degree in cultural arts and choreography.

After teaching for a few years in Ukraine, Yuriy Simakov, the owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Durham, offered Starikov a position as a dance instructor. At the age of 28, Starikov found himself in America.

The changing Fred Astaire

In 1998, two Ukrainian national champions became the franchisees of a Fred Astaire Dance studio on Long Island.

Since then Sasha and Olga Bylim have encouraged fellow competitors and friends to join them in the U.S.

“This franchised company presents incomparable career growth opportunities for owners and employees,” the pair told Entrepreneur Magazine in an interview in 2014.

When “Dancing with the Stars” and similar television series hit the air, demand for ballroom classes skyrocketed, leading to an increased need for dance instructors.

To meet rising demand for professionally taught instructors with degrees, many, including Kostyantyn Karchanov, an instructor at the Durham studio, heeded the Bylims’ call.

Soon, whole franchises, like the one in Durham, were operated with a full staff of professionally taught Ukrainian instructors.

It’s a lifestyle

In the world of dance, age really is just a number. Those that learn often find themselves drawn back to the dance floor or simply never leave, Starikov said.

“You see Anne, that beautiful woman in the red dress over there,” Starikov gestured. “She’s 92 years old this year. She’s been coming here for about 25 years now.”

While some of the students come simply to learn their wedding dance, most are in it for the long haul. Whether hooked by the beauty of the dance, the social scene or the atmosphere of constant learning, students of Fred Astaire are dedicated to their studio.

“I’ve been coming here for years,” said Barbara Goodman. “You don’t have to worry about it, but us old folk have to do everything we can to keep our memory sharp. Dancing is wonderful for that. They keep me on my toes here.”

Studies suggest that Goodman is right — dancing does have a positive affect on the brain.

In a 21-year study of senior citizens, led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, researchers found that the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

Because dancing incorporates different brain functions at once, it helps increase neural connectivity. Basically, as we age, brain pathways die. The more pathways we create when we’re younger, the less likely we are to forget things when we’re older. It keeps our brains ever-improving.

Not to mention, it’s a way to exercise while having fun, which is also great for the body.

“Dance is just good for you,” Karchanov said. “It’s good for your body, your mind and your heart. When people come here, they are happy. Dance lifts your spirit.”

Not just a pretty dance

Dance is something special. It’s beautiful and elegant — but it’s more than just pretty movement.

Those who have discovered dancing have formed a community. They’ve learned to laugh through a quick slide to the right with a glance over the shoulder. They’ve learned another language.

“Dance allows you to tell a story without ever having to say a word,” Karchanov said.

A manager at the dance studio, Alyona Karchanova also came from Ukraine and graduated from Poltava University with a major in dance. While small in stature, her bright red hair and commanding presence makes her a spotlight on the dance floor.

Since coming to the U.S. in 2005, she has shared her passion and experience with her students, earning her the North Carolina Region Top Teacher Award.

She instructs her students not only in the intricacies of the dance, but also in conveying emotion through movement and the mastery of telling a story without opening their mouths.

“That is always my first lesson,” she said. “Making my students storytellers.”

So how do people get into this

The beauty of dance is that you’re never too old to start dancing. Everyone begins his or her yellow brick road a little differently.

Some, like Starikov begin at 7 with the image of elegance in their mind. Others, like Goodman, begin later in life as a hobby.

Jack Wolf had to take a couple of detours along the way.

Wolf began dancing at the age of 10 after attending a folk dance summer camp. As rock and roll and modern dance overtook the country, he fell out of the dancing arena and opted for a career in medicine.

Thirty years later, Wolf continued to feel the pull from the dancing world.

“Dancing does that to you,” he said. “It has a way of drawing you back in.”

He began his lessons anew. Wolf is now retired from medicine and instructs lessons in latin, swing, country and zydeco dancing.

“Dancing in the Triangle (area) has always been steady, but over the past 10 years or so, more and more people have been coming to learn how to dance,” he said.

Realizing the desire for a community of dance, many instructors, including Wolf and those at Fred Astaire began organizing social hours after dance lessons to introduce fellow dancers and encourage newcomers to experience a taste of the dancing world.

It’s a social thing

“I grew up in Orlando, Florida so I learned how to salsa dance in the club,” said Ruth Chen.

After moving to Chapel Hill, Chen began seeking out venues for salsa dancing. While difficult at first, over the years, more places have started hosting salsa night for those in the community, she said.

After opening their doors in 2015, Roots Bakery Bistro & Bar decided to add to their theme of Central American cultural “roots” and host a weekly salsa night. Attendees pay $5 for lessons taught by Jack Wolf, followed by social dancing where they can dance with fellow dancers from around the area.

“People who come here — obviously, they know what they’re doing, but they come here to just do what they love — salsa dance,” Chen said. “Many have the lessons before and then practice what they’ve learned with those of us who have been doing this for a while.”

The result is a community of dancers coming together to discuss dance, whether that be with words or strictly movement.

I think they’re on to something

What started out as simply a personal curiosity turned into revelation. I realized that dance really is something incredible. It’s not just good for you — it’s fun.

“When you’re doing the cha-cha you have to shake your hips like this,” Starikov said, demonstrating with exaggerated concentration — complete with pursed lips and raised chin.

I giggled.

Dance offers the opportunity to constantly learn, whether new choreography, new technique or entirely new dances. There’s always something else waiting around the corner.

Such a learning experience has created a learning community with a niche for everyone. No matter the age, no matter the experience, everyone is welcome in the dancing world. All you have to do is put on a pair of dance shoes and gather the courage to walk onto the dance floor.

After that, the rest is history.

Edited by Sara Salinas. 

Quest for space race information offers more questions than answers

By Nicole Vandiford

Throughout human history, men have wanted to conquer, and conquer they have.

During World War II, the United States was desperate to find ways to improve their weapons, and while they were allies with the Soviet Union, tensions ran high between the two countries.

Flight had been conquered for the most part by this time, but there was one thing that man had not yet conquered – space.

Nazi Germans of the Third Reich were doing secret experiments on travel between time and space, which seems like something out of an H.G. Wells novel. However, this experimentation worried the Allies because it was something they knew nothing about.

By the 1950s, the United States was in a race with their former ally, the Soviet Union, to conquer the closest thing they could – the moon.

Timeline of the Space Race

The space race began in 1957 and ended in 1969 shortly after the Apollo 11 mission, which put a man on the moon in June 1969. The United States and the Soviet Union participated in the space race.

The space race launched after rough waters between the two countries brought on the Cold War. The Cold War was one of the key reasons the space race was so competitive.

The space race officially began in October 1957 with the launch of Sputnik by the USSR. In November 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik 2 with a passenger – a dog named Laika that stayed in orbit but died within a few hours from overheating.

In January 1958, the Unites States launched its first successful satellite into orbit – Explorer 1, which helped scientists discover the Van Allen radiation belt.

In 1958, President Eisenhower created NASA.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States, and he was an advocate for the country to put man on the moon before the Soviet Union did.

In April 1961, Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth and became the first person in space, a massive win for the Soviet Union.

A month later in May 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space.

In September 1962, President Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University on the importance of the moon program:

“We choose to go to the Moon.”

In June 1963, Valentia Tereshkova became the first woman in space thanks to the Soviet Union.

In November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated before getting to see the moon program launch.

In June 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edward “Buzz” Aldrin became the first people to step foot on the moon, making the United States the victors of the space race.

In the arms of the frontier

In order to understand the space race, it is important to know why it started, and that begins with the Cold War.

The United States and the Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, were allies in World War II against the Third Reich, but it was never a close friendship.

Once WWII ended, the United States and the Soviet Union became rivals with conflicting political views, and thus the Cold War was born from the ashes of WWII.

Before the space race gained momentum, there was another race that the between the United states and the Soviet Union – the “arms race.” During WWII, the United States hired Nazi Germans to help with the Manhattan Project, which led to the first production of nuclear weapons.

Bringing Germans to the United States during WWII was controversial since the American people were already worried that Nazis were infiltrating their country. But in “Operation Paperclip,” that is just what the United States government did. They hired Nazi Germans to travel to the United States to work on nuclear weapons for the U.S. government.

According to CIA documents, some of the most notorious Nazis to work under Operation Paperclip were Dr. Hubertus Strughold, who helped develop space suits, General Reinhard Gehlen, who was the former head of Nazi intelligence operations and Dr. Kurt Blome, a German biologist who was hired to defend against biological warfare.

The United States began testing atomic bombs only months prior to the bombings in Japan. In July 1945, at Alamogordo U.S. Army Air Force Base, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb. Codename: Trinity.

At the end of WWII, the atomic bomb became widely known because of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The space race was inevitable after the arms race. During WWII, Nazis in the Third Reich were actively doing research on space travel. Because of this, most of the researchers in the atomic and hydrogen bomb testing were Nazi Germans that the United States hired after the war.

In 1952, the United States successfully made the first hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb, which was well-known for the mushroom-like cloud the explosion creates. Codename: Ivy Mike.

Morehead Planetarium astronaut training

One would think that trying to find information that involves a planetarium and government funding would be easy, but that does not seem to be true.

Morehead Planetarium is on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus, and because of this, the university archives are the quickest and easiest place to find information on the astronaut trainings that took place there.

In order to gain access to documents in the special archives, you have to register, provide general information such as address and contact information, and you have to have your picture taken. I met with one of Wilson Library’s staff, Bob. He had a gentle demeanor that was inviting, and he was more than willing to help me on the topic.

“Not many people come in for this topic,” Bob said. “It seems to be difficult to find information in the archives.”

We spent some time looking into the digital archives because Bob thought it would be the quickest way of figuring out what information is available.

We put in basic keywords: “astronauts,” “space race,” “morehead,” “planetarium,” “training,” and more. I was not prepared for how difficult it was going to be to find information on the topic until we had three search results that all said there was no information.

In order to find documents that you have to touch with fancy white gloves, you have to get special permission from Wilson Library, and that takes time to process.

Since I couldn’t find much in the archives other than some pictures of the astronauts who were involved, I decided I should go straight to the source: Morehead Planetarium.

When I entered the planetarium’s business center, the atmosphere was different than I expected for the planetarium. There was a girl at the front desk who asked if I needed help, so I took a leap of faith.

“I’m working on a written piece and was wondering if there is anyone I could talk to about the space race,” I said with the soft speech I use to help me get information that I need.

“Have you talked to Micky Jo?” the girl said.

The infamous “Micky Jo.” I have been told this name so many times while working on this piece that she seems to be a legend in my eyes.

Micky Jo Sorrell is an educator at the planetarium, and she would be a perfect person to gather information on the space race from. However, the day was not in my favor.

“I have been told to talk to her, is she available?” I asked.

“One second,” she said.

At this point, another girl walked into the room. The girl at the front desk asked if she had seen Micky Jo.

At this point, I’m sitting in a fancy leather chair watching two planetarium employees asking around for me.

A man came out from one of the back offices.

“Have you seen Micky Jo?” both the girls asked him.

“She’s in a meeting,” he said.

“Oh, when will she be out?” I asked.

“Not for a while,” he responded. “What do you need?”

I told him my shtick.

“Out of all the people in here, I probably know the most about the space race,” he said.

“Well could I get some information from you?” I asked, probably more exuberantly than I should have.

“I’m busy at the moment, but here’s my card.”

He handed me a business card with his name on it – Richard McColman, the Fulldome Theater director.

“Thank you, I’ll get in touch,” I said while leaving.

I emailed him later that night. I waited for what seemed like forever to only get an email saying he would not be able to give me the answers I needed without an appointment. I didn’t have time to make an appointment.

We both apologized to each other for the inconvenience, but I was determined to find something.

I looked into the planetarium’s website to see what they had for the public. The website actually gave me some helpful information.

Over 60 astronauts trained at Morehead Planetarium during the space race, including Neil Armstrong.

Many credit the training done at the planetarium for the astronauts saving lives during risky missions, including Apollo 13, which was the inspiration for the film with the same name.

The space race’s lasting impact

It feels like I am ending right where I started, with little available information on the space race, but that brings up an interesting question. Why?

In the 1950s, space travel was seen as the next chapter in American history, yet today, not many people even know the basic information.

“Other than the money aspect, we reached the pinnacle of what we learn from just putting humans in space with the current technology,” said Taylor Peele, a U.S. Army soldier. “We did what we set to do, which was beat the rest of the world to setting foot on extraterrestrial soil.”

Perhaps that is the answer. We came, we conquered, we leave. What was set out to happen has happened, so there is no dire need to talk about it anymore.

The effects of the space race are still alive in pop culture, primarily in movies such as Interstellar, Gravity and the Star Wars saga.

They would not have been made without what we have learned from the space race.


edited by Elise Clouser

Hemingway and the sea of uncertainty: tracing the steps of a Cuban-American classic

Ernest Hemingway’s boat, the Pilar, sits on display at the author’s estate in Havana. The boat helped inspire “The Old Man and the Sea.” (photo by: Blake Richardson)

By Blake Richardson

Ernest Hemingway is sitting in the middle of the Cuban sea, surrounded by cerulean waves with a fishing pole resting in his suntanned hands. He has an idea.

That old man sparked something — the way he fought an army of sharks that wanted to steal the fish off his line. He was completely isolated, but he still waved off Hemingway’s offer to help. And there was also something special about Hemingway’s companion: a Cuban fisherman named Gregorio Fuentes whom Hemingway considered like a brother. There was something about his eyes: blue like the sea and undefeated.

“There isn’t any symbolism,” Hemingway wrote in a letter to critic Bernard Berenson on Sept. 13, 1952. “The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

But was Hemingway telling the truth?

He also said Santiago was based on “nobody in particular,” but there’s no mistaking the similarities to Fuentes’ eyes or to the old man Hemingway witnessed fishing that day.

The Pilar, the boat that once cut through Caribbean waves, rests on a platform surrounded by a ring of wooden deck at the author’s Havana home, Finca Vigía. The Pilar is frozen in time, and I’m trying to freeze it in memory from all angles as I photograph the sanctuary of the man who mastered the English language. But I haven’t learned yet that this boat is where “The Old Man and the Sea” sprouted into fruition. That information comes later in the afternoon when I am conversing with Coralia Ortiz, an 80-year-old Cuban woman who taught literature and loves reading, too.

And so I embarked on a quest to trace the roots of one of my favorite novels. What I found was a collection of threads that tied back to Hemingway’s companions and experiences, to his mental health and to his very identity. My conclusion? Don’t believe everything writers say about their stories. Especially not Hemingway.

Making a life in a ‘melting-pot world’ 

“Ladies and gentlemen, you just heard the Cuban National Anthem,” the speaker announced to a confused crowd.

Even though Hemingway was born in Illinois, it was Cuba’s anthem that rang throughout the room to celebrate the American writer winning the Nobel Prize for literature.

Hemingway identified as a “Cubano sato,” a Cuban expression that means a Cuban half-breed. He also identified the country as “mi pueblo,” meaning “my people.”

Hemingway first came to Cuba 1928 on vacation. He was looking for a new home after feeling fed up with France and then with the United States. His visits to the country grew more frequent until he permanently moved to Finca Vigía in 1939. He lived there until 1960.

The writer’s ties to Cuba are so profound that Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera, a humanities professor at the University of Puerto Rico, questions whether we should consider Hemingway as American-Cuban in his essay “Cuba in Hemingway,” which is scheduled to publish in a month.

“Many of the most important events of Hemingway’s life occurred in Cuba (he lived there longer than any other place),” Herlihy-Mera said in an email.  “So it makes sense he would eventually feel at home on the island.”

Larry Grimes, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Bethany College, said Cuba reminded Hemingway of other places he loved: regions of Africa, Spain and the United States.

“He is a multi-cultural writer and chose to live in a melting-pot world,” Grimes said.

Even now, Hemingway’s legacy crops up in Havana. A long line has become a staple of his favorite bar, El Floridita. And his home — which you have to pay five CUC, or $5, to visit — is decked out with tour guides. A group of guitarists serenade tourists at an on-site bar, and a gift shop adjacent to the bar sells Cuba merchandise and Hemingway memorabilia. That’s where, for 2 CUC, I bought a print a little larger than a postcard — Santiago, his limbs as wiry as his fishing pole, holding his own in the duel with the massive swordfish lurking in the waters below.

The mysterious man and the eyes of inspiration 

Hemingway won one such battle during a fishing trip off the coast of Peru. But unlike his protagonist, Hemingway was not alone during the conquest of a 1,542-pound sailfish. Fuentes was by his side on the Pilar.

The first sign of overlap between Santiago and the man who shared a 20-year friendship with Hemingway is the piercing blue eyes. But it doesn’t stop there.

The old man was an immigrant from the Canary Islands, hence his affinity for lions. Fuentes, also from the Canary Islands, immigrated to Cuba when he was 22 after working on cargo ships. Hemingway would have seen a lot of immigrants from the Canary Islands in the country at the time; Cuba encouraged immigration of the islands’ poor white workers to provide cheap labor on sugar plantations.

While Fuentes’ characteristics parallel with the old man, he might not be Hemingway’s main source of inspiration. A 1936 article written by Hemingway in Esquire led Grimes to believe Carlos Gutierrez had greater influence.

Fuentes was with Hemingway when they saw an old man fighting sharks to fish. But  Gutierrez told Hemingway a similar story about  an old man rescued by fisherman after being pulled out on his skiff to sea for two days following a catch, Grimes said.

When the old man was rescued, sharks consumed more than half of his prize; only 800 pounds remained.  A similar story appeared in the magazine La Habana Elegante in 1891, but Grimes said it is probably even older than that.

Hemingway’s experience with a mysterious old man, Gutierrez’s story and other whispers of the Cuban tale could all have carried weight in triggering Hemingway’s imagination.

“It’s a fascinating story when you hear it the first time,” Grimes said. “It begs to be a novel.”

Crafting a tale to cope with the curse 

Mary Hemingway wouldn’t have wanted the Pilar to be burned into my memory. Or anyone’s memory, for that matter.

At first, she said his death was an accident: a bullet to the head while cleaning his rifle at his home in Ketchum, Indiana. But several months later, she said the writer committed suicide. He wasn’t the only one. His grandfather, father, sister, brother and granddaughter all killed themselves, leading Mariel Hemingway to tell CNN her family had a “horrible curse.”

Hemingway left the boat to Fuentes in his will, but Fuentes refused to use it without his friend. He and Mary were in agreement; she didn’t want anyone to set foot on the boat. Mary told The Atlantic that she wanted the Pilar sunk in the Cojimar fishing hole, but that area was closed off by the Cuban government. Instead, the boat is now displayed over the Finca Vigía dirt with the ocean out of sight.

Thoughts of suicide had plagued Hemingway for much of his life, and he’s received an abundance of psychological diagnoses, including bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, traumatic brain injury and both borderline and narcissistic personality traits.

Despite Hemingway’s suffering, his story has become a source of healing. Dr. Saeed Momtazi of the Beheshti Medical Center in Iran wrote that he uses the book to provide therapy for people with depression. It can be a source of inspiration: the story of a man who refuses to abandon his hope.

But Grimes said the book might have been a way for Hemingway to cope with his age. Hemingway was 51 when he wrote the book; the U.S. life expectancy was 65 for a man at the time. With injuries from his time in the army and other accidents from his adventures, age was emphasizing the wear and tear of his body.

“He may have been thinking a bit about himself as an old man and how as an old man, you can demonstrate to yourself that you are still vital and alive,” Grimes said. “And while you’re alive, sharks are taking away pound after pound, day by day.”

The fantastic forge into the unknown 

The words on the page are blurring before my eyes, but I can’t quit crying. I can’t stop reading.

I finished “The Old Man and the Sea” in one day, and the story still sticks in my mind. The old man’s perseverance and boundless hope resonated with me.  And above all, I loved the notion that Santiago was the master of the seas, doing the thing he was born for — even if it took him 84 days to catch a fish.

I wasn’t the only one.

Tim Mahon, a former merchant seaman who lives in Hillsborough, worked on ships traversing oceans for about 10 years. During that time, he read passages of “The Old Man and the Sea” because he could relate to characters like Santiago, who forge into the unknown without any wisp of land on the horizon.

“If you don’t find something to do out there, like write or something, you can — it can be difficult,” he said. “You have to find something to keep your mind engaged other than just the job.”

Whether the experiences are relatable or not, Santiago’s character certainly is, and Hemingway’s writing transports us to his protagonist’s world.

“Hemingway’s writing allows us to experience Cuba and Havana and Cojímar in ways that are only available through literature,” Herlihy-Mera said.

My plans to travel to Havana inspired me to read what Hemingway considers his best novel. But the book went on to shape my journey from the moment I first saw the island emerging into view out of the airplane window.

Hemingway was right, I thought. The sea is a beautiful blending of blues.

Edited by Ryan Wilusz 






Squeezing in San Fran: Exploring the city in 48 hours

San Fransisco, one of the most famous cities in the world, has many prominent attractions as well as innumerable hidden gems. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
San Francisco, one of the most famous cities in the world, has many well-known attractions as well as a large number of local-favorite, hidden gems. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

By Sofie DeWulf

San Francisco is a loved city.

You can find a whole collection of quotes online from a slew of celebrities about the greatness of the place.

Steinbeck called it “a golden handcuff with the key thrown away.” Paul Kanter referred to it as “49 square miles surrounded by reality.” Nikita Khrushchev said it was the most beautiful city out of all he had seen in the United States.

One quote in particular, though, by the late Herb Caen, captures the love of the place the best: “I hope I go to Heaven, and when I do, I’m going to do what every San Franciscan does when he gets there. He looks around and says, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.'”

San Francisco natives like Caen get the pleasure of experiencing the wonder of the city every day, but then there’s the rest of us: the visitors and poor souls who probably don’t make enough money to survive living in the pricey city, now officially the ninth most expensive in the world, according to an International Housing Affordability Survey done in 2016.

We tried to capture the magic of the place in the short vacation time we had, but it’s nearly impossible.

Look up “Top Things to do in San Francisco” or “Best Restaurants in SF” and you’ll end up with way too many four- or five-star rated results to visit in one trip.

Locals have the chance to see and try it all, but when you’re only a visitor, how in the world can you fit it all in?

The better question is, how in the world can you fit it all in roughly 48 hours? This was my problem a few weeks ago.

My mom and I had booked a trip to visit my older brother, Joe, in San Francisco over spring break, but we would only be there from Thursday afternoon, April 16, to Saturday afternoon, April 18.

I hadn’t been to the city since I was seven, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to properly reacquaint myself in such a short amount of time. Somehow, though, we made it work and got the most out of our two-day trip, using recommendations from locals like my brother and my mom’s previous visits to the city as reference. Here’s how we did it:

Thursday, April 16


Transportation: Uber, Walking

Attractions: Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach

Dinner: Elephant Sushi

Bars: The Big 4, Union Larder

My mom and I arrived at the San Francisco airport around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. We didn’t rent a car for our stay, because parking can get expensive in the city with prices reaching $75 a day in some garages.

We took an Uber to where we were staying, the Stanford Court Hotel located on California Street in Nob Hill. Our choice was based mainly on location—it was within walking distance of Joe’s apartment.

There are a number of great hotels in that area, including The Fairmont, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins and The Scarlet Huntington, all located near the beautiful Grace Cathedral.

We paid $490 for two nights at the Stanford Court, and I’d say we got our money’s worth. The room was spacious and comfortable, there’s a 24-hour fitness center and the front desk was very accommodating.

Downsides? Breakfast isn’t included and there’s a $20 daily fee for Wi-Fi. However, with that $20 fee, you have access to the hotel’s complimentary bikes, which were useful for us on Friday.

After checking in, my mom and I walked to the nearby Union Square, a famous public plaza known for the surrounding shopping.

The landmark park in the center of the neighborhood is arguably the best part of the location; there’s often art on display and you can find ‘Hearts of San Francisco’ sculptures at every corner.

From there we headed to Chinatown, which is about a 10-minute walk from Union Square.

Walking through the Dragon’s Gate—Chinatown’s landmark entrance on Bush Street—and along Grant Avenue will give you a taste of the largest Chinese community outside Asia.

Strings of red lanterns hang overhead and the sidewalks are decorated with ornate turquoise streetlights; every shop features genuine Chinese trinkets or food.

Chinatown in San Fransisco is the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Chinatown in San Francisco is the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

We got to the edge of North Beach before turning to walk back to the hotel.

After freshening up a bit, we headed down California Street to have drinks at The Big 4 at the Scarlet Huntington before meeting up with Joe for dinner.

The cocktails were expensive—my Hemingway Daiquiri was $14—but it was worth it to get a feel for the place. The green leather chairs, dark wood accents, dim lighting and live piano make you feel like you’ve been transported to the ‘50s.

We met up with Joe at his apartment in Nob Hill, a surprisingly clean and nice place for a 24 year old. My brother has a job in sales at a tech company, so he can afford it, but barely.

Joe was excited about dinner. We were going to a family-owned restaurant called Elephant Sushi on Hyde Street in Russian Hill.

It’s some of the best sushi he’s ever had, he told us, but there is almost always a wait because the place is so small. Thankfully, we lucked out and got a table right away.

We ordered Sake nigiri ($5 for two pieces), a White Out roll ($15), a Basil Salmon roll ($7) and a Spicy Hamachi roll ($9). Everything was delicious and entirely different than anything I’d had before, and I’ve eaten my fair share of sushi.

After dinner, we headed across the street to end the night with a drink at Union Larder, a particularly hip wine and cheese bar with a comfortable atmosphere and a strong dose of mood lighting.

While we sipped on our wine—I had a glass of El Libertador ($12)—Joe told us of another cool bar in San Francisco: a speakeasy disguised as a detective agency by the name of Wilson & Wilson.

You have to call to get a reservation and password, which you need in order to enter the speakeasy through a secret door at the back of the bar Bourbon and Branch.

Joe and his girlfriend chose to pay $35 for a three-drink special. “They put so much thought into every drink,” he said.

I was bummed we couldn’t go, but I put it on my list of places to try for next time.

Friday, April 17


Transportation: Biking, walking, Uber

Attractions: Coit Tower, Lombard Street, Union Street, Golden Gate Bridge

Lunch: Blue Barn

Dinner: Off The Grid food trucks

Bar: Tipsy Pig 

Friday was our only full day in San Francisco and my mom and I made the most of it.

How? Bikes.

I’d guess we biked a total of 20 miles that day. Biking is arguably the best way to see San Francisco, especially on a nice day, although I have to warn you about the hills.

You sometimes might be forced to walk your bike when you come across San Francisco’s famously steep streets, and speaking from personal experience, it’s definitely a workout.

We checked out the bikes from our hotel around 10 a.m. and headed to Coit Tower, a white concrete beacon located on the top of Telegraph Hill.

Pay $6 and you can take the elevator up to the observation deck, which gives awesome 360-degree views of the entire city and bay. Also, feel free to stop by Fisherman’s Wharf while you’re in the area.

From Coit Tower, we headed to Lombard Street. It’s famous for its eight hairpin turns, which are admittedly hard to capture on camera but cool to see in person, especially when cars make the trip down the sharply curved road.

Lombard Street takes San Fransisco's classic steep streets and raises the bar by including eight hairpin turns. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Lombard Street takes the classic, steep streets of San Francisco and raises the bar by including eight hairpin turns. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

We stayed for a short time before hopping back on our bikes to find a spot for lunch.

A local had recommended we try Bar Bocce, a waterfront hangout across the bridge in Sausalito that has “awesome thin crust pizzas.”

We were too far from Sausalito to make the trip, so we found a place called Blue Barn on Polk Street instead. We split a spring salad and a sandwich called the Rooster ($13). Characteristic of San Francisco, both were expensive but worth it.

After lunch, we biked to Union Street, a charming shopping district lined with art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.

Two shops in particular—Itoya Topdrawer and Eurasian Interiors—are standouts, especially if you’re looking for unique gifts.

Topdrawer is an offshoot of a popular stationary company based in Japan and is the first of its kind in the U.S. The shop has all sorts of cool Japanese products, from bento boxes to erasable pens.

After recovering from an embarrassing tumble on my bike while trying to take a picture on our way out, we started our 3.5-mile journey to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

We got on the path near the water once we neared the national park Presidio, stopping a few times to take photos along the way. While the view was great, it was even better biking across the bridge. If you do one thing in San Francisco, make it this.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the number one must-see attraction in San Francisco. (Photo by Sofie DeWulf)
The Golden Gate Bridge is the number one must-see attraction in San Francisco. (Photo by Sofie DeWulf)

We returned to the waterfront that night for dinner, joining scores of San Franciscans at Off The Grid at Fort Mason Center.

The gathering of 31 food trucks and live music happens every Friday night from March 3 to Oct. 20 from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Joe was even more excited about this dinner than the last because, to him, Off The Grid is authentically San Francisco.

Off the Grid is a unique, local-favorite festival that offers live music and food trucks. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Off the Grid is a unique, local-favorite festival that offers live music and a large number of food trucks. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

The energy was great and you had your choice of every type of food you could imagine. I got Korean barbeque, while Joe got a cheese steak. Plus, it’s about the cheapest meal you can eat in the city.

We ended the night at The Tipsy Pig, a gastropub in the Marina District on Chestnut Street that attracts a young crowd and serves beautiful drinks with names like Strawberry Fields ($11).

Saturday, April 18


Transportation: Walking, Uber

Brunch: Mymy


We only had time for one more meal on Saturday with Joe before we left San Francisco.

My mom picked Mymy, a small brunch place on California Street. She had eaten there on her last visit and insisted we go again.

It’s a popular place and they don’t take names, so I recommend you get there early. But if you have to wait, I promise you won’t mind once you try the Frisco Scramble ($13) or Zucchini Pancakes ($12), which sound questionable but taste great.

Brunch at Mymy is well-worth the possibility of having to wait. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

After saying goodbye to Joe, my mom and I started walking back to our hotel to check out.

Although the trip felt short, I was happy. We hadn’t seen everything, but we had gotten a great taste of the city in only 48 hours.

By the end of the trip, I had become one of the many lovers of San Francisco and wasn’t looking forward to heading back to reality.

To quote Rudyard Kipling, “San Francisco has only one drawback—’tis hard to leave.”

Edited by Molly Weybright

Women make their mark: tattooing industry no longer a man’s game

By Leah Asmelash

Tattoos have increased in popularity over the last few years, as stigmas against body art have decreased in both social environments and the workplace. Although the artistic tradition has a long history in many indigenous cultures, the art form is most known in western culture as a symbol of the counter-movement, particularly in the ‘90s. They were sported by a crowd most parents didn’t necessarily want their kids to be around: punk skaters, gang members and convicts, usually all men.

Tattooing, in general, was a boy’s club. A woman with a tattoo was rare; a woman tattooing was unheard of. Now, people with tattoos come from all walks of life and from all genders, as do tattoo artists. So, what has changed in the last few decades, and why are people increasingly drawn to tattoos?

Boy’s Club

Heather Harlow, owner of Divine Moment Tattoo in Burlington, N.C., has been tattooing for 11 years. When she started, she said the industry lived up to its status as a boy’s club and was sexist towards women, but it has changed over the course of her career.

“I was maybe the first or second lady that actually did conventions on the East Coast,” Harlow said, while recalling her earlier days. “So a lot of people were just really rude to me, but I stayed strong and I knew they were going to make fun of me. I just knew that I didn’t care if I was a female or not. I loved art and I loved tattooing and I loved people.”

Now Harlow only hires women artists, in part because she felt mortified by how women tattoo artists were treated in the past. They were called curtain-hangers, a term signifying someone who should only go into the shop to hang curtains to make the space look pretty, rather than tattooing. Still, Harlow said it has gotten easier for women to enter the tattoo industry, and they have helped change and evolve the industry as a result.

“In the long run it probably has more to do with there’s not much competition,” she said. “Everyone has found a niche. There’s so many different types of tattooing now that anybody can do anything now. A lot of females are good for watercolors and stuff like that, more color. Guys hate doing that.”

Evolving Industry

Meghan Thayer owns Ascension Tattoo in Chapel Hill, N.C. Her shop, which is located on West Franklin Street between a smoke shop and a CD/record store, is more spacious than it seems upon first inspection. The front door opens into a tall staircase — the entire shop is on the second floor. The space is organized, with one room for piercing and one room for tattooing. The rooms are blocked off from the front desk area with a black curtain. The sun peering through the window casts shadows over the space, but Thayer doesn’t seem to mind. She leaves the lights off.

Thayer has only been tattooing for six years, but she’s always loved the art form, getting her first tattoo as soon as she turned 18. Although she never set out to be a tattoo artist, she has always been a creative person.

She said the tattoo industry is still dominated by men, but, like Harlow, she believes it’s evolving as more women begin tattooing.

“I think there’s been enough women who have been in the industry for a while now that there’s sort of this big enough group of women tattoo artists who new women tattooers can look up to,” Thayer said. “They’re becoming leaders in the industry, and it is starting to kind of balance out.”

Thayer also said women are going back to the older roots of tattooing, beyond the traditional style of the 20th century that has more masculine characteristics.

“People are getting back to more of like the healing aspect of things and the spiritual aspect of it,” Thayer said. “And while I see both male and female artists doing that, there’s definitely a feminine quality in that.”

A Growing Art Form

Sarah Peacock, owner of Artfuel Tattoo Shop and Art Gallery in Wilmington, N.C., has been tattooing for 22 years. Having working in the industry for so long, she’s  part of an older generation of tattoo artists, and she disagrees with both Harlow and Thayer on the role of women in the tattoo industry.

“I don’t think you can look at a particular style and say women definitely prefer to do that,” Peacock said, referencing differences in style between men and women tattoo artists.

Instead, Peacock said the new styles rising in popularity now are due to the influx of artists taking an interest in tattooing, not more women tattooing.

“Tattooing has gone into the hands of these people that have pushed the envelope, and they’ve brought so many different styles in, from graphic novels to fine art to computer art,” Peacock said.

All of the women, however, agree that the industry has changed drastically in the past few years, with more and more people getting tattoos. They no longer symbolize a rebel status like they used to. Instead, they have become a part of mainstream popular culture.

“Different types of people have been a little bit more okay with getting tattooed lately, in the past four to five years,” Harlow said. “I think what changed it was the media. If it’s on TV, it’s okay.”

Shifting Trends

Peacock first began to notice the change when her clientele shifted. She began to get to know people in the medical field or in law enforcement who were interested in tattooing, the types of people who did not express an interest before.

“What I suddenly realized is that I was being viewed as a successful business owner, aside from being a tattooer,” Peacock said. “So suddenly, I’m validated. I’m okay for someone to talk to me and take me into their group that aren’t necessarily into tattooing. And that was kind of weird.”

Peacock called the shift a turning point in her career. After only associating with fellow tattoo artists, she wasn’t used to attention from individuals outside of the industry.

Thayer agreed that tattoo culture has become more popular recently due to the influence of media, but she said the political climate may have something to do with the recent increase as well.

“Throughout history, there’s been surges of an increase of tattooing, and they tend to follow really politically turbulent times,” Thayer said. “I think we’re definitely in another one of this cycles, like we were in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and again in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’re here again. It’s a way for people to take control of themselves. So I think that’s what’s really going on at the core of it.”

Express Yourself

Harlow said that people are drawn towards tattoos as a way to express themselves, not necessarily an expression of rebellion anymore.

“We have so many different types of people, and there’s so many humans on this planet that we’re trying to find a way to express ourselves and stand out,” Harlow said. “I think it’s a change of consciousness. People want to be able to be different and express themselves.”

Breast cancer patients have also become a large clientele for tattoo artists. Nipple tattoos help women feel better after mastectomies, when the breast and the nipple are removed, Harlow said.

“I can tattoo them and make them look 3-D, and they feel better with that,” she said. “As long as society is okay with it, it’s okay for people to get it.”

Peacock, who has also tattooed women after mastectomies, said tattooing breast cancer patients changed how people viewed her. She was no longer just a tattoo artist, but someone who was helping women by doing something surgeons couldn’t do.

For women especially, Thayer said tattoos help with self-esteem, even outside of mastectomies.

“(Women) have been told we’re not enough of something,” she said. “You’re too tall, you’re too short, you’re too thin, you’re too fat, you’re too whatever. You’re something.

“I see as people get tattoos, they start to accept themselves for who they are,” Thayer said. “And to stand up in front of the mirror and just love yourself, love the way you look, is such a powerful thing.”

Looking Forward

Women have gone through a long journey in the tattoo industry. Some are like Peacock, they’ve been in the industry forever with few problems, but others are Harlow and have been discriminated against based on their gender. In the end, there are more women now than ever before, women like Thayer who began tattooing just in the last few years, making their mark on the tattooing world.

The industry — whether it is because of the media, the political climate, the desire for self-expression or breast cancer — continues to grow in popularity among both men and women. And despite whether they are giving a tattoo or receiving it, women are, and have always been, a huge part of the tattoo industry.

Edited by Sarah Muzzillo