Local Talk: Interview with local entrepreneur and founder of Site, Stay, Go - Michelle Glasser

 

Everyone dreams of taking their passion and making it happen (yes, thats a line from Flashdance). What was the key moment for you in kicking off the process?

Not to date myself, but I love the Flashdance quote. What a feeling!

I let this idea fester for a long time. My dog has since passed, but when she was with us, I was always forgetting what I needed for her on walks, trips and hikes.

What gave me the courage to kick off the process was motherhood to human babies. I can’t really explain it, but I got braver; more willing to invest in myself and my ideas. About two years ago, I applied for my first patent, spoke to a product engineer and the ball got rolling.

 

What is your favorite feature of the Sit, Stay, Go? 

My favorite feature is the water/bowl combo at the pawparent’s fingertips. The fact that no packing and clipping are required is a huge plus; no remembering either, since it’s a complete unit and attached to the leash. Finally, this product doesn’t dangle like other water bottle pet products, because all the features are neatly built in, making it great for walks, hikes, travelers, therapy pets and road trippers.

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 12.04.34 PM.png

 

What are some words of wisdom for anyone considering taking on a life passion project?

Might sound cliche, but don’t give up. As you probably know, it’s really easy to get discouraged, and I’ve had my moments during this entrepreneurial journey. At those times, I had to dig deep, and take everything in bite sized chunks, task by task, without thinking too far ahead.

 

We're huge fans of dogs as our Instagram clearly demonstrates. What is it about these special beasts for you that narrowed your focus in this space?

I love dogs too. I’m highly allergic, but I love ‘em. Despite my bubble girl status, I got a Yorkie after 9-11 and loved her with all my heart. Ten years later, after having my first colicky kid, I craved simplicity. All the baby products and dog products seemed so complicated to me. Then I started to look at ways in which items could be improved, simplified or just plain hacked. With many ideas in the queue, the PET DINETTE is the first patent pending product to hit the market.

The pet space, in particular, was attractive because it seemed like there is a tad less innovation vs the baby — home markets, plus much inspiration could be drawn from baby (and for baby from pets). Moreover, the pet market is HUGE, with over half of the households in the United States owning a pet (almost 80 million homes!). Finally, dogs are my thing. Despite all the physical obstacles I was born with, I just love dogs and fiercely believe in supporting the rescue of pets. Since SitStayGo gives a portion of each sale to Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, I could do my little part to help animals.

Do you have a special pet in your family? Breed? Photo?

Here’s my furbaby Yorkie, Margot, the thirsty, high maintenance muse behind the PET DINETTE. After one square block, her tongue would be to the pavement, requiring me to buy water and serve her from a makeshift bowl made with my hand. She passed a few years ago, and now I’m taking allergy shots in preparation for the next furbaby.

yorkie.png

 

The SitStayGo is fantastic for long hikes with a pooch. Are there any hiking routes around Essex County that you recommend?

I’m partial to the trails at the Eagle Rock Reservation. It’s a quiet oasis right here in Montclair’s backyard.

 

Tell us one thing about dogs that no one or just very few people know.

When training your pooch, first identify whether the breed and your dog specifically is prey or food driven - once you have that critical piece of information, you can leverage it as a training reward.

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

Ice green tea. So refreshing!

 

https://sitstaygoco.com/

 

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 12.04.47 PM.png

Local Talk: Interview with featured artist Dawn Garrison

abstract.jpg

We're excited to have your work at Local! We discovered each other as you have painted for some time but rarely publicly displayed your work. Why us, why now?

I am going to call this ‘where serendipity and opportunity crossed paths’. John Lennon is better known for his version but in 1957 Allen Saunders wrote ‘life is what happens to us while we are making other plans’. For me it is an apt description of the last 25 years. Long story short, after much prodding by several friends I began opening myself to opportunity and soon after met you. This sampling of my work at Local is one small step.

 

Which past or existing painters have had specific meaning for you, which have really stimulated your passion for this art?

I appreciate various artists and painters of many styles and most stimulate me on some level. I love impressionism but my natural tendency is realism. I am captivated by the works of Angus Wilson, R. Mike Nichols and Brienne M. Brown.

razzle 2.jpg

 

Tell us about your subject matter. How do you choose where to focus your creative energy?

I could get lost in this question but if I allow myself I would write a novella so I’ll answer this in more recent context.

For quite a long time all I painted were landscapes and gardens, until one day I was done. Currently I paint animals. I have a great love for creatures so it makes sense they have been my focus. This last year and a half I have mostly been busy painting commissions; primarily dogs and that’s alright by me.

 

Spanish Roses.jpg.jpg

Do you paint during a particular time of day? in a particular space?

I am so fortunate to have a dedicated space on the southeast side of our home. I am surrounded by natural light and an awesome view (when I look up – lol). Painting during the day works best for me.

 

There's a local Montclair element in one of your paintings. How did you come to live in the area and why is Montclair important to you?

I was born in Montclair and raised in the area and met my husband in high school. We have always felt family was important and wanted to stay close; plus this area has so much to offer no matter what your interests are.

pug.jpg

 

Of all of your work, is there a particular piece that has the most meaning for you?

I painted a self-portrait during a difficult time in my life. The style totally deviated from anything I had done before or since. I think a psychologist might have fun interpreting it today.

 

Tell us something about painting that very few or no one knows.

I can only speak for myself, but on occasion you have to remember to breathe.

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

I do love a cup of herbal tea but when I first sat at your counter sipping a cup of drip coffee it transported me to cafes in Europe. Exceptional.

Finished Adlale 17x13 Feb 3 2017.jpg

Local Talk: Interview with Advent Calendar artist Melisa Gerecci

What are advent calendars and why do you make them?

Advent is an annual three-to-four week season leading to December 25.  Traditionally, advent calendars are made in Germany and available at christkindlmärkte (Christmas markets).  A viewer opens a small door each day to reveal hidden images.  The calendars often depict holiday scenes based on 19th century paintings.  They are enjoyed each year during a season intended to be a time of joyful anticipation.

advent1.png

Advent calendars come from a particular cultural practice, but the concepts they represent are universal.  Across cultures, people look forward to certain things.  Remember waiting with excitement to see an old friend?  Or how we look forward to gathering over a special meal?  We search for ways to hold on to memories of meaningful times and places. 

I make advent calendars to help mark time.  December has, sadly, become stressful for many of us, and my goal is to restore a sense of anticipation.  I’d like to slow the fury of this time of year with a simple practice and beautiful imagery. 

What is your process?

Each calendar concept takes about a year to complete.  I start with a general sense of a place and time I’d like to celebrate.  The next step is to translate that memory into a scene and a related collection of drawings.  After the idea is generated, I draw.  And I draw.  And I draw some more. 

Then it gets technical—the drawings are organized to correspond with parts of the main scene.  They also tend to follow a sequence.  In “Houston house,” for example, the hidden drawings narrate three years of related experiences shared by a group of friends.  Some calendars are highly specific, and individual doors are keyed to dates when events occurred.  For example, in “Tex-Mex Christmas,” our Lady of Guadalupe appears on December 12, as she is said to have done in 1531 in Tepeyac, Mexico.  After the drawings are done, color copies are made and doors are cut by hand into the main scene.  The drawings are attached, and each door is numbered.  If the calendar is idiosyncratic, I’ll include a legend on the back.  But part of the fun is the surprise of opening each door!  You don’t always know what’s lurking back there.     

How do you choose the subjects of your calendars?

The first calendar I made was for a friend, to mark one year of knowing each other.  I drew his exquisite studio apartment and hid references to topics we had discussed, things we had seen together, and places we had visited.  This year’s calendar was a love letter to Houston, my hometown.  I am currently working on two designs for next year: the Kadıköy neighborhood in Istanbul and a “badvent calendar” for Halloween.  I could also see a Montclair calendar in the cards…

advent2.png

Sometimes there’s lid flying off a pot or an upturned chair.  What are those about?

I like to include some whimsy.  The main scenes I draw are location-specific and include a lot of observational detail.  The unexpected element can lighten the mood a bit.

Conceptually, what does being local mean to you and how does it play a part in your process?

Local means finding the beauty in the everyday and the easily overlooked.  There are unexpected patterns that emerge if we keep our eyes open.  When I’m out, I ask myself: what am I looking at?  And when I look, what am I seeing?

What has living in Montclair meant for you and your work?

Montclair is a human-scaled place.  Being able to bike, walk, and take the bus around lets me observe my surroundings.  Plus, Montclair residents are open-minded and curious.  It’s a good combination for creating site-specific art.

What role do paper calendars have in contemporary, web-based culture?

A vital one.  Paper is one of our early technologies for recording and communicating experience.  Today, there are many ways to track time electronically.  And think of all the automatic reminders we use.  That doesn’t have to be the exclusive way of organizing our days.  I have a mild online presence, but these calendars are meant to be experienced in person. 

Tell us something about calendars that only you or very few people know.

There are so many ways to organize time!  And there are examples all over the world on how to do it.  I tried using a calendar once where the week ran from Monday through Sunday instead of the typical Sunday through Saturday.  It was disorienting at first.  But then it made me think about how visually grouping Saturday and Sunday together could reorient our entire workweek.  Time is remarkably fluid.

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

Affogato!  For a fleeting moment, it’s hot and cold at the same time.  It’s best enjoyed the minute it’s served.  And it has such a serious name for such a delightful beverage.   

 

www.megerecci.com

Local Talk: 10 Questions with Montclair photographer Andrew Wander

Your book, Stately Homes of Montclair’ represents a significant amount of exploration throughout Montclair and its homes - how and why did you initiate this project?

I decided on "Stately Homes of Montclair" because as I settled in this town back in 2007, I viewed history in it's architectural brilliance, it's European design and realized that this project had never been attempted.

Adjusted Fine IMG_3809.JPG

 

Why Montclair as your geographic focus?

Montclair is noted to most as a culinary mecca.  Now, it's more than just a place to grab a bite.

 

How did you start your career in  photography?
 

s003.JPG

I don't have a career in photography.  It is a part time vocation. I videotaped weddings and events from 1983 until 2007. My main vocation is providing legal video services to lawyers. Depositions, courtroom playbacks and site inspections are my thing.

 

How do you feel about how photography has evolved over the years with the introduction of social media and the ubiquitous nature of cameras?

Photography has come along way (see my website: www.andywander.com).  As digital has taken over, it's another world for better or worse it is here to stay.

 

How did your project mindset change from when you kicked off the project to its completion?
 

The project changed a great deal from the on-set.  I started collecting photos throughout town. Then I decided on 3 essential chapters; Exteriors, Interiors and added: Backyards, Courtyards, and Rose gardens.

 

What was the biggest surprise in this process?

IMG_5642.JPG

I found a Rose garden based on an English Rose garden.  When I went to cover it, the owner answered the front with shovel in hand.

 

Was there one particular home that meant more to you than the others?

Sure...that is a difficult question.  Come to my April 29th lecture at Van Vleck and I will present the top 3.

 

No one really needs a home save the scale of most of these structures and we’re seeing a movement as of late towards micro-living with just the essentials. Do you think theses types of structures endure?
 

Yes they do endure...The rich will always have a place in our society.  The mass and spaciousness provide an environment for any artist for reflection and creativity. Try living in a residence shown in my book. Oh, you would need about $16,000. per month but, the experience
would be priceless.

 

Tell us something about Montclair that only you or a few people know.

There is a home here that belonged to an arms dealer.  He was
ready to move in to his "stately home" but, the war ended and he never did.

 

Adjusted Gretschen Cheney Home on So Mtn in MTC  P1010378.JPG

What’s your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

My favorite tea is earl grey.  Typhoo is worth every penny.

Local Talk: Interview with featured artist Darin Wacs

We connected first after discovering that we both were born and raised in NYC. I am grateful every day for such a rich childhood amongst the artist, musicians, and entrepreneurial business owners that made up my neighborhood of Greenwich Village. How did your particular art discipline emerge out of your respective NYC experience?

*I grew up with a father who was a fashion designer and painter and a mother who loved art....we spent all our free time at museums and galleries in NYC...

 

Darin_2.png

Is there a person or experience that was pivotal in sharpening your direction?

*In grad school at The School of Visual Arts..the painter Gary Stephan and the sculptor Judy Pfaff helped/forced me to define and stand up for what I was trying to do with my sculpture..

 

What words of inspiration do you share with anyone considering artistic expression?

*I would say to not be afraid to try new things even if they don't always work out...make a mess..

 

What is it about crafting objects out of raw materials that inspired your path?

 The texture and colors of raw materials go against my tendency to paint everything in bright colors..it was a challenge to see if they could work as a medium for me..

 

I’m always interested in artistic endeavors with over-emphasized scale - small or large. Is there a project that you feel like you nailed it relative to the size of the final piece (or pieces?)

*I think my large scale 'sculpture signs' in Palo Alto, CA are good examples of large public projects that draw viewers in and surprise them..I don't see them as sculptures that are also engaged in way finding but art that helps you find places.

Darin_3.png

 

I’m sort of going through this phase questioning what’s really real or just a figment of our imagination. Is it all just a dream? That said, tell us about the quote you selected from Alexander Calder to include on your site “The universe is real, but you can’t see it. You have to imagine it.” 

I love Calder..and the idea that art can create its own universe is magical to me..I think a lot of the work I make inhabits its own world.

Darin_1.png

 

I’m thrilled with the pieces you selected for Local. Please tell us about them.

From the first time I walked into Local I was struck by this idea that I wanted to make light fixtures that were also sculptures...I could picture how they would work in the space and how they might relate to my silkscreen prints..the three 'critter' pendants were painted with the palette of Local in mind to contrast with it and be a part of it..some of the other small sculptures were painted at the same time as the critter lights and show another form and scale which relates to the larger pendants..also I thought about what would work within the spaces that Local has for showing art. I am always taken by what a positive vibe Local has (thanks entirely to you and Adele) and felt like it was a perfect fit for the work I make which hopefully inspires an overstuffed feeling of joy and wonder. 

Darin_4.png

 

What does living in Montclair and being able to show your work here mean to you as an artist?

Montclair is a community with lots of creative people living in it..I know so many talented people and often meet new ones...this is the first time I'm showing sculpture here and its been wonderful.

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

An iced latte

 

http://darinwacs.com/

Local Talk: Interview with featured artist Ben Olson

I'm happy to say that you were one of our first clients at Local and we immediately connected. There was this candid openness while speaking with each other and learning how each of us spend our  time. How has this openness to life in general contributed to the genesis of your work?

My work often relies on a certain tension. The tension between public and private…

I have not always been so open. I am naturally shy, and have to work to put myself out there and be open. Maybe the openness is inspired by my peers and my kids. I don’t want to be known as that closed-off dude hermitting out in the corner!!!

 

Your work is articulated as a peek through a door cracked open which is wonderful honesty but could also be a bit scary because of the associated vulnerability. How do your subjects deal with this transparency?

Peeking through a door cracked has been a theme for me for a long time. I love finding that awkward and completely honest moment. The one where no one is posing or making a cute face.  Beautiful imperfect moments.. There is a delicious honesty when you glimpse someone when their guard is totally down and they think they are alone!!

 

It is amazingly intimate to paint someone.

I paint in layers, many many layers. It is the nature off the acrylic paint, but also it is a metaphor for a person. We all have so many layers.  Each one is a little transparent. I like to build those layers with paint. Each one building on another, masking it just a little. Within a painting, I will add one layer right after another. More blue. Just a little more red. More white until it is just right, then flood it with spraypaint. Drip drip drip!

For many years I only painted exquisitely personal subjects…very personal portraits and self portraits. It was an extreme way to show vulnerability.

I made a deal with myself a long time ago: No matter what I portray, I never hold back and always paint what I see…every wrinkle, crease and fold.  That may be abstracted by the process, but in my head it is super real.

Honestly, I think that the people that I have painted have been so so absolutely open to anything that I am the one somehow trying to hold back. I find I am maybe the vulnerable one, even though the subject is being exposed and examined.

I am maybe the one looking through the door…

 

As an artist, how do you see your work evolving as you grow in experience and knowledge?

When I first started painting my work was about one single, honest, situational moment. I was interested in what it was like to view that moment from the outside, when the door cracks. I would make up a situation and narrative that was usually really dark.  Lots of blood and tears, Now,  I am more accumulative in my process. I watch, listen , Observe and collect and remember. I am more interested in the all the things that add up to blow that door open, so everyone can see.

Currently, I feel like my work is less tragic and more of a diary and journal.  Maybe a tiny bit less dark. Somehow it is more fantastical and dreamy, but a lot more true to me. In the past I made things up, and in that journey I was trying to be honest, but maybe it was just a front I put up.

Seems like I am now projecting outward, instead of working inward!

 

Do you have a work that you have created for sale but then ultimately couldn't part with it?

Yes, absolutely…

I do believe artists should hold onto a piece of work here and there..  To document major bodies of work or personal journeys. Art and artists live and evolve and it is important to document that. I am not the same artist I was 10 years ago. I have been interested in different things, and even my painting technique has evolved. It is great to have that documented. I have always thought so.

One example of a piece that I have held onto is the first portrait I ever did of my wife. I have done many works with her since, but that first one is special. It is an important reminder of a very intense part of my life too. I truly cherish it!

 

I'm fascinated with the scale of your work; did you always work at these extreme ends of the art spectrum?

Scale as in size? I have always felt that a piece will tell you what size it wants to be if you give it a voice. I have always been more into actually painting larger work. I think it works for me to paint with my body. When you paint smaller work, say something that can sit on a table, you paint with your wrist and you often hunch over the work and stay close. But if you paint larger work, you tend to paint with your body, wrist to elbow then to shoulder and so on. You also tend to need to back away to see it all…that works for me. I need a painting I can dance in front of.

Scale as in scope? I currently have three major themes in my work. I have always loved portrait and figurative work. The body and face are the ultimate way to express for me. I have been drawing or painting people since fourth grade, you can do the math as to how many years that is.

I also paint a lot of balloons. This body of work is really the opposite if portraiture for me. It can be easier for an Audience to digest and also easier for me to just get into the painting process.

I also have painted flowers for quite a while. They started as very realistic still-livesbased on the “language of flowers” from Victorian days when people would communicate with bouquets of flowers, each flower has a meaning. Now the workshave moved to a very fantastical, wild and juicy spot. They are very personal to me, my own visual diary and journal. Each flower representing a moment in my life.

 

What has living in Montclair meant for you and your work?

Montclair has been wonderful for me and my work. The work has somehow gotten much larger since I have been working in my barn (studio). II have found a community that I didn’t expect to find.  There are so many wonderful people!! I fell like I can do anything with my art right now and am so excited about that feeling. I project out since I have lived here, instead of caving inward. It was an amazing moment for me when someone asked if I can call it homeand I said (without hesitation) YES!

I always have music on…it is very influential in my work. When my studio was in Brooklyn I listened to Hip hop almost all the time. Now, in my barn, I find that I still play a lot of hip hop, but a little miles davis can comfortably creep into the mix and live there. Dylan lives with Biggie in my studio now! Living in Montclair has somehow put a beautiful balance to my life…

 

Conceptually, what does being local mean to you and how does it play a part in your process?

Being local is a support system. Feeling comfortable and supported with where you are in life and also where you actually are. Not feeling transient. Feeling rooted and growing instead of blowing in the wind.

Being local makes me smile!

 

Tell us something about art that only you or very few people know.

I have always been fascinated with light and how it bounces through your eyes and brain. The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault is my favorite painting of all time. He painted all of the water drops with three strokes of paint-red, yellow and green-in certain shades so that they vibrate when next to one another. The water droplets seem to sparkle because of this! Brilliant!

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

I like ‘em all!! But really, just a good cup of coffee with cream is the most delicious thing in the world.

 

www.benolsonstudio.com

 

Local Talk: Interview with Photographer Devon Warren

Tell us how you started in photography. We're you always on this path or was there a serendipitous moment that established the opportunity.

I actually worked in education after college. I left education and opened a recording studio in 2007. Out of necessity, I turned one of the rooms a my studio facility into a photo studio. This is when I began my journey in photography. In 2012, I sold my recording studio business and started my photography business.

 

Where did you grow up? How did you come to live in NJ?

My parents immigrated from Jamaica in the 60's to New York. I was born in East Orange, NJ in 1974. I moved to Irvington, NJ in the late 70's, and there is where I grew up. 

 

Did you work with 35MM film at one point in your life? What do you miss (or not miss) about that process?

I started out on a digital camera. I recently started shooting film. I shoot both 35mm and medium format film. There is something very rewarding about the process. It has also made me a better photographer.  With digital photography, you can take thousands of pictures of a subject and pick the best one. With film photography, you only get 8 to 36 shots.  Plus, you can't instantly review what you have shot. You really need to have you skills sharp and have a good understanding of all photography principles. I enjoy working with and restoring cameras that are much older than I am. 

 

Your work has a particular sense energy. I feel like there is a incredible source of energy laying underneath each image. How do you approach each capture to allow a static image to resonate in such a powerful way?

Photography, for me, is knowing when to press the shutter and capture "that moment".  When I make a portrait of someone, there is a split second when they are being totally honest and stop "posing".  I can see it in their eyes. My images are a way for me to express myself and speak to a wide audience even when I'm not physically present.  

 

In this age of Instagram and Facebook, there are more images captured and shared than ever before. Also, with digital processing - images no longer have an organic age to them for space and time (without a filter). How do you feel this has affected photography as a discipline? 

I have separated the two. There are people who take pictures and there are photographers. Photography by definition means "drawing/painting with light".  There are many people that can take a picture, but there are far fewer that understand light and how to paint with it.  So, I feel like there are a lot of people that call themselves photographers, that are not. Being able to make Ramen and TV Dinners doesn't make you a chef even if you call yourself one. 

 

Your photography ranges from athletes to fashion to families - quite a range for anyone in the field. How are you able to balance the various approaches? Is there a particular favorite category?

I didn't want to put myself in a box. We live in a world that loved to label things.  I didn't want to specialize in one type of photography, because that would be putting a limit on myself. Headshots and beauty shots are my favorite because there is a single focus. There are no clothes or scenery to hide behind.

 

Can you share a particular project that you have struggled through but at the end of it, you learned a valuable lesson from it?

I got hired to do a portfolio shoot for a makeup artist. At this time, I thought my skill level was a 10 and I really was more like a 6. I totally butchered the job and from that point on I began to work on my craft everyday. 365 days a year I am either shooting, editing, learning, or studying photography. 

 

For the novice photographer, what is one solid piece of advice to take more meaningful photos?

Try to take photographer that speak to you.  Find a subject that moves you inside and shoot that. Your photographs don't have to be technically perfect, but they should alway have some feeling.  I feel like a lot of photographer get too caught up in the technical aspect and lose the art in the process.

 

What does local (as a concept/ philosophy) mean to you?

Local is "dope".  Local is a place where everyone is welcome and is treaded like a family friend. It is cool how people from all different backgrounds can come to one spot and feel at home. This is definitely a spot where I try to have my order to stay whenever possible. 

 

Tell us something about photography that only you (or just a few people) know.

The camera doesn't take the photograph, the photographer does.  When I shoot in the studio, I shoot connect to my computer so that everyone can see the pictures as I'm taking them. People say , "These pictures are awesome, you have a really good camera. That must be expensive." The camera is just the tool. It is your paint brush. Some tools makes getting the  job done easier, but they won't make you better at the job. 

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

The Saba tea is my favorite.  

http://www.devonwarrenfoto.com/

Local Talk: Interview with Susanna Emmet, founder of Zana's Bars

We're very excited to be partnering to offer Zana's bars at Local! Can you tell us about the genesis for creating this awesome brand?

I am thrilled to be partnering with Local, too! The genesis of Zana’s Bars is the commitment to feeding my children real food from Mother Nature, period. No additives, no preservatives, and above all, no added sugar. The body of research supporting the negative health effects of these things is large and growing. Processed sugar, in particular, is everywhere! I understand it’s yummy in treats, but on a day to day basis, in foods we eat to nourish us -- to give us energy, satisfy hunger, help us grow and thrive -- is hardly necessary. Fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains can have explosive flavor on their own, and our bodies are designed to run on them. When I couldn’t find snacks to pack on the go that fit this bill and were affordable, I began making muesli bars. Feedback was terrific, and over the years I refined my recipes that I now bring to grateful customers. This makes me very happy.

 

As a parent, I'm regularly concerned about the types of food decisions my children are making. How has your food journey led you to this particular direction for kids and adults alike?

I think I mostly answered this question discussing the origins of Zana’s Bars, but I’ll take this opportunity to talk more about the importance of portability and snacks. Life moves quickly. People are busy and on the go. As parents, if we are lucky, we can plan good meals, but it’s much harder to control snacking habits for our children and ourselves. The majority of the stuff on the market to meet this need is full of ingredients that don’t give us what we need. Snacks are big pitfalls even for the best intentioned eaters, so I started making snack bars for this specific purpose.

 

Ok, let’s start with your base ingredient - Muesli. Once and for all - what is it and why did you decide on using it as a core element of the bars?

Muesli is traditionally a raw oat-based cereal that also includes fruits, nuts and seeds. It is excellent, pure stuff....that’s not very travel friendly. Granola bars, also based on a cereal, are ubiquitous and widely considered healthy. However, granola is baked and almost always contains lots of sugar. Most of the right ingredients are there, but the process detracts from its benefits. My decision to call my bars muesli bars is simply because I take the ingredients of muesli (with a twist of using popped amaranth in some instead of oats), and form it into a bar so it can be easily transported, stored and eaten.

bars.jpeg

 

Tell us about the other ingredients you use in your bars.

All my bars are date-based. Dates are incredibly sweet. Yes, it’s sugar, but kept in it’s original state with fiber, the body can process it healthily. Once dried, they can be mashed into a dough or paste-like substance into which I incorporate a variety of other natural ingredients for different flavors and nutritional balances. Most bars have sesame seeds and flaxseed meal kneaded into the dough. This adds little flavor but lots of nutritional benefits (iron, calcium, omega-3). They also either have oats or popped amaranth to bulk up the texture, substance and nutrition, and then their hallmark flavors: peanut & apple, coconut & apricot, cashew & fig, which, along with the dates, is really what you taste. And that’s all!

 

What are the different bars that you offer and if you can, please tell us a thing you love about each one.

Currently I offer the three I just mentioned: peanut & apple, coconut & apricot, cashew & fig. The first is a classic combo that I just find so satisfying. The coconut & apricot bar has the extra sweetness of the apricot coupled with the robust flavor of toasted coconut. This bar is probably the most popular. It feels like a lot happening in the mouth at the same time, and has the added benefit of the bright orange of the apricot and the white of the coconut that makes it visually appealing. The cashew & fig bar is rich and creamy, but has a nice crunch from the fig seeds that I enjoy.

 

You are officially an entrepreneur in this era of entrepreneurship. What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned thus far?

Just do it! I don’t mean that it’s not a lot of work and totally consuming, but I’ve learned that the best way to embark on the path of creating something out of nothing is not to do endless market research, hem and haw on branding, wait until the ‘perfect’ moment when the many, many pieces are aligned and ‘right’, etc., but rather to put on the market something that you know is pretty good and go from there. It’s an iterative process and always evolving. I like being open to feedback and change, learning from mistakes, and growing as I go.

 

What does local (as a concept/ philosophy) mean to you?

Local is where the day to day, the bread and butter, of our lives happens. It’s where we can effect change, express gratitude and appreciation, have meaningful connections and impact. It’s where we can literally create the world we want to live in. Our community. I’ve spent many years working in international affairs on issues that move me deeply and always will -- these are important -- but the local sphere is one that’s more personal and gratifying.

 

Can you tell us something about breakfast bars that only you or very few people know.

They’re very simple! What our bodies and brains need is delicious and accessible, don’t be fooled!

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

Latte, hands down. Iced or hot, good coffee plus good milk always hits the spot. Thanks for bringing Montclair these things!

Local Talk: Q+A with Montclair Entrepreneur Janine Ruella (aka Montclair Pet Girl)

Tell us about your earliest connection to pets. Did you have dogs, cats, birds...growing up?

Our first family pet ever was a canary. We had a place “down the shore " and every Friday my Mom would pack up the kids, the car and the canary and head out of town for the weekend.

As children tend to do, my sister and I begged relentlessly for a dog. We campaigned on the promises that we would walk, feed, and otherwise provide stellar care for said dog. We got our wish and were surprised one afternoon with a tiny Bichon puppy we named Benny. Despite our promises, the dog quickly became a third child for my Mom, and Benny remained after we left home for college. It’s safe to say my pet care skills have grown exponentially since the Benny days.

 

Do you have pet(s) now? Tell us about them.

Currently I have two rescue pups, Remy, an affectionate lemon beagle ruled largely by her nose and her next meal and Desi, a cantankerous Chihuahua who is not a fan of most humans and requires a temperature of 60 degrees or more to even entertain the possibility of going outside. Suffice it to say, it's been a long winter. They shed like crazy and bark at everything, but they are fiercely loyal and always forgive me quickly for coming home smelling like 9,000 other dogs. In our free time, we can most likely be found on the couch snuggled up watching Netflix. I also have two rescue cats, Kuma and Keiko, who spend most of their time sleeping and avoiding the dogs.

 

Entrepreneurism is not for the faint of heart. What was the tipping point for you to decide to start the business in 2011? Was there a certain moment or event that triggered you to take the leap?

I was working as a school teacher and was quite frankly pretty miserable. I hated the commute and being in the same room all day long. I had worked as a nanny when I was in college at Montclair State, and was fortunate enough to able to be out and about all over town all day, taking kids to the park and other activities. As the kids got older, the family I worked for began leaving me in charge of the dog when they traveled. As my discontent in education grew, I wracked my brain for alternate means of supporting myself. I knew there was a need for quality pet care in a town where so many people have pets and full lives and busy schedules. I decided to draw on my natural inclination to nurture coupled with my passion and experience with pets and Montclair Pet Girl was born. I quit teaching and took a part time nanny job and also taught (and still teach) yoga to support myself as my fledging business grew. We have retained some of our very first customers, and those relationships and dogs mean more to me than I can ever express.

 

Starting and growing a business is tough but carries many valuable lessons, what is the most important element that you have learned thus far?

I am only as strong as my team and the people I surround myself with. I have a great team of pet lovers who seldom complain despite ever changing weather and physically demanding work. I trust each one of my teammates implicitly, and they are an integral part of my business and my life. I value them, and it’s important to me that they feel appreciated and supported. If they’re happy, the pets are happy!

 I have also found that when you are doing what you love and are passionate about, even the “hard stuff” is easy.

 

What is it about the Montclair area that served as the perfect community to launch your business?

Beyond the fact that town is full of so many awesome people and pets and is home to so many parks and green spaces, people here are BUSY! Living along the train line means so many folks are traveling to the city and working long hours leaving their pets at home for long stretches of time. If they’re not in the city, they’re busy with kids and juggling activities and schedules and don’t always have time to give their pet the attention and exercise they crave. Also, as awesome as town is, Montclairian’s seem to love to travel, creating a need for our overnight “pawjama party” service.

Montclair is also a “love your local” small business supporting type of place. There is not a cookie cutter, one sized fits all approach to anything here. Your neighbors want to know you and want you to succeed and to do well. The town literally lends itself to a hyperlocal small business like mine.

 

What advice can you give for any prospective or current pet owner?

Be prepared for a big commitment that will reward you for years to come. The time you invest in your dog when he/she first joins your family is invaluable and sets the precedent for life! Establish a routine and be as consistent as possible. Dogs thrive on routine and generally want to please you, but they need to know what you want from them. Every dog/cat has their own unique personality traits and disposition, it can be helpful to pay attention to patterns of behavior, so that you can anticipate a reaction and not miss an opportunity to correct/reward.

 

Tell us something about animals that very few people or no one knows.

A cat has 32 muscles in each ear, which allows each ear to move independently of the other. All the better to eavesdrop on your conversation and plot your demise. As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat.

 

What does local mean to you?

Close, familiar, community. I think “local” is more a feeling than geography. It’s what feels like home, an energy, a sense of belonging. A feeling that you’re in the company of others with the same affection for a place that you have.

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

I have long been a latte girl, but lately I have been a fan of the cappuccino at Local!