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Five Rochester businesses born during the pandemic come into their own

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PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
While droves of small businesses across the country were crushed by the pandemic, millions were propelled to lift off.

The hardships of the health crisis unleashed a tidal wave of entrepreneurship and broke the country out of a start-up slump that had dragged on for decades.

A record number of more than 5.4 million people in the United States filed to start businesses in 2021 alone, according to the Census Bureau.

No two stories of the journey to self-employment are the same. But there are similarities. Some entrepreneurs were spurred by being laid off. Others were fueled by boredom. The trauma of the pandemic prompted many people to reevaluate what was important to them and take a leap of faith.

Whatever the motivation, countless people in greater Rochester are today making their living from businesses that were little more than passion projects or hobbies prior to the pandemic.

These are the backstories behind five of those businesses.

Yeah Baby! Bakes: A stressed-out teacher makes the side-gig shift

Sam LeBeau, owner of Yeah Baby! Bakes, left her teaching job in March 2021 to open the bakery - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Sam LeBeau, owner of Yeah Baby! Bakes, left her teaching job in March 2021 to open the bakery
For as long as she can remember, Sam LeBeau has always had a side gig.



When she was a child, she set up Kool-Aid stands at garage sales. She once harvested her dad’s entire vegetable garden without his knowledge and sold the contents out of a wagon for $5.

As deep as her entrepreneurial streak ran, though, LeBeau never imagined leaving the stability of her job as a middle school teacher to pursue one of her side hustles. Then came the pandemic.

In March 2020, LeBeau was teaching virtually out of her home and taking care of her toddler. To avoid going stir crazy, she began baking. She posted her creations on Instagram under the handle @yeahbabybakes and her business, Yeah Baby! Bakes, was born. Friends began placing take-out orders.

When she returned to in-person teaching, LeBeau kept up her business at night, baking macarons in a rented space on South Union Street in Spencerport.

Yeah Baby! Bakes makes macarons in a variety of flavors. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Yeah Baby! Bakes makes macarons in a variety of flavors.
Fruity Pebbles, brownie batter, Dunkaroo, and lemon raspberry are among some of her most popular flavors. One of her more adventurous creations is an everything bagel macaron, featuring a cream cheese base with everything seasoning on top.

She ran the numbers and realized she could make more baking full time than teaching. In March 2021, a year after the pandemic hit, she packed in teaching for the bakery.

“I’m just so happy and less stressed,” she said. “I feel so bad for any teachers and nurses out there right now. They’re so overworked and underpaid.”

LeBeau keeps the same hours as she did when she was a teacher. While the storefront isn’t open for walk-ins, customers can place orders through her website and pick them up on Saturday mornings.

“I think this is going to keep happening,” LeBeau said. “I think people are going to start leaving for their side hustles because they’re being so overworked.”

Golden Supply & Mfg Co.: Four friends, four journeys

From left, Erick Florez, Adam Scheffler, , Dalvin Potter, and Krist Kaiser inside their new men's supply shop, Golden Supply & Mfg Co. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • From left, Erick Florez, Adam Scheffler, , Dalvin Potter, and Krist Kaiser inside their new men's supply shop, Golden Supply & Mfg Co.
Circumstance brought the four owners of Golden Supply & Mfg Co., a men’s supply and home goods store, to open a storefront on Monroe Avenue in Rochester.

For Erick Florez, the move became a necessity after his former employer eliminated his web developer job due to the pandemic.

“I had four days to figure something out,” Florez said. “It upended my life.”

He struggled to find work that paid the same amount as his previous job.

“With my life, with my son, we can’t live worried that that’s going to happen again,” he said. “I need to take things into my own hands and have control.”

A single father of one, he decided to pursue his side business of making and designing pennants, called Golden Pennant Co., full-time.

Adam Scheffler had an experience similar to Florez’s, which led him to become a partner at Golden Supply & Mfg Co.

When the pandemic began, he was laid off from his restaurant job. He then lost his second job working for a compost company.

“I took it as a sign that we probably shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket,” Scheffler said.

He concentrated on his screen printing and chain stitch embroidery business, Outer Heaven, which he operated on the side with two friends who had worked at the restaurant with him, Krist Kaiser and Dalvin Potter.

Krist Kaiser of Golden Supply & Mfg Co. repairs a pair of jeans. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Krist Kaiser of Golden Supply & Mfg Co. repairs a pair of jeans.
When Florez, Scheffler, Kaiser, and Potter met, they realized their common interest and began spitballing ideas to collaborate. They hosted a pop-up at the Rochester Public Market and, from there, Golden Supply & Mfg Co. came to be.

“We were kind of flying blind, but everything actually made sense when you stand back and look at it,” Scheffler said.

Pennants designed and made by Florez hang on the walls. Below a colorful display of thread is an embroidery machine, operated with a hand crank by Scheffler. Sweatshirts and hats printed with designs inspired by the city are displayed throughout the store.

“Golden Supply definitely opened out of opportunity and circumstance,” Scheffler said.

Florez isn’t pulling in the income he did at his previous job, but he said he sees potential.

The operation grew so fast since opening in January that it has expanded to a second space focused on production.

MidCentury585: Furnishing a new lifestyle

Eliza Page and John Fioravanti, owners of MidCentury585, with some of the furniture they sell in their space inside the Refinery building in the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Eliza Page and John Fioravanti, owners of MidCentury585, with some of the furniture they sell in their space inside the Refinery building in the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood.
For Eliza Page, the seed of starting her own business was planted in January 2021 as she was quarantined with the coronavirus.

She found it hard to move around without exhausting herself, so for an entire week she spent 10 hours a day, as she tells it, researching how to build a website. Six months later, she formed the furniture business MidCentury585 with her partner, John Fioravanti.

The road to opening the business wasn’t smooth. From the start of the pandemic until the beginning of 2022, Page worked full-time at a local furniture store.
But when supply-chain issues put furniture on back-order, Page’s pay, which depended greatly on commissions, was cut significantly. Fioravanti lost his job as an electrician, too.

She asked him if he wanted to pursue MidCentury585 full time and he agreed, trusting his partner’s vision.

At first, the couple worked out of Page’s home refinishing mid-century furniture they found on Facebook Marketplace and at estate sales. Customers soon began asking for showroom hours.

“It just got to the point where the demand was so high,” Page said. “I need to be here all the time and so I quit my job.”
PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA

Now, Page says she feels like she’s helping to solve a supply chain problem created by the pandemic. By refinishing older furniture, customers are able to receive their purchases right away. At her previous job, the average wait time for a piece of furniture was around 10 months.

MidCentury585’s space in the Refinery building on Exchange Street is only available by appointment, but Page and Fioravanti are renovating the space and plan to open a showroom to the public.

Once that is done, Page hopes to make her own custom wood furniture while Fioravanti concentrates on making custom lighting.

“I’m very grateful for covid,” Page said. “I would not have taken that plunge if something hadn’t stirred things up and made my job unsustainable.”

Raquel Wellness Massage Therapy: Branching out after a forced ‘time out’

Raquel Walker, owner of Raquel Wellness Massage Therapy, in her space inside Plushh Salon & Spa in Greece. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Raquel Walker, owner of Raquel Wellness Massage Therapy, in her space inside Plushh Salon & Spa in Greece.
Raquel Walker’s first experience with massage was rubbing her firefighter husband’s ankle after he injured it on the job. She began practicing Reiki, an energy healing technique meant to promote relaxation and stress reduction, and felt called towards touch.

She decided to go to school for massage therapy while working as an office coordinator for a local nonprofit.

Walker believes there aren’t enough spaces where people get the opportunity to talk and be real. She hopes that her space provides those things.

Her clients include, but are not limited to, teachers, nurses, and first responders.

“I look at touch as something that you’re taking care of the entire person,” she said.
She’s helped parents talk through situations with their children. She’s worked with victims of sexual abuse and helped them be able to receive touch again.

“Being alive during this time,” she said, “I think that despite everything that has gone on in the world, what we’re realizing is people do need safe spaces, people do need rest.”

Raquel Walker massages a client in her space inside Plushh Salon & Spa in Greece. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Raquel Walker massages a client in her space inside Plushh Salon & Spa in Greece.
Walker said she found her safe space and rest through managing her own business. Being her own boss allowed her to prioritize her own needs so that she can also care for her clients, she said.

“I specifically wanted to work in a field that would allow me to have self-care and self-love be my lifestyle,” she said.

The pandemic wasn’t the reason Walker started her own business, but it was the catalyst that made her move her practice into a salon. With two teenage boys attending school remotely, it became difficult to operate a business from her home.

She now sees clients in her own space in the back of Plushh Salon & Spa in Greece and is able to carve out time for herself and her family.

“Everyone needs to become more reflective and take that time out,” she said. “Covid was that forced time out.”

Petit Paper Stories: Tiny creations open a big world

Laura Homsey, owner of Petit Paper Stories, holds a piece she made for a client who commissioned her when their pet hedgehog died. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Laura Homsey, owner of Petit Paper Stories, holds a piece she made for a client who commissioned her when their pet hedgehog died.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Laura Homsey was in her space in a small office building on Monroe Avenue in Brighton, using tweezers and small sewing weights to glue down miniature pieces of paper as she created a scene of a hedgehog in a living room. Next to the creature was a small sign that read, “I’m just a little on hedge today.” She was commissioned to create the piece by a customer who recently lost their pet.

Two years ago, Laura Homsey ran recreational services for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Today, she owns Petit Paper Stories, a business focused on creating one-of-a-kind miniature paper art for customers all over the world.

And she’s booked out for months.

When schools closed in March 2020 and youth programs were put on pause, Homsey was given the option of continuing to do her work in the agency’s adult homes. But her concern for her safety prompted her to leave.

To fill her time, Homsey made a goal to create one piece of paper art every day and post it on social media. Friends began reaching out asking her to make paper portraits of their families. She started a website and moved into an office space in Brighton, which she shares with her partner, an audio engineer.

Laura Homsey of Petit Paper Stories surrounded by some of her paper creations. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Laura Homsey of Petit Paper Stories surrounded by some of her paper creations.
Her work goes deeper than creating colorful, playful scenes. She spends hours learning details about her clients lives and scrolling through their social media profiles to tell a more personal story with her artwork.

“I like to think that my customers take me on these stories,” she said.

She has been commissioned by a family in Germany to recreate their time spent together in their living room while quarantined. She was also hired to illustrate a husband and wife cooking together in a kitchen after the husband passed away and left his family with his famous recipe for navy bean soup.

Without the pandemic, Homsey doesn’t think she would have ever made the leap to self-employment.

“I don’t think I would ever come to terms with my love and my passion to this extreme,” she said. “I think it would always be on the sidelines and I’d just be happy enough with that.”

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Petit Paper Stories.

Lauren Petracca is a freelance photographer and reporter for CITY. Feedback on this story may be directed to jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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