We’re starting a new series to highlight women business owners in Eastern Carolina. In each issue we plan to feature a different woman and her business experience – the good, the bad and the ugly.
For the first entry, we sat down with Janeen Russell, owner of Promise’ Land Market in downtown Morehead City. Russell brings experience and creativity to her business, offering a wide selection of wine and craft beers along with specialty cheeses. She has paid her dues in the industry, from working at Clawson’s Restaurant as a teenager, to later managing the restaurant. After dabbling in an event coordinator position with the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort, she realized that the job was too slow paced for her. She returned to the restaurant scene by working for William Bell and William’s Fine Dining. While there, she learned all about wine, and now uses that knowledge in her own store. Before opening the market in May, 2013, she managed Jack’s Waterfront Bar from the time it opened until she left in February of last year to focus on her dream.
Q: Why did you decide to open this kind of business?
A: I had always wanted to do a gourmet grocery store. Dad took me to New York City when I was in my early 20s and the one place I wanted to go was this grocery store called Zabar’s. I always wanted to do a grocery store with items you couldn’t get at a normal grocery store. To me, making a long grocery list and a four-day to-do list for a dinner party is exciting. So I had always wanted to do something like this, and my partner and friend David Quinn and I had been trying to figure out what would make it in downtown Morehead. Events were my strong suit, so we were thinking maybe events or wedding coordinating, but I knew that I had done enough of them that I didn’t want to do it every day. We have three or four couples that travel together. We went into Zillie’s on Ocracoke and we loved it. They could tell that I loved it. That was in July, 2012. In August of that year, David came over and said, “What if we did craft beer and wine, and get your gourmet grocery store started?” That’s exactly what we needed to do. I knew it could work.
Q: How was it striking out on your own?
A: It was scary. Jumping into the unknown has always been scary to me. I’m one of those comfort level people. The fear of leaving the normal scared me. But I knew that if I didn’t do it, I was going to hate myself. I also knew that I had made other people’s dreams come true, working in my past jobs, and that if I didn’t do this now, I was going to start growing old and bitter for not going after my dreams. There were definitely fears and hardships to come over.
Q: Do you have any advice for women thinking about opening their own businesses?
A: If you have a dream, and it’s something that keeps nudging you, and appears all the time in your thoughts, to not let fear stop you. Don’t let the ‘no’s stop you. Don’t let expenses and financing, there’s always ways to find that sort of thing to make it happen. You can’t let the simple obstacles stop you because most times, that’s fear stopping you – fear of that unknown. You just have to jump off a ledge and know that there’s a safety net down there and you’re going to find it somewhere. And I think going after what you want, your dream, ultimately makes you happy.
Q: How did you come to the point where you knew you could run your own business?
A: I was a partner with Leigh Orr in Joie de Vivre, a furniture and refurbishing business. She really built up a lot of my self confidence and creativity by asking me to partner with her in that business. I always thought people are never going to pay for me to decorate someone’s house or Christmas tree or plan their dinner party or whatever. But she kind of boosted that creativity. That was a big stepping stone for me. She was instrumental in me having that self confidence. Keri McCann (co-owner of Jack’s Waterfront Bar) was my boss and my friend. She took away a lot of those fears that I had. Jack’s was a huge lesson. She had never done a bar, her background was accounting, but she made it work. It was her and Jeffrey’s dream. So seeing two people go after their dream not knowing exactly what they wanted or where it was going to go and helping them with that was a big push for me, too. If they can do it, I can do it.
Q: How do you like working for yourself?
A: It is the most tiring, most challenging, most stressful, most exhilarating work I’ve ever done. And if I have anyone to be mad at about my schedule, it’s me, which I like. I’ve always been a worker. I enjoy the challenges that it gives me every day. I enjoy the freedom and creativity that I can have here. It’s nice. It’s long hours. I knew that, but I don’t think I ever knew that there was never going to be enough time in the day. I have always been a list person. You can throw your do-list out the window.
Q: Do you have plans to expand the market?
A: This space is desirable for us because there’s 1,800 square feet behind us that we can grow into. We want to make it through the winter and little by little, expand. Expand our gourmet grocery line and give people a fun little relaxing environment. You can come here and sit down with your friends and catch up about the week without having to yell. It’s the spot where you want to come and relax, enjoy your friends, catch up and have conversation about what you’re drinking, eating and pairing.
Q: Do you plan on doing more events in the new year?
A: Absolutely. More events are definitely at the top of the list. People are looking for stuff to do around here. I think with our clientele, they’re craving more information and more vineyards. There’s new breweries coming up every other day, it’s crazy. We do a weekly wine tasting every Thursday at 5:30, and we make our beer tastings more like events. We’ve done a grilling class and paired each course with some appetizers and cheeses, and showing people how to marinade, brine and slow cook a Boston butt. And just give people an excuse to plan their cooking and drinking accordingly. To me, there’s nothing like planning a dinner party. We’d like to do some more cooking classes like that and showcase some the chef’s around the area. We’ve got a lot of talent around here.
Q: Do you have any employees?
A: It is myself and my sweetheart, Philip. We do it all. We work together and help each other. He washes dishes and does anything I ask him to do. I wouldn’t have done this if he hadn’t been my right hand man. I wanted us to share something together. We always wanted to do some little deli, wine, grocery sort of thing, and we’re doing it. Some of our friends come in and help us on busy weekends, too.
Q: Do you have plans to expand your workforce?
A: We hope by the spring that we’ve got things in place so we know what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, where we’re going a little more. I would like to have a brew guru here to answer questions and help people learn about beers. Just have a service that you’re not going to find at a grocery store or a sales counter – more specialized service. And the same with wine.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
A: I’ve got great partners who believed in me. Before I even knew I was really capable of it, they knew I was. They inspire me and just lit me on fire. When you have the confidence of your peers and your friends, they know you can do something, it really does force you to take it on and go with it. They say I can do it, I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but if they say I can do it, I can do it. Because of the confidence of my friends, my sweetheart, my family, I see they’re right and I’ll take the hardships along the way and just go with it. And it worked. It is working. I’m learning a lot right along with our customers.