April 2021

Stellina Pizza

Located in the Shooks Run part of downtown, Stellina Pizza serves Roman-style pies known for their hand-stretched, rectangular shape and flavorful dough. Utilizing many of the same fixtures found in during their construction, it has a feel of both nuanced old and brilliant new.

Sarah Mishler is the Chief Strategy Officer at Blue Star Restaurant Group which includes Stellina Pizza remakrs, “This building was bought by the owners a couple years ago before we envisioned a project to the space. It’s been a commercial space since 1902 and a neighborhood gem. We knew we needed to do something special with the space.”

In the midst of construction January of 2020, they were on track to open in April. Not imagining or building a business for take-out and delivery, Stellina had to rethink how to set up our operations. Their ongoing question – How can we keep people safe and healthy when we expected mostly dine in?

They pushed opening to mid May 2020 for just take out as they have a large beautiful window allowing for safe take out. Listening to their team members and desiring safety for the community, Stellina took a very cautious approach to reopening. Just now opening for dine-in, and it really helped staff and patrons feel comfortable with the varied transitions.

The menu is clean and simple ingredients. You can find menu items like warm caprese, burrata, rocket salad (arugula, gorgonzola, sliced zucchini, pine nuts in a lemon vinaigrette) as starters plus pasta like pesto spaghetti and polpetta & mozzarella. The real star of the show are their gorgeous pizzas with items like their Classic or Rosa or more intricate like their Dar Poeta – mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano aged 24 months, artisanal spicy Italian sausage, sliced zucchini.

Sarah also comments on the beauty of the historical space. “There are so many treasures in this space. There is so much rich history and we want to maintain this as a beautiful spot for our customers.” Blue Star Restaurant Group took the year of the pivot to spend time to hibernate some restaurants and defines their hospitality as ‘radical hospitality.’ They desire their teams to own the space and guests to enjoy their experience.

Website: stellinapizza.com
Social: @stellinapizza


Meet the Photographer

Lauren Wallace

Lauren spent most of her adult life traveling around the globe before making Colorado Springs her home. She is passionate about people, photography, adventure and her faith. She also enjoys lists, strong coffee, good cocktails, exploring new places, and getting to share those experiences with both old and new friends.

She has always loved supporting local and investing in my local community. She never envisioned herself owning my own small business! She took a business course with the SBDC and was able to get her photo business up and running. And now she’s living that small business dream!

Website: https://photobylaurenwallace.com
Social: @photobylaurenwallace & @coslocaladventures

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Nina Lee and her husband Rollie Ortiz have been business partners at the beloved 503W in Old Colorado City for seven years. Nina worked events and part time shifts in the restaurant industry since college and after Raleigh received his master’s degree in Hawaii, they decided to plant roots in their native of Colorado. Nina’s mother was working at the bar/restaurant that she owned currently and conveyed to Nina she was ready to move out of the space. She sold the place to Nina and Raleigh and Nina remarks, “We wanted to curate a space with both our experiences. That’s where 503W came to be. An Asian fusion concept with great beers and cocktails. We wanted to create a business plan that incorporated supporting the local economy.” 

When the COVID pandemic hit, Nina knew that they would need to work hard to pivot to support their business but even more so, their staff. 503W curated to-go cocktails and their delicious food on delivery and to-go platforms. Their customers boast of the incredible hospitality with staff members often writing to-go order names in big, beautiful lettering with kind notes. 

Their menu boasts of delicious items often with a cult following like the Fire Cracker Nachos, Goat Cheese Shrimp Cakes and Korean Tacos. One of their top selling items is their Little Seoul Bowl – Jasmine Rice + Kimchi + Pickled Cucumber + Wakame Sea Salad + Spun Carrots + Bean Sprouts + Cilantro + Green Onion + Sunny Side Egg + Black And Toasted Sesame Seeds. There is something for everyone at 503W.

When COVID hit, it was a tight pinch but Nina was determined to take care of her staff. 

“We took out two PPPs to help pay our staff. We made sure we took care of our staff to acknowledge the hard work they do and the trouble times they were going through. We were constantly on-the-fly thinking. We had to think from a budgetary stand point. We had to tighten things and also increase our marketing capacity to mee the need of the every changing requirements.”

She remarks about owning a small business too.

“You know, it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, mixed in with a profuse amount of swearing and juggling many things at once while smiling. It’s pure madness and yet one of the most rewarding experiences.”

Currently, their restaurant and bar are open to following El Paso County Public Health requirements and are still offering curbside pick-up and delivery (GrubHub). They are eager to help keep their staff and our community healthy and do their part to get back to the new normal. 

Website: www.503w.com
Social: @503w


Meet the Photographer

Peyton Elise

Peyton has such a passion for small business’s because they are the heart of the city, they make art and talents come to life, and create family in small spaces. She loves walking downtown knowing the high odds that she will run into five people she knows, it creates a safe space and a longing to connect. There’s nothing like knowing the impact a dollar can make in supporting a local business, the impact is like a domino effect within the city. “Small business’s do that,” she said, “they spread life around the town.”

Social: @peyyyyyyy

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A Matter of Service

Despite military experience and more, Robin Bell felt institutional racism was depriving him of one job after another. So he created his own business, began employing other veterans and working to break down barriers to success for the disadvantaged.        

Robin Bell has worked since he was eight years old, and he’s had to prove himself every step of the way. He started by mowing lawns and shoveling snow, and at age 11 he delivered newspapers, learning the basic lessons of reliability, punctuality and hard work: “You owe 110 percent of what you’re getting paid,” he believes, partly in acknowledgment of “that one step further” people of color have to go to succeed in the world. “Just like women in the workplace, whatever I do, I need to do twice as well… I’m being judged at another level.”

As a teenager, he was denied a job at a carwash twice, having to resort on a third approach to negotiate: “I said let me work two weeks, and if you don’t like me in any way, don’t pay me and tell me to leave and there’ll be no discussion.” Six months later he was a manager at the place.

Bell spent six years in the Air Force out of high school, learning missile mechanics, and another 14 later in the Army, nine of those as a Ranger, serving domestically and abroad.

“My curiosity is to take things apart and put them back together, that drives my understanding of things,” he says, noting the penchant for being mechanically inclined at a young age once got him in trouble with his parents for taking his bike apart. He’s also musically inclined, playing bass, percussion and keyboards, and he used to play in and manage touring bands. During his time in the military he also taught at and later directed IntelliTec College. He has instructed project, business and supply chain management, statistics and logistics in the Colorado Springs area.

But even with all that experience and knowledge, plus more than ample qualifications, he says he couldn’t get hired in his late 50’s, enduring interview round after interview round, only to be defeated at the finish line for reasons he believed were not based on his expertise, and led back to his being black, and older. “The system has been working against me,” he says, citing the message of the Black Lives Matter movement and institutional racism that has not really changed in the decades he’d spent in the workforce. After one particularly disappointing experience — in which he went through five interview rounds, received a $75,000 offer, said he would accept it, and then was told they worried he wouldn’t stay with the company because with his expertise he was worth more — he says he was “done beating my head against a tree, trying to get people to do the right thing — I shouldn’t have to beg someone for a job.”

So, instead, he decided to create his own business, and launched American Veterans Cleaning Service (AVCS) in 2015. He already possessed the business savvy and mechanical skills to do work with all types of machinery. The commercial and residential cleaning outfit now employs six people, three of them veterans and two others related to those who served in the military. Bell, now 65, targeted vets and their families with his hiring to create mentoring and entrepreneurial opportunities for veterans and disadvantaged entrepreneurs, to teach what he’s learned, and to serve other veterans as customers wherever possible, in hopes of helping some of those with special needs around physical limitations or mental health.

In working with disadvantaged communities, he acknowledges that often “you can’t succeed without help.” He knows this, because in order to start AVCS, he reached out for a lot of assistance from the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center (SBDC), as well as the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and SCORE Colorado Springs.

Bell had worked with SCORE years prior when he’d wanted to launch a climbing business, starting from scratch when it came to learning how to write a business plan. PTAC later helped him understand the methods for landing government contracts once he was ready. While the SBDC proved a valuable link, connecting him both to classes and the mentorship he required. “They teach you what you need to know — it can be a better process than going to school,” he says, “and they’re free!”

The systemic racism had once again worked against him in earlier attempts to secure necessary loans to launch his ideas — even after 20 years of steady financial history at a bank and with a good credit score. In an SBDC class, he gleaned the importance of creating a strong relationship with a banker, and the instructor said “you come see me, we’ll make sure you’re square.” And they did.

“The SBDC is well aligned to connect you with the right people that will help your business,” he reiterates, noting that the lines of credit he finally accessed threw open the doors for AVCS to thrive. Sometimes big commercial cleaning contracts won’t pay out for as long as 30, 60 or 90 days, all the while Bell must pay his employees and account for the cost of supplies, his work trucks, equipment needs and much more. “We’re paid in arrears, so you need a safety net of extra cash on hand and a good credit line to back it up if you’re going to bid on the large projects,” he explains. Regular janitorial work provides consistency, and AVCS also specializes in post-construction work, working with many of the big-name builders in the area. Commercial contracts compose about 97 percent of Bell’s business, though he’s aiming to move the needle towards around 15 percent residential. It’s less consistent, but there’s better margins to be made in niche services such as carpet cleaning, and he’d love to expand locally, build up a fleet and employ more veterans.

Grateful for the education he received from our region’s free training agencies, Bell has made it a point to give back. He has had AVCS technicians go on to finish college, become teachers, and move from experiencing homelessness to becoming thriving community members. Since AVCS’ launch, the SBDC has used him as a resource to mentor others. Speaking to the black community in particular, he says: “It would be such a plus for minorities if they would utilize these free resources. It would change their lives, just connecting with a mentor. Often they’re just lacking the skills to succeed. They just need accessibility and opportunity, and they will succeed.”

A Matter of Service Read More »

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