This remarkable story and ensuing friendship truly showcases the spirit of our WBEs and the values our WBEC-East network.
“My purpose in life is to be there for women in any way that I can, because it is what I am most passionate about” states Monica Chaudhari.
Monica Chaudhari is a professional with an extensive background, which includes working with Merck for 27 years. Currently, she is running a company called Adira whose goal is to help women manage the health and wellness of their entire family. “The goal is if they do that well, they finally get to their own health and wellness” explains Monica.
As with many of us during this quarantine, Monica and her family watched as the nation underwent civil unrest and people went to the streets to demand justice and reform. Naturally this prompted discussions in her family, amongst her relatives. Inspired by her sons and younger relatives “wokeness” Monica made a New Year’s resolution to mentor a minority woman entrepreneur located in the inner city. In her own words “One thing I learned from this process; from now on my New Year’s resolutions are not going to be be lose weight or whatever, it’s going to be something for somebody else!” Surprisingly, it was not an easy task but thankfully her neighbor Kathleen (affiliated with the Gesu School in Philadelphia) suggested someone she could work with, and so our story begins.
Monica was then introduced to Loretta Bullock, owner of Oh La La Salads. This August will mark 5 years of ownership for Loretta. Loretta has been in the restaurant industry for a while, and she has learned that there are so many lessons to uncover about running her business. “Everyday I learn something new about this business!” notes Loretta. Loretta’s reason for opening Oh La La Salads was to offer a healthier food alternative in a neighborhood that is a food desert; an urban area that is dominated by fast food restaurants and has little access to fresh food options.
Once they met on Zoom there was an immediate connection and it was obvious that their coming together was a perfect fit. They were taken to each another quickly and easily and were excited at what the future held for their partnership. By the second zoom call, COVID had crashed unannounced into our lives with the force and urgency of a hurricane. Monica noticed that Loretta was not the self-assured and positive person she was on the first call, instead there were notes of melancholy and dejection in her tone. Not only was Loretta dealing with business decline following COVID, but there was an unexpected loss in the family and she had to face the property damages dealt to her restaurant during the civil unrest that reached our city.
Monica mulled over this new development and came up with the solution of a buy-donate system. During their third zoom call Monica pitched the idea to Loretta, and Loretta immediately agreed to it, no questions asked. It was a sign that they already trusted one another, even after knowing each other for such a short amount of time and never having met face to face! “It was amazing the faith she had” Monica says.
Looking at the situation, Monica quickly realized 2 things. One: that Oh La La needed cash infusion which meant quickly generating demand for her product. And two: there are physical constraints due to quarantine not allowing the customers to eat there. Monica was aware of a program in Allentown that made food and donated it shelters. She knew that there would be a lot of good people that would want to donate due to the dual benefit of supporting a local business and feeding people in need. The way the Buy-Donate system works is people who want to donate buy the food, and Oh La La Salads delivers the food to local shelters to be consumed. In short, the people who need the food get it, and people who can afford the food buy it.
The pivotal moment came when they decided to take Oh La La Salads digital. “That Buy-donate went through the roof! My POS systems was going off in the middle of the night. I can definitely say that Monica is the reason Oh La La Salads survived COVID-19. I’m so grateful for her” states Loretta. They leveraged the use of the digital app ‘Menufy’, whose team graciously assisted Loretta by adding the donate button to Loretta’s website that can be ordered from 24 hours a day. Since the digital platform expanded their reach, Loretta was receiving orders from people from all over the world at all hours of the night!
A large part of this overnight success was due to the promotion of Oh La La Salads by a group of 10 women who make up the Gulabis Foundation. Gulabis Foundation is dedicated to fundraising and raising awareness about breast cancer and other worthwhile causes. Monica had originally committed to getting 500 salads sold, but the Gulabis Foundation and their considerable network were able to sell 1,173 salads worth $11,730!
“Monica is stuck with me for the rest of her life” jokes Loretta, as Monica laughs along. In the future, Loretta wants to scale her restaurant for it to be established in every urban city in the US. Monica is already looking ahead to their second phase in which they will be finding ways to increase the business’s profitability and standardize processes & systems to make it reproducible. Only then can they move on to the final phase 3, franchising.
Loretta’s advice to WBEs during this time is to never give up. “All this Covid Stuff, and online school, and then this, it’s a lot. But I’m just not-give-up type of person. You’d have to pull me by my hair, kicking and screaming” laughs Loretta. Just as Monica is mentoring Loretta, Loretta passes it along by mentoring the young women that work on her staff. “Monica is my mentor but I try to mentor them and let them know this is what we do, you can’t give up. Women are strong.” remarks Loretta.
On the other hand, Monica advises people to “Just be open to the possibilities and believe in positivity. Often it’s so easy to think of a thousand reasons why it may not work, or why one shouldn’t trust anybody else. It took a large amount of trust for them to work with each other despite the short amount of time they had virtually known each other, but it has paid off in remarkable ways.
Both women gained so much from their coming together, their relationship being the perfect balance of business acumen and diverse human connectivity. If you are interested in participating in the Buy-Donate program, please donate here!