Checking in With Businesses

Purple header image of the B2U Podcast, episode Mentorship and Paying it Forward with Stacy Cusio from the Pink Mentor Network

Where are they now? On today’s episode, we caught up with Aerial CLT founder Amy Chirico and Honey Butter Bakery owner Brandi Jones to see how CBR resources have helped their business throughout the years.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Hey, there you are listening to The B2U Podcast, and I am your host, Vanessa Vaughn Mathews, the founder and chief resilience officer of Asfalis Advisors. The B2U Podcast is brought to you by, a site connecting you with the resources you need to start and run a business in the Charlotte region. We’re bringing business resources directly to you. We discuss a wide range of topics like starting and growing a business, navigating government contracts, and how to set your business apart in and around Charlotte. We’re talking with small business experts to get exclusive advice on how to start and run a successful business.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Charlotte Business Resources has a long history of lifting up small businesses around Charlotte. Today we brought some of them in to catch up and hear how they were impacted by CBR. We have Amy Chirico, founder of Aerial CLT and Brandi Jones of Honey Butter Bakery.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Amy, we’re going to get started with you, can you tell our listeners more about you and more about Aerial Charlotte?

Amy Chirico Of course. My name is Amy and I have been in Charlotte for about 10 years. My background is in education. I started teaching music just out of college and I loved it. And I eventually found myself learning aerial, loved that. And it was a really natural transition to start teaching aerial. It honestly was a hobby job that kind of ran away with me. And ten years later, I have a fairly large aerial studio. So for those that don’t know, aerial is a really unique group fitness class, but more commonly known as Cirque du Soleil or acrobatics that you see the circus. But we’ve taken it to be really accessible for the average person who is just looking to move and move in a different way than the treadmill or maybe, maybe lifting weights isn’t your thing. And you know, it’s fun. You get to be upside down, you get to spin and it feels like play, but you’re moving your body in really different ways than normal life would have you move. So you’re getting a great workout in also.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So flexible and fitness.

Amy Chirico Yes. Yeah.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews And so what is your role in the company?

Amy Chirico My role is part teacher, part everything else aside from vacuuming; I don’t do the vacuuming anymore.

Amy Chirico I’ve moved up.

Amy Chirico So I just coordinate our efforts and choose our direction. And I try to make myself available to my staff so that I’m really hearing what they’re seeing out of the business. And then together, we make choices about what our next step needs to be. So I’m really just the ring leader that has to do the paperwork as well.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Awesome. I love that. So, Brandi. I am so excited. Talk to you today. If you guys can see, she brought some wonderful desserts for us, so I cannot wait to learn more about that. But can you tell our listeners more about you and more about your business?

Brandi Jones Well, my name is Brandi. My company is Honey Butter Bakery. I have been in business for almost 13 years here in Charlotte, actually started my business directly out of culinary school. I have been baking for years and I had another business. But this particular one, I was just ready to take it head-on. And I enjoyed what I was doing in class. And I didn’t really need to go to culinary school. But it was just the passion of mine that I wanted to have the additional knowledge. And from there, I started Honey Butter Bakery working business-to-business and now doing business-to-consumer. So doing a lot of custom cakes, weddings and just special events that people have needs for.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Honey Butter Bakery.

Brandi Jones Yes.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews And where did that name come from?

Brandi Jones Well, I had another name that I wanted. You know, I like food.

Brandi Jones So I thought Vanilla Bean. But Vanilla Bean was already taken and I was just like running with names. And I really wanted something catchy. So, Honey Butter Bakery came about. I will say, when you are creating a business name, you have to think about what the name says and what you’re able to do in, and at the time it’s a bakery. So everyone’s like, where are you located?

Brandi Jones Well, I’m not located anywhere. You know, I don’t have a storefront.

Brandi Jones So that was just one of the bad things about the name. But you can’t put no other name with Honey Butter Bakery. So it just rang. So here we are.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews I love it. And so what is your role in the company?

Brandi Jones Everything. I wear many hats on a daily basis. And it can be overwhelming. So I actually wrote it down one day and looked to see how many positions I had –  I have about 13. So, you know, for a lot of jobs. But, you know, when you put on a resume, of course, it looks totally different. So my primary role is to create wonderful desserts for anyone who has a sweet tooth. And if you don’t have a sweet tooth, just want something good and delicious. And I’m just trying to drive the business in a direction that I desire, that works for lifestyle, that I choose.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews I love that. So you guys were actually on Charlotte Business Resources awhile back and this is your first time back. It was kind of like what’s happened in the meantime. So can both of you kind of share a little bit about where you were when you first were on Charlotte Business Resources, what’s changed all that good stuff.

Amy Chirico Yes. So a lot has changed. Back in 2015, when Charlotte Business Resources initially did the interview, we were subletting three thousand square foot space from an HVAC company. It was a loud cement box. We were a really small team of four or five teachers and we ran three classes side-by-side and we were tripping over each other all the time. Since then, we have graduated to a 10,000 square-foot space just outside of Uptown with parking.

Brandi Jones Wow that’s awesome! That’s a plus.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Wow! Yes, that is a huge plus!

Amy Chirico Yeah, kind of unheard of, right? To be Uptown with parking. So that’s our big win! We now have seven teaching spaces that can operate simultaneously. So we offer three different class times a night across those seven different teaching spaces where a staff of 13 now.

Amy Chirico So we’ve just exploded into the space that we were really fortunate to find. And I mean, I can’t explain fully how much things have changed and grown and really just grown into ourselves.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So it’s almost like double, triple the growth of what you were since, what in 2014?

Amy Chirico 2014 or 2015, so like four or five years later.

Vanessa Vaughn-Mathews Amazing.

Brandi Jones What a blessing.

Amy Chirico I know. Yeah. We feel it.

Brandi Jones Sometimes a curse.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews And we’ll talk about that. Yeah.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So, what about you Brandi?

Brandi Jones Oh my goodness. So 2015, I actually remember when they came out, I was just all over the place. I just had a lot going on. I was so confused and know what I wanted to do. And unfortunately for me, I have so many ideas and I want to execute all of them at the same time. So I’ll start something and be like, oh, tomorrow I want to start something new. But I haven’t finished the other thing, so I was just all over the place. Unfocussed, at the time I know I was doing… I had several retail stores that I was using. I had my products in, which was cheesecakes. And I really wanted to take that to the next level. But after some point, I’m one of those. Once I achieve something, I’m ready to move on. And I felt like where I wanted to take it, it just wasn’t where I want to be at the time. And you end up becoming the demo lady when you’re in a grocery store. So I really wanted to go beyond the demo lady. So I decided to just go into working one-on-one with the customer directly versus through a third party. And that’s what I’ve been doing since then. So just working one on one with the customer, do you want me to go in to further detail, or is that good?

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So, that was great. Thank you. Both of you guys are in very different types of businesses. What are the challenges of being an aerial company that provides teaching and training, right? And then what are the challenges to be a pastry chef and owning a bakery?

Brandi Jones You know, I was all over the place. You know, I had so many ideas in my head, you know, that I really wanted to accomplish. I was working in business-to-business. And I really want to work more with the customers. So I just go more into business-to-consumer. And I started doing more weddings and custom cakes. Through the process WBTV, Channel 3 had contacted me and say, “hey, we want you to come on live. Martin Luther King’s birthday is coming up and we want you to do a demo.” And I was like, sure. So I went online to do a four-minute segment on the WBTV Bounce and do this process. I came on there, made a dessert and actually forgot the pie that I was supposed to make. I had the filling, but not the pie. And so this is all live. And I really enjoyed it. So since 2014 to now I do regular segments with Channel on a regular basis, you know, doing demos. So that’s pretty cool. Which I never thought in 2015 when we aired this particular segment that I would ever see myself doing live TV. And then my niece and I we competed in a competition with the cake boss. He had a show called Bake It Like Buddy. And it was called Bake It Like Buddy. And so you had to do some kind of creation. And we did a four hour segment where we had to bake the cake, decorate it, ice it within a short period time. So if you ever see the segment, I do want you know, it says bake it like buddy, not decorate like buddy, because cake was leaning in a little.

Brandi Jones And it was all purple. It was supposed be an ombre. It’s like one big color, dark color. But anyway, so we did when our segment because it’s Bake It Like Buddy, so it tastes wonderful. He thoroughly enjoyed it. So we won our segment.

Brandi Jones So it’s pretty cool, you know, just to be able to say that, you know, you’ve been on TV and and people hear the cake boss. So but we do a very successful in our custom business with weddings and custom cakes, which we thoroughly enjoy.

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Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So a question about your live show.

Brandi Jones Yes.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Channel 3.

Brandi Jones Yes.

Vanessa Vaughn-Mathews You are live and you realize you forgot something.

Brandi Jones Yeah.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews It was the risk in the continuity plan. As a risk person, I just have to ask, what did you do?

Brandi Jones Well, I just said, well, you know, when you have your pie. You know, you add it to it.

Brandi Jones And then I think by that time they cut. So I just knew this was my first time. I didn’t know all the stuff I needed to bring with me. But since then, that’s like one of those things that always haunt me. I’m gonna forget something. So I’m always rethinking in overdoing something. I’m one of those…I can’t plan too far ahead because if I do, I overthink it. So I have to just go with it. So those two or three minute segments work perfect for me, because what I say is once it’s done, it’s done.

Brandi Jones You know, nothing else I could do.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So let me answer your question. I love that. So I bet when you started, you didn’t think that you would be on TV.

Brandi Jones Oh, no. There’s just no way you can predict that. And then, you know, it’s kind of funny because people you know, my church members and friends were like, oh, you’re on local celebrity. And I’m like, I am no one’s celebrity, but I will take celebrity money if it came with me. I don’t have any of that.

Brandi Jones So everybody, I will say Channel Three did do a commercial on me a couple years ago. And so that would air on a consistent basis. So I’m in the grocery store.

Brandi Jones They’ll stare. They give you that look like. Not sure if that’s her or not. And, you know, my husband would say, oh, it’s just going to your head. No. People are stare. It’s beyond normal tell you guys. So.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews She also was a comedian. She just wanted to give you guys that. I love it. This is why I love this podcast. We have so much fun. So I want to talk about challenges, because being an entrepreneur, it’s a bumpy road.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews It can be a lonely road. And both of you have experienced growth. And growth sucks the oxygen and the life out of your business. So let’s talk about some of those challenges that you encountered since the last time you were on this show.

Amy Chirico Yeah. Our day to day challenge is convincing people that they’re capable of so much more than they believe they are. So convincing folks to get in the door, really. And once we can kind of open up that conversation and as far as challenges regarding growth, it’s it’s really just keeping enough teachers on staff. We run a really tight team so that we have full time positions for people who do want to make Aerial CLT their lifelong career…you know, five year career, whatever. So I don’t hire many part time employees, but that means we are lean. And if someone leaves and has another direction to take their life, then where we’re scrambling to kind of pick up a bit of the slack until we can find our next sister who wants to move forward and finding the right people who can manage a classroom, who can make people feel just really encouraged and can believe in themselves. That’s a really unique skill set. So we we now we have an amazing team. Every single person on their Aerial CLT team knows how to make a person believe in themselves and feel really accomplished when they leave. So I’d say that’s by far the biggest thing. Just getting the right people.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So the underlying things I think I heard you say were about culture, people, human resources and a little bit of sales and marketing.

Amy Chirico Yeah, messaging. Yeah. I guess those are probably the themes for every business. You just define it differently for whatever the businesses. Yeah. Yeah.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Okay. And Brandi, what about you? What were some of those challenges that you’ve seen?

Brandi Jones For me, it was going from one industry to the other just because I know how to bake doesn’t it mean every industry is ready for you. And you have to know enough about one industry to the other to be able to sustain the lifestyle that you’re trying to live off of. And this is my full time life business, whatever you want to call it. So in 2015, I don’t know if I actually started around that time, probably a few years later, I actually teach at CPCC to other business owners or people who are aspiring to be business owners.

Brandi Jones And so the challenges that we face is in my industry were trendy and what worked in 2015 may not work in 2020. The industry is always changing flavors, changing, you know, health reasons. So there’s many challenges because the industry is so wide. You know, you have to really hone into your niche like hers is pretty, pretty specific. I mean, there’s nowhere to get there. So with the food industry, you know, I do weddings, I do custom cakes for birthdays. And then you have where I can work with another restaurant or retail store. So you really have to define, you know, what area you want to work in. And I’m one of those. I’m just broad, so. Me, my challenge was is and still this now is just honing in on to one particular thing. Twenty fifteen was just a few of us baking. You kind of knew who everyone was. Well, then the college laws came out and you can bake from home. Well everyone bakes now. So the challenge is not only retail stores that you see. And then the few people you see through social media. But it’s those underlining my coworker bakes or my cousin bake or my sister bake. So my cousin bake my momma bakes.

Brandi Jones So, you know, a grandchild bakes now.

Brandi Jones So, you know, it’s just so many people who have the opportunity to have to make money just like you are. And that’s the huge competition. So now the industry is so saturated, you have to really shine bigger than what you were before. And then with all that going on, social media is a bigger component to lifestyle now. And so if you don’t have the presence of social media and you’re fighting between 50 other people who are starting up their cake business, you know, the paperwork doesn’t mean anything when you know, you’re trying to do is come up with some kind of income and just try to have your own niche. And so that’s what the challenges I have found recently is just finding my way through the whole process and finding with social media and the people I don’t know who are my competitors.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So I hear a differentiator. I hear competitors. What about third-party risk? Do you depend on other suppliers for everything that it takes to bake?

Brandi Jones I do. And I haven’t really found too many of an issue with that. I will say and when you work in business to business, that does become an issue because your business is relying on someone else’s business. So if I decide to partner up with the restaurant and that restaurant’s business is slow, and if I only have, let’s say, four or five and they’re really doing well. Well, if someone is out of business, that kind of takes away from my business as well. So and if they have suppliers that they’ve worked with that didn’t work for them as well, that affects me is also it is a trickle-down effect. So it’s best to deal directly with your suppliers so that you can alleviate some of those situations that may come up and not just have one supplier have more than one so that you can offset where one is not available to the other.

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Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Got it. So we touched on this before this Podcast started, but what have you learned about yourself through this journey? And if if you want to start before you know, you did your first video with Charlotte Business Resources, what have you learned about yourself as an entrepreneur?

Amy Chirico I think the biggest lesson I learned is I can not start the days with small tasks such as e-mails. If I start the day with small tasks, my entire day is small tasks. And then you have no creative energy left to do the bigger picture things that are far more important.

Amy Chirico Those little emails that attack you all day, like they’ll survive another 24 hours.

Amy Chirico So I’ve really had to make an effort. Every morning, I wake up, I start my computer, I don’t have any notifications on. I get right to whatever big picture project that I gave myself the day before. So I don’t even have to look at my task list. I already know when I’m gonna wake up and spend that morning on the day that made probably the biggest difference when I identified that and started to change it.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews And what about you personally?

Amy Chirico Personally, self-care. Yeah. Self learning what self-care meant to me. How much I really needed of it. I learned that I am a lot more introverted than I realized. So teaching 10 classes a week isn’t an option for me because I would I’d be out. I wouldn’t be able to handle the back end of the business and managing a team so quickly, identifying what self-care was, making sure that I keep the time for that and finding that quiet space where I’m away from technology, away from my phone, where people can’t find me because my health is very important to my quality of life. And businesses need to add to your quality of life, not control your life.

Brandi Jones Ideally.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews I feel like we should hashtag that!

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So what about you? What have you learned about yourself in business? And then what have you learned about yourself personally?

Brandi Jones In business it’s a loaded question. Just like in business, I have learned that I’m all over the place, to be honest.

Brandi Jones You know, I am a thinker and a creator and I like to create. And that’s just my main focus is just to get out there and try something new. The food industry is ever creative. So you know what was cool then? It’s not cool now.

Brandi Jones Everyone is just trying to put hot sauce on some cupcakes and then sprinkle it with bacon, bacon or some lavender. You know, Pinterest.

Brandi Jones So, you know, you have to stay up against those trends.

Brandi Jones And I’m a workaholic and I know that about myself.

Brandi Jones And when you have a family, I do have a husband, three daughters and two grandchildren. And so when you have and I still have to be wife, mom, business owner, and that doesn’t work well when all you want to do is just work hard. And I like to be there for others as well. So when she said self-care, totally get that. Because when we’re in business, we tend to just work the business. It’s our life. That’s all we know. And then somewhere in there, we’ll find two minutes out of the month for ourselves. And so this year, 2020, I said I was going to do more self-care for myself because my husband is always telling me that you do need to take time for yourself, for us. You know, all I know is, Honey Butter Bakery he doesn’t know Brandi Jones. So I have learned over the years to just minimize the amount of work that I’m putting on myself. It is okay to say no. And in business, we’re not comfortable with saying no. Because when there’s so many avenues someone can get services, you have to say yes, because you don’t know in business when the next dollar is going to come from. For her, doing emails is later. In my industry, it has. I would say in 2015 you could do the 24 to 48 hours. I’m going to stick to it. You know, the customer is going to have to wait. Now, it’s like you have to respond within two to four hours because they will go to someone else. And so although you don’t have to rush to do it, but you can manage it where it’s not overwhelming and consuming you. So just finding that balance between life, business, itself is pretty much where what I have learned over the past few years.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yeah. And so I don’t know how many competitors you have in this space, but I would imagine not too many.

Amy Chirico Right. Right. Not too many.

Amy Chirico And the other businesses you could identify as our competitors have very different offerings than what we do. One is a modern dance and aerial class space, but they focus mostly on dance. And then the other is. Aerobics, suspended aerobics or pilates or yoga. So it’s it’s a bit different where Aerial Charlotte still focuses on the performance art aspect, but we’re not throwing in dance and we’re also not throwing in pilates. So we each have kind of our niche and that’s worked well, I think, for all of us in Charlotte. So we’re not really stepping on each other’s toes, but we’re also complementary of what each other offers.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yes. Yeah, that makes sense. So what do you wish that you would have known first when you started out that you now know today?

Amy Chirico Oh, that it would be OK. I think there as a as any business owner, there’s just so much anxiety. You accumulate risk and there are people that depend on you, whether be your clients, your staff. And I always have taken that very intensely. And I think I’ve just worn myself out in certain phases of the businesses life where I just panicked. And, you know, anxiety attacks and all of that sort of thing, because I felt the pressure. But everything was ultimately OK. And I wish I could reach back and tell myself from three years ago. Take a deep breath. The world’s not ending. You know, if business slows down or you have to move space’s again or whatever, it’s gonna be fine. You’re gonna find a different groove, but still be able to take care of the people that rely on you.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Brandi what about you?

Brandi Jones I totally agree with what she said. It is going to be OK. For me saying no is OK and it will be all right. And God will sustain you. He got you this far and He will continue to get you even further. And if I lean on that, I will be all right. And just know that. What you see out there and you know, what everyone is doing in the industry doesn’t mean they’re really doing it. You know, everyone’s putting up props and looking doing it for the gram and so, oh, you can get overwhelmed. What you see scrolling down, up and down on your newsfeed. So think for me is saying no is it is OK and we’ll be all right.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews No is a complete sentence.

Amy Chirico Yes.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So what advice? Do you have for other. I want to focus on women. Hashtag women-owned. What advice you have for other women owned small businesses?

Amy Chirico When I would say earlier on in the studio’s existence, I think I felt that being a woman and being more sensitive or more empathetic to how other people are feeling. I felt that was a negative or was slowing me down in some ways or distracting me. But now I consider my empathy, my intuition to be a huge asset. And as soon as I learned to trust what I was feeling and hearing on the inside, it really helps navigate the business to a place that was far more authentic. And that’s something that I think most women can really relate to. We tend to be more empathetic than our men counterparts. We tend to be, some might say, emotionally volatile. But I think we just have more emotional high and lows and we think those emotional highs are maybe not how we’re really feeling. It’s just hormones or whatever. But sometimes those are the most genuine moments where we feel something so intensely. It’s trying to tell us something. So yeah, have those intense feelings and outbursts and that sorts of thing. But maybe do it in the closet.

Amy Chirico Oh yeah. Wait for it to pass. Write down what you learned and then and then move forward with that lesson.

Amy Chirico So lean into the woman ness that you know, controls all of our feelings and cycles and all of that stuff. So yeah.

Brandi Jones I will say to any other woman who is aspiring to do something for themselves, to just do it. I mean, there’s a wealth of information for women and there are many women who will band together to help each other to do it. Go for it. It’s in you. We were built for this. God has a set of tools for us.

Brandi Jones He built us a certain way and He built us to do what we desire to do. Those emotions that we have when we have a breakdown, it makes us stronger every single time. And that’s what we need for us. For men, it’s a problem for us. It fuels us to just do more and better.

Brandi Jones And once we get that cry out, it’s like, let’s do it.

Brandi Jones No, just believing yourself. A lot of times we as women, we break each other down without even realizing that we’re doing it. But just try to find that gang of team of friends who well, even if they’re not your friends, it may be in another industry and no state country, whatever can get those few people on your team and just band together. Let them know what you need and you’ll be surprised. Most of us feel the exact same way. We’re just too afraid to ask. And we don’t want to seem weak because we’re in a male dominated industry. So we already feel like, you know, we have that weakness that we’re trying to bury, that we tried to break through them. And then we don’t want to seem weak to another female. But we have it in each other and we’re willing to help each other. So I just met her today and I feel like I already know her.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Right, right. Right. I am.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews My biggest lesson that I learned thus far as an entrepreneur is to get rid of the head noise. So our former guest that we had here was Stacy Castillo. And she does an awesome job with the Pink Mentor Network.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews And we talked about that head noise, those assumptions and the lies that we tell ourselves. And it affects our confidence and fear grips onto us. And so being able to overcome that and just be vulnerable and be authentic has just been helpful for me to just kind of let it out. And to your point, that cry feel so good.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews It just feels good to cry.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So this has been very, very insightful. And so, Amy and Brandi, if you can tell our listeners, where can they find you, whether that is social media on the Web. Phone number, email address, whatever it is. Where can they find you?

Amy Chirico Yes. So we’ve got a very helpful website.

Amy Chirico, it’s or on Instagram at Aerial CLT. Either place has loads of information how to sign up for class links to each other. Those are the best places to get started.

Brandi Jones Awesome. Honey Butter Bakery. We are a We’re on Instagram, Facebook. Also, in the next month or so, we actually will be providing desserts for Public House restaurant that will be on 300 S Brevard Street, which is next to Middle C Jazz, which I also provide desserts for them as well. So you can get us on a regular basis in addition to just ordering us from directly.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Awesome. Love it.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Thank you so much for listening. Do you want to learn more? Head to to have access to resources on starting and growing your business. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to take your business to the next level, look no further than Charlotte Business Resources.

The B2U Podcast is now available on YouTube! Watch today’s episode below, or click here for additional small business interviews.

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