Eva sat in orientation and listened intently as the other veterans in the program shared their restaurateur aspirations. For Eva and her husband Henry, another Navy veteran, it had long-since been their dream to open a restaurant. Because they had spent the last several years in Japan, when the director pointed at her and asked what kind of restaurant she wanted to open, she answered, “Japanese Fusion.”
He looked at her. “That isn’t what you really want to do.”
“No,” she answered honestly. “It isn’t.”
“So? What’s your passion?”
She thought for a moment, trying to stay focused on food, but an image of her son kept popping into her head. Images of her son in public, of being asked to leave restaurants, of getting looks from strangers. “I want to create a place where children with special needs can eat dinner, spend time with their family, and feel soothed by sensory rooms and activities.”
First, silence. Then, a standing ovation. Even now, Eva can’t speak about that day without tears in her eyes.
So, she had done what most of us find impossible: she had articulated her dream. But, the big question remained: what now? The kick starter program for restaurateurs was helpful, certainly, but it didn’t provide her the tools she needed to start a business. She did what all entrepreneurs do at the beginning, she reached out for help.
Luckily, she picked the right place. In November 2016 Eva contacted The Jonas Project, and that’s where the story of Thyme and Play.
David Hincapie, Capacity Builder for The Jonas Project, is the first person to view initial applications. “When applications come in,” he said, “some have business plans, some don’t. You don’t know what you don’t know, until you know. That’s what we’re here for. But some, like with Eva, it was so apparent the effort being made.”
It was palpable, Eva’s passion. It jumped off the page. David passed her application through, where she was paired with her mentor, Jared White. A self-admitted “entrepreneurial spirit” with years of experience in law and investments, Jared brought a vast array of skills and expertise to Eva’s project. Jared’s first impression of Eva was not unlike David’s – this was an entrepreneur who really wanted this, and she would do whatever it took. “She wanted to do everything right away,” Jared said, “but I reminded her that you can’t jump from step 1 to step 9. First take 1 to 2, then 2 to 3…”
“Jared asked me one important question,” Eva remembers, “What can you do, right now, with what you have?”
This question revolutionized Eva’s approach, and she began to hit the pavement. She started with small fundraisers and events in her community. Her $500,000 dream budget soon shrunk to accommodate her more realistic goals. While Eva brainstormed ways to transform her business, Jared sent her research and statistics of other people in the industry who had attempted similar businesses. One article caught Eva’s eye.
“I picked up my phone and called Jared. When he answered I blurted out: What about a pop up?!”
And just like that, Eva’s business pivoted in the best possible way. Quickly, Eva revised her business plans, with non-stop support from Jared and her husband Henry, and began reaching out to friends and family who had children with special needs. Her pop up business would come into homes and transform living rooms into full-fledged therapy rooms. They provide the catering, the set up, and the take down, and the only thing left for the guests is to enjoy themselves. Although Eva and Henry’s son Alex, now 6, has autism, they custom design their pop ups for children with all diagnoses.
It is said the universe will send you signs when you’re on the right path, and as soon as Eva and Henry held their first event, “totally bootstrapped” with therapy equipment, trampolines, pillows, strobe lights, and more, Eva realized she was headed in the right direction. “Doors are starting to open for us,” she said. The Greensboro Journal (pg 20) who was initially going to take a few pictures for a small feature, was so impressed by the event that they turned it into a feature story.
It’s taken years to get here, but Eva knows her story is just beginning. “I’m not waiting for the perfect opportunity anymore,” she says now, “Our journey is still happening.”