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Small Business Shoutout: STL Veg Girl


Caryn Dugan, A.K.A. STL Veg Girl

Once the pandemic was declared, I started reaching out to various business owners to see if they wanted to share their story. The story you and I don't know, but we should know. Being a business owner is stressful in itself, but then you have to shut down (in some way or another) because of a pandemic ... stress is understatement. I wanted to give these business owners a voice. The general public needs to know the inner workings of a small business. My hope is after reading some of the thoughts and stories from these business owners, a little more compassion will be had by everyone on the outside looking in.

Every Friday, I plan to feature a small business in a "Small Business Shoutout" feature. This Friday belongs to Caryn Dugan, AKA STL Veg Girl. I'm proud to call Caryn a friend. We started building our friendship a little over a year ago and I can't wait to see how it grows. I spent some time with her right before the pandemic and you can read about that in this throwback post I wrote. Watching her pivot has been truly inspiring.


Here's Caryn's story:


I don't know where I get it, but some how, some way, I always have hope. Maybe it's faith and maybe really, really, deep down it's confidence in myself, but that fire to do whatever I want to do and make it come to fruition is always there. Some days it an itty bitty pilot light, others it's a full on raging confidence blasting inferno. During this life-interrupted moment we're in, I've had both and although I can rarely control the heat of that flame (or I have not yet learned how), one thing that keeps it burning is remembering how I felt back in 2008. Lost, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed - all to say the very least. As long as that memory fans the fire - I'm still in business.


The ENTIRE reason I even started Veg Girl was to be the person I so desperately needed back then. I opened the Center for Plant-Based Living (CPBL) to give her a home. If someone is lost, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed (or generally curious), you don't need to track down information all over town, or hopefully come across a class randomly at a community center or grocery store - you come here.

Photo by Caryn Dugan
Photo by Caryn Dugan

So, when the virus started to infiltrate our town and knowing that we have a lot of immune compromised people who come into the shop - that was a risk I was not going to take. I recorded a video, explained the best way I could, posted it and locked the doors.


I poured a glass of wine, sat at one of the tables, printed out the class rosters for all the upcoming classes and programs, and proceeded to refund each and every person, one by one. Marking off as I went. I refunded north of $9,000 that night in slow progression. Bank account nearly depleted.

Inside Center for Plant-Based Living

I got home and was stunned. I can't even remember crying, I was, I think, numb, emotionally sucker punched by a ghost - I had no one to blame or any idea of how to get out of this Twilight Zone I felt I was in. Tim, my husband, was great - he's been great through all of this. He built the shop, literally. He was at home when I got home from the refund-o-rama and continues to be my number one supporter.

The first week of our stay at home orders, I moped around and thought - why make plans - who the hell knows what will happen? Why put effort into something that will never come to fruition? (Remember how things were literally changing BY THE HOUR?!)

The Monday morning of the second week I hopped out of bed and thought -ok, enough of this, take control and do something. After learning of all the people who had and were continuing to lose jobs AND also now being ordered to stay at home, I knew what I had to do. Offer virtually live free bi-weekly easy plant-based cooking classes. I went to YouTube and learned what I could about lighting, found some cheap lights and tripods at Amazon and soon began the Plant-based Quarantine Cooking Show every Wednesday and Sunday at 2:00 pm. All recipes are 7 ingredients or less and in 30 minutes or less. My friend, Natasha (owner of Frida's), sold ingredient kits to local viewers who didn't want to brave the grocery stores and for 7 1/2 weeks, Tim acted as my director and camera man for the series. We did 15 of those shows, the last one broadcasting the day before the stay at home order was lifted. Can't have a quarantine show with no quarantine.

Photo by Caryn Dugan

During that time, I started the hashtag, #PBQCookingShow, because feed back was positive and I had an idea to continue. Post lock-down, the show is continuing from the shop, once a week called the Plant-based QUICK Cooking Show. Same 7 ingredients/30 minute concept, still free. The economy is unstable, unemployment rates are still high and now more than ever, people need to understand the power food has over the state of your health. Free, easy, quick and I love doing it.

Photo by Caryn Dugan
Photo by Caryn Dugan

I'm still very scared about the future - I can only accommodate 8 people in classes v 20 and that's going to make it hard to pay the bills. I'm also starting to do virtual classes (fee based), however, it's been a slow uptake because there's just so much to do and fanning out efforts to many different things slows progress.


Pre-COVID Classes
Pre-COVID Classes
Pre-COVID Classes

Daily, I'm looking at CDC guidelines so when I re-open I am in full compliance - I also look at restaurants to see what they are doing for ideas. I'm also trying to keep up with social media, learn virtual platforms for on-line learning, recording weekly PBQ shows, writing newsletters and more. It's all a lot and every business I know of is feeling the exhaustion I am from time to time. Mentally, it's fatiguing.


So, this is where we are today. One day at a time.

One thing I thought was kind of funny, er interesting-- before I opened, I had lawyers, friends, accountant, a business coach, all tell me - you need a business plan!! I agreed, but because I am the first in the country to do this - how the hell do I write that plan? I tried over and over and there were just too many unknowns. When the virus hit we all had to pivot on a dime and really create new businesses and no one had time to write that plan.

I guess I just had that hope, faith or confidence I needed to initially open the doors.


A Picture of Caryn's Father

THE CENTER FOR PLANT-BASED LIVING

131 West Jefferson Avenue Kirkwood, MO 63122

314-394-2063


Past "Small Business Shoutout"recipients:

*PAINT Nail Bar St. Louis

*Steve's Hot Dogs


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