OWNER OF STICKY DRIP WAFFLES
Danette Hollowell, 37, loved working as an advocate and lactation counselor for low-income pregnant women in Denver. She was devoted to helping the 40 at-risk families she’d been assigned, even training to become a licensed doula to support the women during labor – “I was delivering diapers. I was delivering babies.”
Unfortunately, it all changed a year and a half into her job. A new supervisor adjusted advocates’ hours and curtailed the services that advocates could provide to the families they served. It became difficult to do her job, and Danette worried about the impact of all the changes on her clients. In October 2019, she was devastated when her supervisor fired her. Her relationship with some clients had lasted more than a year, and they’d grown close.
“I had been there for some of these women when they went into labor. I’d visited their homes and visited their children’s schools,” she said. “It felt like I was letting them down and myself down. It just felt like one person had too much control of me doing my job.”
A DESIRE FOR INDEPENDENCE
“It just felt like one person had too much control of me doing my job.”
Because she’d been fired, Danette was unable to collect unemployment benefits. To qualify for support services, she’d have to show she was engaging in an approved job-seeking activity. Danette knew she had to seize control of her future – “Something had to change.” This was especially important to her as a black woman and mother to two black daughters – with another child on the way. She wanted her children to have the option of one day working in a family business, but she didn’t know where to start.
“I’m so tired of someone having the power to tell me if I can support my family or pay my bills,” she said. “I needed more control over that. I decided I’d rather be in business for myself.”
Soon after, she was crying to a friend about losing her job and shared that she wanted to start her own business. He told her that a mutual friend had sought help from the Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute (RMMFI), a nonprofit that invests in community members to create economic and social mobility through entrepreneurship. He encouraged her to apply for help from RMMFI.
“I knew the mutual friend owned a barbershop. I didn’t realize he’d gone through the Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute before opening,” Danette said. “For me, the proof is in the pudding with RMMFI. If you know someone who’s opened up a business, it inspires you. I wanted to make something happen.”
MAKING SOMETHING HAPPEN
It wasn’t difficult for Danette to decide the type of business to start. Before taking the advocate position, Danette had worked in restaurants for 15 years. The flexible hours gave her more time to spend with family and pursue her passion for music, which “just never paid the bills.” She briefly sold pre-made snacks to hungry party-goers in the city’s underground clubs in 2016. She was familiar with food safety codes as well as the satisfaction of filling people’s stomachs with delicious food. The long-time jazz musician wanted to run a popup food business at jazz festivals and other events and later purchase a food truck or rent a brick-and-mortar location.
She also knew what type of food she wanted to serve. When she sold snacks to hungry club-goers, one of her most popular treats was chicken and waffle kebabs. She’d slide waffle pieces and buffalo chicken chunks on a wooden stick and drizzle it in butter – “People were going crazy for them.”
Her chicken and waffles dish was a major hit with one of her grandmothers, too. Grandma Mary Elizabeth would take a bite of her granddaughter’s dish and tell her, “You could do something with this.”
ACTIVATING HER ENTREPRENEURIAL POTENTIAL
“I always knew I could start a business, but, until RMMFI, I didn’t have anyone to tell me or show me what needed to be done.”
The self-described “good talker” felt confident about the sales aspect of running a business, but the business side frightened her. She applied for RMMFI’s Business Launch Boot Camp, a 12-week program offered three times a year in Denver and Aurora. Each program helps 10 entrepreneurs build a business plan and gain clarity on their path from idea to launch. RMMFI offers classes, mentorship, microloan access, and subsidized bookkeeping services to the entrepreneurs.
The training on how to launch a business began with the “strenuous” application process to get into Business Launch Boot Camp, Danette said. During three interviews, business experts asked her numerous questions, including:
- Where will you be located?
- What area code will you be working in?
- Who lives there?
- What’s the age demographic?
- What kind of money do they make?
- How often do they go to breakfast or to concerts?
Particularly challenging was having to share personal financial details – “I never made enough money to dig myself out of debt. There is no saving when you’re poor.” – and to admit all that she didn’t know about running a successful business. However, Danette was committed to her goal of bettering her life and the lives of her children – “I’ve worked hard at a lot of jobs. I didn’t see why I couldn’t work hard at this.”
“There are a lot of people who want to start businesses. Talk is one thing, but are you really thinking this through?” she said. “I knew there was a market for my idea, but I didn’t know the science between discovering that market and engaging your marketing tactics to meet that customer. I always knew I could start a business, but, until RMMFI, I didn’t have anyone to tell me or show me what needed to be done.”
GAINING BUSINESS TOOLS AND A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
“It was really cool to hear different ideas during Business Launch Boot Camp. We’re just learning a lot from each other.”
Danette was thrilled when she learned she’d been accepted into Business Launch Boot Camp. Around the same time, she’d been alerted to an open job with an after-school program, but the hours would have conflicted with the boot camp. “Getting into this business program was more important to me than just working a job.” Thankfully, participation in the boot camp counted as the job-seeking activity required to qualify for support services so she could focus on her dreams of becoming an entrepreneur without worrying about how she was going to feed her family.
Business Launch Boot Camp consists of two business classes a week with other entrepreneurs-in-training and one weekly meeting with three mentors who share their expertise. The classes and meetings gave Danette tools and information that boosted her confidence and helped her develop a business plan.
Danette learned the ways that thoroughly knowing her numbers – and adjusting her sales approach accordingly – could help her increase profits. She learned how to calculate the cost of making each specialty waffle, determine her top-selling items, and figure out the times of day when she sold the most waffles. Doing so helped her refine her business strategy and adjust her inventory purchases.
Participants in RMMFI’s 27th class of Business Launch Boot Camp entered as strangers and left as a community. They included a landscaper, mortician, baker, printer, and awning maker. They learned about each other’s businesses and helped each other out. One participant connected Danette with a community resource that gave her access to a commercial kitchen and recommended business insurance providers. She supported another by going to his business to print out materials.
“It was really cool to hear different ideas during Business Launch Boot Camp,” she said. “We can help each other: ‘Oh, I think this idea would be cool in this community.’ We’re just learning a lot from each other.”
Danette recalls how her three RMMFI mentors held her accountable and supported her all along the way. One of them lent her a cooler. One helped her set up her booth. One helped her get her numbers “down to a tee.”
“RMMFI is really supportive and helpful in ways other programs I’ve been in haven’t been,” she said. “They continue to surprise me and show up in ways I appreciate. I had no idea there were programs out there like RMMFI’s Business Launch Boot Camp that were so hands-on. They didn’t make me feel stupid. They left me feeling confident so I can move on and do it even after the program is over.”
FOR LOVE OF WAFFLES
In January 2020, Danette launched Sticky Drip Waffles after deciding on a business name and registering the business. She chose “Sticky” because of the stickiness of sweet waffle toppings and fond memories of her daughters’ sticky hands and faces after eating waffles when they were little. Her daughters added “Drip” to the name because of the syrup and butter dripping off waffles and because it’s a term for an extremely fashionable person.
She received a small “launch” loan from RMMFI to supplement the waffle maker she already owned. She purchased a vinyl sign to hang above her booth at events as well as waffle mix scoops, two additional waffle makers – one for chocolate waffles and one for gluten-free waffles – and other supplies.
Customers can order a plain waffle (vanilla, chocolate, or cherry) and add their choice of toppings, including syrups, sauces, whipped cream, sprinkles, cookie crumbles, and chocolate chips. Danette also sells specialty waffles, including:
- Sweet Velma Brown: Danette’s signature chicken and peach waffle; named in honor of her Grandma Velma and featuring her grandmother’s peach cobbler recipe
- Dickie Wells: Any two waffles topped with popcorn chicken, butter and syrup; named after Harlem supper club owner Dickie Wells, who introduced Harlem club-goers to chicken and waffles in 1930 because customers couldn’t decide whether to order dinner or breakfast
- Summer Rain: Two vanilla waffles topped with a scoop of Danette’s signature piña colada topping – pineapple, papaya, and banana blended with coconut cream, whipped cream, and dried mango
To try one of the tasty offerings at Sticky Drip Waffles, look for Danette’s booth at Five Points Jazz Festival, Juneteenth Music Festival, and other popular Denver-area festivals in 2021. Make sure to follow Sticky Drip Waffles on Instagram to stay up to date!
BY THE NUMBERS: • More than 11.6 million of U.S. businesses are owned by women • They generate $1.7 trillion in sales • They employ nearly 9 million people • 5.4 million of these businesses are majority-owned by women of color • Those businesses employ 2.1 million people • They generate $361 billion in revenues annually Source: National Association of Women Business Owners, 2017