This is a part of the series of articles we are doing on entrepreneurship in Dubois County. Previously, we have published stories about legacy businesses in our community, but for this story, we decided to look at the small hustles going on with side gigs.
While a side gig is a way to make some extra money for many entrepreneurs and innovators, for some, these small businesses are ways to pursue passion projects and explore new ideas.
Here are three local side gigs started for unique reasons — to cope with the loss of a loved one, to create something beautiful and tangible; and to use God-given talent to make people happy.
Natalie Calderon started creating charcuterie boards to help cope with the loss of her older brother.
Jose had battled alcoholism his entire life. The Huntingburg resident was diagnosed with cirrhosis as well as liver and kidney failure in the late spring of 2020. The prognosis was dire and the end was quick; he died within a few months.
Growing up without a father, Jose had filled the vacancy in Natalie’s life for a male role model. Although they were close siblings, their relationship had developed into a close friendship in the past few years.
“Losing him was a huge blow,” Natalie explained.
With little to do during 2020 because of the pandemic, Natalie had become an avid follower of food videos on the popular social app, Tik Tok. It was those videos that introduced her to charcuterie boards and a way to cope with her brother’s death.
A traditional charcuterie board is mainly a platter of meats and cheeses. But at many restaurants or house parties, it’s common that these boards include bread, fruits, nuts, condiments such as honey or mustard, pickles, and olives.
“I didn’t really see them around here,” she explained adding that what you can order in regards to meat and cheese trays aren’t presented in an attractive way. “I was like, how can I make them pretty?”
She began practicing at home, creating delicious trays while listening to her favorite podcasts. “When I make them, I put on my murder podcasts,” she laughed. “I’ll listen to ‘Crime Junkie’ and make my boards. It’s very therapeutic for me.”
She began experimenting with different combinations of various foods that not only complimented flavors but also colors. Her boards are pieces of edible artwork made to order.
There is no playbook when dealing with grief, according to Natalie whose full-time job is at Lifespring Health Systems as a client activity coordinator.
“I needed something,” she said.
Creating these masterpieces helps Natalie cope with the loss of her brother. She saw the impact her creations could have when she finally presented one to her family at Easter this year. “We love to eat,” Natalie said. “But they literally sat around this board for an hour as they ate and talked.”
The board she made became a conversation piece. “It was just really nice. Instead of all of us dealing with my brother not being there, we had the charcuterie,” she said.
Based on this experience and at her family’s urging, she decided to put something out on a local Facebook barter page about the boards. “And I got a huge response and a good response,” Natalie said. “Regardless if they bought one or simply to tell me that they look absolutely beautiful, it was something that just made me happy.”
She began taking orders from that single post and has continued to book new clients — several now becoming repeat clients — for her beautifully delicious boards whether they are small single portions or larger spreads for events. Her popularity has grown considerably — just check out her beautiful creations on her Facebook page — and she is now creating ‘grazing tables’ for large parties and has been booked for upcoming weddings.
She decided to name her new side hustle Penny Boards based on her two-year-old daughter’s name, Penelope, and her fiancé’s appreciation for skateboarding. Her fiancé, Matt Colson, is also a cook, and he has helped the culinarily challenged Natalie learn about food preparation.
In a way, although the boards help her cope with the loss of Jose, they also bring her closer to him as she channels her artistic, creative side — a side that she shares with her brother whose artistic talent was displayed through the murals he would paint
Andrea (Hedinger) Gramelspacher and Brittany (Becher) Dunlop have been fast friends since preschool — they would ride together to Miss Annie’s basement.
Last year, the 36-year-old former carpool buddies found themselves spending a lot of time talking. While Andrea was in quarantine around Halloween, the two decided that with 2020 waning, the election season still raging, and the pandemic still spreading, they need something to look forward to.
“And we started talking about starting some sort of fun business,” Andrea explained. “I was reading some blogs about flower farming at the time.”
Andrea figured there was room at her Celestine property to grow flowers and with their combined business backgrounds, they could figure out a way to create a side hustle with fresh bouquets.
Brittany said the idea of flowers appealed to her because it was something that could invoke joy. “I’ve heard flowers called an affordable luxury,” she explained. “But it is nice — especially working from home — to have something fresh in the house; to have something pretty to look at.”
Besides creating something beautiful and joy-inducing, the two were ready to do something that got them out from behind their desks. Andrea is the vice president of sales at Hedinger Beverage here locally, and Brittany is the CEO of Clopet Media, an online media and service company that helps women who have loved ones suffering with addictions to drugs or alcohol.
“We know how to set up websites and do online marketing,” Brittany explained. “We know those parts.”
“Yeah, the farming part…,” Andrea added sardonically indicating the part that was outside of their particular set of skills.
The pair dragged their first trench to begin planting bulbs last November. They had ordered hundreds of bulbs — daffodils, tulips, and other variety of flowers — and planted them on about an acre of horse pasture on Andrea’s home in Celestine.
They became very interested in things like planting zones, temperature ranges, soil composition, and the weather. “Now we’re texting about the rain, the rainfall, and like, what the first frost date is,” Andrea said. “I’ve never paid attention to that stuff before.”
The day the first shoots came up out of the ground was a fulfilling moment for the friends. “It is so ugly during that time of the year,” Andrea said. “It’s almost still frozen and when they popped up, I was like, ‘Oh my God, they actually grew!'”
Then new problems surfaced; mainly, how to cut and store fresh flowers. They were also wondering if they would actually be able to sell all the flowers.
Things began to come together as they streamlined their processes while learning a couple of hard lessons along the way — you can’t drive from Celestine to Jasper with water-filled buckets of flowers and weed barriers are important.
And, all of their flowers sold from that first batch of bulbs.
“We kind of looked at each other,” Brittany said about the success. “Oh, we did that.”
Now, working around their full-time work schedules, the pair meet at Brittany’s garage in Jasper over lunch on Fridays to prepare bouquets that are sold at the Jasper Farmer’s Market or at the Heart of Jasper Pop-up Market when it is open. They have also filled orders for special events and birthdays and there are ideas floating around for continuing the growth of their small side hustle. For now, they are enjoying getting their hands dirty while continuing to learn and develop processes in their small agricultural operation.
“When you think about agriculture here, you think of livestock and corn, not flowers,” Andrea said. “We think it is pretty cool that we grow them here.”
When Chris Horney hand mixes paints to create the perfect color for a customer’s unique and customized creation that he has drawn, he feels like he is tapping into a God-given talent.
“The intrinsic reward of delivering a piece and seeing that expression and knowing that I nailed it,” Chris explained. “I love that. I love seeing how pumped people are when they throw an idea out to me and it turns out.”
CH Designs began about 12 years ago when a friend asked Chris if he could paint a specific design on a set of blank cornhole boards. “We were both Red Sox fans and he asked if I could paint something Red Sox for him,” he said.
Chris’s artistic talent had landed him a scholarship for studio art when he graduated from Jasper High School and his abilities were known among his friends. When asked to create the boards, a business wasn’t necessarily the first idea that popped into Chris’s head though.
However, he nailed the designs for his friend and was asked to create another set of boards with some different images. And then another. Word got around that if you had an idea, Chris could bring it to life on your cornhole boards.
As more people were calling, they started asking if they could build and customize the boards. Painting and drawing were about the extent of his skills at the time. “I don’t even know if I had run a circular saw at that point,” he said.
So he reached out to a buddy who had a little woodworking skill. “I think it was a Sunday, and we decided we’re gonna go buy some wood, and we’re gonna figure out how to build some boards,” Chris said. “Well, it was terrible. It did not turn out. We couldn’t get the measurements right so we gave up on it for a while.”
Fortunately, his buddy didn’t give up completely. He went home and figured out how to build the cornhole boards. From this, they formed a little partnership where Chris would buy the completed boards his friend built and then customize them with his artistic skills.
Eventually, circumstances changed and Chris lost his supplier. But, he wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of having the whole process in-house. He took a set of cornhole boards his buddy had built and reversed engineered them.
A laminated schematic with all of the cuts and measurements needed to create one cornhole board from a single sheet of plywood is tacked to the wall in Chris’s workshop. He knows the cuts by heart now but is still amazed that from a single four-by-eight sheet, he can create a regulation cornhole board. “All that is left is a little piece of plywood about this big,” he explained raising his hand up with his index finger and thumb spread about three inches.
The business grew from there and as the cornhole boards grew in popularity, that led to requests for other custom pieces. Chris finds it hard to say no and if you ask and he thinks he can make it work when it comes to building and customizing anything within his skill set, he will usually say yes.
Besides cornhole boards, he’s now building and painting everything from home decor pieces to dog bowl stands. And he’s figured out how to build ring toss boards and other fun wooden games.
He built a customized guitar case with led lighting that rotated through different colors shining through hand-cut letterboxing that he is especially proud of. But more so because of the amount of gratitude he received from the customer when he delivered it.
Right now, he is eight weeks out on orders. Things are going well for the 38-year-old who still works full-time for the Jasper Street Department. He slips in time to work on the orders between being a dad, husband, and employee for the city.
“As much as it has grown, especially with the other products, it is kinda amazing,” he marveled.
Chris’s perspective is driven by his faith. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been working on something and I get frustrated, I just fall back on the fact He (God) gave this to me,” he explained.
You can reach CH Designs on Facebook here or by phone at 812-630-6140.
This story is part of a series called Entrepreneurs and Innovators designed to highlight the stories of some of Dubois County’s businesses and the people behind them. We hope it inspires the next wave of entrepreneurs and innovators in this area. If you are ready to take your idea to the next stage, there are many resources and mentors to help you. You can start by contacting the Jasper Chamber of Commerce at 812-482-6866 or email@example.com and they can provide assistance and also put you in touch with their partners at Dubois Strong and the Indiana Small Business Development Center.