Small Business Spotlight – Gangster Vegan OrganicsJon Steiert
Fast Capital 360 loves everything about small business – even companies who aren’t our clients. With The Small Business Spotlight Series, we want to share the stories of small business success, struggles, and strategies from business owners just like you.
Trying to reinvent yourself is hard. It’s even harder when you’re down on your luck, without a home, without a job, and without a lot of the other basic necessities in life.
For those individuals who have been able to pull themselves out of the depths of homelessness and personal struggle, Vincent DePaul’s – better known as Vinny Vegan – story is quite familiar.
Vinny’s small business story has taken him on a journey to his current destination – purpose.
Our Content Manager, Jon Steiert, caught up with Vinny last month about how he established his company, his path to prosperity, and what he thinks other small businesses can learn from him.
How did you get your start and find your passion?
It kinda found me. I was selling millions of t-shirts worldwide, living in Hollywood and doing whatever I wanted. It was literally sex, money, drugs; the literal gangster lifestyle. You couldn’t tell me anything.
But then I hit rock bottom in 2010; I was broke in every sense of the word – mentally, spiritually, financially. I lost everything and had no clue as to where I should go. So I just started walking. A lot. I was walking about 10 miles a day. I stopped smoking cigarettes, had no phone or any other luxuries and I began having this profound awakening, questioning everything I had been through and everything I had been doing in my life.
I’d lost a lot of my friends after I went broke but there were still some people in my corner. One of my friends worked in a five-star restaurant I used to eat at on a weekly basis. I started telling him my story of what had been going on in my life and he gave me this fresh-pressed organic juice. I didn’t know this place even sold juice…but this juice made me feel so alive.
I might sound strange but that carrot-orange juice changed my life.
When did you decide to found your business?
I originally started Gangster Vegan out of my friend’s house in 2012; I was still trying to get back on my feet. I was making juices and vegan meals for people as a way to serve others and build something for my future.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I established my first restaurant in Norristown, PA. We’re thrilled to now have a second location in Phoenixville, PA, and hopefully, others to come.
How does your business help others through the products/services you provide?
My background is in the t-shirt business. I’ve made millions of shirts for rap moguls and other major commercial successes across the world. I wanted to leave my old life in the past, but fortunately, I figured out a way to use my skills to better the community around me.
For every t-shirt we sell, we’re able to feed an inner-city child for free. We provide a hot, organic, vegan meal to children who might not have ever had this kind of nutrition in their community, let alone their daily lives. We’ve been able to serve children from Compton, CA to Philadelphia – more than 5,000 kids across the country.
It’s given me purpose; if I could save anyone else like that organic juice at my friend’s restaurant in LA did, then I’ve pulled somebody else up.
What’s the toughest business challenge you’ve faced so far?
I’m not the best businessman; I’m an entrepreneur. It’s hard when you’re building a passion project and you need to then apply a proper business matrix to it, with taxes, payroll, insurances, etc.
It can take the fun out of it but paperwork can really remove you from doing the things you love doing and the reasons you started your business in the first place. I started my business to serve others…but I know how important all of this paperwork ultimately ends up being.
Finding the balance is the hardest part.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a fellow business owner?
Know when to cut your losses – especially when you’re invested in something, emotionally and passionately.
On the flip side, what advice would you share with aspiring business owners?
Don’t give up. Be persistent and consistent. There will always be a roadblock and an obstacle, but just keep pushing. You’ll get a lot of ‘nos’ but eventually, those ‘nos’ will turn into ‘yes’.
If I had stopped at ‘no’, Gangster Vegan Organics wouldn’t be here today.
What role does money play in your business?
The more dollars in, the more we can do.
We could make three times the amount of money we currently make if we began using non-organic produce or plastic jars but it’s not about that. We don’t cut corners. We want to impact the community as deeply as possible so we leave it in a better place than when we started.
I’ve always wanted to build an avenue to funnel the money we make back into the community and I think we’ve achieved that.
Finish this sentence: “For me, growth is…”
I always look at it as, if we’re not growing, we’re dead. If I were to sprout a seed and it started growing and then suddenly stopped, it’s dead. It didn’t get enough light, it didn’t get enough water, it’s not being nurtured.
Who wants to be 50 or 60 and still acting like they’re 20? Learning comes with growth, too. We don’t know it all and if we’re not open to others watering us, providing us light, or tilling our soil, then we’re not progressing – if we’re not allowing that in, we’re just stagnant.
If you had $10,000 to better your business, right now, what would you do with it?
From a business and investing standpoint, this may not be the best answer, but my first instinct is to spread it out amongst my employees – because I feel they deserve it.
But if I didn’t use it there, I would definitely renovate my restaurant in Norristown. I’m trying to move into the space right next to my place, too, so either way, it would be to beautify the restaurant.