Ayala Donchin’s Evelyn’s Kitchen defines delicious with culinary creations
NEW YORK, NY--- Ayala Donchin’s path to to becoming one of East Harlem’s community gems started at a young age. At the age of 11, in an effort to raise money to attend summer camp, she launched “Ayala’s Magnificent Mousse and Cheesecakes,” delivering treats in her community to secure the funds.
Ayala would later gain experience by waitressing with catering and fine dining establishments through college and graduate school. In 2006, Ayala’s godmother, and namesake for her business, was diagnosed with lung cancer prompting Ayala to step away from work to spend a transformational 18 months as one of her godmother’s primary caretakers.
Evelyn had a love for desserts and once told Ayala that, “No one makes a good blondie,” referring to the classic brown sugar sweet dessert bar that would soon help cultivate Ayala’s baking reputation. Seeing this as a challenge, Ayala worked to create the perfect blondie recipe, handing out several trial recipe attempts to friends and colleagues. It wasn’t until Evelyn finally signed off on a batch as, “Amazing!” that Ayala knew she found a recipe for success.
When Evelyn passed, Ayala used the money she was left to host and cater her 40th birthday. One of the attendees was a producer with VH1, and after experiencing Ayala’s cooking, offered Ayala her first catering job to manage the craft services for VH1’s Hip Hop Honors in 2009. This resulted in more opportunities including catering for John Mayer’s Storytellers and the album release party for Ludacris. For the next year, Ayala continued to take on more offers, before she even considered herself a small business.
In the spring of 2010, Ayala was encouraged to assess the opportunity of launching her business, during which she discovered that Evelyn’s Kitchen had grossed over $60,000 in its first six months as a home-based business. Ayala identified that her revenue came from five distinct divisions: wholesale, catering and craft services, gifts and goodies, nationwide shipping, and personal chef services. Through creating her business plan, she focused on the wholesale division first and used initial capital received from family and friends to move her business out of her home and launch an Evelyn’s Kitchen location in the developing East Harlem community.
“We had Madison Square Garden as our first major wholesale client, producing all of the brownies and blondies provided throughout the arena in executive meetings, press rooms, and VIP suites. I didn’t know what it meant to produce large amounts of products every day,” Ayala said. “Even if at the time I didn’t have a concept of what I was doing or enough capital to really move forward, I absolutely had no desire to quit or give up.”
At this point Ayala first reached out to the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Through EHBCC she was able to assess her efforts and create solid business operations to accompany her existing business plan. Ayala and her team were putting in nearly 20 hours a day just to keep up, and she credits the success of her relationship with the EHBCC to their transparency in helping her develop realistic goals and streamline her business. By the end of 2011, Evelyn’s Kitchen had grossed over $400,000.
Ayala’s next goal in sight was to open the first Evelyn’s Kitchen retail shop, realizing that that a large part of the Evelyn’s Kitchen story was its role in the East Harlem community. In the midst of the many fast food locations, there was an opportunity to create a business that offered quality fresh lunches and dinners to the incredibly diverse community of East Harlem. By September 2012, the café was open and serving a wide array of dangerously delicious goodies and elegant comfort food.
In late 2012, Ayala reached out again to EHBCC, and this time they helped her secure an SBA Microloan for $20,000, enabling Ayala to support the growth of her business and hire additional team members. Within one year, Ayala expanded within the East Harlem community with a second kitchen that focused on catering and food prep operations, and had also secured contracts providing catering services for NBC’s “The Million Second Quiz” and “America’s Got Talent” at Radio City Music Hall.
“My advice to other small business owners is that you really have to believe in yourself and be willing to put everything you have in it, if this is what you want to do and what you love,” said Ayala. “Approach your dream as a business from day one, by managing your finances and developing a trusted team of advisors and partners.”
“Ayala’s story shows such a strong connection between her small business and her community, and how they helped her grow and succeed,” said Acting New York District Director Adalberto Quijada. “Our resource partners like the EHBCC are invaluable to the SBA mission, and their unique position allows them to play an integral role in a thriving small business community.”
Currently Evelyn’s Kitchen employs 12 people, and is looking to open additional retail spaces throughout New York City and create lines of distribution for key products. The memory of Ayala’s godmother Evelyn continues to live strong and grow in the East Harlem community.