Tags Posts tagged with "Elizabeth Malafi"

Elizabeth Malafi

Making up more than two-thirds of Long Island’s business community, small businesses are the heartbeat of our economy. In this challenging time, it is more important than ever to shop local and support Long Island entrepreneurs. The annual Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library, in Centereach on Thursday, October 5 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. is a great opportunity to meet with and shop from some of these local entrepreneurs. 

An initiative of the Middle Country Library Foundation, this annual event doesn’t just “provide physical space for Long Island Women to sell their products, it goes beyond that,” says Alexandra Mallilo, Vice President, Commercial Private Banking, BankUnited, N.A. and EXPO Education Sponsor. 

“The entrepreneurs become part of a community of professionals, with access to subject experts on everything from photographing products for virtual sales, to determining appropriate pricing, collecting payment, social media marketing, and brand awareness. These business tools help women turn passion projects into profitable businesses.”

Small businesses support and enrich the communities they serve and the chance to meet its members is important. “The Women’s EXPO is a wonderful opportunity for the community to meet and hear women entrepreneurs tell their story and promote their businesses,” says Maryellen Ferretti, Retail Market Manager, V.P. of TD Bank, the EXPO’s raffle sponsor. “It is just part of what makes Middle Country Library a great partner with TD Bank, they create innovative spaces and hold inclusive events where strangers become neighbors—and neighbors, friends.” 

When you shop locally you often deal directly with people who genuinely care about the quality of goods and customer satisfaction. Whether it’s the corner deli, the neighborhood coffee shop, or a woman entrepreneur at the Women’s EXPO, every local purchase is a vote of confidence in your community.

Let’s shine a spotlight on some of the incredible local entrepreneurs who will be this year’s Women’s EXPO:

Jeanette Candido, The Granola Plant

Jeanette Candido

After deciding she “didn’t want to sit in an office anymore,” Jeanette Candido started The Granola Plant five years ago. She started selling her gluten free, oil free and processed sugar free granola at farmers’ markets on Long Island and it took off right away. Being an entrepreneur in these trying times is “not easy…but it’s still going,” says Jeanette. Over time she has increased her offerings, depending on the season and the location, to include hot cocoa mix, homemade marshmallows, and granola in decorative canisters. 

Like other small business owners, she is feeling the effects of the economy, although it seems to be getting better. Jeanette is looking forward to her 3rd year at the EXPO. “It’s such a fun day seeing those shoppers that visit every year.” 

When asked if she had advice for other women entrepreneurs, Jeanette said, “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.” Words we could all take to heart but for small business owners it is especially important.

Lori Ledek, Lori’s Originals

Lori Ledek photo by Miranda Gatewood

Driving on Middle Country Road in Calverton, you might notice an interesting shop connected to J&R’s Steakhouse. Opened in 2012, Lori’s Originals features the beautiful, hand painted glassware and gifts of Lori Ledek. To round out the store, Lori sources items from local artisans to “curate a homemade & handmade look in the store.” This enables her to support local artists and put their wares in front of new shoppers.  

Shoppers love it; they appreciate the affordability as Lori tries to keep prices as reasonable as possible.  In these economic times, “it’s a dance to make things affordable,” she says, but one she is willing to do for her community.  

With a retail location, Lori is doing only a couple of shows each year. She is part of the EXPO year after year “because of the people. I love the support you give to small business owners.” 

Visit Lori at the EXPO or at her store (4364 Middle Country Road, Calverton) to see her beautiful hand painted designs and for a chance to meet her store mascot, cocker spaniel Bosco.

Ashley Settle, Sweet Legends Bakeshop

Ashley Settle

Originally from Las Vegas, Ashley Settle started Sweet Legends Bakeshop a little over a year ago. After working at a bakery in college, and loving its atmosphere she says, “I have always loved baking,” so starting a home bakery seemed like a perfect fit. Beautiful, decorated cookies are the cornerstone of Ashley’s business with many customers exclaiming, “OMG they are too beautiful to eat.” Ashley assures us they taste as delicious as they look! 

Being a new business in a new area, Ashley began attending workshops and events at the Middle Country Public Library’s Miller Business Center and “found it so helpful.”  There she not only increased her business skills, she also met other business professionals including local business owner Bertha Portalatin of Painting with a Twist in Selden. This connection has led to Ashley and Bertha partnering to offer cookie decorating classes.  

At the Miller Business Center, Ashley also learned about the Women’s EXPO. She heard from several women how great it was to be a part of a local event celebrating women entrepreneurs. Ashley is excited for the event and the chance to really meet the community. 

As a new business owner, Ashley’s advice is to cover all your legal bases from the beginning. Once you’ve done that “just start,” she says.


The 23rd annual Women’s EXPO will take place on Thursday, October 5 at the Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Snacks and lunch will be available for purchase in the EXPO Cafe. Need a break from shopping? Take a rest in the Zen Den on site. Admission is free and there is ample parking. For further information, call the library at 631-585-9393 x296 or visit www.womensEXPOli.org.


A product from Sweet Woodland Farm. Photo courtesy of Rachel Stephens

The leaves are changing and there is a nip in the air, which means it is time for one of the community’s favorite fall events! After two years virtual and outdoors, the 22nd annual Women’s EXPO returns in-person at the newly renovated Middle Country Public Library, in Centereach on Thursday, Oct.6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with more than 70 exhibitors.

An initiative of the Middle Country Library Foundation, this annual event celebrates women entrepreneurs by connecting them with their peers, local business women and most importantly, potential customers. 

It’s been a tough couple of years for everyone and entrepreneurs have really taken a hit. “While the library’s Miller Business Center never stopped working with these and other entrepreneurs the entire time, we know that the camaraderie and energy of the EXPO is invaluable. We are happy to welcome these local entrepreneurs into our new space,” says library director, Sophia Serlis-McPhillips. 

“Our favorites along with a great selection of new women entrepreneurs will be at this year’s EXPO and we can’t wait,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of the library’s Miller Business Center. As it has in previous years, EXPO welcomes a diverse group of entrepreneurs with something for everyone including soaps, food, clothing and more. Like all entrepreneurs, they have worked hard to survive uncertain times. 

Shahnilla Jamal, chair of the EXPO’s planning committee and an SVP and Relationship Manager at HSBC Bank is excited to appreciate and celebrate these entrepreneurs. “Resilience is what I see in the women of Long Island, especially the EXPO entrepreneurs,” she said. “They have endured many trials and tribulations over the past couple of years, yet these amazing women have emerged stronger and more determined than ever before.” 

Long Island has always supported small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit. The support comes from shoppers and other Long Island businesses, including People’s Alliance Federal Credit Union (PAFCU), who has supported the EXPO for many years. Lisa Mitnick, Senior Manager of Business development for PAFCU knows how important it is. “Driving initiatives that advance women in their careers is not just critical to our business success, but is extremely important. The EXPO promotes the career advancement and success of women throughout Long Island,” she said.

Let’s learn more about some of the women you’ll meet at the EXPO.

Loretta Oberheim
Artwork by Loretta Oberheim

Loretta Oberheim

Loretta Oberheim Art


After hearing great things about the EXPO from her dear friend and photographer, Holly Hunt, Loretta Oberheim, decided to apply to participate. “The support she had received from the wide range of female entrepreneurs, as well as Middle Country Library, was something I found to be extraordinary…To see an entire event celebrating female entrepreneurs is phenomenal, and I’m proud to be a part of it.” 

Loretta is an award-winning sculptor and abstract artist. After graduating with a B.F.A. in Textile/Surface design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, she began working in the interior design industry with her designs gracing the pages of Vogue, Architectural Digest and more. A traumatic brain injury made creating impossible for a while, but after a time, Loretta was able to create again in a new form – contemporary abstract impressionism. 

As an entrepreneur, sales are important of course, but for Loretta, one of her greatest business and creative successes happened when she gave a piece of her artwork away.  “A young woman came by my booth with her parents and commented on my cool cane. After looking at my work, she commented to her mom that she needed to start painting again.” This comment touched Loretta. She gave one of her paintings to the young woman telling her to “go home and just start trying.” For Loretta, nothing compared to the moment. She knew that the young woman would forever look at that painting and see that a complete stranger had faith in her.

Rachel Stephens

Rachel Stephens

Sweet Woodland Farm


Born and raised on Long Island, Rachel Stephens owns and runs Sweet Woodland Farm on the North Fork, growing elderberry, herbs, roots and more. The crops are hand-harvested, barn-dried and used in all the wellness products Rachel makes and sells through farmer’s markets, local shops and the EXPO. Using the herbs she grows to help people is an incredible feeling for her. Some moments, when Rachel is alone on the farm, looking around, she is reminded that success doesn’t need to be proven financially, but success can mean that you are doing what you love to do. 

“Besides these cherished moments, I celebrate quietly to myself every time a customer tells me how well my products have helped them. It feels incredible to know that I can help people using herbs I’ve grown myself and processed by hand into a product that people will enjoy and benefit from. It’s these moments when I can appreciate the work that I’ve chosen rather than feel the rush and burdens of running a business.”

Rachel is thrilled to be at EXPO again this year. What she remembers most about last year’s event is the camaraderie and support among the women who participate. “I appreciate that there is an event recognizing and celebrating woman owned businesses. As women gain momentum in every field I’m happy to represent women in farming at the EXPO.”

Tina Dos Reis

Tina Dos Reis

All Out Anime!


After too many years in retail management, in 2014 Tina Dos Reis decided to be her own boss, starting a small business that suffered too many losses during Covid and closed. Having plenty of time on her hands, she started watching Japanese anime. Tina quickly became hooked on the action-packed scenes full of heroes with powers and quirks and started collecting keychains, figures and her current obsession, nendoroids. 

That’s when it clicked, her next entrepreneurial outing — “selling anime figures!” Choosing a business name wasn’t difficult.  “The phrase ‘go all out,’ is used quite often in anime. Characters will say it when they are determined to act on or do something important. Going all out was exactly what I wanted to do with this new venture.” And so, All Out Anime!: Your Place to Go All Out! was born. It is a business built on trust. With much of the product imported, there are many fakes out there. This can be a big challenge and is the reason customers may turn to well-known, larger shops first. But Tina is trying to change that in her corner of the anime world — she guarantees that her merchandise is 100% fully-licensed. 

As an online business, one of Tina’s proudest moments has been creating her first website. “When you see your vision come to life, it’s truly exhilarating!” She is excited to be a part of this year’s EXPO. “This event is such a great opportunity not just for myself, but for all women entrepreneurs.  The local community will have the chance to see firsthand the price we women put into our small businesses, as well as the friendly service we provide in order to make each customer experience a happy one.”


The 22nd annual Women’s EXPO will take place on Thursday, Oct. 6 at the Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Snacks and lunch will be available for purchase in the EXPO Café. Admission is free and there is ample parking. For further information, call the library at 631-585-9393 x296 or visit www.womensEXPOli.org. 


By Heidi Sutton

Middle Country Public Library in Centereach hosted the annual Women’s EXPO on Nov. 5. This year the annual event, which celebrates women entrepreneurs, headed outdoors for the first time and set up in the library’s parking lot. According to Elizabeth Malafi, Coordinator, Adult Services and Miller Business Center at the library, the event featured over 40 exhibitors and more than 950 visitors who started their holiday shopping early.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Jessica and Jennifer Morales

One of the area’s favorite fall events, the Middle Country Public Library’s Women’s EXPO is back in person on Nov. 5 and, for the first time, outdoors. The annual event, which will feature more than 40 exhibitors this year, celebrates women entrepreneurs by connecting them with their peers, local business women and potential customers. 

“We are eager to see some of our favorites and to meet a great selection of new women entrepreneurs at this year’s EXPO,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of the library’s Miller Business Center. 

As always, the EXPO welcomes a diverse group of entrepreneurs with something for everyone. Shoppers can find items such as jewelry, pottery, handbags and home decor.  Library director, Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, reminds us that the EXPO is much more than a trade show. “The library’s Miller Business Center works with these and other entrepreneurs all year, educating them on business topics and offering them ample opportunities to network with business professionals from throughout Long Island.” 

TD Bank has been a sponsor of the EXPO since 2007. Maryellen Ferretti, Retail Market Manager, V.P./Long Island East Region says, “The Middle Country Library is a great partner with TD Bank because we both believe in giving back to the community in which we live and work. The Women’s EXPO is a great example of TD Bank’s commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs and business on Long Island.”

Let’s learn more about some of the women you’ll meet at the EXPO.  

Jessica and Jennifer Morales, Luv Chic Boutique

Jessica and Jennifer Morales Luv Chic Boutique

On their birthday in 2019, twins Jessica and Jennifer Morales tossed around the idea of starting their own clothing business. They wanted Luv Chic Boutique to help “women feel beautiful, comfortable and confident.” Having worked at the Middle Country Library since 2014, Jessica knew the Miller Business Center can help entrepreneurs like her and her sister. Librarians at the Center connected them with the Stony Brook Small Business Development Center, where they were able to get their business going. 

Learning as they went, Jessica and Jennifer started with big clothing drops, promoting via social media, but soon found that smaller collections were more successful. Both women look forward to growing their business, eventually adding accessories and even a store front.  Jessica and Jennifer are eager to finally be a part of the EXPO as exhibitors as they have seen the energy of the day. “We are excited to do the show because it is such a big and important event.”

Shannon Messina, North Fork Creations

Shannon Messina

Shannon Messina of North Fork Creations is an EXPO veteran. She worked with her business partner and mother-in-law, Elaine, to create beautiful hand painted glassware. After Elaine passed away, Shannon had a difficult time picking up a paint brush so she tried something new. She started hosting paint parties at wineries out East and was building her new niche when Covid happened.

Like most small businesses, Shannon pivoted to survive, creating kits for people to paint at home and investing in a laser cutting machine. She loves the creativity involved with both painting and designing laser cut items and is looking forward to showing her new products to EXPO shoppers. “What’s so nice about the EXPO is that you speak with so many different types of people. Whenever I meet another woman [business owner] from Long Island, I tell them to do the EXPO.” 

Cathy Buckley, Cathy Buckley Cat’s Meow 

Cathy Buckley

Cathy Buckley always loved seeing the beautiful, unique handmade jewelry when she attended art fairs and felt inspired to make her own. Being a registered nurse, designing jewelry with copper, brass, silver and vintage items is also a way for Cathy to keep her sanity.  During the pandemic, she shifted sales to online and worked hard to increase the presence of Cat’s Meow on Instagram and other social media outlets. Cathy even participated in the virtual EXPO last year but is eager to get back to in-person events. “I love the EXPO! It’s very empowering to be in the presence of so many women entrepreneurs.”

Diana McDonough, ACD Vinyl

Diana McDonough

Diana McDonough is BUSY! She works full-time and is a full-time grad student in Cyber Security at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC. Oh, and did we mention she runs ACD Vinyl? As many entrepreneurs did, during the start of the pandemic, Diana took her graphic design background and turned it into a business. She was happy to be able to use her creativity to make her own designs in cake toppers, stickers, cards, banners and more. 

Each month, Diana donates a portion of sales to an organization focused on getting women & girls into STEM such as Girls Who Code. While most of her sales are online, Diana loves to attend shows so she can network with other small businesses. She is excited to attend the EXPO for the first time because “celebrating women and helping women is something I am extremely passionate about.”


The annual Women’s EXPO will take place outdoors on Friday, November 5, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach. Admission is free and there is ample parking. The rain date for the EXPO is Friday, November 12th. For further information, call the library at 631-585-9393 x296 or visit www.womensEXPOli.org. 


Edna J. White

The pandemic has affected absolutely everyone and no one more so than small business owners and entrepreneurs. They have never worked harder to stay afloat than in the past year.

Elizabeth Malafi, Coordinator of the Miller Business Center acknowledges their hard work. “Small businesses and entrepreneurs have had such a hard time, especially those who rely heavily on in-person events, shows and markets,” she said. 

Because of the limits on these types of events, the Middle Country Public Library’s annual Women’s EXPO went virtual last year. And, now, for the first time in its history, this traditionally fall event will be held virtually in the spring. 

An initiative of the Middle Country Library Foundation, the Women’s EXPO is a vehicle to promote economic development for Long Island women entrepreneurs.  “Offering a virtual marketplace during this time gives women an opportunity to promote themselves in a new way,” said Malafi. “It also pushes them to create or expand their digital presence. With support from Bank of America and our other sponsors, we are able to offer workshops that help them continue to grow their businesses virtually.” 

Recent workshops focused on expanding a small business’s social media footprint.  

“The mission of the Library’s Miller Business Center has always been to promote economic development on Long Island. The overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from the exhibitors about our first virtual EXPO led us to make the decision to offer the event for the first time in the spring. Now more than ever, we needed to give Long Island’s women entrepreneurs every opportunity to get back on their feet,” said Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, Director of Middle Country Public Library.

Support local businesses and shop for spring events at the Women’s EXPO on Thursday, April 15 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Register at www.womensEXPOli.org. Virtual attendees will be entered to win one of several door prizes. Computers for browsing will be available at the Middle Country Public Library’s Centereach branch at 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach on the day of the event. For more information, please call 631-585-9393, ext. 296.

And now, meet some of the participating entrepreneurs!

Edna J. White

Edna J. White

An author and life purpose coach, Edna J. White was looking for a way to revive her business during the pandemic. When she saw the EXPO was going virtual last fall, she thought it would be a good way to promote her books and coaching business. 

“At first it was a little confusing because it was my first encounter with this innovative idea but after getting much-needed direction from the EXPO team, I was off and running!” she said. “The online EXPO was a great experience with a lot of engagement.” 

White is hoping for even more success this spring. 

Mary Ann Butera

Mary Ann Butera

Mary Ann Butera, of Crafty Butterfly, was intrigued by the idea of a virtual EXPO but didn’t think it was really for her … until she visited the online event last December and saw how great it looked and how easy the platform was to use. 

“This event could well become a new trend as an addition to in-person fairs. Middle Country Library offers such excellent events and programs, this new approach is just so logical and creative — it fits perfectly into the growing acceptance and use of social media … and gives me another outlet for my hand knit creations.” 

Butera will be selling felted hats, shawls, wraps, unique accessories and more during the online event.

Sherry Davis

Sherry Davis, of Davis Fiber Arts, had just decided to start selling her artwork as the pandemic hit. She quickly detoured into mask making, taking advantage of both her treasure trove of reclaimed fabrics and her fiber art skills.

 Now that things are slowly returning to some semblance of normal, Davis says she is “back on track and ready to offer my handwoven upcycled rugs to the public.” After being referred to the virtual EXPO by another woman entrepreneur, Davis decided it was “just the right time for me to debut my work.”

Tiana Le

Tiana Le, owner of Le Fusion, an artisan spring roll company, has participated in the EXPO for many years and always loved the comradery of the day but was skeptical about the event going virtual last fall. 

“When I heard they were doing the EXPO as a virtual market I wasn’t sure how it was going to work but it was AMAZING!!!” said Le, adding that she had customers asking questions throughout the day, like they would in person.

“They brought e-commerce to a different level. The platform was live and interactive. It was a successful and amazing experience!!” Le believes she will be just as successful at the April 15 event.


Holly Hunt

Gloria Vanderbilt said, “I always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success.”

We see this in action every year at the annual Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach. This year’s event will be held on Thursday, Oct. 3 and will feature 82 exhibitors.

Not just a craft show, the Women’s EXPO brings together some of Long Island’s great women entrepreneurs and business professionals to network, collaborate … and SHOP!

While only one day, the work of the EXPO continues all year at the Miller Business Center. Bank of America has been the EXPO’s Signature Sponsor since its inception 19 years ago.

“We’re proud to be back this year as the presenting sponsor of the Women’s EXPO, which provides women entrepreneurs the power to grow their business, attract new customers and showcase their talent,” said Bob Isaksen, Bank of America Long Island market president. “Collaborating with the library in support of these local women-owned small businesses fosters a healthy economy and creates opportunity for all.”

“Seeing the women talking with each other and connecting” is Miller Business Center coordinator Elizabeth Malafi’s favorite part of the event. With items such as soaps, candles, food, jewelry, pottery and home decor, there is something for everyone.

“All are welcome to soak in the excitement of the day,” says library director Sophia Serlis-McPhillips. “The energy at the library on EXPO day is wonderful for everyone who visits.”

Below are just a few of the women entrepreneurs you will meet at this year’s event:

Alegna Soap

Angela Carillo

Angela Carillo really loves soap. Her love for soaps started in childhood when she would look forward to vacations, so she could visit gift shops to see what kinds of soap they carried. Carillo has been making soap for 20 years and once she put her kids and husband through college she turned her hobby into a successful business. Alegna Soap was born 10 years go with three focuses — retail, private label and workshops/conferences. Carillo says that having a diverse focus allows the business to always be steady.

The lasting connections and collaborations of the EXPO have been invaluable to Carillo. “It’s a totally different event than any other I do,” she says. Over the many years she has been participating, Carillo has communicated and collaborated with several of the other women entrepreneurs, including other soap vendors. In addition to the EXPO, Carillo takes advantage of the offerings of the Miller Business Center. Most recently attending Instagram for Business where she learned about using the story feature and promptly began using it on her business Instagram account.

Simply Nicki Supreme Nut Butters

Nicki Gohorel

Nicki Gohorel moved to Istanbul with her husband and was surprised that, while there were plenty of delicious nuts, there were no nut butters. In 2013, she started making her own and gave some as gifts. They were so delicious, friends encouraged her to sell them and Simply Nicki was born.

Gohorel creates nut butters with a focus on high-quality ingredients. Her most popular flavor is Peanut Butter Supreme, which includes amino acids to help the body process the protein in the peanuts more efficiently. What makes Simply Nicki stand out from other nut butters is the variety of flavors and customization capabilities. A traveler, Gohorel has “a mental Rolodex of flavors” that she loves to combine in what some may think are strange ways. Another popular flavor, Almond Supreme, contains almonds, goji berries, nutmeg and sea salt. Not your average nut butter!

But she is not just passionate about flavors and nut butters. Simply Nicki nut butters are packaged with as little paper or plastic as possible at the Made Conscious Kitchen in Cutchogue. This eco-friendly, cooperative kitchen allows small, local entrepreneurs to work together and as Gohorel put it,”lift each other up.”

Holly Hunt Photography

Holly Hunt

Holly Hunt grew up surrounded by photos taken by her grandfather, a professional who photographed the likes of Kennedy and the Beatles. It’s no surprise that his work inspired her to pick up a camera and take up photography. Hunt didn’t intend for her explorations of abandoned places to go past the walls of her own home, but after gifting photos to friends and family, she received encouragement to share them. And it’s no wonder, as her haunting works of art create a beautiful story of forgotten places.

“I was a patron of the EXPO for many years but I never expected to be an exhibitor. I never thought I was good enough,” she said. Thankfully, that didn’t stop her from applying in 2018. Hunt sold most of the inventory she brought to that first EXPO. More importantly were the connections she made with other women. She met so many other entrepreneurs and business professionals. The EXPO even helped organically grow her social media platforms, a hard thing to do these days. She’s looking forward to showing her new work at this year’s event.

From the Page

Callie Meaney

Callie Meaney’s mom loves candles. Growing up, they were always in her house. They became a hobby for Meaney and then a business. With all the candles available on the market she knew hers would need a unique twist. Since she loves to read, Meaney gravitated toward book-themed candles and From the Page was born. With a permanent collection of about 20, each season she introduces new scents. Top sellers right now are Magic Pumpkin Patch and Sleepy Hollow. Each natural soy candle comes in a reusable jar and each label has a picture that has been hand-drawn by Meaney herself.

She is looking forward to her first EXPO so she can meet other women entrepreneurs and business professionals. Before starting in 2013, Meaney had no business experience and hopes to hear other’s stories. As she’s hoping to expand to wholesale as well as a retail location, the knowledge she gains at the event will be invaluable.

Precise Gluten Free Foods

Mayra Robayo

We’ve all heard the proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but how many of us actually put it to practice? Mayra Robayo does. After her daughter was diagnosed with an allergy to gluten, Robayo began making everything from scratch. But her son wanted good pancakes and the gluten-free ones she was making weren’t cutting it. After a lot of experimentation with different mixes, she created a pancake her son liked. Knowing how hard it is for families dealing with food allergies, she started Precise Gluten Free Foods in 2018 to share the mix with others. Robayo is off and running. In spring 2019, she added an oatmeal cookie mix to the line. Her mixes are gluten, nut, allergy and chemical free and can be found at local stores.

Even though this is Robayo’s first time exhibiting at the EXPO, she has been utilizing the resources available at the Miller Business Center for the past several months. Recently, she attended Grow Your Business with Google and learned that even without a retail location she could create a Google business page. Robayo says this doubled traffic to her website.

Kick off your holiday shopping at the 19th annual Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach on Thursday, Oct. 3, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free and there is ample parking. Lunch from the Fifth Season Restaurant will be available for purchase in the EXPO Café. For further information, call the library at 631-585-9393, ext. 296, or visit www.womensEXPOli.org.

All photos by Elizabeth Malafi

Chocology Unlimited owner Linda Johnson hands out samples of fudge at last year’s Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach. Photo by Miranda Gatewood

By Elizabeth Malafi

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Entrepreneurs face many challenges when starting a new business. The challenges are even greater for women entrepreneurs.

While the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of women-owned businesses increased by 45 percent from 2007 to 2016, a faster rate than the national average, research shows there is still a significant gap between women-owned and male-owned businesses.

Linda Johnson. Photo by Miranda Gatewood

A report by SCORE, “The Megaphone of Main Street: Women’s Entrepreneurship,” published in spring 2018, shows that women-owned businesses still fall behind in revenue and financing. However, the same report shows that mentorship increases a business’s chances of opening and staying open. Networking and connecting with other women entrepreneurs can yield the same results. These outside perspectives help refine a business’s practices and decision-making.

Connections with other business women and entrepreneurs is invaluable and can really make a difference in the success of a business venture.

Linda Johnson of Chocology Unlimited knows the value of these connections. When first starting her business, she met a kindred spirit in Maria Camassa of Lucky Lou’s Gourmet Rice Pudding. Both were starting new businesses after previous careers and quickly realized that they had very similar philosophies. “Even though we have very different directions for our businesses we still bounce ideas off of each other. Sometimes all you need is a different perspective,” says Johnson. The two became business supports for each other.

As successful women entrepreneurs, the two are often too busy to physically meet, but they do keep in touch. Both women are early birds who spend a lot of time driving so phone calls from the car are their main way of communicating. And communicate they do. Johnson says these calls are often for sharing thoughts and getting input on new business ideas. “We laugh … a lot. Mostly at ourselves.” With the laughter comes true, honest and valuable feedback. Johnson says her connection with Camassa is so important, not only for her business but for herself. It is great to not only get an outside opinion but also encouragement and understanding.

Mentors, partners and role models are beneficial to the success of women-owned small businesses but not always easy to find. Women entrepreneurs should reach out to other women entrepreneurs and professionals.

Not sure where to find them? Join your local chamber of commerce. Or visit one of the many business networking organizations on Long Island. Some even focus on the success of women. SCWBEC, the Suffolk County Women’s Business Enterprise Coalition, is an organization whose mission is to support their members through networking with other women business professionals.

Each fall, the Middle Country Public Library’s Miller Business Center hosts the Women’s EXPO, a venue for women entrepreneurs on Long Island to market their products. But more importantly, this event strives to connect its participants with other women entrepreneurs and business professionals.

Women entrepreneurs have come a long way, but there is still a ways to go toward complete equity. Partnering and mentoring between women entrepreneurs is a good way to get there.

Elizabeth Malafi is the coordinator of the Miller Business Center at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach.

By Heidi Sutton

The Middle Country Public Library in Centereach hosted its 18th annual Women’s EXPO Oct.4. Thousands came out to kick off their holiday shopping at the one-day event which was presented by the Middle Country Library Foundation and the library’s Miller Business Resource Center.

More than 80 women entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to introduce their products, which included pottery, candles, baked goods, fall crafts, children’s books, clothing, jewelry, soaps and much more. 

This year’s event’s lead sponsor was Bank of America and was also sponsored by Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP of Ronkonkoma. Volunteers from Bank of America helped make sure the day ran smoothly.

“We had a great turnout with over 2,300 shoppers,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of Adult Services and the Miller Business Resource Center. “Year after year the best thing about the EXPO is the people. We are lucky to have amazing volunteers, entrepreneurs and shoppers who make it such a special day.”

Vendors interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to visit www.womensExpoli.org.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

EXPO shoppers. Photo by Miranda Gatewood

Fall brings with it a chill in the air, pumpkin spice everything and the Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach.

A recent study by American Express shows that between 1997 and 2017, the number of women-owned businesses increased at a rate 2.5 times higher than the national average with many of these businesses being run by creative women from their homes and studios. 

The annual Women’s EXPO, now in its 18th year, celebrates these women by connecting them with their peers, local business women and potential customers. This year’s event will be held on Thursday, Oct. 4 and will feature 83 exhibitors. 

“Our favorites are back along with a great selection of new women entrepreneurs just starting out,” said Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, director of the library. 

With a diverse group of entrepreneurs, there is something for everyone. Shoppers can find items such as jewelry, pottery, handbags and home decor. Serlis-McPhillips reminds us that the EXPO is much more than a trade show. “The library’s Miller Business Center works with these and other entrepreneurs all year, educating them on business topics and offering them ample opportunities to network with business professionals from throughout Long Island.” 

Here are some of the great women entrepreneurs you can meet at this year’s event:

Victoria Collette

Victoria Collette

According to Victoria Collette, she is in the business of empowering women. She started her fragrance company, POP SCENTsation, which allows shoppers to create their own fragrance; in the process they get to “discover what it means to be their unique self.”

Since launching, Collette has expanded to 23 fragrances and recently added Perfume Creation Kits. Participating in last year’s EXPO helped her get the word out about her new company and she is excited to be a part of this year’s event. “The energy of the day, being surrounded by and meeting so many amazing women entrepreneurs is incredible.”

Linda Johnson

Linda Johnson

Linda Johnson has always been a maverick, living outside the box. Her dream of owning her own business came to fruition in 2014 with Chocology, which was born out of her family’s “love of chocolate paired with a passion for learning and sharing.” The chocolate and fudge are delicious but, more importantly, it is sold with excitement and education. Beyond her businesses she created #ChocologyCares, supporting charities such as American VetDogs and Stony Brook Cancer Center.

Johnson’s commitment to community and supporting other entrepreneurs can be seen in her new venture — the Three Village Artisan and Farmers Market in Setauket, a gathering place bringing people together. This support and community is also what keeps Johnson coming back to the EXPO. “I love the camaraderie, I love the women and I learn so much!”    

Carly McAllister 

Carly McAllister

After Carly McAllister’s son developed eczema, she became concerned about the ingredients in store-bought soaps and started making her own using organic ingredients. McAllister gave extra bars to friends and family who told her it was so good she should sell it. Encouragement from her husband Michael and others resulted in Modern Primal Soap Co., whose goal is to make products that are as natural as possible. 

Having been an EXPO shopper for years McAllister (top photo) was excited to join the event as an exhibitor. ”I would love to be able to participate and applied as soon as I could.”  She is looking forward to another successful show. “The EXPO is something really special! I love being in a room with so many smart, talented women! The fellowship between the participants is amazing.”

Angelique Velez

Angelique Velez

A bad breakup didn’t slow down Angelique Velez; in fact, it was the impetus for Breakups to Makeup, her company that sells travel makeup clutches, T-shirts and tanks featuring motivational and inspirational words. Velez  (photo on right) realized that makeup inspires and lifts people up. “Making other people feel better inevitably helped to lift my spirits,” she said. Breakups to Makeup’s first slogan Love Raised Me, Lipstick Saved Me “encompassed everything I had been going through and showcased the importance of makeup in our lives as artists.” Since its inception, her products have been sold in major stores like Sephora and have been featured in InStyle, Refinery29 and Latina.

Velez is looking forward to her first time exhibiting at the EXPO. “Anything that supports women and women-owned business is very important to me. The fact that this also caters to Long Island businesses is something unique as well and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

The annual Women’s EXPO will take place on Thursday, Oct. 4, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach. Admission is free and there is ample parking. For further information, call the library at 631-585-9393, ext. 296 or visit www.womensEXPOli.org.

The Middle Country Public Library will once again host the Women's EXPO on Oct. 5. File photo by Heidi Sutton

By Kevin Redding

There’s an unattributable quote out there that says, “Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women that have her back.” It wouldn’t be surprising to learn its source was referring to a certain annual event at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach.

On Thursday, Oct. 5, for the 17th year in a row, the library will host a diverse group of women entrepreneurs — from artists to chefs to designers to craftspeople and beyond — during its Women’s EXPO, a one-day event where they can all network with colleagues, showcase and sell their work at the library and spread the word about their products.

“The expo’s really always been about seeing a group of women supporting women,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of Adult Services and the Miller Business Resource Center. “Our planning committee is made up of professional women. We select exhibitors who are women looking to grow their businesses and make new connections. Before and after the exhibit, we try and facilitate those connections.”

Malafi said shoppers this year should expect a total of 82 vendors, roughly 25 of whom will be brand new to the EXPO. And whereas last year, somewhere around 2,300 people squeezed into the library, this year’s goal is to break 2,500.

“It’s going to be a nice balance of women that people come to see every year and also newbies,” she said. “That way the new people can be guided by the people that have been here for a while and those who have been here awhile get a nice, new perspective of somebody who might be starting out.”

Malafi continued, “I think ultimately people should come out to support women entrepreneurs and the economic engine of Long Island. We need to keep our money local so we’re supporting where we live. This is a great opportunity to do that while also shopping for the holidays.” Meet some of the vendors at this year’s EXPO:

Maria Castilla

Maria Castilla

Coram’s Maria Castilla has come a long way since making clothes for her Barbie dolls when she was young. Now, as owner of ImuGifts, her home-based business, Castilla designs unique handmade bags, jewelry and sewn accessories, none of which are remade, her website boasts.

“I love getting to make something spectacular and super unique for someone that nobody else is going to have,” Castilla said. “Sometimes you buy something at Target or a retail store and it’s not made in America or not made by your neighbors. This is something special I want to share with the community.”

Castilla was raised in Bogota, Columbia, and came to the United States when she was 10 years old and, although she always had a love for art, she followed in her father’s footsteps by studying hotel management and tourism in college. After several years in that industry, she said, she felt burnt out and was in need of a creative outlet. She began to make her own products, like soap, and then taught herself to sew through YouTube videos around 2013. Channeling her childhood hobby of making jewelry, she delved into organic handmade beadwork, and soon a business was born.

“I work full-time so this business is mostly during off hours and weekends,” said Castilla, who works for a nonprofit helping mentally disabled people function in the community. “It’s awesome to have the opportunity to have the flexibility to work 9 to 5 and then come home and do what I love to do. And my husband is amazingly supportive and helps me do pretty much everything.”

Of the EXPO, Castilla said, “It’s the most awesome thing ever … it’s nice to know there’s something like this on Long Island geared toward women empowerment and creativity.” Visit her website at www.imugifts.com.

Suzette Montalvo

Suzette Montalvo in front of her Puerto Rican food truck

Suzette Montalvo, the owner and chef of a booming Bay Shore-based Puerto Rican cuisine food truck called ANEWYORICANTHING LTD., took a giant leap of faith in 2015 by quitting her office job to pursue her dream full time. And it’s paying off. Montalvo, who was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Queens, was always surrounded by her mother’s traditional Puerto Rican cooking and soon honed her own skills in the kitchen, eventually selling heritage-style seasonings and drinks at farmers markets in 2012.

After 20 years as a purchasing agent at a building supply company, Montalvo, at 50 years old, decided enough was enough. “I hated my job and I was always trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up,” she said with a laugh. “So I took a chance on my dream. I bought a food truck and just focused on making this a business I could live off of. I know I’ve made a good decision.”

Suzette Montalvo

Montalvo even recently appeared as one of four competitors on a food truck-oriented episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped.” Although she wound up on the chopping block, Montalvo said the experience was worthwhile. “It was such a huge opportunity,” she said. “I could never have imagined that’s where I would’ve ended up. It’s all really bizarre to me how everything’s been coming about.”

Among the many delicacies Montalvo and her staff of family members — her husband and three children — serve up to the hungry public are tripleta sandwiches, rice and chicken, empanadas, yucca and coquito, “the Puerto Rican eggnog.”

“I love feeding people, it makes me happy,” Montalvo said. “People are loving what I’m bringing to the table here. And Puerto Rican food trucks on Long Island — there are no others.” For more information, visit www.anewyoricanthing.com.

Deborah Urbinati

Deborah Urbinati at her restaurant, The Fifth Season

No matter what state a restaurant’s in, there’s a good chance that Deborah Urbinati, the owner of The Fifth Season restaurant in Port Jefferson, has worked there at some point. She grew up in Lake Grove and got her first restaurant job at Red Lobster in Stony Brook when she was 18 and, soon after, became a server at Red Robin when it was still in the Smith Haven Mall.

“It really helped with my future career because I was taught in a really good way how to be efficient and work with a team,” Urbinati said of the early gig.

She eventually moved to Colorado in 1994, where she worked in restaurants and served as a bartender, was promoted to management, coordinated schedules and bounced between a number of eateries. In Maui, Hawaii, she worked at the Hard Rock Cafe and then was a bar manager in Cannon Beach, Oregon, where she met her husband, the chef at The Fifth Season.

“I’ve just picked up a lot of knowledge through my travels and now I’m able to bring it here and do what we do at the Fifth Season and it’s really cool,” she said, describing the Fifth Season’s menu as “contemporary food with American ingredients.” She runs the front of the house, which includes everything from answering the phone to organizing private events to keeping inventory of the alcohols and overall making sure the flow of service stays up to her standards.

“I’m the conductor,” she said. “I’m really good at what I do because I love what I do. I don’t ever walk into the restaurant thinking, ‘Oh my god, I own this.’ I walk into the restaurant and say, ‘Oh yeah, this is where I am and this is where I’m supposed to be.’” Visit www.thefifth-season.com.

Loretta Giuliani

Loretta Giuliani with some of the signs she makes from home.

Northport resident Loretta Giuliani once carried a badge; now she carries wooden signs. After retiring as a New York City police detective with 20 years under her belt, Giuliani rekindled her artistic roots with Just 4 You, a small, home-based business launched last year wherein she builds, sands and paints custom wooden signs, each decorated with beautiful art or quotes.

“The signs vary in different styles,” Giuliani said, specifying that some are large, others are small, and sometimes she repurposes old kitchen cabinet doors for them. “I try to recycle wood into all different kinds. I’ve also recently starting going to people’s homes and hosting parties, teaching them how to paint and helping them choose designs and create their own signs.” She also said she often builds custom pieces for weddings and baby showers. “It’s a wide gamut of everything. Anything goes.”

Giuliani grew up in Brooklyn and said she was inspired artistically by everything around her, from graffiti in the subway to exhibits in museums, but most of all by her older brother, a fellow artist.

“Art was just always around me growing up,” she said. “It was always a big interest for me.” That interest eventually landed her in New York Institute of Technology as a graphic arts major. She said a friend of hers urged her to take the police exam to gauge how she did and, after she passed it, she wound up taking the job.

While Giuliani said being on the police force was a good job, she’s happy to be exploring her creative side again. “I love meeting and speaking with the different people, getting a feel for what they want, and seeing their face when they see the finished product,” she said. For more information on Giuliani’s signs, visit www.facebook.com/just4youbyloretta.

Admission to the 17th annual Women’s EXPO, which runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., is free. Lunch will be served in the EXPO cafe, catered by Fifth Season Restaurant of Port Jefferson. The library is located at 101 Eastwood Blvd., Centereach. For a complete list of vendors, visit www.womensEXPOli.org. For more information call 631-585-9393, ext. 296.

All photos courtesy of MCPL