Young business owners take path less traveled

  • Vicuna Chocolate owner Nate Morison removes chocolate hearts from the shop's molds prior to the Valentine's Day rush. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Vicuna Chocolate owner Nate Morison removes chocolate hearts from the shop's molds prior to the Valentine's Day rush. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Brett Stauffeneker opened Fade Away Barber Shop in The School Yard in New Ipswich last November. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Ingrid Aho rebranded De Olla Burritos in Peterborough when she took over ownership in December. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, February 28, 2019 1:28PM

Vicuna Chocolate co-owner Nate Morison was in high school when he started a landscaping business. Brett Stauffeneker graduated from barbering school and opened Fade Away Barber Shop in New Ipswich just a couple months later. And Ingrid Aho decided to buy and rebrand a Peterborough burrito spot after taking over in December.

What all three have in common is that they decided to not only enter the workforce before many of their friends are out of college, but took the plunge into the life of a small business owner before any of them can legally drink.

Morison had a valuable sense of what it takes to run a small business thanks to creating 603 Property Care, LLC. But purchasing an existing business, which required generating capital and handling all the overhead that comes with a brick-and-mortar storefront like Vicuna Chocolate, was an undertaking. But Morison partnered with his friend Casey Goodrich to purchase the Peterborough chocolate shop that originally opened in 2014.

When the pair bought the business in July of 2017, Morison was barely out of high school and Goodrich still had a year left. Now, during the school year, Morison oversees the entire operation while Goodrich attends college at Montana State. Since they were so young, they had to seek out investors to complete the transaction.

As a 19-year-old, its a lot to handle, but Morison has always had a feeling he’d be a business owner. College was definitely out of the question. “School just wasn’t for me,” he said.

Even in high school, all Morison wanted to focus on was his landscaping business. He didn’t feel the need to be in class five days a week, learning things that weren’t going to help him run a business.

“I kept thinking ‘I have to wait another eight years to do this?’” Morison said.

So he entered the twice a week Early College program through Nashua Community College, which had a flexible schedule and allowed Morison to take the classes that he wanted – and would benefit him as a business owner.

“If there is someone my age or younger, even if you’re dead set on college, I’d pause,” Morison said. “Because if you have a business idea, there’s no better time to start a business then now.”

Almost two years after purchasing Vicuna, Morison admits it takes a lot of sacrifice to make it work.

“I have a set of goals and there are a number of different ways to get to those goals,” Morison said. “And one of my goals in life is financial independence.”

When Stauffeneker was a junior at Mascenic, he was preparing to go to college. But as a senior, he couldn’t quite pinpoint what he wanted to do when he got there. So Stauffeneker decided to take some time off. He was working as a concrete laborer when his dad made a suggestion: Why not go to barbering school?

It was not anything the 20-year-old lifelong New Ipswich resident had thought of, but he decided to check it out. It seemed like a good fit, so Stauffeneker began the seven-month barbering program at Empire Beauty Schools in Hooksett last January and finished up in August. His plan was to find a job at a local barber shop and learn the ropes for a couple of years. But there was one problem: He couldn’t find one. So he worked at a local salon, and then his parents made another recommendation – open his own place.

“They helped me out to get started and I’m paying them back,” Stauffeneker said.

In November, Stauffeneker opened Fade Away at The School Yard in downtown New Ipswich, and so far, so good.

“It picked up a lot quicker than I thought,” Stauffeneker said.

He works by himself and pays rent on a month-to-month basis. The goal is to have more barbers join the shop (his mom wants his brothers to follow the same career path), but not until it’s busy enough to support them.

“I wanted to open up a shop here in town, but I didn’t think it would happen this quick,” Stauffeneker said.

Aho worked at Cafe De Olla in Peterborough for three and a half years, during which she was involved in the process of opening and running a second spot in Newport. So when the idea came up to take over the Peterborough location, she jumped at the chance.

“The big thing for me is that I didn’t want to remain stagnant with what I was doing,” Aho said. “So I viewed this as a challenge and an opportunity for growth more than anything.”

It was a big opportunity, and an even bigger leap of faith. But Aho was ready for the moment. She renamed the business, now known as De Olla Burritos, and hired an entirely new staff.

“It’s a bit of a different dynamic now that I’m in charge,” Aho said. “It can be intimidating being a young business owner, but it’s gone so much better than I thought it would.”

And three months in, Aho couldn’t be more pleased with how the transition to owner has gone. She spends a lot hours on the job these days, but that’s something she anticipated.

“I think it’s essential for me to be here,” she said.

Aho’s father is a business owner and has been there to answer questions and offer well-timed advice.

And while many of her former classmates spend their days in college classes and living the dorm life, Aho is glad she went in a different direction.

“The experiences I’ve had have taught me so much,” she said. “Everyone has a different path and I’m so glad mine turned out the way it did.”