For Tanisha Williams and her family, the journey of entrepreneurship has been one of constant faith as they have weathered a series of challenges over the last year in order to see their Fragrant Basil Juice Café gain the recognition and business they have sacrificed to obtain.
“It doesn’t take a fortune to start a business, it just takes faith,” said Williams.
Together with her husband Sean and with the support of their children, Williams put it all on the line in May 2015 when she followed through on a dream of an organic café filled with customers and the fragrance of basil plants and opened Fragrant Basil Juice Café on 32 Main St. in Norwalk.
Williams and her husband, hailing from Jamaica but longtime Norwalk residents, had no money to speak of and relied on loans, modest help from friends and family and a lot of elbow grease to renovate their new cafe.
After eight months Williams found that despite being street-side along a central commercial district with many well established eateries, nearby construction and the constant presence of delivery trucks were obscuring the cafe’s presence and halting foot traffic.
“No one could find us, we were always blocked,” she said. “There were zero-dollar days many times, it was very discouraging. I don’t believe in starting something without finishing it; we knew we had to do something. We are not quitters, we were going to do this and it was going to work. It’s called faith, you don’t know where you are going, you don’t know where the end of it is, but you know you just can’t quit.”
The rent and utilities also proved to be more of a burden than anticipated, so despite sinking their time, money and hopes into their first location, Williams moved the café to a second location just a few yards up the road at 11 Main St.
Again stepping into the unknown, Williams and her family supported the decision to restart the business by moving in with relatives and eventually downgrading to a smaller, but more affordable apartment.
After six months and another round of bootstrapped renovations by Williams and her mechanic husband, the café has been thriving at its new location, she said.
“It has been way better,” she said. “The number of people who have walked in here over the past six weeks is comparable to those eight months in that one location.”
Standing at the counter on a recent hot July day, pastor Edward Williams was struck by the café’s tropical atmosphere and colorful interior on his first visit.
“I am impressed,” he said. “It’s a nice place, and when a place makes you feel that way you always want to come back.”
The café’s colorful appearance draws customers in, but its array of health-oriented food and drink is what keeps the flow of customers steady, Williams said.
“Not everyone is a vegan and you can’t force your lifestyle on someone else,” she said. “We know veganism works and it is a healthy alternative, but when I was doing the menu I wanted to cater to everyone — something for everyone and every budget.”
Formerly a personal chef running Fragrant Basil Personal Chef Service, Williams said she entered the world of organic, gluten-free and non-genetically modified foods through the upscale clients she previously worked for and their strict clean-food diets.
It wasn’t until she adopted the diet herself to combat body pains from a back injury and a cancer scare that the benefits of the non-processed and organic fruits and juices was made clear to her, she said.
The experience made her a full-time convert and she now shares her love of organic through a wide variety of juice and light foods, ranging from agave lemonade for a few dollars to juices and smoothies ranging from $7 to $12 such as Over the Moon, made with cherries, peach, strawberry, coconut water, turmeric and ginger.
The café also offers delivery service and juice cleanse programs.
Williams and her husband are Christian ministers and she cites her commitment to faith as the shelter that allowed her to weather the storm of unknowns that came with starting, and restarting, her business.
“There were tears,” she said. “We literally started out with $8 and faith. It is a lesson for all of us in our family to know that even when it seems impossible it is possible — even when you have no money.”