Daily News Elder Care HCN News & Notes Health Care Healthcare Heroes News Retirement Planning Senior Planning Summer Safety

SPRINGFIELD — In the spring of 2017, Healthcare News and its sister publication, BusinessWest, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes.

It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated.

But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell, especially in these times, when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many types of heroes to the forefront. And that’s where you come in.

Nominations for the class of 2022 are due July 29, and we encourage you to get involved and help recognize someone you consider to be a hero in the community we call Western Mass. in one (or more) of these seven categories:

• Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider;

•  Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration;

• Emerging Leader;

• Community Health;

• Innovation in Health/Wellness;

•  Collaboration in Health/Wellness; and

• Lifetime Achievement.

Nominations can be submitted at


For more information call Melissa Hallock, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or email to [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services Business of Aging COVID-19 Daily News Employment News

FLORENCE — Florence Bank announced that president and CEO Kevin Day will retire on Nov. 25, and a focused search is underway for a new leader.

Day took over as president in January 2020 and became CEO in May of the same year.

When Day took the helm at age 64, he promised that nothing would change at the bank. Little did he know, he’d be called upon to usher Florence Bank through some of the most tumultuous times in history, including a pandemic and the resulting financial strife. Day led the bank in ensuring that countless homeowners and businesses were able to defer their payments during the pandemic and in helping business customers connect to grants and other available funding.

These measures helped customers navigate the financial turmoil and gave them much-needed time to adjust to new financial situations.

The bank also expanded over these past two years, opening a branch in Chicopee; creating a work-from-home program for employees; and granting hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofit organizations in the Valley.

Day takes pride in the bank’s stability but shares the credit with the full banking team.

“Our goal in this transition is to identify an individual to lead the bank into the future while preserving the values and mission of the past that have proven so successful here,” he said. “I am proud to say that Florence Bank is fundamentally sound in every way. We have an experienced executive management team, a solid officer team and a dedicated staff. I am confident that the bank will continue to prosper for many years to come.”

Day joined Florence Bank in 2008 as chief financial officer, responsible for finance, facilities and risk management. His responsibilities expanded to include compliance in 2013, residential lending in 2014 and retail banking in 2016. He was also promoted to executive vice president in 2016.

Berkshire County Business Innovation Business Management Daily News Economic Outlook Education Women in Businesss

The Berkshire Economic Recovery Project, a program of 1Berkshire and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, with funding from the United States Economic Development Administration, announced the launch of its women- and minority-owned business enterprise (W/MBE) module.

The training module, available in both English and Spanish, provides a high-level overview of what it means to be a certified women- and/or minority-owned business enterprise, and how such a certification can help support the small businesses in the Berkshires. In addition to the short overview training modules, interested businesses will also find a direct link to schedule a free intake consultation with the Economic Development team at 1Berkshire.

These consultations will allow 1Berkshire to make direct referrals to technical assistance support to help guide interested women- and minority-owned businesses through the certification process.

“We know we have many incredible small businesses in the Berkshires owned and operated by women, immigrants, minorities, and LGBTQ community members, however we find very few businesses are certified as such,” said Benjamin Lamb, 1Berkshire’s director of Economic Development. “This effort aims to move the needle on helping our underserved business owners access the opportunities that W/MBE certification unlocks, including government contracting opportunities, specific loan and grant programs, tax incentives, and more.”

Businesses and business owners are invited to visit the W/MBE module page at https://bit.ly/3yff8zP for more information and to view the recordings.

Construction Daily News Environment and Engineering Landscape Design Meetings & Conventions News Tourism & Hospitality

WESTFIELD Tighe & Bond, Inter-Fluve, the Town of Falmouth (MA), and project partners have been recognized with two awards for the Coonamessett River Restoration and John Parker Road Bridge project.

The project team received the Bronze Engineering Excellence Award from The American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts (ACEC/MA) and the Nicholas Humber Outstanding Collaboration Award from the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC).

The awards recognize the successful transformation of 56 acres of abandoned cranberry bogs, which established a thriving, self-sustaining ecosystem supporting wildlife, increasing coastal resiliency, and providing educational opportunities. Numerous barriers to fish passage were removed including a dam, water control structures, a series of undersized culverts that were replaced with the new John Parker Road Bridge, and 5,560 feet of the river were reestablished to closely match the historic natural flow of the river. A river overlook is a gateway to miles of trail with interpretive signs about the natural history placed along the river that is protected by town and land trust conservation lands.

“The Coonamessett River restoration achieved its goals to be a nature-based solution to increase resiliency to climate change and community resiliency,” said Elizabeth Gladfelter, Falmouth Conservation Commission Member. “This project has increased awareness and stewardship of natural resources in Falmouth and both formal and informal educational programs.”

Project partners spanning local, state, and federal organizations collaborated with the technical engineering and construction teams to successfully complete this project. The restoration is serving as an example for other Cape Cod communities transforming former cranberry bogs across the region into thriving wildlife habitats and educational and recreational opportunities for all.

Creative Economy Daily News Events Luxury Living Sports & Leisure Tourism & Hospitality Work/Life Balance

SPRINGFIELD — After a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, The Zoo in Forest Park is bringing back its popular Brew at The Zoo, presented by PDC Inc., on Aug. 6 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The 21+ event features beer samples from local craft breweries, a home brew competition, food trucks, live music, games, a raffle, and animal interactions.

“We haven’t been able to host Brew at the Zoo since 2019, and we’ve really missed it,” said Sarah Tsitso, executive director at The Zoo in Forest Park. “This event brings together our incredible craft beer community, who all come out to support the 225 animals that call our zoo their home.”

Attendees can choose from four ticket types: VIP, VIP Designated Driver, General Admission and Designated Driver. Attendees with a VIP ticket will enjoy an extra hour of sampling beginning at 12 p.m., the opportunity to participate in up-close animal encounters, and grain to feed the animals. All attendees must be 21+.

The current list of breweries attending the event include Loophole Brewing, One Way Brewing, Vanished Valley Brewing Co., Broad Brook Brewing Company, Connecticut Valley Brewing Company, Berkshire Brewing Company, Rustic Brewing Company, Iron Duke Brewing, Two Weeks Notice Brewing Company, Brew Practitioners and New City Brewery, in addition to nine home brewers.

The Zoo will be closed to the public on Aug. 6. Advanced tickets are required to attend this event and IDs will be checked at the door. Tickets are limited and on sale now at www.forestparkzoo.org/brew.

For more information, contact Gabry Tyson at (413) 733-2251 ext. 5 or [email protected].

Creative Economy Daily News Events Sports & Leisure Tourism & Hospitality Work/Life Balance

SPRINGFIELD — The historic grounds of Springfield Armory National Historic Site is once again the stage this summer for live music.
On July 16 at 6 p.m., the Bad News Jazz and Blues Orchestraled by Jeff Gavioli,  will perform. The Bad News Jazz and Blues Orchestra is a 19-piece orchestra that has been performing since 2012, playing swing music from the 1930s and 1940s.

Cover Story

A New Challenge

Diana Szynal

Diana Szynal

Diana Szynal recently made a successful transition from public service — she was a selectman in Hatfield and then a legislative aide — to running the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. Now, she’s making another transition, to leadership of the Springfield Regional Chamber. While Greater Springfield is a much larger area, she said the challenges facing businesses, and the basic mission of the chamber, are the same as they are in Franklin County, and she’s ready to put her experience to work in her new setting.

Diana Szynal says that within minutes of the announcement that she had been named the new president of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce going out last spring, her phone started ringing and pinging.

There were calls and texts from area business leaders, government officials, and directors of area economic development agencies wanting to meet and talk.

“The calls started coming, and I’m still getting them,” said Szynal (pronounced Zy-nal), adding that her appointment book is quickly filling up for the next several weeks.

Those appointments are part of what she describes as a broad learning process as she takes the reins at the Springfield chamber, succeeding Nancy Creed, who has stepped down officially after several years at the helm, but is assisting in the transition.

Indeed, while Szynal, who most recently served as director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and before that served as a legislative aide to the late state Rep. Peter Kocot, is certainly familiar with Springfield and Hampden County in general, she admits that there will be a ‘getting acquainted’ period awaiting her as she assumes the leadership position at the Springfield Regional Chamber.

“I know that I don’t know everything about Springfield,” Szynal, who started her new job July 5, told BusinessWest. “But I do know that I’ve had dozens of local businesses and community leaders offer to help me with that; Springfield is the economic engine of Western Massachusetts, and we need to make sure that we’re at the forefront, always at the cutting edge, of what’s happening, business-wise and legislatively.”

“The pandemic really did shine a spotlight on how critical it is to be part of that larger group and have that support and have that information that was so important.”

While scheduling meetings with those who are now calling and texting her, Szynal is also putting together a to-do list, one that includes a return of the chamber’s popular Super 60 program this fall — nominations are currently being accepted for that honor — as well as a resumption of the chamber’s ambassadors program (put on the shelf due to COVID), and, further down the line, planning of the first in-person Outlook lunch since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020.

Also on the list is creation of a new strategic plan — the last one was undertaken before the pandemic — and continuing and building upon Creed’s strong track record for not only keeping members well-informed, but making sure their voices are heard on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill.

“Nancy was, and still is a great voice for this region,” said Szynal. “We need to continue to make sure that our voice is heard, and the way you do that is by engaging the legislators and forming good relationships with stage agencies. The legislative piece is really important, and that’s where the Springfield Regional Chamber has a leg up, because it spends so much time making sure that it has put together a solid legislative agenda that supports what businesses need and makes sure that the voice at this end of the state is heard.”

Overall, Szynal takes the reins at an intriguing time for this chamber, and chambers in general.

Indeed, she said that the pandemic provided an opportunity for chambers to show their true value to members — and potential members — when it comes to not only providing needed information (although there was plenty of that) but for being a true resource for, and advocate for, the business community.

“I think there was a real affirmation of the value of chamber membership, particularly during the pandemic,” she said. “In Franklin County, when we went into the shut-down and my phone was ringing, it was non-members who were reaching out. Members of chambers were getting a lot of information during that tumultuous time on matters such as the Payroll Protection Program, who qualified, and how the loans were processed.”

This ability to step up and elevate their game, if you will, resulted in chambers being able to retain members and actually add new ones at a time of real challenge for businesses of all sizes and in every business sector, she went on, adding that both the Franklin County chamber and the Springfield Regional chamber have posted solid numbers the past few years, better than those from before the pandemic.

Moving forward, she said she plans to build off this momentum — and that’s what she prefers to call it — while also strengthening existing relationships with both other chambers and other economic-development-related agencies.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Szynal about her new appointment, the state of the Springfield Regional chamber, and the prospects for all chambers in the post-pandemic world.


Getting Down to Business

Recalling her shift from public service — she was a selectman in Hatfield and then in county government before joining Kocot as an aide — to running a chamber of commerce, Szynal said it was a relatively smooth, almost seamless transition. That’s because the work is similar in many respects, she noted, adding that in both arenas, there are large amounts of listening and advocacy involved.

Elaborating, she said that in her municipal roles, she got to work with many area economic-development-related agencies, such as the regional employment boards (now MassHire agencies), the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., and others. She was able to take those relationships, as well as her understanding of the state Legislature and relationships she forged there, to her work with the Franklin County chamber.

“It was while I was working for representative Kocot that I really cut my teeth on learning about workforce development, economic development, the importance of community organizations and nonprofits, and the importance of public-private partnerships,” she explained. “And how all of that fits into economic development.

region’s voice

Diana Szynal says one of her priorities moving forward is making sure this region’s voice is heard on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill.

“I was also able to develop at that time really important relationships with key stakeholders throughout the region,” she went on. “So when Rep. Kocot passed away, I went to the Franklin County chamber, and all of those relationships and learning experiences were invaluable in helping me execute the mission there.”

Szynal is expecting a similarly smooth transition as she moves from the Franklin County chamber to the one in Springfield, because, while the two regions are certainly different when it comes to population, the chambers are of similar size, membership-wise. Meanwhile, most all of the issues and challenges within the business communities are the same, and so is the basic mission of the organizations — to serve members and advocate on their behalf.

“The main focus of a chamber is communication, relationships, and business support,” said Szynal. “Each chamber is a little different, but most focus on the same things. Through events we facilitate networking and collaboration among members, and we give businesses some visibility through our membership directory, our website, member spotlights, all of those things. The business-to-business relationships, business-to-community relationships, those are things that most chambers focus on, although each chamber adds their own flavor.”

In Springfield, the size and makeup of the chamber reflects the diversity of the city and its recent upward trajectory, said Szynal, noting that, despite the pandemic and its impact on every sector of the economy, Springfield is in a growth mode and seeing vitality in most aspects of its economy.

“Springfield has so much going for it — there’s been so much revitalization in the area,” she said. “The sectors of healthcare and education, tourism and hospitality, manufacturing … all of those things are so vital and so critical here. I’m really looking forward to diving in and learning all that I don’t know and putting some fresh eyes on the chamber and the region.”

As noted earlier, she arrives at an intriguing time for this chamber, and all chambers. While most have become smaller staff-wise — several, including the Springfield Regional Chamber, are essentially one-person operations — there is a new vibrancy for many due to the relevancy gained during the pandemic.

“There is a lot of opportunity here. I have a lot on my to-do list, but I can’t wait to dive in.”

“The pandemic really did shine a spotlight on how critical it is to be part of that larger group and have that support and have that information that was so important,” Szynal told BusinessWest, adding that the challenge, and opportunity, moving forward is to hammer home the importance of chambers during what could be called more-normal, but still quite challenging times.

Indeed, Szynal said businesses large and small are still being impacted by a number of issues, many of them COVID after-effects including supply-chain issues, soaring prices, the early signs of recession, and, especially, a workforce crisis that doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

“Look at the challenges businesses are facing today that they didn’t have to before — supply chain issues, fuel prices are going to be crushing to some businesses, workforce issues, childcare, and more,” she said, adding that in such times, being part of an organization like the chamber, which can make its voice heard in Boston and Washington can be beneficial to businesses of all sizes.

Speaking of more normal, Szynal said the chamber will be turning back the clock to 2019 with regard to its events and many of its programs. On the events side of the ledger, the agency has started to stage in-person gatherings again — the annual meeting at the Springfield Sheraton drew more than 250 guests — and one of its largest annual get-togethers is back on the docket for the fall.

This is the program known as Super 60, a compilation of the region’s most successful companies based on performance in two categories — Total Revenue and Revenue Growth. One of the chamber’s most important revenue generators, Super 60 was put on ice in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic, and Szynal believes the lengthy pause will generate some interest in the popular program, slated for Oct. 28 at the MassMutual Center.

The same could be said for the chamber’s annual Outlook lunch, the region’s largest gathering of area business leaders. It has been staged remotely the past two years, and Szynal is looking forward to that tradition, and many other annual gatherings, returning to an in-person format.

“Outlook, the Beacon Hill and Washington summits, the Government Reception, the Mayors Forum … it’s so important to get back to doing those again because they provide information and offer opportunities for businesses to be together,” she explained. “I’m looking forward to being back full steam.”

While planning those events, she has many other items on her to-do list, starting with those meetings with area civic, business, and economic development leaders.

And there will also be work to create a new strategic plan for the institution.

“The last one was done three years ago, so it would be time to do another one anyway,” she noted. “But with everything that’s happened in the last two and a half years, it’s a really good time to evaluate the mission of the chamber and how we’re meeting that mission.”


The Bottom Line

From a personal perspective, Szynal said she chooses to look at the next stop on her career path as an opportunity and not necessarily as a challenge.

It will be an opportunity to continue the kind of work she has been doing for the past several years in several different capacities.

“I really love connecting with people, learning about their business, and learning about their business needs,” she explained. “I love that aspect of any job, that’s why I loved working with Peter Kocot, because I did so much constituent work; this is what I’m looking forward to.
“There is a lot of opportunity here,” she went on. “I have a lot on my to-do list, but I can’t wait to dive in.”


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Special Coverage Women in Businesss

The Right Ingredients

The staff at the Ekus Group

The staff at the Ekus Group in the reference library that Lisa Ekus has built over the past 40 years.

The Hatfield-based Ekus Group describes itself as a ‘full-service culinary agency.’ This is a unique niche obviously, one that has been successfully cultivated over the past 40 years, during which time the name Ekus, like the names of many of the authors the company represents, has become known across the country and around the world. Summing up the broad range of services, partners Lisa and Sally Ekus (mother and daughter) say they “bring chefs out from behind the stove.”

If one wanted to gain a full appreciation for how the company started by Lisa Ekus back in 1982 has grown, evolved, and emerged over the past 40 years, maybe the place to start is in what she calls her reference library.

It has become the centerpiece — although there are several of those — of the 250-year-old renovated farmhouse in Hatfield she calls home. She started with a small collection gathered in high school and college, and has grown it to 7,000 volumes, with more added seemingly every week; there’s a pile of books outside her office for reading and possible addition to the collection.

There are works of fiction placed in one small section, but the rest — much like Ekus’s career, and that of her daughter, Sally Ekus, now a partner in this venture — are devoted to food and cooking. The volumes are carefully cataloged and arranged by various subjects, meaning everything from food types to geographic regions, authors to individual countries; she recently added two volumes on Polish cuisine.

“There were agencies that did book PR. But we really honed in on chefs, cookbooks, food companies, and understanding the evolution and growth of what was happening on a very vast global stage.”

The library, like her work to create what have come to be known as ‘culinary celebrities,’ is a passion.

“It’s all organized physically, it goes around the globe by country, and then it goes through our country by region,” she told BusinessWest. “And there’s specialty, single subjects — soup, health and diet, wine … you name it. I’ve read maybe 75% of them and I’ve touched them all in some way.”

When asked what makes a book worthy of placement in the library, Sally answered for her mother. “It has to be … unique.”

That’s a word that could, and should, also be applied to this business, formerly known as the Lisa Ekus Group, but changed recently to reflect Sally’s more prominent role. Indeed, there are few companies like this anywhere, and probably only one in a rural setting like Hatfield. And while the library does a good job of conveying its growth and presence, it doesn’t … well, tell the full story — pun very much intended.

To fully understand, we need to visit other rooms of the house, which is adjacent to the company’s offices and plays a huge role in day-to-day activity.

Like the dining room and its massive table. Here, Lisa Ekus has hosted literally thousands of people for dinner over the years, including culinary celebrities such as Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse, and countless others.

Sally Ekus, left, with her mother and business partner, Lisa Ekus.

Sally Ekus, left, with her mother and business partner, Lisa Ekus.

Or the nearby kitchen, which doubles as a TV studio where many of these same chefs have mastered the fine art of cooking for a television audience, a business niche that the Ekus Group has cultivated over the years.

Or the large side porch that Ekus added on the property several years ago. Here, she does more entertaining with those who have become celebrities and those who want to gain that status.

Or the Airbnb that she recently opened with the appropriate name Cooks Chateau. As the pandemic has eased and leisure and business travel have returned, she has booked the space for the next several months, and projects that it will eventually become a solid profit center.

Together, these spaces in the Ekus home speak to a hugely successful business, one that continues to add new lines to its recipe for success, such as a virtual “How to Write a Cookbook” course that Sally considers a logical extension of what the company has done for the past four decades (more on it later).

Looking ahead, Sally said the company will continue to evolve and grow, but likely remain a boutique, as in “small” agency that can provide personalized service to its many kinds of clients.

“It’s not ‘here’s a book — let’s sell it. We want to identify the unique selling points and where in the marketplace this might fit; how can we help an author and a publisher articulate what the primary focus and goal of this particular book is. That’s what we do.”

“We have a desire to grow intentionally in a way that continues to support the work that our current team loves to do and also potentially bringing in a handful of new talent to grow things like our agent-representation program and our talent representation, and also continue to buildout our workshops and culinary expertise,” she said.

For this issue and its focus on women in business, we talked with Lisa and Sally Ekus about the first 40 years at this unique business and what may come next. Putting it in perspective, Lisa stated the obvious:

“We have so much fun with what we do; it’s one of the best industries to be in.”


Course of Action

For Sally Ekus, the phrase ‘growing up in the business,’ has perhaps more meaning than it does for most second-generation business owners and managers.

Indeed, since the Ekus home was — and is — also the office, but also the place where countless celebrities and celebrities in waiting came to meet with Lisa Ekus, cook, dine, and chat after meals with her, and Sally was part of all that; she literally grew up in the business — and around people like Julia Child.

And while she fondly remembers what she calls “the good old days,” she came of age, and became part of the business, as the scene was changing, with developments such as blog-to-book deals, online recipes, the rise of self-publishing, and much more.

From left, Lisa Ekus, Julia Child, and Irena Chalmers

From left, Lisa Ekus, Julia Child, and Irena Chalmers, a noted author and food commentator at one of many gatherings in the backyard of the company’s home in Hatfield.

Today, the company still celebrates the old while embracing the new, and Sally and Lisa are planning the next courses, if you will, for this venture, while continuing to provide the services that have made this company so successful over the past four decades. Summing them up, Lisa said she, Sally, and the assembled team “bring people out from behind the stove.”

By that, she means that the company helps those with culinary skills cultivate a brand while also helping them develop expertise in other areas required to become a true culinary celebrity — everything from writing a cookbook and getting it published, to learning how to cook for a television audience, to effective self-promotion.

While there have been cookbooks for perhaps a century now, there wasn’t, until recently, a focus on the chefs, the authors of these cookbooks, said Sally, noting that the Ekus Group devotes its energies to putting them front and center, and making them, as much as their recipes, the stars of the show.

It’s a package of services that, together, make the company unique and has enabled it to assemble a client list that is a veritable who’s who in the culinary world, with luminaries such as Haile Thomas, Toni Tipton-Martin, Davis Olson, and many others.

Turning back the clock 40 years, Lisa Ekus said she started her company to fill a need for a business that focused on book PR. She moved to the valley from New York City and brought with her an extensive portfolio of connections and experience.

“I developed the business because of, and through, my connections in New York publishing,” she explained. “So, I had a great base upon which to draw clients and get recommendations.”

In essence, she was doing remote work before anyone knew what remote work was, she went on, adding that she loved the lifestyle in Western Mass. and was committed to building a business here and traveling back to Gotham — or anywhere else she needed to go — when needed.

Over the next several years, the company would develop a culinary niche and become, in her estimation, the first and only culinary PR book agency in the country.

“There were agencies that did book PR,” she went on. “But we really honed in on chefs, cookbooks, food companies, and understanding the evolution and growth of what was happening on a very vast global stage. Our niche was putting it forward in book form.

“We worked to put our authors and their expertise out there through the covers of their books,” she went on. “No one had really focused on the personalities, the experts within the categories they wrote about — like Rose Levy Beranbaum and desserts; she wrote The Cake Bible, or Lynn Rosseto Kasper, who founded and was the host of Splendid Table for decades; she was an expert on the Emelia-Romagna section of Italy.

“Books were just put out there,” she continued. “And we really brought the expertise forward on a national level. And I really love personally to understand where someone comes from and what they write about. It’s not simply another book about cookies or Italy or wherever; it’s understanding and taking a deep dive into food.”


Stirring Things Up

While the Ekus Group remains grounded in the principles and services on which it was founded, it has certainly evolved over the years and changed as the times have.

The biggest change has simply been the emergence of food and cooking, said Lisa, noting that, 40 years ago, there were very few celebrity chefs, no television networks devoted to the subject, exponentially fewer cookbooks being written annually, few who knew what veganism was, and far fewer people who would say they are really into the culinary arts.

Starting in the early 90s, things started to change, she recalled, and today the landscape is much different.

“We’re willing to, and want to, explore food origins,” Lisa explained. “We want to say, ‘I’m going to cook an entire Korean meal this weekend, and I’m going to buy authentic ingredients and I’m going to make it from scratch. People have taken up cooking and food as a major hobby, and it’s a huge sector economically in the country.”

Elaborating, she said the food business has transformed itself into the food businesses — hundreds of different types, from importers to retailers to specialty food purveyors.

The Ekus Group has positioned itself to thrive in this environment, said the two partners, through the cookbook, but also a hard focus on serving those who want to be players in this movement, if it can still be called that, be they book writers, bloggers, podcast hosts, or simply those who want to take their culinary skills to another plane.

Ekus’s home

Top, the kitchen in Lisa Ekus’s home doubles as a studio for training chefs om how to cook before a TV audience. Above, one of the rooms in the Cooks Chateau.

Elaborating, Sally said the company is working with several hundred clients a year and perhaps a few dozen at any given time on specific book projects. Overall, the work involves building their brand, she said, and taking them beyond their first book, although they certainly help many get started.

“Oftentimes, it’s not just one book or the first book, although we love that it starts there,” she explained. “It’s the second, the third, fourth, fifth, and beyond; we help them build their brand through their publishing career.”

Lisa agreed, and said the company helps those at various stages of the book-writing process, from developing a concept, to finding a publisher, to shooting a photo for the cover.

The broad goal is to ‘position’ the book, she went on, adding the Ekus Group specializes in this value-added service.

“It’s not ‘here’s a book — let’s sell it,’” she told BusinessWest. “We want to identify the unique selling points and where in the marketplace this might fit; how can we help an author and a publisher articulate what the primary focus and goal of this particular book is. That’s what we do.”

Moving forward, the company is always looking for different ways to share its expertise in this large and growing market, she went on, adding that this mindset has led to new and different initiatives, such as the online How to Write a Cookbook course.

There are many such courses on the Internet, said Sally, but few if any that bring the Ekus Group’s level of expertise and understanding of what makes a book successful at a time when shelves are crammed with new titles, and more are written every week.

“I realized that we were getting the same questions about publishing, and cookbook publishing in particular, over and over again, whether they’re from our clients, the consults that we do, or just general curiosity in this industry,” she explained. “So a few years ago, I thought ‘how can we extend a core value of ours, which is to be a resource in this industry?’ And I put together this course, which is an extension of our expertise.”

Elaborating, she said it helps answer questions about self-publishing versus traditional publishing, how to stand out, the role of agents, and much more.

Thus far, the course, which features more than 20 “exclusive, insider tips” from Sally Ekus, has drawn considerable interest, said the partners, adding that it complements other services, such as training in culinary media, which ranges from cooking on TV or before a live audience, to conducting a radio interview. Cooking is one skill, said Sally, but media appearances are another … kettle of fish.

“There are a lot of people who say ‘I’m a food expert,’ or ‘I want to be famous and cook and talk on television,’” she said. “But there’s a very specific skill and personality that needs to be cultivated and trained, so we developed this program, which is the first of its type in this space.”

Over the past 40 years or so, hundreds, including celebrities like Lagasse, known for his mastery of Creole and Cajun cuisine, have had such training in that kitchen in the Ekus home.

As noted, countless cooking celebrities have come to Hatfield over the years, and now more are making the trek with the new Airbnb, which, as its name indicates, has a culinary focus.

“People can visit us, whether they’re a client or not, and be inspired, write, cook, visit the library, and more,” said Sally, adding that as more people become more comfortable with travelling, she expects that the space will become popular with those looking for a quiet spot to create — whether it’s with a laptap or on a stove.


Food for Thought

Summing up 40 years in business and the mindset that drives the Ekus Group, Lisa said, “some people eat to live; we live to eat and to celebrate the writers, the authors, the cooks who are doing it so brilliantly.”

And by celebrating them, it is helping them navigate the path to becoming celebrities — on one level or another.

This business is, like those books on the reference library shelves, unique. And as the business marks 40 years, those rooms in the Ekus home show just how far it has come and where it can still go.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Cannabis Special Coverage

Delivering on Business Promise

partners in Budzee.

From left, Kevin Perrier, Volkan Polatol, and Erza Parzybok, partners in Budzee.

Volkan Polatol didn’t actually speak the words, but he strongly implied them: ‘If this was easy, then everyone would do it. Or at least try.’

The ‘it,’ in this case, is delivery of cannabis products — Amazon-style. Polatol, teaming with Kevin Perrier and Ezra Parzybok in a venture called Budzee, has created such a service, believed to be one of the very few in this region, and the country, for that matter.

As the partners talked about their business, they addressed that logical question about why they are the first and why there are not more ventures addressing what appears to be a logical need within the marketplace.

And the simple answer is that this isn’t as easy as it looks. And it doesn’t even look easy.

Indeed, there are complex licensing issues to overcome, software programs to develop, logistics, myriad expenses — from buying dedicated, unmarked vehicles to outfitting them with special equipment, to staffing each vehicle with two people (one of many requirements to be followed). And now, gas costs more than $5 a gallon.

“All of this is incredibly expensive, and it’s very difficult; we had to create the model,” said Polatol, who summed it all up by saying that a roadmap had to be in place for such a unique venture.

Parzybok agreed, and elaborated — on the many challenges facing this venture and all businesses in the cannabis sector.

“There’s a strain put on these businesses when the state invents all these rules that make it difficult to run a smooth, profitable business,” he explained. “The rules for cannabis are more strict than for pharmacies that sell opioids; they’re more strict than those for the delivery trucks that deliver alcohol. All that costs money.”

The partners who created Budzee, all veterans of this industry in one capacity or another, have chosen to take on all these challenges — they opened their doors this past spring. And that’s because, despite all these hurdles and expenses, they see real need for what they’re doing. They also see a path to profitability — not right away, but certainly some day, and perhaps soon as word of their venture grows and more people decide that it’s easier to have cannabis products delivered to their door than it is to travel to an area dispensary.

“There are people who can’t drive to a dispensary,” said Polatol. “Meanwhile, even though cannabis is legal in this state, there is still a stigma out there; some people don’t want to be seen in dispensaries. There’s still a great many people who want to be home, and they like the convenience of things being delivered to them.”

“There’s a strain put on these businesses when the state invents all these rules that make it difficult to run a smooth, profitable business. The rules for cannabis are more strict than for pharmacies that sell opioids; they’re more strict than those for the delivery trucks that deliver alcohol. All that costs money.”

And that brings the partners, who have invested more than $1.2 million to move Budzee off the drawing board, to the major challenge that remains for them — educating the public about this service and the convenience it brings.

“There’s considerable work to do to educate the public about this,” said Polatol, adding these efforts are ongoing. “Once we get established, people will understand; there are so many non-cannabis models out there — from Domino’s Pizza to Amazon. Once they understand it, it clicks. To get it out there, though, will require marketing, marketing, and more marketing.”

Parzybok agreed, and said that in time, consumers will come to understand, appreciate, and embrace the convenience just as they have in many other industries where home delivery has become an important part of the business model.

“It’s a new industry, so you assume that most licensed categories are going to be profitable,” he said. “You can look at the numbers for retail establishments or see the lines coming out the door when retail was opening, so you just assume that people will also embrace delivery. But when Amazon first came out, people were like ‘why should I buy something on the Internet when I can just go get it at the grocery store?’ But now they realize that they never have to bring it in from their car again.”

ideally situated off I-91

Budzee’s location in Easthampton is ideally situated off I-91

Getting the word out, and creating a comfort level with home delivery of cannabis products is essential, because with this model — where Budzee is charging the same price for products as one would pay if they went to a dispensary (there is a $100 minimum) — relies on volume. And creating it will be the primary assignment moving forward.

“It’s all about scaling up,” said Polatol, adding the goal is to eventually serve the entire state and build a large portfolio of new and repeat clients.

For this issue and its focus on the region’s emerging cannabis industry, BusinessWest talked with the partners at Budzee about the venture, what it took to get it off the ground, and how they anticipate that it will continue to gain altitude in the months and years to come.


Creating a Buzz

As they offered BusinessWest a quick tour of their facilities — dominated by signs that read ‘authorized personnel only’ or ‘Do Not Enter — Limited Access Area’ — on just about every door — the partners stopped in the large vault area where the various cannabis products are stored and then gathered for delivery.

There are literally hundreds of different products on the shelves — a selection larger than what is to be found at most dispensaries, said Polatol — with names ranging from Rootbeer Float to Blue Sunshine; Purple Pineapple Express to Sundae Driver.

Putting such a portfolio of products together has actually been one of the easier aspects of this enterprise, they noted, adding quickly that just about everything else — from the software to the business model; from the licensing to the logistics — is difficult and, in many ways, pioneering.

Turning back the clock roughly two years, Polatol said the three partners came together behind the idea that the region needed a service that would ‘bring cannabis to your house like a pizza,” as he put it, and conviction that this team had the expertise, determination, and patience (a key ingredient to be sure) to make this happen.

There were some courier-like businesses working on a DoorDash model, said Polatol, but the concept they had, for a warehouse, Amazon-like model, was totally unique for this region, and the country, as far as they knew.

The vault at Budzee

The vault at Budzee holds a wide variety of products for delivery to customers.

The partners already knew each other well. Polatol and Perrier are the owners of the dispensaries Dreamer Cannabis in Southampton, and Honey in Northampton, and Parzybok served as a licensing consultant on those ventures. United in their vision for this new kind of business, what they put together a checklist of everything that was needed, and then a roadmap for taking the concept from the drawing board to the marketplace.

The first item on the list was a license, which was somewhat problematic, because the state was, and still is, awarding cannabis-delivery licenses exclusively to those who qualify for the state’s social equity program — meaning they were previously harmed by the nation’s war on drugs.

Enter Parzybok, who was arrested in 2015 after federal agents raided his home in Northampton and eventually seized dozens of marijuana plants; he received probation for the offenses.

The license-application process was lengthy and complex, mostly because of the new ground being broken, but also because the Cannabis Control Commission has historically been methodical when issuing licenses, said Perrier, adding that this bridge would eventually be crossed.

The partners also needed a location, and realized that they actually had one in property that Perrier owned in Easthampton that was ideally situated less than a minute from an exit onto I-91, positioning the company to deliver to the four counties of Western Mass. and beyond.

They also needed software for taking orders, vehicles, specialized equipment, drivers (a challenge when all companies are looking for help), and a system for safely getting products into those vehicles and then into the hands of customers.

All those hurdles were cleared early this year, and the company commenced deliveries in early April.

Most of these have been in and around Springfield, but there have been some farther east; the territory attached to the license is essentially everything west of Worcester. And the two-person teams (one drives, the other brings the items to the door) are delivering the full spectrum of products, from flowers to edibles to accessories.

Deliveries come on three levels: ‘express’ (within two hours, but usually less than that); ‘same day,’ where the customer picks a time slot, and ‘scheduled,’ where the customer picks the day and time.

Thus far, business has been good, but the venture is still very much in the ramping-up phase as awareness of the service builds, the public becomes more comfortable with the notion of having cannabis delivered to their doorstep, and it understands (at least with this company) that delivery is not more expensive than going to the dispensary.

And there are obstacles to building this awareness, they said, adding that state and federal laws limit where and how such a venture can advertise its products and services. For example, cannabis companies can only advertise on vehicles that can prove that 85% of their audience is 21 or older, said Perrier. Meanwhile, because cannabis is still illegal federally, such platforms as Google, Instagram, and Facebook “won’t take our money,” he noted, adding that television stations will not take it, either. They can’t even advertise on the vehicles delivering the products — those must be unmarked for, presumably, security reasons; this is a cash-only business.

“You’re really handicapped in how you can advertise,” said Polatol, adding that the company is using some billboards and a digital campaign to draw people to the Budzee website. But that’s just half the battle. Once there, consumers need to become comfortable with the products and procedures, and place orders.

Despite these challenges, the partners believe they have the right concept at the right time, and as awareness and comfortability grow, they will achieve the volume they need to be profitable.

“Once Budzee becomes known as a household delivery option for cannabis, things will snowball and we’ll get bigger numbers,” said Polatol. “And we’re seeing that right now; the numbers are going up every week, and we’re getting a lot of regulars.

“There are some people who can’t leave their house for health reasons, and they’re ordering from us three times a week,” he went on. “They love it, and it’s rewarding for us; it’s a model that’s working.”

At present, the company is making maybe 20 to 30 deliveries a day on average, he said, with the goal being to take that number past 100. Other goals are to go statewide (more licenses will be needed for that) and then perhaps to other states, he told BusinessWest.


Budding Proposition

None of that will be easy, of course. But as these partners have shown, they are willing to assume challenges and clear some high hurdles to get where they want to be.

And right now, they are where they want to be — the first to be out the door (and to your door) with delivery of cannabis products.

They know that it will take some time to scale up, as Polatol noted, and reach the volume level they need to be successful, but they believe they have a model that works and a foundation to build on.



George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Special Coverage Wealth Management

It’s a Time to Stay Focused and Think Strategically

By Barbara Trombley, CPA

If you have a retirement account, as many of us do, it is hard not to follow what is going on in the financial markets today. We are officially in a bear market, defined by a drop of 20% or more in a broad market index.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed into bear market territory on June 13 of this year. Unfortunately, bear markets may plummet even deeper than the 20% threshold and may do so over a prolonged period. It is a tough time to be an investor during this scenario but, eventually, the market finds a bottom and investors feel comfortable once again to begin buying, putting an end to the bear market.

Bear markets are usually the result of a recession or some other financial strain. We are not officially in a recession, but many experts think that one is coming. A recession is defined as a significant decline in economic activity that lasts for months or years. This often means that unemployment rises as companies fail or shrink to control costs. Corporate profits fall causing a decline in stock market prices.

Usually, a bear market signifies tougher economic times ahead. Unfortunately, bear markets are ‘normal’ and happen periodically. We actually experienced a short bear market at the beginning of the pandemic. Bear markets tend to be much shorter than bull markets (when stocks rise over a period of time). They also tend to be less statistically severe, with average losses of 33% compared with bull market average gains of 159%, according to data compiled by Invesco.

“It is a tough time to be an investor during this scenario but, eventually, the market finds a bottom and investors feel comfortable once again to begin buying, putting an end to the bear market.”

What should an investor do during a bear market? Risk tolerance, asset allocation and your age really come in to play right now. The percentage of equities in your portfolio should match your risk tolerance and age. For instance, if you are in your thirties and forties and are investing in your 401(k), you could be very aggressive and have a large percentage of equities.

If this is the case, then you should be thrilled to make your monthly deposit into your account. You are buying stocks ‘on sale’ and you have many years to make up any temporary losses in your account. Even if you are a few years from retirement, and depending upon you situation, a bear market could be seen as an opportunity to purchase stocks at a discount.

A prolonged bear market for someone approaching retirement or a new retiree could mean making some changes to your lifestyle. For example, you could limit withdrawals from your investment account and/or eliminate panic selling. When you withdraw money or sell in a bear market it is considered “locking in the losses.” Perhaps you can cut spending or pick up an extra job for the short term, until the economy is on more stable footing.

There are financial products available that could potentially be suitable in many portfolios. In some cases when determined appropriate, an annuity could be used to create more stable income, a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) could be used to help diversity a portfolio and many insurance companies offer products with downside protection. Consult your financial advisor for different ideas to help address the volatility in your portfolio.

Perspective is key to a good night’s sleep when dealing with market volatility. Downturns are a normal occurrence in the stock market. Since 1932, bear markets have occurred, on average, every 56 months (about four years and eight months), according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. Make sure to keep emergency funds in the bank to keep market withdrawals to a minimum. Do not make rash changes to your portfolio. There is a saying that ‘time in the market beats timing the market.’ It is very hard to predict the exact best day to sell a stock or to buy a stock. Missing the best days in the stock market, over time, can seriously undermine your performance. Having a plan and sticking to it could yield the best results in the long term.

If you are a new investor, you may want to proceed cautiously. One potential strategy is to dollar cost average any funds that you have into the market (spread the investment over a period of time). This way you are buying at different price points in the market. Dollar cost averaging involves continuous investment in securities regardless of fluctuation in price levels of such securities. An investor should consider their ability to continue purchasing through fluctuating price levels. Such a plan does not assure a profit and does not protect against loss in declining markets.

No one is predicting when the market bottom will happen, and it is nearly impossible to time. I believe you should see to have a well-diversified portfolio with a mixture of asset classes, though there is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

Always remember the adages “This too shall pass” and “Time is on your side.” Those people that have been investing for a while have been through many economic downturns and have survived and, most likely, thrived if they have stayed the course and stuck to their plan!


Barbara Tromblay is a financial advisor and CPA with Wilbraham-based Tromblay, CPA: (413) 596-6992. Securities offered through LPL Financial. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Trombley Associates, a registered investment advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

Insurance Special Coverage

A Policy of Purpose

After a long career growing FieldEddy (later HUB International New England) into one of the region’s most notable insurance success stories, Sam Hanmer called it quits, figuring he’d enjoy an early retirement. But he didn’t, in fact, enjoy it. So, three years later, with a renewed sense of passion and purpose, he got back in the game, purchasing two local agencies, with the intention to grow them further, with an eye toward cultivating the next generation of leadership.

By Stephen Carter

If not for the pandemic, Sam Hanmer said, he might have stayed retired.

Or maybe not.

A long stretch when COVID-19 largely shut down the world certainly didn’t add to whatever enjoyment his retirement years — which began in the spring of 2018 — were bringing him, but the truth, he admitted, is that early retirement simply didn’t suit him.

“Quite honestly, I was hanging around doing nothing every day and had a lack of purpose in my life,” said Hanmer, whose more than three-decade career in insurance was highlighted by the rapid growth of FieldEddy in the early years of this century and its acquisition by Hub International in 2014. “I said, ‘OK, I have to go do something. This is crazy; I’m too young. None of my friends are retired. I’m a golfer, but not a passionate golfer.’ So retirement didn’t sit well with me.”

As noted, COVID didn’t help — Hanmer’s bulldog, Santino, was his “pandemic dog,” a companion during those isolating months — and not even the golf courses were open for a while. Simply put, he was restless.

“I figured, I’ve got plenty of earning years left, so I went back to what I know,” he said, noting that he honored his non-compete agreement with HUB before jumping back into the insurance business. After bidding on another agency and falling short, he purchased the two locations of LeBel, Lavigne & Deady Insurance (in Chicopee and Springfield) in May 2021, rebranding them as the Rush Insurance Group. Then, in November, he bought Towne Insurance Agency in Agawam, changing the name to Towne Insurance Group; it may eventually be part of the Rush name as well.

“I got back in the business,” he said. “I needed something to do, and it’s what I knew.”

Back in the 1980s, when Hanmer graduated from UMass Amherst, his father was the majority owner of a firm known then as Field, Eddy, and Bulkley, but Hanmer didn’t go to work for him right away. When he later joined the family business, he started in sales but moved to the financial side when the treasurer suffered a heart attack and had to leave the company for some time. After his father retired in 1995, Hanmer stepped into the role of CEO.

It wasn’t long before he started to capitalize on a trend within the industry — many small, mom-and-pop operations struggling to adjust to changes and technology began looking in earnest for exit strategies — to grow by acquisition.

insurance business with a new venture

Sam Hanmer tried retirement, but it didn’t suit him, so he returned to the insurance business with a new venture

Over the next two decades, the firm acquired a number of agencies, including the Curtis and Hodskins agencies in Monson, Aliengena in Palmer, LDS in Three Rivers, Meadows in East Longmeadow, Remillard in South Hadley, Buckley Bridge in Windsor Locks, and both BPI and Lawson, Marino & Bertera in Springfield.

The 160-year-old firm, later branded FieldEddy, was still growing its footprint when it became part of the HUB International family in 2014, where Hanmer remained in a leadership role for three and a half years, then retired.

For a while, anyway.


A Different Perspective

Looking back to his un-retirement decision early last year, Hanmer figures it was probably inevitable, pandemic or not.

“I’m very happy I made the call to do it. I’ve had people, friends in the business, say, ‘why did you get back into this business?’ But it’s a good business, it really is, and they know it.

“But after a while, it can get old,” he went on. “So for me, taking three years off and coming back was a like a recharge. I was in the business 30-something years, and after 30 years, anything can get a little tiring. You take a few years off and realize — in my case, at least — retirement wasn’t working, and you come back with a different lens because you had three years off. So I’m excited and having fun in the business — probably more fun now than I had back in the day.”

Hanmer has navigated a number of changes in the sector, including the rise of direct writers like Geico and Progressive, who poured into Massachusetts after state regulations were changed to stimulate competition. But Hanmer, like other independent agents, has always countered that evolution by emphasizing the value of relationships in his business.

“The direct writers have captured a fair amount of the Massachusetts business, and you saw a big pitch years ago about online sales from direct writers. Now you see Geico offices popping up because they finally understand it is a relationship business. Geico’s done phenomenally; they don’t have to put offices up, but they’re starting to build offices you can walk into. And Progressive probably does 80% of their business through independent agents. People don’t know that.”

The other factor that’s been affecting the insurance world over the past 20 years — and remains a factor today — is consolidation, and there’s a place, Hanmer said, for locally owned companies in that landscape.

“Consolidation has been happening in all sectors, and that’s very much the case in the insurance-agency world,” he noted. “Everything is going to the nationals, and the local insurance agencies are dwindling. But we’re still local people.”

The main challenge is one of scale, he said, noting that the size of HUB certainly helped the former FieldEddy grow its business because of the buying power of a national firm. “And they have a lot of what I would call specialty units that focus on a particular sector. It’s powerful. It served us well.

“But I still think there are a group of middle-market buyers, smaller businesses that get lost in the shuffle with the nationals, and I think there’s a big opportunity for smaller local agencies to capture that business,” he went on. “A lot of national players actually walk away from that business. And in Western Mass., that’s 90% of businesses.”

So, against the backdrop of continued consolidation and with his accumulated years of experience, Hanmer saw an opportunity to be successful.

“It certainly was a scary thought to get back in, and come up with some capital in order to get back in, knowing that things have changed in three years — although they didn’t change as much as I thought they would have.”

Elaborating, he said he discussed coming back with friends and colleagues, and they led him to believe the business had changed quite a bit, even in the three years he was away.

“And there is change in the system environment, in the software we use, some of the peripheral things, but the actual dynamics of the business didn’t change. Once I got back in, I said, ‘this is what I anticipated.’”

It’s a landscape where relationship building and the consultative approach still matter, he explained.

“That’s never gone away. I’d rather be your consultant than your salesman. If someone buys from me, great, but if they don’t, and I’ve helped them, that’s fine too, because at some point, that will come around. Maybe they’ll talk to a friend. Even if I don’t ever get their business, that approach works. It doesn’t necessarily work quickly, but this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

He paused for a moment. “Well, I’m sprinting a little bit, because there will be retirement at some point ahead of me.”


Leaving a Legacy

For now, though, Hanmer is focused on growing his three offices, which offer personal, commercial, and employee-benefit lines — the latter being new for both agencies.

“My makeup isn’t to sit back. I absolutely plan on growing it through organic growth and organic sales and through further acquisitions, for sure,” he told BusinessWest. But he wants to leave his enterprise in healthy shape when that second retirement does come around — and, presumably, sticks.

“I’m hoping this time around to create something where a perpetuation might be internal instead of selling it externally to a national brand. If I can get a few young guys — and women — in here who are passionate about the business and want to keep it going, I would definitely perpetuate it internally, just create a little annunity for myself, as opposed to just cashing out. That’s the plan. Plans change, but that’s the plan.”

Bringing in young professionals is a national challenge, however.

“It’s hard. This industry is struggling to attract young people who want to be in the insurance business. It’s hard to get young people energized or even want to talk to you. They’d rather be in a dot-com; they’d rather be in a startup in Boston. There’s all kinds of things they’d rather do than sell insurance.”

One reason is that insurance isn’t an instant-gratification career, he explained.

“It’s a recurring-revenue business, which means your first few years are tough because you have to build a book of business. It’s a commission-based business, so once you build your business, you can create a recurring-revenue compensation program. It can be lucrative if you stick it out, but most people won’t stick it out because the first few years are lean. If they can manage through their first few years and have thick enough skin not to worry about the public perception of insurance, it can be a very lucrative job.”

The negative perception arises, Hanmer said, because insurance is something everyone needs, but they don’t want to pay for it. “They love having it when they have a problem, but if they’ve never had a problem, they say, ‘I can’t believe I spent all this money on insurance.’”

Hanmer found he needed insurance, too — not the product, but the career. He needed it more, in fact, than putting on a green or puttering around a house, or whatever activities he and Santino — who now goes to work with his owner every day — might get up to.

In other words, Hanmer needed to feel the spark of working again, so that’s what he did. And he found that spark.

“I definitely made the right decision,” he said. “I’m really happy.”