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John Grossman and Dawn Cordeiro of Holyoke Hummus

John Grossman and Dawn Cordeiro of Holyoke Hummus

As the operator of one of the region’s more popular food trucks points out, food-truck culture in the Pioneer Valley is different than it is in metro areas like Manhattan, where the trucks are a constant street-corner sight. Here, they’re more common at fairs, music festivals, and community gatherings, in addition to city streets. And a few have morphed into brick-and-mortar locations as well, which operate in synergy with the mobile kitchens, giving patrons even more opportunities to experience new tastes.

John Grossman has told the story often about the year — it was 2013 — he attended the Holyoke Brick Race, an annual stock-car event in the Paper City. Organizers arranged for food vendors, but none showed up.

“I had been traveling to New York for work, and I was used to seeing falafel trucks on every other corner, and I really wanted to see food like that here,” he recalled. “I told the mayor, ‘next year, I’m going to be here with a falafel cart.’ He said, ‘go ahead, John, you do that.’ That’s all the inspiration and shoving I needed. Our first gig was the race a year later.”

Grossman calls his food truck the Great Garbanzo, and has since added a smaller trailer called the Little Chickpea. He and his wife, Dawn Cordeiro, have turned their enterprise, Holyoke Hummus, into a staple at events like Food Truck Fridays at MGM Springfield and Abandoned Building Brewery, as well as community events, music festivals, and other gatherings across the region, like last weekend’s Run the Runway 5K at Westover Air Reserve Base.

Festivals and other public gatherings have been key to the success of most regional food trucks, he said, as opposed to places like Manhattan, where they’re a constant sight on city streets.

“There isn’t the urban density to support food trucks” lined up along streets, he noted, adding, however, that MGM and others have done well to create buzz around weekly food-truck events.

“It’s not the people in the casino coming out to that; it’s the people who work downtown who say, ‘hey, there’s a bunch of food trucks,’” he told BusinessWest. Making food trucks a regular sight along city streets outside of festivals and events, he added, requires permitting and parking tangles that can be difficult to navigate, although many have done so in Western Mass.

Like Sun Kim, who launched her food truck, Sun Kim Bop, in Amherst in 2014, but eventually decided downtown Springfield would bring more traffic, so she set up shop in front of Tower Square in downtown Springfield.

Bop is cooked rice molded into a bun and grilled; it’s the foundation for her Bop Burger, a seasoned rice bun with dry seaweed sprinkles, sauteed kimchi, and pork, beef, or chicken in between.

“It’s a tough business, but exciting. It’s a good way to get to know people,” she said. “During the warm season, people want to go outside to eat, or have an outing with their employees, and the food truck can go anywhere — in a field, in a park.”

At events, she added, “so many restaurants come with a tent to set up, and they take quite a while, but with the truck, we can set up within 10 minutes and start to feed people.”

Her authentic Korean street food soon developed a following, but there was a problem: what to do during the cold months?

“We had a long break during the winter, from November through April, when we closed. Food-truck season is quite short — maybe two-thirds of the year — and I felt like people might forget about us during the winter. I felt like we were starting our business over every spring,” she said. “But with a restaurant, we could stay connected to people. They could keep coming back to the same place and remember us.”

So, two years ago, she opened a Sun Kim Bop restaurant on Main Street. And she’s not the only one who turned mobile success into a storefront; Holyoke Hummus opened its restaurant on High Street, across from Holyoke City Hall, two years ago, starting with lunch service and adding breakfast this past January.

Sun Kim says her restaurant patrons will often seek out the food truck

Sun Kim says her restaurant patrons will often seek out the food truck, and vice versa, bringing synergy to her two-pronged business.

For our annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest checks in with a few local food trucks, and learns how that model has evolved for them, or will, into brick and mortar sites that coexist along with those kitchens on wheels.

Local Flavor

Jake Mazar and Will Van Heuvelen both come from a farming background, and both worked at Brookfield Farm in Amherst when they got an idea.

“Will’s background is in cooking and baking, and mine is in business management,” Mazar said. “But we both came to the Valley to pursue agriculture and had a passion for local food.”

Brookfield Farm had no commercial kitchen, though, and the pair wanted to take their food passions further. So they launched a food truck called Wheelhouse.

Jake Mazar (left) says he and Will Van Heuvelen

Jake Mazar (left) says he and Will Van Heuvelen want to take concepts that resonate with the agricultural movement and make them more accessible to the public.

“We wanted to take a lot of the same concepts that resonate so strongly with the local agricultural movement and make them more accessible to the public,” Mazar explained.

Wheelhouse got rolling in 2015, bringing the wheeled kitchen to food-truck events, farmers markets, festivals, and fairs over the first couple of years. It still takes part in some 75 events per year, but mixed in with music festivals, like the Green River Festival, and other public gatherings is an increasing number of private, catered events.

“For some of those, we don’t actually use the food truck,” he said. “Or, sometimes we bring the food truck to a wedding and do a family-style dinner, followed by late-night tacos from the truck. We do a lot of private events, and generally, we don’t do as many public events as we used to.”

That evolution has brought them to the next step, and they’re in the process of purchasing a property in Amherst to — much like Holyoke Hummus and Sun Kim Bop — open up a brick-and-mortar version of Wheelhouse.

“Will and I both think the Valley is such a unique place, in large part because of the agricultural heritage here, and the amazing small farms and growers — and large farms and growers. We can get grain here, dairy, fruit, vegetables, meat, mushrooms, fish — you name it, there’s a different place for it,” he said. “And it’s sort of our mission to highlight the amazing work these growers are doing. The farms contribute in a big way to the culture of our communities, and we want to shine a spotlight on them.”

It’s a shifting spotlight, to be sure, as the menus at Wheelhouse are constantly in flux, based on what’s coming out of the ground locally that month — from spring vegetables to summer fruits to root vegetables when the weather cools down.

“We change the menus basically every week based on what’s fresh, what’s going to be in season,” he said, noting that will be a feature at the brick-and-mortar restaurant, too. “That’s a big challenge, to accommodate what’s available in a given week.”

Dawn Cordeiro are among a handful of food-truck operators

John Grossman and Dawn Cordeiro are among a handful of food-truck operators who have translated their success into a brick-and-mortar restaurant — or are planning to do so.

What helps is that the Pioneer Valley is home to a progressive, multi-cultural, and culinary adventurous population that’s open to new tastes, and that means opportunity for truck owners who can carve out a niche, as Grossman has with his creative takes on falafel and hummus.

“People in Holyoke are interested in a wide variety of foods,” he said.

As for the restaurant, “it has a fun vibe,” he added. “We always knew lunch and dinner would be the bread and butter. But we started breakfast at the beginning of the year, and we also went to seven days a week. We were able to grow the restaurant in ways we weren’t even thinking about.”

He wasn’t sure High Street was ready for a seven-day operation, he noted, because it’s a largely commercial district that clears out after business hours.

But we heard people telling us, ‘I live in Holyoke but work in Springfield, and I can’t get back from work in time to eat at your place. Weekends would be great.’ And weekends are going nicely; people are happy we have food available every day.”

Rolling On

Still, food trucks are still about getting into plenty of outdoor events and raising their profile — usually for one type of food, as Grossman has done, and as Kim has done with Korean street food.

She told BusinessWest she’s relieved to have the Main Street shop, as a food-truck-only business was problematic in some ways. Simply put, it’s not easy to prepare everything without a commercial kitchen, with limited space and always having to supply electricity, gas, and water to the vehicle.

“It was tough; we were working without a real kitchen, like a restaurant has. That’s why we started thinking, ‘if I opened up a restaurant, we could prep all those things in the restaurant’s kitchen.’”

In fact, the truck and restaurant have boosted each other, Kim noted. “Sometimes people who find us at the truck come to the restaurant, and the restaurant people come to the truck. They both have the same logo and colors, and they can make a connection. Rather than having only a restaurant or truck, that really gives us synergy.”

Cordeiro has been out front with marketing Holyoke Hummus — both the food truck and the restaurant — especially online. “We’re mobile, and people are mobile, too, and that’s how you reach them,” Grossman said. “She’s been a great voice for us, explaining who we are and reaching people who’ll want to follow us around and be a part of this.”

As for Mazar, “I like to joke that we started this business just so we get to eat more of Will’s food,” he said. “At the end of the day, we just love food. We’re not trying to be pretentious about it; we just want to make it accessible.”

When asked what he enjoys about the mobile food lifestyle, he was quick to respond.

“It’s the people — well, the combination of people and food. Food trucks are a great interaction between the natural world and the human world. That’s a great inspiration for Will and me. We work with amazing farms — it all starts with them — and we get to see people experience the natural world in an incredibly delicious and satisfying way.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Travel and Tourism

Fun in the Sun

Summertime is a great time to get away, but in Western Mass., it’s also a great time to stick around and enjoy the many events on the calendar. Whether you’re craving live music or arts and crafts, historical experiences or small-town pride, the region boasts plenty of ways to celebrate the summer months. Here are a few dozen ideas to get you started.

June

Granby Charter Days
Dufresne Park, Route 202, Granby, MA
www.granbycharterdays.com
Admission: Free
• June 14-16: This annual town fair celebrates the adoption of Granby’s charter in 1768. This year’s event promises an array of local vendors and artisand, arts and crafts, contests, tractor pulls and an antique tractor show, an oxen draw, helicopter rides, a petting zoo, live music headlined by Trailer Trash, midway rides, a pancake breakfast, fireworks, and more.

Worthy Craft Brew Fest
201 Worthington St., Springfield, MA
www.theworthybrewfest.com
Admission: $35-$45
• June 15: Smith’s Billiards and Theodores’ Booze, Blues & BBQ, both in the city’s entertainment district, will host two dozen breweries, live music, and food served up by Theodores’, Thai Chili Food Truck, and Nora Cupcake Co. The event will also feature a home-brew contest; Amherst Brewing will make the winner’s beer and serve it at next year’s Brew Fest.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket
www.jacobspillow.org
Admission: Prices vary
• June 19 to Aug. 25: Now in its 86th season, Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance, featuring more than 50 dance companies from the U.S. and around the world. Participants can take in scores of free performances, talks, and events; train at one of the nation’s most prestigious dance-training centers; and take part in programs designed to educate and engage audiences of all ages.

Out! for Reel LGBT Films
274 Main St., Northampton, MA
www.outforreel.net
Admission: $7-$12
• June 22: Out! For Reel LGBTQ Films celebrates National Pride Month with a mini film fest at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. This year’s theme is “This American Lesbian Life: Uplifting (and Fun) Stories in Short Films.” Out! For Reel invites everyone in the community to enjoy these entertaining, inspiring, and award-winning films.

New England Food Truck Festival
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield, MA
www.nefoodtruckfest.com
Admission: $6-$35
• June 22-23: The New England Food Truck Festival, on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition, is the largest event of its kind in New England, featuring close to 50 of New England’s premier food trucks, live music, and family fun. An array of entertainment is slated throughout the weekend, from local bands to face painting, to enjoy along with a taco, grilled cheese, or hundreds of other tasty options.​

The Capitol Steps
55 Lee Road, Lenox, MA
www.capsteps.com
Admission: $49
• June 28 to Aug. 30: Since they formed in 1981, political satirists the Capitol Steps have recorded more than 30 albums and can be heard four times a year on NPR during their “Politics Take a Holiday” specials. They will release their new CD, The Lyin’ Kings, in time for their annual summer residency at Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort. Cranwell performances are nightly excluding Tuesdays throughout the summer.

July

Old Sturbridge Village Independence Weekend Celebration
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge
www.osv.org
Admission: $14-$28; free for children under 4
• July 3-4: At this celebration of America, visitors can take part in a citizens’ parade, play 19th-century-style ‘base ball,’ march with the militia, make a tri-cornered hat, and sign a giant copy of the Declaration of Independence. Children and families will enjoy some friendly competition with games, and a reproduction cannon will be fired. On July 4, a citizen naturalization ceremony will take place on the Village Common.

Monson Summerfest
Main Street, Monson
www.monsonsummerfestinc.com
Admission: Free
• July 4: In 1979, a group of parishioners from the town’s Methodist church wanted to start an Independence Day celebration focused on family and community. The first Summerfest featured food, games, and fun activities. With the addition of a parade, booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event — now celebrating its 40th anniversary — has evolved into an attraction drawing more than 10,000 people every year.

Berkshires Arts Festival
380 State Road, Great Barrington
www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10
• July 5-7: Ski Butternut may be best-known for … well, skiing, of course. But the property also plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition now in its 18th year. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of more than 175 artists and designers, and take in a performance by ‘chamber-folk’ trio Harpeth Rising on July 6.

Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show
Route 20, Brimfield
www.brimfieldshow.com
Admission: Free
• July 9-14, Sept. 3-8: After expanding steadily through the decades, the Brimfield Antique Show now encompasses six miles of Route 20 and has become a nationally known destination for people to value antiques, collectibles, and flea-market finds. Some 6,000 dealers and close to 1 million total visitors show up at the three annual, week-long events; the first was in May.

Yidstock
1021 West St., Amherst
www.yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock
Admission: Festival pass, $236; tickets may be purchased for individual events
• July 11-14: Boasting an array of concerts, lectures, and workshops, Yidstock 2019: the Festival of New Yiddish Music brings the best in klezmer and new Yiddish music to the stage at the Yiddish Book Center on the campus of Hampshire College. The eighth annual event always offers an intriguing glimpse into Jewish roots, music, and culture.

Green River Festival
One College Dr., Greenfield
www.greenriverfestival.com
Admission: Weekend, $139.99; Friday, $44.99; Saturday, $69.99; Sunday, $64.99
• July 12-14: For one weekend every July, Greenfield Community College hosts a high-energy celebration of music; local food, beer, and wine; handmade crafts; and games and activities for families and children — all topped off with hot-air-balloon launches and Friday- and Saturday-evening ‘balloon glows.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 35 bands slated to perform.

Northeast Balloon Festival
41 Fair St., Northampton, MA
www.northeastballoonfestival.com
Admission: $7.50-$15; free for children under 13
• July 12-14: This annual event, held at the Three County Fairgrounds, features balloon rides, walk-in balloons, nighttime balloon glows, and pilot meet-and-greets, as well as a vendor expo, craft beer, live music, and more. More than 30 of New England’s top food trucks will offer an array of tastes, while amusement rides and a petting zoo have been added for the first time.

Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival
300 North Main St., Florence
www.glasgowlands.org
Admission: $5-$18, free for children under 6
• July 20: Celebrating its 26th anniversary this year, the largest Scottish festival in Massachusetts, held at Look Park, features Highland dancers, pipe bands, a pipe and drum competition, animals, spinners, weavers, harpists, Celtic music, athletic contests, activities for children, and the authentically dressed Historic Highlanders recreating everyday life in that society from the 14th through 18th centuries.

Celebrate Ludlow
Ludlow Fish & Game Club
200 Sportsmans Road, Ludlow, MA
Admission: Free
• July 27: Celebrate Ludlow began in 2000 as an extension of a parade and picnic in 1999 to celebrate the town’s 225th anniversary, and has continued annually ever since. The event, held at Ludlow Fish & Game Club and put on with the help of numerous local nonprofit organizations, typically features live bands, food, games, activities for children, and fireworks to cap off the evening.

Hampden County 4-H Fair
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.easternstatesexposition.com
Admission: Free
• July 28: More than 200 youth from Hampden County, and 4-H members from Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, and Worcester counties, will showcase projects they have made, grown, or raised during the past year. Events include a horse show and other animal exhibitions, a fun run, a talent show, a scavenger hunt, raffle drawings, arts and crafts, and more.

August

High Hopes Music and Arts Festival
One MGM Way, Springfield, MA
www.mgmspringfield.com
Admission: $25-$35
• Aug. 3: Paddle Out Productions is partnering with MGM Springfield to bring a day of music, food, and arts to the Plaza at MGM Springfield. Renowned Queen tribute band Almost Queen will headline the bill and will be joined by Roots of Creation’s Grateful Dub, a reggae-infused tribute to the Grateful Dead; the Eagles Experience; and local acts Atlas Grey and Joon.

Kids Safety Expo
1000 Hall of Fame Ave., Springfield, MA
www.kidssafetyexpo.com
Admission: Free
• Aug. 3: Children and parents can combine fun activities with critical safety education during the 11th annual Kids Safety Expo at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Attendees will have meet-and-greets with area law-enforcement officers, popular characters, and local mascots, and the first 500 children who attend will receive complimentary bicycle helmets.

Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield
www.springfieldjazzfest.com
Admission: Free
• Aug. 10: The sixth annual event will offer a festive atmosphere featuring dozens of locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend. This internationally heralded festival has become a powerful expression of civic pride, uniting the region’s diverse cultural communities through music, arts, education, and revelry.

Downtown Get Down
Exchange Street, Chicopee
www.chicopeegetdown.com
Admission: Free
• Aug. 23-24: Downtown Chicopee will once again be transformed into a massive block party. Now in its fifth year, the event — which typically draws some 15,000 people to the streets around City Hall — will feature live music from nine bands, as well as attractions for children, local food vendors, live art demonstrations, and a 5K race on Aug. 24.

Celebrate Holyoke
Downtown Holyoke
www.celebrateholyokemass.com
Admission: Free
• Aug. 23-25: Celebrate Holyoke is a three-day festival that made its return in 2015 after a 10-year hiatus. This year’s festival, expected to draw more than 10,000 people downtown, will include plenty of live musical performances, food and beverages from local restaurants, activities for children and families, and goods from local artists, crafters, and creators of all kinds.

Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival
7 Carver St., Granby, MA
www.redfirefarm.com
Admission: $5; free for children under 8
• Aug. 24: When the tomatoes are ripe and delicious in the August fields, Red Fire Farm hosts its annual Tomato Festival. Attendees can taste (and buy) a rainbow of tomato varieties grown on the farm and vote for their favorites. Bands play out back while visitors snack on food from local vendors, go on a wild edibles walk, pick cherry tomatoes, listen in on a cooking workshop, and more.

September

Glendi
22 St. George Road, Springfield
www.stgeorgecath.org/glendi
Admission: Free
• Sept. 6-8: Every year, St. George Cathedral offers thousands of visitors the best in traditional Greek foods, pastries, music, dancing, and old-fashioned Greek hospitality. In addition, the festival offers activities for children, tours of the historic St. George Cathedral and Byzantine Chapel, vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and more.

Mattoon Street Arts Festival
Mattoon Street, Springfield
www.mattoonfestival.org
Admission: Free
• Sept. 7-8: Now in its 47th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination.

FreshGrass Festival
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams
www.freshgrass.com
Admission: $48-$135 for three-day pass; free for children under 6
• Sept. 20-22: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the Fresh Grass festival is among the highlights, showcasing more than 50 bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Greensky Bluegrass, Calexico and Iron & Wine, Andrew Bird, Mavis Staples, Kronos Quartet, Tinariwen, Steep Canyon Rangers, and many more.

All Summer Long

Valley Blue Sox
MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke
www.valleybluesox.com
Admission: $5-$7; flex packs $59-$99
• Through. Aug. 1: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, two-time defending champions of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. Frequent promotional events like postgame fireworks and giveaways help make every game a fun, affordable event for the whole family.

Westfield Starfires
Bullens Field, Westfield, MA
www.westfieldstarfires.com
Admission: $7-$10
• Through. Aug. 4: The newest baseball team to land in Western Mass., the Starfires, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, is playing its inaugural season at Bullens Field in a city with plenty of baseball history. The league itself has been expanding and growing its attendance in recent years, and 30 of its players were drafted last June by major-league organizations.

Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge, MA
www.berkshirebotanical.org
Admission: $12-$15; free for children under 12
• Through. Oct. 11: With 15 acres of public gardens, Berkshire Botanical Garden’s mission is to fulfill the community’s need for information, education, and inspiration concerning the art and science of gardening and the preservation of the environment. In addition to the garden’s collections, visitors can enjoy workshops, special events, and guided tours.

Crab Apple Whitewater Rafting
2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont
www.crabapplewhitewater.com
Admission: Varies by activity
• Through. Oct. 14: Wanna get wet? Crab Apple is a third-generation, multi-state family business that operates locally on the Deerfield River in the northern Berkshire Mountains of Western Mass. Its rafting excursions range from mild to wild, full- or half-day runs, in rafts and inflatable kayaks. In short, Crab Apple offers something for everyone, from beginners to more experienced rafters.

The Zoo in Forest Park
293 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA
www.forestparkzoo.org
Admission: $5-$10; free for children under 1
• Through. Oct. 14: The Zoo in Forest Park, located inside Springfield’s Forest Park, is home to more than 175 native and exotic animals representing a large variety of species found throughout the world and North America. Meanwhile, the zoo maintains a focus on conservation, wildlife education, and rehabilitation, while offering special events like Zoo on the Go, guided tours, and discovery programs.

Six Flags New England
1623 Main St., Agawam, MA
www.sixflags.com/newengland
Admission: $46.99; season passes $75.99
• Through. Oct. 27: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Cyborg Hyper Drive, a spinning thrill ride in the dark. Other recent additions include Harley Quinn Spinsanity, the Joker 4D Free Fly Coaster, the looping Fireball, and the 420-foot-tall New England Sky Screamer swings. And the Hurricane Harbor water park is free with admission.

Historic Deerfield
84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA
www.historic-deerfield.org
Admission: $5-$18;
free for children under 6
• Year-round: This outdoor museum interprets the history and culture of early New England and the Connecticut River Valley. Visitors can tour 12 carefully preserved antique houses dating from 1730 to 1850, and explore world-class collections of regional furniture, silver, textiles, and other decorative arts. Summer activities include educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, and exhibitions of period items and art.

 

Entrepreneurship

Stout Measures

Ray Berry and business partner Ashley Clark

Ray Berry and business partner Ashley Clark at the company’s beer garden in Tower Square Park.

Ray Berry said he recently delivered what amounted to the commencement address for the most recent accelerator class at SPARK EforAll Holyoke.

When asked for a synopsis of that speech, Berry, founder and general manager of Springfield-based White Lion Brewing Co., said he talked to the fledgling business owners about the roller-coaster ride that is entrepreneurship — the ups and downs, successes, failures, and inevitable pivots.

“They’re traveling the same journey I traveled,” he said of his time working with Valley Venture Mentors and taking part in its accelerator program. “I talked about what worked and what didn’t work, what I would do if I had the opportunity to change something, and how, at the end the day, you win some along the way and you lose some, and that just makes your company stronger and the team around you stronger; you ride that wave of experience.”

He was speaking, of course, from experience — lots of wave riding, in fact, as he’s taken White Lion from a part-time pursuit, a concept he launched while working for the United Way of Pioneer Valley, to a full-time passion.

“At the end the day, you win some along the way and you lose some, and that just makes your company stronger and the team around you stronger; you ride that wave of experience.”

Indeed, he told BusinessWest that the casual observer might not be aware of those turns, dips, challenging times, and pivots, but there have been many of each on this ride, which started in 2011.

“A lot of people see what’s on the surface, but they rarely get a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scenes,” he explained. “The late nights, a lot of conversation, a lot of strategy … and during that process, there are some wins, and there are some losses. In our business, it’s about sales, and through that journey, you gain accounts, and you lose some accounts.”

For White Lion, the journey has come to an intriguing place — one where the venture is taking dramatic steps to expand its footprint geographically, while also increasing its presence in the region and playing an ever-larger role in the ongoing renaissance in Springfield.

These efforts take several forms, especially the ongoing plans to create a brewery and taproom in Tower Square, specifically at the long-vacant site of the former Spaghetti Freddy’s restaurant.

Berry and other partners recently appeared before the Armory Quadrangle Civic Assoc. to talk about their plans and what they might mean for the city and Tower Square, and in a few weeks they’ll do the same before the City Council, which must grant a special permit for the project to move forward.

Meanwhile, the company has moved forward with plans for a beer garden in Tower Square Park, the small park across Main Street from the office/retail complex. Actually, Berry likes to call this “an outdoor beer, music, food, and family venue,” a phrase that certainly captures what it’s all about.

Indeed, there’s White Lion on tap, but there’s also music — the Standing Bear Band and the Buddy McEarns Band were among the first acts booked — as well as rotating food trucks and other food providers, and activities for the entire family.

The venture is a logical extension of the White Lion Wednesdays pop-up beer gardens that drew a popular response, said Ashley Clark, a cash-management officer at Berkshire Bank, part of the White Lion team for several years, and now a managing partner. And it is an important step forward as the company works to build its brand while also being part of the efforts to bring more vibrancy to Springfield and its central business district.

“The White Lion Wednesdays were created so that everyone could leave work, stop, have a beer, hang out for a little bit, and be on their way,” said Clark. “Now, with the beer garden stationary in one place, the event is created not just for people leaving work, but also for families.”

White Lion’s new beer garden was designed to be enjoyed by the whole family.

White Lion’s new beer garden was designed to be enjoyed by the whole family.

Combined, these ambitious steps add up to a critical moment in the company’s brief history and represent an intriguing new chapter in the story.

“We’re at a pivotal stage of growth — we have strong programming, we have strong community engagement, we’re in the midst of building a brewery, and we’re clearly growing by way of volume and the amount of sales that are hitting the market,” Berry said, adding that, once the downtown brewery opens, the company will add another six to 12 employees, taking growth to another, much higher plane.

For this issue’s focus on entrepreneurship, BusinessWest talked with Berry and Clark about White Lion and the latest strategic initiatives in its business plan — but also about those basic tenets of business that Berry passed on in his recent address — especially the part about riding that wave of experience.

Lager Than Life

Returning to that address at the SPARK EforAll event, Berry said he spent a good deal of time talking about pivoting, how natural it is, and how important it is.

“I talked about how people in business often get stuck in their lane — we don’t want to venture out, for whatever reason,” he explained. “So I was very strong in touching on fear of failure, the risk quotient, the need to pivot, the need to listen … but how also, at the end of the day, you’re responsible for the decisions you make, and you have to live by them.

“To change course is a natural part of a growing business,” he went on. “And sometimes, those forces are financial, demand, supply, government regulation, and more, so you always have to be aware of all of those fronts.”

Listening, pivoting, and moving out of the lane pretty much sum up what is approaching a decade of business for White Lion, a brand that now boasts several different labels and has made the White Lion imagery part of the landscape in Springfield — and beyond.

But none of it has been easy, said Berry, who cited his plans — first envisioned several years ago — for building a brewery downtown as a solid example.

“It’s been a journey, and we’ve really come full circle,” he told BusinessWest. “From day one, we wanted the brewery to be part of the downtown fabric; we wanted to be in the heart of what was being called a renaissance, a resurgence in downtown Springfield.”

While many breweries are located in more rural areas, in old mills along rivers and streams, Berry said some have set up shop in the central business district and been part of downtown revitalization efforts.

He noted Brooklyn Brewery — a venture that has played an important role in the meteoric rise of that New York borough in recent years — as an example he’s in many ways trying to emulate.

“They took it upon themselves to invest in a highly dilapidated area in Brooklyn,” he said. “And since that investment, that entire area has been redeveloped, and it’s become a destination.

“White Lion is anchored in the heart of a metropolitan area,” he went on, adding that he was determined to build a brewery somewhere downtown.

But the search became more complex than he could have anticipated.

“I think that, in the beginning, I might have been a little naïve, feeling right from the onset that there would be a lot of opportunity, and space, for a brewery, and that was just not the case,” he said, adding that it soon became clear that the company was going to have to fit, or “mold,” itself into a suitable location downtown.

He looked at a number of options, including the old Rain nightclub building in Stearns Square, a property in Market Place that was eventually deemed more expensive to rehab than new construction, and 1350 Main St., also known as One Financial Plaza, before the focus shifted to Tower Square.

Actually, it was the new ownership of that landmark property that approached him.

White Lion partners

White Lion partners Ashley Clark and Ray Berry with brand ambassadors Scott Freniere, second from left, and Jeremy Eickelberg at the beer garden.

“They wanted us to be part of their plans to make Tower Square a destination of its own,” he said. “We were intrigued and felt very comfortable in those discussions.”

One of the new owners of Tower Square, Vid Mitta, has also become an equity partner in White Lion, said Berry, adding that the ownership team has expanded in recent months and now includes several managing partners, including Clark and brewer Mike Yates.

What’s on Tap?

It was this expanded team that appeared before the Armory Quadrangle Civic Assoc. last week, and is slated to make its case to the City Council later this month (they certainly believe they have a strong one).

If all goes as planned — and the brewing equipment has already been moved in — roughly 98% of production will take place in downtown Springfield, said Berry, adding that the remaining 2% — the bottles supplied to MGM Springfield (the rest are cans) — will be contracted out.

And while pressing on with the plans for the brewery, the owners are taking bold steps to build the brand and expand its footprint.

The beer garden is one of these steps, said Clark, adding that a permanent location for the beer garden and an expansion from Wednesdays to Wednesday through Saturday was a logical progression, and one that made this a family event.

“We’ve created an environment where, if you’re a mother and father with two young kids, everyone can come down on Saturday afternoon or Friday night and listen to some music and play games, and all have a good time,” she said, adding that the garden is open from 4 to 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, outside the city, the brand, which self-distributes, has now extended its reach across the state to Cape Cod and continues to look for new growth opportunities, said Berry, adding that it now has more than 750 accounts — and counting.

“We’ve been able to grow in Central and Eastern Mass. through hard work and forging relationships,” said Berry, who credits another fairly recent addition to the team, Blair Landry, a veteran of the craft-beer industry who had already forged a number of relationships on the distribution side within the industry with another label, and has been re-engaging with the White Lion brand. “Locally, it’s a much cleaner and clearer conversation because we’re local. Through the relationships that all of us have, we’ve been able to onboard a number of accounts that have enabled us to grow considerably over the past two years.”

He said the decision to self-distribute, while somewhat unusual, is a pivot— again, one of many — that has benefited the company in a number of ways.

“Early on, we relied too heavily on distribution partners,” he explained. “Those distribution partners can open doors, but they’re also managing another 100 to 150 brands, and that led us to make a pivot; we felt we could have a stronger level of engagement by doing it on our own, and we’ve been able to demonstrate that by opening up many more accounts and strengthening our outlook going forward.”

He acknowledged there is a tremendous amount of competition within the craft-beer industry, and new brands enter the market seemingly every week. But he said this competition provides both challenges and opportunities, with the latter coming to those willing to put in the work and make their brand stand out in a crowded marketplace.

“Craft is about local; craft is about conversation and fostering relationships,” he explained. “If you can engage and foster relationships and have good beer and be true to your word, you’re going to be able to open some doors, and we’ve done that.”

Hip Hops

Berry told BusinessWest that, if all goes smoothly — and what he told the accelerator graduates at commencement is that things certainly don’t always go smoothly — the first can of White Lion will be rolling off the line at the facility in Tower Square late this summer.

It will be an important moment for the company given the stage in its development and the location of the brewery — the heart of downtown Springfield.

But, in reality, it’s just the latest in a number of big moments, with many more likely to come as the team at White Lion continues to ride that wave of experience and continue its remarkable journey.

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

Construction

Shining Example

Sean Callahan and James Jaron didn’t expect the level of competition — make that outright opposition — they faced when they decided to enter the field of lighting distribution, which is dominated by a handful of huge, national players. But through patience, persistence, and adherence to a customer-first philosophy, they broke through, and gradually expanded their locally owned firm into a major regional player. And they’re not done lighting the way to further growth.

Opening a business — and keeping it going — isn’t an easy proposition. Still, Sean Callahan and James Jaron had no idea what obstacles lay before them when they decided to open Ion Lighting Distribution Inc. in 2016.

Jaron owned Zap Electric in Chicopee, and Callahan worked for Needham Electric Supply. “One day, we decided we needed to perfect one area of the distribution business, and that was the lighting,” Jaron said, noting that, in the large, corporate-owned stores, “the guy across the counter knows nothing about lighting, so he has to call somebody to call somebody to get some rep to talk to you” — and that adds layers of cost.

“So we established a distribution company from scratch, against all odds,” he said.

Those odds included a full-court press by those aforementioned large companies, he recalled. “They made a big effort to make sure we failed by cutting off our supply houses and manufacturers, telling them, ‘we’re multi-million-dollar companies; don’t sell to these guys, or we’re going to cut you off.”

Callahan remembers it well. “The day we started the company, I reached out to people I’d known for 15 or 18 years. All the manufacturers’ reps, literally 100%, across the board, all of them said ‘no.’ I was leaving a perfectly good job, I had customers ready to buy, and when I started reaching out to our manufacturers, it was ‘no,’ across the board — because our competition was trying to squeeze us out.”

He went so far as to e-mail the CEOs of those companies, saying, “‘I’ve been selling your products for 15 years.’ And they would look into it and say, ‘we’re not taking on new distribution at this time.’ It was very difficult to get started, but it’s nice to have people coming to us now saying, ‘hey, we screwed up. We didn’t think it was possible you guys would last. We want to do business.’”

Today, the Chicopee-based firm covers the state of Connecticut and Western and Central Mass., and extends into Rhode Island and New York City as well — and is looking to move into its fifth different facility in four years, all to accommodate Ion’s growth. How Callahan, the company’s president and CEO, and Jaron, principal and treasurer, managed that feat is a lesson in persistence.

Early on, Callahan said, “we flew to Hong Kong and China and met with manufacturers. Through that process, we found most major companies were buying overseas. So we got set up with container companies there and here and opened our business. As we got traction, more vendors started jumping on board because they saw we weren’t giving up. But it took a little while.”

Today, Ion purchases only in the U.S., he noted. “But it was tough getting started, and that was our only option at that point. It took a little more capital getting started than we would have liked, but eventually, we got our first vendor here — a small company we never would have thought about.”

Sean Callahan (left) and James Jaron

Sean Callahan (left) and James Jaron are looking for a larger headquarters — it would be their fifth in four years — to consolidate their warehouses and accommodate more growth.

Electricians are busy this summer installing 14,000 LED lights in the Du Bois Library building at UMass Amherst, one example of a large project for which Ion distributed products. But it deals with small businesses, too.

“Little by little,” Callahan said, we started picking up more and more work, and now we can sell top-of-the-line lighting on a big UMass project or commercial job, but we also have affordable lights for someone with a machine shop or small business who doesn’t want to pay top dollar when they can buy a fixture for $50.”

Green from Green

Ion is not an installer, Jaron emphasized; rather, it sells lighting to businesses, municipalities, and schools, as well as contractors, which is the ideal client.

Today, the company is a top-five distributor for Mass Save, a rebate program for using energy-efficient products; all the states Ion distributes in have similar initiatives. But the pitch isn’t just about cost savings.

“Think about the impact we have on the environment — it’s mind-boggling,” he told BusinessWest. “When we think about LEDs, we think about rebates and electric bills, but really, it’s an environmentally conscious thing to do.”

At the same time, the goal is to give customers the best solutions for the best price. “Our products are tested. If it doesn’t pass my scrutiny as an electrician, we don’t put it out,” he said, noting that Energy Star-rated products automatically imply that the fixture has a five-year warranty and has been through a rigorous quality-assessment process.

Jaron also noted that some of the large distributors won’t always explain the Mass Save rebate to customers and pocket the savings themselves.

“We put that savings in your pocket. We’re not doing anything hocus-pocus; we’re just being fair and giving customers what they need. We take care of our customers and talk to them like human beings,” he said. “Companies out there don’t want people to know. They’re gouging the end users. We said, ‘no. Make your margins, make money, but play fair, be a human being.’ You’ve got to do the right thing, and that’s what we’re doing, and that’s why our competition hates us. We’ve disrupted their little game. And our customers are very happy.”

A lot of people don’t understand the Mass Save incentives, Callahan said, so Ion makes a point of helping people maximize them. Jaron added that Ion has no commitment to any manufacturer’s rep, which makes it fairly unique in the upper tier of the industry — and allows for more cost savings.

“When the big supply houses have a commitment, they have to use their product. So when you come in buy a fixture, they’re obligated to use these certain brands for $120 or $130, where we have the same fixture, with the same manufacturer — apples to apples — and we can sell it to you for $80. Then add the Mass Save rebate, and it goes down to $40. Think about that for a second. No wonder they were terrified — because we’re not handcuffed to use certain brands.”

In many cases at corporate-owned distributors, Callahan said, the end user saw the inflated price and often decided not to buy because they didn’t have all the facts and options, and that was frustrating.

“But we found all these little offshoot manufacturers’ reps, all these other companies that we can work with, and can offer good, solid products that I would put up against any mainline manufacturers, and we were able to have stuff people could afford.”

Ion has a presence throughout Southern New England and New York City

Ion has a presence throughout Southern New England and New York City, and a forthcoming e-commerce website aims to expand sales nationally.

Take auto garages, for instance, which use big, 400-watt fixtures that stay on for long hours. Many shop owners have seen the long-term savings of LED lighting — typically knocking off two-thirds to three-quarters of the old cost — and were willing to make the shift. But Mass Save also, in many cases, brought the initial cost of the new fixtures down to nearly nothing.

“And the maintenance is almost none; you can go 10 to 15 years without changing a bulb,” Jaron said. “With the price, the maintenance, and the environment, it’s just a win-win-win.”

Seeing the Light

When Callahan and Jaron went into electrical distribution, they decided early on it would be in everyone’s benefit — theirs and customers’ — to focus on lighting. “That was our niche, that’s what I had a passion for, and it’s what I gravitated toward throughout my career,” Callahan said. “We decided we could do lighting better than anyone else. So that’s all we do.”

It’s a model that has worked. Counting outside salespeople, Ion’s team numbers about 15, and sales have grown significantly every year. After opening in an office above Main Street in Northampton, the firm has relocated three times in the mill district of downtown Chicopee, and is looking to expand again, in order to consolidate all its operations, including its additional warehouses currently located in Palmer and Springfield.

Callahan isn’t worried demand for LED lighting will dry up anytime soon, with so many businesses and municipalities still in need of a changeover. “You can drive down any street anywhere, and you’ll find opportunities.”

Meanwhile, he noted, Ion is getting ready to launch an e-commerce website. “We’re excited to bring it to a national level and start selling to everyone in that way as well.”

He and Jaron are gratified by stories like a big job they supplied lights for in Worcester. They later received letters from the thankful customer, noting that electricity costs had dropped from almost $120,000 a month to around $68,000 — with the savings essentially paying for the project cost in year one.

“Three years ago, it was tough. We’re one of the only privately owned companies like this, because every other supply company is owned by a multi-million-dollar corporation somewhere,” Jaron said. “Now, these reps that didn’t want to talk to us, they’re coming through the doors, apologizing.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Health Care

Taking Important Steps

By Mark Morris

Dr. Christopher Peteros prepares a patient for laser therapy.

Dr. Christopher Peteros prepares a patient for laser therapy.

Spring weather in New England is a great time to shake off winter’s cabin fever and head outside to take a walk, go for a run, or play a sport. Spring also means an increase in foot injuries from people being too active, too soon.

While overdoing it can cause aches and pains in many areas of the body, it’s easy to overlook our feet, which support everything else and are key to overall quality of life. Those who specialize in this realm of care have a simple word of advice: don’t.

They stress the importance of taking care of one’s feet, listening to them when they are sore and need attention, and fully understanding how it’s not unusual for foot pain to be the cause or the result of other pain in the body.

“Sometimes foot pain causes knee, hip, or back issues, and by the same token, if someone has pain in their knees or back, it puts the foot in an awkward position, resulting in foot pain,” said Dr. Christopher Peteros, a podiatrist with New England Foot Specialists in Longmeadow, who stressed the importance of paying attention to pain, calling it our body’s early-warning system.

“If you feel pain in your foot, knee, or ankle, it’s telling you to stop what you’re doing,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s like the ‘check engine’ light in your car.”

When we walk or run, the foot’s natural movement is known as pronation (the inward roll of the foot) and supination (the outward roll of the foot), both of which move us forward while providing support, cushioning, and balance. Too much or too little of either pronation or supination can cause pain in the feet and other parts of the body.

“I’m not telling people to go walk in the middle of the street, but if you know of a neighborhood with a cul-de-sac or a circular street, those are better choices than sidewalks, which are a harder force on our bodies.”

Terrance McKeon, a physical therapist with Cooley Dickinson Health Care’s Rehabilitation Services in South Deerfield, refers to the foot as the ‘victim,’ because it’s often the one in pain while the culprits can be nearby or as far away as the hip or pelvis. To carry the analogy further, McKeon said that, when investigating the cause of foot pain, the calf muscle is often a prime suspect, because when the calf muscles are tight, the body adjusts by collapsing the foot.

“Your foot tries to maintain balance by unnaturally scrunching the toes,” he explained. “Then the fascia gets stretched, the Achilles tendon gets overstretched, and you may even wiggle your pelvis, all because your calf muscles aren’t letting you get over your foot.” 

Brianna Butcher, a physical therapist at Select Physical Therapy in Enfield, agreed. “When someone walks in with foot issues, the first thing I check is their hips,” she said, adding that, since the glute muscles tend to be weak in many people, it causes more strain to be put on the leg and foot to compensate and maintain balance.

For this issue, we take an in-depth look at what causes foot pain and discomfort and how to prepare your feet for activity.

Walking the Walk

Those who spoke with BusinessWest there are a number of factors that contribute to one’s overall foot health — or lack thereof. These include everything from the level of exercise to the type and condition of the shoes being worn, to the surface that people walk or run on.

Terrence McKeon demonstrates an orthotic insert for a patient.

Terrence McKeon demonstrates an orthotic insert for a patient.

People should be thinking about all of them and making smart decisions, said Butcher, who noted, for example, that serious runners opt for an asphalt road instead of a concrete sidewalk, because the asphalt surface is slightly less harsh on our bodies than concrete.

“I’m not telling people to go walk in the middle of the street, but if you know of a neighborhood with a cul-de-sac or a circular street, those are better choices than sidewalks, which are a harder force on our bodies,” she said, adding that, for those who live near a track, that’s an even better option than walking on the street.

While sidewalks can be too hard on our feet, Peteros said treadmills can create the opposite problem and result in repetitive-motion injuries.

“Some treadmills can be too soft, so as your foot sinks in, it creates an abnormal amount of repeated pronation while the person is walking, which can lead to tendinitis or plantar fasciitis.”

One of the most common causes of foot pain, plantar fasciitis affects the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from heel to toe. The plantar fascia acts like a shock absorber to support the arch of the foot. Too much strain on it leads to a stabbing pain in the heel.

Many factors can contribute to plantar fasciitis, but it often results from a change in activity levels that puts more stress on the heel. Peteros said likely candidates for plantar fasciitis include the person who hasn’t run in years and then decides to pursue it again, as well as the person who goes on vacation and does more walking than normal while wearing flimsy shoes.

Peteros said a person with plantar fasciitis tends to experience severe pain in the morning after just waking up. The pain subsides a little after moving around, and then, by the end of the day, it increases. He said the pain can move into a cycle that won’t easily go away.

“It’s a very difficult thing to treat in some cases,” he said, “because you’re using that sore foot for every other step you take, unlike a sore hand where you can just carry it around.”  

The first remedy Peteros suggests for plantar fasciitis and other foot injuries is the easy-to-remember acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. People can do this on their own, and in many cases RICE along with good, supportive shoes is enough to solve the problem. If that doesn’t work, he has a variety of treatments to further care for plantar fasciitis.

Anti-inflammatory medicines or cortisone shots are two possible treatment options. While cortisone can be effective for some, Peteros said, he cautions against its overuse because the shots can create ruptures in the plantar fascia instead of healing it.

For several years, he has used laser therapy to treat plantar fasciitis. As an alternative to anti-inflammatory medications, laser therapy uses a beam of light so it’s painless for the patient, works to reduce inflammation, and allows for faster healing. He said the success rate for healing injuries by laser therapy is about 80%.

“Depending on the injury, most patients will need between five and 10 treatments, which take about 10 minutes each. It may not always lead to a cure, but it speeds up the process,” he said.

For chronic foot issues, Peteros also uses shock-wave therapy, which treats plantar fasciitis with sound waves. He said it functions much like the technology that uses sound waves to break up kidney stones, adding that the same company makes the two machines.

When taken care of quickly, he said most people will get great results and no longer need treatment for their plantar fasciitis.

“Some patients may get an occasional flare-up, usually because they did something they shouldn’t have done. The key is to be aware of it, protect yourself, and stop as soon as you feel any pain.”

Getting to the Bottom of Things

That bit of advice applies to all aspects of foot care, said McKeon, who told BusinessWest that, overall, it’s best to best to be proactive and avoid the energetic enthusiasm of taking too much advantage of a nice spring day.

“Your brain says, ‘I used to run five miles a day,’ but when you’ve gone all winter without running even one or two miles, that’s breaking the 10% rule,” he said, explaining that the best way to prevent injury when approaching spring activities is to take it easy in the beginning and gradually increase activity levels no more than 10% a week.

Physical therapists have used the 10% rule for years, and recent studies have supported the idea that the body can react and get stronger from a 10% increase each week for nearly any activity.

“If you can obey the rule, especially for weight-bearing activities like walking and running, you’ll be fine,” said McKeon.

Brianna Butcher inspects a patient’s foot for injury.

Brianna Butcher inspects a patient’s foot for injury.

This can require some pre-planning, he added, noting that simple heel-raising exercises for the calf muscles are a good way to get ready for a walking or jogging routine.

“Strengthening calf muscles is easy because you just go up and down on your toes. Go up on your toes to hit full height, then back down, and do them until you get tired,” he said, adding that the yoga position downward-facing dog is an effective exercise for tight calf muscles. He then stressed that the 10% rule also applies to the stretches.

As essential as good conditioning is to prevent foot injury, these proactive steps can easily be undone by cheap or worn-out shoes — or the wrong kind. McKeon said serious runners should consider new shoes every six months because the foam in the shoe that absorbs the energy of running will lose its ability to bounce back with heavy use.

Peteros also emphasized the importance of protecting the feet with good hygiene and proper shoes. “Whether you are a runner, walker, or any type of athlete, good, supportive shoes are the foundation of healthy feet.”

Peteros recommends shoes designed for the specific activity in mind, with a stiff sole. “If you can bend the shoe in half, it’s not offering support.”

One of the best examples of warm-weather shoes that provide no support are the ever-popular flip-flops. Peteros did not condemn them, necessarily, but referred to them as “purpose-built.”

“If you’re sitting around the pool, or at the beach, or even on your back deck with an iced tea, they’re perfectly fine to wear,” he said, adding that problems arise when people continually wear flip-flops around town, because the feet have to work hard just to keep them on. “Your toes are scrunching as they’re trying to grip the flip-flop, and there’s just no support; they’re actually more trouble than they’re worth.” 

Peteros also mentioned the dangerous practice of people who wear flip-flops to mow the lawn, adding that yardwork is another place where good, supportive shoes matter.

“A lot of people retire their old, beat-up sneakers to wear in the yard, but when you’re doing yardwork, you’re often on uneven ground, when your feet need support the most.”  

A work boot or hiking boot is a great choice for yardwork, he said, because they are lightweight and supportive. Meanwhile, high-top or low-cut shoes are both fine, he noted, stressing that these shoes should be kept just for yardwork; don’t retire them to the yard only after they’ve worn out.

Because every foot is different, people with overly high arches or flat feet often need additional support from custom orthotic inserts. Peteros admits that some people can get good results with over-the-counter insoles and advised that, when shopping for inserts, firmer is better. When a custom orthotic insert is needed, he said the old methods to make them have given way to 3-D digital imaging that results in an orthotic that fits the exact contours of the person’s foot.

“We used to make casts and molds and have people step in foam. I haven’t done those things in at least nine years; it’s all digital now.” 

McKeon said finding the right footwear for those at one extreme or another can be tricky, while people whose feet are more in the middle range may be able to slowly build up strength in their feet and avoid using an insert.

“I tell people that, if they gradually increase their activity levels following the 10% rule, they can improve the strength in their foot,” he explained. “This works well with athletes who don’t like wearing orthotic inserts.”

So, before taking on outdoor activities this spring, remember supportive shoes, the 10% rule, and RICE. You’ll prevent injury to your feet and better enjoy the spring weather.

Features

Fabulous Five

With a whopping 480 past 40 Under Forty winners, it’s no easy task to choose the one who has accomplished the most since his or her selection. But, for the fifth straight year, our judges are giving it a try.

“So many 40 Under Forty honorees have refused to rest on their laurels,” said Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest. “Once again, we want to honor those who continue to build upon their strong records of service in business, within the community, and as regional leaders. And, like previous years’ finalists, these five individuals have certainly done that.”

This year’s crop of finalists were chosen from a field of 60 nominations by three independent judges: Elizabeth Cardona, executive director of Multicultural Affairs and International Student Life at Bay Path University; Scott Foster, partner with Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas; and Susan O’Connor, vice president and general counsel at Health New England.

Four years ago, BusinessWest inaugurated the award to recognize past 40 Under Forty honorees who had significantly built on their achievements since they were honored.

The first two winners were Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT, and Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center. Both were originally named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2008. The judges chose two winners in 2017: Foster (class of 2011); and Nicole Griffin, owner of Griffin Staffing Network (class of 2014). Last year, Samalid Hogan, regional director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (class of 2013), took home the honor.

The winner of the fifth annual Continued Excellence Award will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty Gala, slated for Thursday, June 20 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The nominees are:

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

When Fenton was named to the 40 Under Forty in 2012, he was serving his second term on Springfield’s City Council and preparing to graduate from law school. He was also a trustee at his alma mater, Cathedral High School, where he dedicated countless hours to help rebuild the school following the 2011 tornado.

Since then, Fenton continues to serve on the City Council — including as its president from 2014 to 2016 — and is a shareholder at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C., practicing in the areas of business planning, commercial real estate, commercial finance, and estate planning. He received an Excellence in the Law honor from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star from 2014 through 2017.

Meanwhile, in the community, he is a founding member of Suit Up Springfield; a corporator with Mason Wright Foundation; a volunteer teacher at Junior Achievement; a member of the Hungry Hill, Atwater Park, and East Springfield civic associations; and an advisory board member at Roca Inc., which helps high-risk young people transform their lives.

Anthony Gleason II

Anthony Gleason II

Anthony Gleason II

Gleason was just 24 when he earned the 40 Under Forty designation in 2010. At the time, he was commercial sales manager at Roger Sitterly and Son, overseeing about 20 people, while also managing the operations of his own company, Gleason Landscaping, which at the time was bringing in $500,000 in annual revenues.

Today, he’s no longer affiliated with Sitterly, as his landscaping and snow-removal outfit now services all of New England, employing more than 100 people during the landscaping season and 300 during the winter. The firm grosses more than $10 million annually and is the 32nd-largest snow-removal company in the country. He also co-owns Gleason Johndrow Rentals, which has a portfolio of properties valued at $10 million. He’s also a co-owner of MAPAM-1, LLC and a director of Gleason Brothers Inc.

Meanwhile, Gleason is active with Spirit of Springfield, leading the largest cadre of volunteers for the annual World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast, serving on the organization’s golf committee, and sponsoring Bright Nights and the Bright Nights Ball. He has also donated landscaping services to a number of municipal and nonprofit projects.

Cinda Jones

Cinda Jones

Cinda Jones

Jones was a member of the inaugural 40 Under Forty class of 2007, chosen not just for her role as president of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, but for her ninth-generation leadership of WD Cowls Inc., which managed timberland in 31 communities. At the time, she managed the company’s real-estate division and oversaw its sawmill and planing mill.

Since then, Jones has grown Cowls’ timberland base by more than 1,000 acres, closed the unprofitable sawmill, and built nothing short of a new town center, called North Square, in its place. She also hosts two major solar farms and is planning more, and sold the largest conservation restriction in state history; the 3,486-acre Paul C. Jones Working Forest raised $8.8 million and was named for her father. This year, she will add 2,000 more across to her conservation legacy.

Jones also stays active in the community with the Amherst Survival Center, donating her contractors’ time to mow and plow for this food bank and sponsoring community food-collection programs.

Eric Lesser

Lesser was chosen for the 40 Under Forty class of 2015 following his election to the state Senate in November 2014. Elected at just 29 years old, he represents nine communities in the First Hampden & Hampshire District. His legislative agenda focuses on the fight for greater economic opportunity and quality of life for Western Mass., with initiatives around high-speed rail, a high-tech economy, job training, and innovation in government. He also spearheads the Senate’s agenda on millennial issues, including technology policy, student debt, and greater youth engagement in public affairs.

Since 2015, in addition to securing several leadership positions in the Legislature, Lesser has been overwhelmingly re-elected senator twice, and has authored several pieces of successful legislation, including lowering the cost of Narcan for first responders, which has contributed to a decrease in the Commonwealth’s overall opioid deaths for two straight years.

Lesser has also supported economic programs that bridge the gap between Boston and Springfield and has secured hundreds of thousands of dollars for area organizations, including Valley Venture Mentors, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Greentown Labs, and more.

Meghan Rothschild

Rothschild, then development and marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Mass., was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2011 mainly for her tireless work in melanoma awareness. A survivor herself, she began organizing local events to raise funds for the fight against this common killer, and launched a website, SurvivingSkin.org, and TV show, Skin Talk, that brought wider attention to her work.

Since then, Rothschild has stayed busy, increasing her profile with the Melanoma Foundation of New England and IMPACT Melanoma, and hosting a community talk show on 94.3 FM. Most notably, however, she has grown Chikmedia, a woman-focused marketing firm, into a true regional force. The firm recently marked its fifth anniversary and continues to expand its roster of clients, community workshops, branded events, and social-media impact.

Rothschild also teaches at Springfield College and is a board member at the Zoo at Forest Park, donating her time to its marketing and PR initiatives. She has also participated in events benefiting the Holyoke Children’s Museum, Junior Achievement, and a host of other groups.

Construction

Surveying the Landscape

The National Assoc. of Landscape Professionals (NALP) recently released its annual list of the top 2019 landscape trends.

Drawing upon the expertise of the industry’s 1 million landscape, lawn-care, irrigation, and tree-care professionals, NALP annually predicts trends that will influence the design and maintenance of backyards across America in the year ahead. NALP develops its trends reports based on a survey of its members. It also draws from the expertise of landscape professionals from across the U.S. who are at the forefront of outdoor trends.

“Homeowners yearn for beautiful outdoor spaces without the hassle of upkeep. With the rise of multi-functional landscape design and automated processes, consumers can spend more time enjoying their landscapes than ever before,” said Missy Henriksen, NALP’s vice president of Public Affairs. “This year’s trends reflect current lifestyle preferences as well as innovations happening in the industry that are transforming landscapes across the country.”

NALP listed the following five trends influencing outdoor spaces in 2019.

Two-in-one Landscape Design

Functional elements are becoming a necessity in today’s landscapes. Consumers desire stunning outdoor features that have been cleverly designed to serve a dual tactical purpose. An edible vertical garden on a trellis that acts as a privacy fence, a retaining wall that includes built-in seating for entertaining, and colorful garden beds that divide properties all combine function and style.

Automated Lawn and Landscape Maintenance

The latest technology and equipment allow tasks to be more streamlined and environmentally efficient than ever before. Robotic lawnmowers continue to rise in popularity among both homeowners and landscape professionals. Also, programmable irrigation systems and advanced lighting and electrical systems help outdoor spaces become extensions of today’s smart homes. Homeowners relish knowing these technological advancements give them more time to relax and enjoy their outdoor spaces.

Pergolas

A staple of landscape design for years, pergolas constructed of wood or composite materials are now becoming more sophisticated. They can now come with major upgrades, including roll-down windows, space heaters, lighting, and sound systems. When paired with a luxury kitchen, seating area, or fire feature, pergolas can become the iconic structure for outdoor sanctuaries.

Pretty in Pink

Pops of coral and blush are anticipated to add a more feminine touch to landscapes this year. With ‘living coral’ named Color of the Year by Pantone, a leading provider of color systems and an influencer on interior and exterior design, landscape professionals predict this rich shade of pink could bring fresh blooms of roses, petunias, zinnias, and hibiscus to flower beds. Experts also anticipate light blush tones to become the ‘new neutral’ and another option for hardscapes and stone selections.

Mesmerizing Metals

Whether homeowners want a bold statement or whimsical touch, incorporating metals can bring new dimensions to landscape design. Used for decorative art, water features, or furniture and accessories, creative uses of metals, including steel and iron, can make for lovely accents or entire focal points.

Health Care

Leveling the Playing Field

Spiros Hatiras

Spiros Hatiras says the Massachusetts Value Alliance has created what he called a “virtual system” for the state’s independent hospitals.

Spiros Hatiras was asked about the Massachusetts Value Alliance and, more specifically, how it improves the buying power of its members, including the one he serves as president and CEO — Holyoke Medical Center (HMC).

He handled the assignment by referencing the hospital’s ongoing work to implement a new electronic medical record (EMR) system, and with an analogy that puts this concept in its proper perspective.

“Let’s say you went to Ford and asked them to build you a car, but told them that, instead of putting the power-switch buttons on the window side, you wanted them on the center console — the cost to customize the car the way you wanted it would be enormous,” he explained. “It’s the same with EMR; what hospitals used to do, and still do, is go to an EMR vendor and ask them to come in and build and install a system for that hospital.”

The Massachusetts Value Alliance, or MVA, as it’s called, is a coalition that is enabling its members to depart from that expensive scenario.

Indeed, several members of the alliance, which now includes 14 community hospitals, have come together to order an EMR system that will be customized for a group — with minor tweaks for each specific facility — and not one hospital. The savings will be substantial — in fact, Hatiras pegs the cost at roughly $5 million for HMC, close to half of what the cost might have been.

“Instead of us individually customizing, we get three hospitals to come together and say, ‘what are the features that make sense for all of us, and let’s build it one time and implement it in three locations.’”

“Our patients are not that different; in fact, they’re not different at all from the other hospitals, and the processes that we use are very similar — the order set, the treatment protocols, are all very similar,” he told BusinessWest. “So, instead of us individually customizing, we get three hospitals to come together and say, ‘what are the features that make sense for all of us, and let’s build it one time and implement it in three locations.’”

This is the very essence of the MVA, which was formed three years ago by founding members Emerson Hospital in Concord, Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, and South Shore Health in South Weymouth. It has added new members steadily since then, and the alliance now also includes HMC, Berkshire Medical System, Harington Healthcare System, Heywood Healthcare, Lawrence General Hospital, Signature Healthcare, and Southcoast Health.

These are smaller, independent hospitals that enjoy the benefits of being independent and the ability that gives them to be focused on the needs of their respective communities, said Dr. Gene Green, president of the MVA board of trustees and president and CEO of South Shore Health. But they don’t enjoy the buying power and other cost-saving benefits of being in a larger healthcare system.

Dr. Gene Green

Dr. Gene Green says the MVA gives its members a very potent commodity in these challenging times — buying power.

The MVA, operating under the slogan “Health Care Is Better When We Work Together,” was created to level the playing field in at least some ways.

“There’s always greater bargaining power with numbers,” Green explained, adding that the MVA has helped its members reduce the cost of everything from laboratory services for their patients to health insurance for their employees. “Although a lot of people do group purchasing on common things, there are other things, especially within hospitals and healthcare systems, that are specialized, and so the question was, ‘how do we help each other bring our numbers together and help each have more bargaining power with third-party vendors?’”

The MVA was the answer to the question. It was in many ways inspired by a similar system in Connecticut called the Value Care Alliance (VCA), said Green, and today, the two alliances are collaborating to create additional economies of scale.

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Massachusetts Value Alliance and at how it is benefiting its members across the state during what remains a very challenging time for all hospitals, but especially the smaller, independent institutions.

Group Rates

Hatiras told BusinessWest that he was approached by the president of Sturdy Memorial not long after the MVA was created and encouraged to become part of the new group.

As he recalls the conversations, it wasn’t a very hard sell.

That’s because the value — yes, you’ll be reading that word a lot during this discussion — was readily apparent. And value is something these hospitals certainly need.

“We were quick to join — we’ve been a member almost from the beginning,” said Hatiras. “This is something we ought to be doing because, as independent hospitals, our resources are much more limited.

“This was a way to bring these hospitals together and join forces in terms of acquiring resources without merging assets or governance,” he went on, recounting two of the obvious downsides to becoming part of a large healthcare system. “We’re creating an almost virtual system.”

And within this virtual system, there exists that all-important commodity of businesses of all kinds, but especially hospitals that purchase a seemingly endless array of products and services — buying power. The alliance uses it with everything from laboratory services — there’s a contract with Quest Diagnostics — to elevator services, Green explained.

“The question was, ‘how do we help each other bring our numbers together and help each have more bargaining power with third-party vendors?’”

“It was a way for us to help each other find cost reductions and efficiencies to help drive down the cost of care, hopefully — unfortunately, revenues are declining at the same time we’re doing the cost cutting — and serve our communities.”

Hatiras agreed.

“We don’t have the benefits of a, quote-unquote, system,” he said, referring to the independent hospitals in the MVA. “But we replicated a lot of the those benefits with this alliance.

“We don’t have a mothership that can come to the rescue if one of its members isn’t doing so well — we don’t have that backup,” he went on. “But aside from that, all the other benefits of a system are there — the sharing of information, the sharing of best practices, collaboration, shared negotiation on resources, and more.”

And the alliance enables its members to enjoy greater buying power while also remaining independent, meaning decisions are made locally, a quality these hospitals covet.

“As independents, we’re very focused on our communities, and we’re very proud of that,” said Green. “That’s one of the reasons we came together — to see how we could help one another through cost-effective measures to be able to carry on our missions. We all have the same mission and focus on patient care, patient experience, and high quality.

“All of us are good at partnering with people in our own communities,” he went on, “which made us naturals to be able to partner with one another.”

Green said the group will collectively decide where opportunities to collaborate may exist, and then individual members have the opportunity to opt in or not, an operating mindset that provides members with a good deal of flexibility.

“We didn’t want to force anyone into doing something,” he explained. “If you had a contract that was good for five years, when that expires — and we have one — you can opt in, or you can stay with your own, depending on the relationship.

Which brings us back to that example of EMR that Hatiras mentioned. It’s a perfect example of just how and why the alliance works.

This is a project that involves HMC, Harrington Healthcare System, and Heywood Healthcare, all working with EMR-system designer Meditech.

“This allows to take advantage of tremendous economies of scale because we work on a common build and share common resources, which allows to do this build at a significantly lower cost than if we did it alone,” said Hatiras, adding that HMC will go first, with the other hospitals to follow, with an August 2020 ‘go live’ date for the system.

Bottom Line

Green told BusinessWest that, as reimbursement rates for care decrease, or hold steady, and as the price of technology and everything else hospitals buy continues to increase — the savings generated by the MVA are even more important.

“They enable us to stay afloat,” he said in a voice that clearly conveyed just how challenging these times are for all hospitals, but especially those who have chosen to remain independent.

That choice has left them without a safety net, if you will, but in the MVA, they have something that replicates a system in so many ways.

As that chosen slogan suggests, healthcare is better when people work together.

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

Features

This Isn’t Your Grandparents’ HR Department

By Michael Klein

Michael Klein

Michael Klein

When Showtime network’s Wall Street drama Billions launched its fourth season this year, most viewers did not realize one of its main characters is modeled after a job that exists in the real world — a role that is quite familiar to business coaches and HR directors who have specialized training in mental health.

In fact, in companies similar to the fictitious Axe Capital on Billions, the role of the in-house performance coach and psychiatrist Wendy Rhoades is not new. Wall Street traders have used psychologists and psychiatrists for years to make sure that they maximize their confidence, optimism, performance, and earning potential in stressful and highly demanding situations.

It’s impossible to work effectively in any job without running into roadblocks periodically. The character of Wendy Rhoades has had an important educational impact. We know that one of the biggest differentiators regarding success at work is managing internal roadblocks and reacting thoughtfully to external ones. While a few industries understand the benefit to the bottom line in having highly trained, in-house advisors and coaches for employees and managers, most haven’t caught on yet.

This is not personal therapy or counseling at work like employee-assistance programs (EAPs). It is helping employees perform at peak capacity in their jobs based on their own drive to do well and manage barriers at work.

On Wall Street, the work of Ari Kiev is often referenced as the first clear example of this unique in-house role in businesses. Kiev, a psychiatrist, focused early in his career on depression and suicide, leading ultimately to a career helping athletes and Wall Street traders achieve peak performance.

By studying their behavior patterns and subconscious fears, he helped traders gain insight into their tendencies toward denial and rationalization that could subvert their investment goals. He helped traders develop visualization and relaxation techniques to escape their fear of failure and achieve their performance goals.

It is critical that companies and their employees know these are not medical or psychiatric interventions. Referrals to local therapists can be made when the conversations steer toward personal issues and history.

Many people confuse this with therapy because it does involve conversations about personality, behavioral habits, and self-awareness. But this work at small companies with managers and employees is not about mental health; we don’t discuss parenting, family, substance-abuse, or any other personal issues. It is exclusively about work performance and professional development.

Chicago-based management psychologist Gail Golden believes the psychologist’s toolkit is relevant and tremendously useful in this role.

“Reframing, confrontation, changing perspectives — all of these can rapidly accelerate performance when used by a professional,” she said. “A large part of performance coaching is about managing energy — teaching leaders to utilize their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy for maximum stamina and effectiveness.”

Unlike the Billions coach’s focus on maximizing performance in service of profitable stock trades and income potential, in-house psychologist-advisors work with a much broader variety of issues, including:

• Staff supervision;

• Interpersonal communication;

• Career development;

• Organizational change;

• Team effectiveness;

• Employee conflict;

• Role clarity;

• Transition management;

• Working with new leaders; and

• Other topics related to work roles, responsibilites, and performance.

While these types of ‘soft skills’ are often addressed via training workshops and seminars, data shows that, without one-on-one coaching, these skills typically do not transfer from the classroom to the job. And even when they do, they are quickly lost without ongoing attention and energy.

While these topics often overlap with the responsibilities and tasks of human-resource professionals, a key difference lies in the (part-time) on-site coach’s objectivity, ‘outsider’ status, and not being part of the organization’s HR department or management processes.

When managers and employees consult with an in-house psychologist or performance coach, they know the insight, advice, and challenges they are confronting are designed to help them be more productive, advance their career, or minimize some difficulty they are having at work. They share information and concerns they would never share with HR, or any other employee, for fear of it hurting their career, getting back to their manager, or, often, just causing painful embarrassment.

What many companies haven’t realized is that having a highly trained and experienced professional in this role can benefit the organization, whether it results in a better manager, higher-performing employees, less workplace conflict and drama, or simply greater employee-driven professional development.

Michael A. Klein, Psy.D. is a Northampton-based performance advisor and business coach. Klein, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, has worked with small and mid-size businesses in the Pioneer Valley in an on-site capacity since 2008, including Paragus Strategic IT, American Benefits Group, and Westside Finishing, among others; (413) 320-4664; [email protected]

Health Care

Implanted Thoughts

Dr. David Hirsh

Dr. David Hirsh says mini dental implants can hold a bridge or crowns in place without requiring surgery and months of recovery.

Early in his career, Dr. David Hirsh used to perform dental work for the then-Springfield Indians, and even back then, there was a clear generational divide among hockey players — one measured by how many teeth they had.

“Everybody used to talk about hockey players having no teeth,” he told BusinessWest. “But the young players grew up with helmets, facemasks, and mouthguards, and they came to the office here, and they had beautiful teeth. Their older counterparts would smile, and there would be nothing there.

“It was a matter of education,” he went on, comparing it to how today’s athletes have a better understanding of concussions for the same reason.

But that focus on education holds true among all dental patients, Hirsh added, not just athletes. Simply put, dentists are seeing people make it past their childhood and young adulthood with healthier teeth than in decades past. “We see a tremendous difference in the younger population, which is very satisfying.”

Since launching his practice in downtown Springfield in 1981 — he has expanded the Bridge Street office four times since then — Hirsh has seen plenty of change in the way care is delivered, particularly in the realm of implants, especially the mini implants he has become known for regionally (more on that later). But some of that change has to do with improving habits.

“We’re here to restore teeth and fix teeth and help patients smile and look good. But we would much rather get these people when they’re younger — meaning children or young adults — and guide them and help them to maintain their teeth,” he explained.

“There’s no fun in making someone a denture,” he went on. “There’s no fun in having to restore a full arch with implants. We do it because there’s a need. But that’s not the goal of dentistry. The goal of dentistry is clearly prevention. My goal has always been having a strong hygiene program, a strong prevention program, and helping guide people — and helping parents guide their children — to better oral health so they won’t have to be in a situation where they need a root canal, bridges, partials, dentures. Those things aren’t the goal. That’s not what we want.”

“There’s nothing more satisfying to me than to have a patient come in missing teeth, and they leave here with a beautiful smile, and they have tears in their eyes.”

But because there will always be a need for restorative dentistry, Hirsh — who practices with Dr. Kelly Soares under the umbrella of PeoplesDental — has taken advantage of plenty of innovations in the world of implants, with the goal of restoring not only teeth, but quality of life to patients with less recovery time than ever before.

Tooth of the Matter

When implants first came on the scene a half-century ago, Hirsh said, they were designed differently, and didn’t exclusively use titanium as they do today, so a membrane would form between the metal and the bone, causing the implants to loosen up.

“Today, every implant system is based on titanium technology — all of them,” he explained. “Titanium is the only metal that fuses directly to bone without forming a membrane around it.”

Implants are typically a surgical procedure, placed into exposed bone after the gums are opened up. “A hole is drilled, the implant is tapped in or screwed in very gently, and then the gums are sutured closed, and you have to wait anywhere from six to eight months in the lower jaw — four to six months in the upper — for that titanium implant to fuse with the bone.”

While traditional implants do a good job of anchoring crowns, bridges, and other structures over the long term, mini dental implants, or MDIs, have been a game changer for Hirsh’s practice.

MDIs are solid, one-piece, titanium-coated screws that take the place of a tooth root. They are much thinner than traditional dental implants and were originally designed to hold dentures in place. However, they have other benefits, including the fact that they stimulate and maintain the jawbone, which prevents bone loss and helps to maintain facial features. In addition, they are stronger and more durable than crowns and bridges that have been cemented into place.

They were first used in the ’90s and have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for long-term use for fixed crowns and bridges and removable upper and lower dentures.

PeoplesDental in Springfield is now certified among a group known as Mini Dental Implants Centers of America — the only one, in fact, in a region that stretches from the Berkshires to Worcester, and from Vermont to Hartford. The organization is associated with the Shatkin Institute, the largest training center in America for MDIs.

“For reasons I don’t understand, mini implants in this area in New England are not widely utilized,” Hirsh told BusinessWest. “I think we’re a little slower than other areas of the country to experiment and do new things. When we have something that works, we don’t like to change. When traditional implants began in the late 1960s, early ’70s, the biggest negative voices were from dentists themselves — ‘you can’t put metal in somebody’s bone.’ Then, all of a sudden, by seeing what could be done, they came around.”

The same may soon happen with MDIs, he went on. “More people around the country are learning that minis are a very, very good alternative to traditional implants. The mini implants are not shorter, they’re just narrower; the largest minis today are equivalent to the thinnest traditional implants. The difference is basically the placement of them and what’s involved from a patient perspective.”

Most notably, no surgery is involved. Rather, the dentist makes a small hole through the gum tissue and into the bone, and screws the implant in.

“It gets its retention from the screwing effect, so you don’t have to wait six to eight months,” Hirsh explained. “That very day, you take an impression and make your final crown or bridge or whatever you’ll use it for.”

He likened the procedure to drilling a thin screw into a piece of wood. “You drill a pilot hole first, then put a screw in that’s a little bigger than the hole, so it bites into the wood. The same thing happens here, except it bites into the bone. It’s about half the cost, it’s less invasive, and there’s less chance of infection and the many types of sensitivity and soreness afterward because that usually comes from the cutting and the stitching.”

Quality of Life

More important, however, is the impact of mini implants on patients’ quality of life, Hirsh said, particularly for those wearing lower dentures.

“Lower dentures float all over the place. Nobody’s ever happy with their lower denture. It sits on a ridge like a horseshoe, and their tongue hits it and lifts it up, and they use pastes and powders that are uncomfortable and taste bad. And at restaurants, they can only eat what their teeth permit them to eat.”

With mini implants, however, a dentist can place four implants into the arch and corresponding attachments into their denture, and the denture can snap into place that same day. When they are used to stabilize upper dentures, the palate portion of the denture can be cut away, which makes it more comfortable and improves the taste of food.

“They can take it out to clean it, but it’s not going to move around,” he said. “There’s no paste or powder, it’s cost-effective, and it changes their life. I’ve done commercials with patients who bite into apples or corn with dentures, and they feel it’s rock solid.”

That’s gratifying for someone who has spent nearly 40 years helping people find solutions to dental issues that stem from genetics, accidents, environmental factors, and plain old bad habits.

In his earlier days, he explained, before dental insurance became more widely accessible, it was more common than today for families to avoid the dentist because of cost — or, if a tooth went bad, just opt for an extraction over a root canal.

“They were in a bad financial situation, or they weren’t educated to take care of their teeth, or a combination of both,” he told BusinessWest. “One tooth goes bad, and they need a root canal to save it, but they don’t want to spend the money, or don’t see the value in it. So they have that tooth extracted, and a year later, another one hurts, and it’s the same thing. All of a sudden, you’re looking at half a mouth of teeth, and half a mouth can’t do the work of a full mouth.”

Sometimes it’s a long process — decades, perhaps — to get to that point, or perhaps something happened suddenly, like a car accident or being struck in the teeth, but without insurance, it can be a challenge for families to get the work they need, at a time when procedures have become less invasive, in many cases, and more cutting-edge.

That’s changing, he said, not just on the insurance front, but as the result of decades of education and advertising the benefits of healthy oral habits. “When I see today’s young people, I don’t think, in the future, we’re going to see the amount of restorative need we see today.”

Until then, Hirsh aims to continue fixing what he can and helping young people forge a path to a future without implants. He’s scaled back to three days a week as he approaches retirement, but says the leisure activities of those coming years may not make him as happy as his current work does.

“There’s nothing more satisfying to me than to have a patient come in missing teeth, and they leave here with a beautiful smile, and they have tears in their eyes,” he said. “I’m not a golfer, but I fully understand hitting a great golf shot is very satisfying — but no one can convince me it’s as satisfying as doing something like that for a patient.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]