Page 28 - BusinessWest 40 Under Forty 2024
P. 28

     Natalie Mercado always knew she wanted to work in the food space. After high school, she enrolled in New
England Culinary Institute and earned an asso- ciate’s degree in culinary arts and restaurant management, then slowly rose up the ladder, eventually becoming a sous chef.
“My goal was always to open my own restaurant,” she recalled. “I did catering jobs on the side, but I never took the initiative to open up a business.”
In the meantime, she went to work for MassMutual as an underwriter consultant, a job she still has. But in 2021, she
started pursuing her dream again, getting entrepreneurial help from EforAll Holyoke.
“I applied with the intention of starting a restaurant. This was all during COVID, and I was advised to rethink my business plan because so many storefronts were closing down.”
So, Mercado pivoted and launched a food trailer called Sweetera & Co., specializing
in “milkshakes and over-the-top desserts.” She posts on her website and social media
to let people know where the truck will be each week, and she also started catering. The enterprise was an immediate success, and still is three years later.
“I really didn’t expect it to take off the way
Jennifer McGrath is fond of saying there are ... well, two sides to Jennifer Mc- Grath.
The first is the professional side. For more than a dozen years, it played out at Six Flags New England, and for the past seven months,
it’s been at another regional institution focused on fun — MGM Springfield.
The other side involves a commitment to health and wellness — her own, but especially helping
others find it. This commitment involves everything from teaching Zumba and trampoline to her own fitness platform.
To say that she is passionate about both sides would be an understatement, and this passion
certainly explains why she is a member of the Forty Under 40 class of 2024, and why — to quote Kristine Allard, vice president of
Development & Communication at Square One, who nominated her — “Jennifer McGrath is a
force in Western Mass.”
As we explain why, we’ll start with that
professional side. At MGM, she handles everything from coordinating
community events to supporting nonprofits, such as Square One
and the Mayflower Marathon; from developing relationships with government officials and the business community to managing
all philanthropic requests and
Natalie Mercado
CEO, Sweetera & Co.: Age 37
that it did. It was a great surprise, honestly, because I had endured so many setbacks with building the trailer,” she said. “It was during COVID, so supplies were back-ordered, and trying to find reliable contractors was hard. So it took longer than anticipated. I had to get comfortable getting uncomfortable.”
But Mercado isn’t done challenging herself, with plans to launch a second trailer in Florida by next year and a storefront by 2026.
“Everyone’s like, ‘you’ve come so far, and you should be proud of yourself.’ And I am proud of myself, but I’m also hard on myself,” she told BusinessWest. “I know where I want to be, and I know I’m not there yet. But I need to give myself more credit than I do.”
She still enjoys her work at MassMutual, approving life-insurance applications and helping clients secure their future. But she sees a bigger future for herself in Sweetera & Co.
“I love the creativity,” she said. “The best part of it is seeing the customers’ reactions when they get their bubble waffle sundae or their milkshake — their eyes get really big like, ‘oh, wow.’ The feeling I get is incomparable. It really makes all the hard work and all the setbacks worth it.” BW
—Joseph Bednar
coordinating charitable sponsorships.
“My biggest part of my role is impact,” she said.
“How can we volunteer? How can we provide our monetary donations? How can we create impact for the city, its students, its residents, and the region as well?”
She took on similar responsibilities, and others, including the training of more than 30,000 employees, at Six Flags, and said of her career to date, “it’s all about fun, entertainment, and allowing people to escape and celebrate the fun times in life. It’s no secret my entire career’s been built around that.”
As for the other side, McGrath sums it up by saying she’s focused on “health for everybody and every body.”
She’s an instructor at Fitness First and an experienced Zumba and JumpSport instructor. “I’m all about body heath and body positivity,” she told BusinessWest. My mission is all about wellness, and that means mind, body, and spirit.
Elaborating, she said she battled eating disorders earlier in her life, and her struggles and eventual triumph led to a passion to helping others find health and wellness, especially through her fitness platform.
“Almost 300 people come together daily, and we promote body wellness,” she said. “We post body inclusion, we champion positivity, and we talk about ways we can remain healthy through mind, body, and spirit.” BW
—George O’Brien
  A28 2024
Jennifer McGrath
Director of Philanthropy and Community Engagement, MGM Springfield: Age 38

   26   27   28   29   30