‘I gave my boss two weeks’ notice, and she was shocked. I told her I was going to start a deli.’
BRANDYN WILLIAMS, Garden City
“I’m first-generation. My mom was right off the boat. She came from the Caribbean. She had me when she was 17 and fell into a coma when I was 7. She was in a coma until I was 21. She passed away. I never had a dad. I never really had a real childhood. My life was kind of like ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ I grew up in Queens. My aunt and uncle – like my Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv – they brought me out to New Hyde Park.
“Doors kept closing for me in high school. My basketball coach sat me when college recruiters came. I graduated at the bottom of my class in high school. I didn’t get into any of the colleges I wanted to get into.
“I started at Nassau Community College. While I was there, I was bartending at McHebes, Dizzy’s, Nachos [in Hempstead]. After that, I wanted to go where the money was. That would make me happy. I got into Queens College. I became a manager for the bars while I was there. School during the day, work at night.
“I graduated Queens College and got an intro position at Northwell Health. While doing that, the bars closed down. I had nothing to do at night anymore. I wanted to move up quickly. I wanted my master’s degree.
“I got my master’s, and was ready for the money. No one ever thought I would get a degree. I was 23 and started moving up the ranks. I became a financial analyst and started making good money. I had a pension, health benefits, everything I wanted. It’s dope. But I couldn’t stand going there. I hated everything about it – the commute, the mental toll, the culture of corporate. I was 26. I went to my family and told them I can’t do this. My aunt said to create an exit plan, and I did. I gave my boss two weeks’ notice, and she was shocked. I told her I was going to start a deli.”
Last year, I thought of something called a “cannoleria.” At 3 a.m., I mixed cannoli cream and Reese’s Pieces together. I ate it with a cannoli chip and was like, “Wow.”
“I started a deli called Cherry Valley with two partners. We franchised it and opened up in Long Beach. I was my own boss. I gave up my 9-5 to work 18 hours there. That’s why I’m bald now. I sadly lost the business to the pandemic. But every door that closed on me, I came back and bought the building. That’s my saying.
“I had to figure out, do I go back to the corporate world, or do I try something else? I was young, no kids, no wife. So, I started a bread route. I was driving every night from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. I would get baguettes, bagels. I went to 7-Elevens and grew it to 20 accounts.
“I had an idea at 4 a.m. There were no Italian ice carts on Long Island. With the little money I had, I built an ice cart. My aunt and uncle thought I was crazy. I built the cart and made it look luxurious. There were a lot of growing pains. Business was going good, but I wanted to do more.
“Last year I thought of something called a ‘cannoleria.’ At 3 a.m., I mixed cannoli cream and Reese’s Pieces together. I ate it with a cannoli chip and was like, ‘Wow.’ I went down a rabbit hole and drew up an entire business. There are no cannoli carts. Especially ones that do rainbow cookie, Oreo, unique flavors. I built a cannoli cart. Then I needed a partner.”
When I started putting myself first, the universe started taking people out of my life that weren’t meant to be there.
“In the past, I would put everyone else first. I was drinking and overworking myself. It didn’t feel healthy. I stopped drinking. I exercise and meditate every day. I was never into manifestation. I’m big into that now. When I started putting myself first, the universe started taking people out of my life that weren’t meant to be there. It started rewarding me with people that are helping me get to another level. When I started being a little more selfish, better things started happening.
“One of those things was my partner, Big Red [Tim Downey]. He’s 450 pounds and6-feet-6. I told him, I’m starting a cannoli cart, and he was in. It blew up in the first three months. It started getting so busy that I couldn’t keep up with it. Now we have cannoli carts, gelato carts; we’re doing events. I still wanted to do more. People were seeing the desserts online and wanted to try them. I was having people come to my office to try it. I realized I need a brick-and-mortar location.
“I called Roosevelt Field Mall over and over to pitch them. This opened in October. I drew it all up and brought it to life. The first three months it wasn’t doing as well as it should. I was here every night, sleeping on the couches. During the holidays, I left the bread route and spent all my time here. I’m a little peon compared to Starbucks and Auntie Anne’s. Big Red and I started being here more and talking to people. We were being ourselves, and everyone started gravitating towards us and the business. It’s going great now. People come from Connecticut, Suffolk County, Staten Island.
“My lease here is ending. We’re relocating and opening two more locations. This chapter is closing, and it was awesome. In August, I’m going to start a new chapter. New people, new locations.
“You’re going to get rewarded by the brick-by-brick things you do. Every failure, I learned something and took to the next chapter. I thought the failures were a door closing, but it was just a new chapter.”