If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s to always expect the unexpected. For Marin businesses, the Covid-19 lockdown presented a remarkably difficult challenge. With yoga studios no longer able to hold in-person classes and popular eateries forced to pivot away from indoor dining, finding viable solutions was a task that often required more than a dash of innovation.
Thankfully, our local proprietors were up for the task, be it Helen Russell’s Equator Coffees locations in Mill Valley and Larkspur or Susan Hauser’s Now Power Yoga in Corte Madera. In all cases, both community support and a willingness to shift as necessary in the face of profound obstacles would ensure their businesses’ enduring success.
Showing remarkable fortitude, stories from local owners who’ve made it work are further complimented by the inspiring words of folks like Alexis Cohen, who took the pandemic as a sign to completely change her line of work. Moving from Marin to upstate New York to become a farmer, Cohen is but one of several of the subjects featured below to recently make a full 180’ career pivot — a choice that has allowed her to be “literally on the ground level, building [our] dream.”
To celebrate the arrival of a new year with fresh possibilities, we’re toasting a selection of thriving local businesses and individuals we hope will inspire readers to continue pursuing their chosen paths as well!
Step foot in a yoga studio and you’ll quickly see that classes often transcend their practical purpose to serve as local communities. As a vital component of the experience, losing the ability to host in-person classes at the start of the pandemic forced local studio owners like Now Power Yoga’s Susan Hauser, Metta Yoga’s Temple Schauble, and Embrace Yoga’s Beth Toomey to transition to virtual offerings via Zoom. Eventually, their beloved patrons were allowed to return, but elements like mask mandates, the Covid-19 era rise of Peloton, and more ensured there’s been little time for child’s pose since 2020.
Owner/Instructor, Embrace Yoga, est. 2012
1122 Fourth St, San Rafael
Between Covid and a flood in my studio, you would think I would have given up. When Covid hit and we went into lockdown, we had to get creative. This meant training instructors to Zoom, finding outdoor spaces and even switching locations. The support from our community was amazing including legal help and a GoFundMe campaign. Unfortunately, we did not qualify for the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loans because our teachers were subcontractors as opposed to employees. What was most striking to me was how people really missed being in the company of other people. There were many members who literally cried when attending their first class since the start of Covid. It was very emotional. Yoga is not only about strengthening the body. It is mental therapy.
Navigating Covid — both emotionally and financially — remains a challenge. Masks on? Masks off? What risk does the latest variant pose for my students and my business? We want to expand our class offerings, as we are still at about 50% and restart our youth program. I can’t wait to see what the new year will bring. We will also be hosting an open house and community gathering on Sunday, January 22 from 4pm to 7pm, to celebrate the new year, health, and happiness.
Co-Owner/Teacher, Metta Yoga, est. 2017
8 Tamalpais Dr, Corte Madera | 835 Fourth St, Suite B, San Rafael
After just two weeks of classes and a successful opening in San Rafael, Covid forced us to move all of our classes online and outdoors. We all put in a huge effort to keep things going, and there was a silver lining: we made the most of the opportunity to practice outdoors in beautiful Marin. We developed great partnerships with other local businesses. We have a strong community focus at Metta and the pandemic only reinforced that. It did feel amazing when we could invite students back and are thrilled to see our community thriving after all this time and we’re incredibly grateful to all our students who have stood by us.
Livestream yoga remains popular even in this post-pandemic era and is a whole new arm of our business (we also have recorded classes on Vimeo available). The Metta family is also taking on Cloudbreak Yoga Studio in Sausalito — the synergy is perfect. [Metta co-owner] Amy [Greywitt] and the former owner of Cloudbreak have been friends for many years. The best part for our students is that all our memberships and packages are valid at all three locations so they can move interchangeably between the studio locations and experience a diverse range of teachers and events.
Owner/Teacher, NOW Power Yoga, est. 2015
67 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera
Despite being forced to shut down, I still had to pay overhead related to my business. It was a financially frightening time as a single mother with two college age kids. I had to learn how to Zoom, which I offered free and our community was able to be together, but it was not the same as being in the studio. Hopefully, Zoom will never replace in person classes again. Reports I read claimed that the lockdown measurements created more harm to the population than good. The health and wellness industry should have been left open as government tracking and tracing data showed that gyms and wellness studios were not vectors of Covid illness. The loss of income and emotional stress for over a year can never be made up.
Luckily, because Marin residents are invested in their health and wellness, my business has bounced back. I had the attitude throughout the forced financial shutdowns that I would keep supporting my community, even though I didn’t make money.
The service industry was forced to scramble in historic fashion when the Covid-19 lockdown arrived. With indoor dining no longer on the menu, eateries that have never offered to-go food were suddenly doing nothing else. Encompassing everything from staff shortages to supply chain disruptions, the ability of the places that cook our favorite dishes and keep us caffeinated every morning to keep the lights on is a testament to proprietors like Equator Coffees’ Helen Russell, Mill Valley Pasta Co’s Tony Adams, and SAN Korean Cafe’s Monica Chang. From parklets to providing for those in need, here’s what Marin restaurants cooked up to whip their pandemic challenges.
Co-Founder/Executive Chair, Equator Coffee, est. 1995
2 Mill Ave, Mill Valley | 240 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur
Because we lost so much of our office and restaurant business because of the pandemic, we shifted our wholesale focus to grocery stores and our direct-to-consumer web sales. We had to improve our subscription program and help teach folks to brew better in their kitchens. We also have a much better website and social media presence because of the pandemic. Our neighborhood cafe customers were overwhelmingly kind to our team members and understanding when we had to change hours or close stores. They understood long wait times for drinks when we needed to staff less people. They continued to visit our cafes while also making our coffee to drink at home. Coffee brings people together and is better when shared. Coming out of these isolating years we continue to see how powerful this part of coffee culture is.
It’s incredible to be at the point in my life where I can lift my head up from the daily grind of 27 years of running a business. I’m able to take a breath and be proud of all we’ve accomplished. We’ve bought fair trade coffee since 1999, been a B Corp since 2013, and were the first LGBT+ owned business to be named the national small business of the year in 2016. I feel like Equator is just beginning! The next generation of people we have in place running our roasting, wholesale, retail, and marketing departments are so inspiring and continue to push the envelope of sustainable business.
Chef/Owner, Mill Valley Pasta Co.
555 Francisco Blvd East, Suite #24, San Rafael
When I was furloughed from my job as a cooking school director at a local hotel I missed connecting with people and feeding them, so I started making pasta for my neighbors. I did this for free as a way to contribute to my community and just to have that connection to hospitality in my life. It helped that many locals knew me from the cooking classes I had taught both at the cooking school I was running and the demonstrations I had done at local farmers markets in previous years. The people of Marin County responded so much more than I could have ever hoped with word of our pasta and story passing from neighbor to neighbor, and through social media platforms like Facebook and Nextdoor. Local media outlets such as Marin Magazine also contributed and we felt then, and feel now, especially lucky to have made our voice and product heard in a place where there’s so many incredible artisans, shops, and products being made and sold. Before I knew it, I had to decide if I wanted it to become a business or keep it a hobby.
We’ve recently expanded to a sixth year-round farmers market and are starting to explore some wholesale opportunities. We are continuing to increase our lineup of not just pastas but also sauces and pasta-adjacent provisions (and some not so pasta-adjacent provisions we just love making, like jams) in our factory store and online marketplace.
Founder/Chef, SAN Korean Cafe, est. 2016
2165 Francisco Blvd E, Unit C, San Rafael
Since I was “forced” to stay in one country while my daughter was off at university, the commercial kitchen I was operating out of became increasingly more expensive and crowded as ghost kitchens started to pop up everywhere. It became much more difficult to navigate the kitchen and find prime hours to manufacture my product. In November, I opened Marin County’s first Korean food establishment: SAN Korean Cafe. Opening a cafe in Marin can shave months off your life in the best of times; trying to do so during a pandemic requires you to have the patience of Job. I felt the need to lead by example and start living again. There seemed to be opportunities and I was cautiously optimistic that the pandemic would wane away. I would absolutely encourage others to pivot and go for it but to do so as a calculated risk. Do your due diligence. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen and if your answer doesn’t scare you then you probably can handle the twists, turns and learning curves of what your passion and true self is asking of you. Also, always have a plan B, and maybe even a C. As Einstein once said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
In November, I opened SAN Korean Café, following my passion and vision with patience, compassion, and perseverance. Now the real work begins — be careful what you wish for!
180 Degree Pivots
When is the right time to pursue your dreams? For Alexis Cohen and Selene Rose, the Covid-19 lockdown would serve as the onus for a full career pivot. In the case of Kevin Tinto, the conditions of the pandemic accelerated his evolution from marketing guru to fantasy novelist. Diving into a new profession is never easy, but to take the plunge during lockdown assured the stakes were high. Fortunately, the moral of the story for all three is the reward that can come from betting on yourself.
Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, I was working in education. I was focused on teaching academics through farming while building a farm. When Covid hit, I shifted into teaching entirely outdoors in different locations throughout Marin with a small, consistent educational pod. I wanted to be part of the solution — not to be reaction-based or kicking into survival mode. So, with an invitation from friends, I decided to follow the water to upstate New York to participate in the regenerative farming movement. I left to find and build our own farm.
It’s worth noting with farming you don’t jump in like you would if you were hired as a teacher, event planner, accountant, or director. So, for us, this is a long game, when you take into consideration the fact that establishing rich soil, food forests, orchards, crops, herds, and flocks can take seasons to years to arrive at maturity, you realize your goal in farming doesn’t use the same barometer for success our culture is used to.
I would absolutely encourage others thinking about making a pivot to go for it. One thing revealed to me in the past few years is we are never stuck. Over time, this has become one of my family’s mantras. We say it to one another frequently as a reminder as we navigate choices. It’s good to take chances. If something is not right — or a beacon of light draws you toward another possibility — be the change and go for it. It feels good flexing the muscle of being alive. Also, this recent pandemic has collectively shown us that life is short. There is no time to waste.
Our status update is after a year and a half of designing a compost system, building soil, stewarding chickens, and creating a local food network on an extraordinary but temporary homestead, we have found our forever farm in the Western Catskills. We will bring some of our homemade soil, some of our chickens and all our energy and heart. We know this will become a hub for generations of families to find health and joy and boundless wonder; where we nurture the earth and share what we create.
When the Covid shackles started to loosen and the holidays were approaching, I decided it was time for me to go out on my own full-time to start Styling By Selene. The pandemic made me realize that life is short and precious and that my full potential and passion blossoms when I call the shots, working for myself, my way. All my life, I was asked by friends and family alike for styling advice and closet organization, so I have always had that background and experience. Fashion changes your mood and the world around you. Creating my own company is definitely a different world, but since my husband is a CPA, it’s really not much of a jump. He set up the entire company and handles all the taxes and government stuff that scare the wits out of me!
Fully committed to my new business, I look forward to seeing what clients enjoy more, going through their closets to remove and donate clothes that don’t work anymore, helping them with day-to-day style or getting ready for a big gala or even Burning Man.
Prior to 2020, I was straddling my twenty-year old sports marketing business and writing books. I had published two books of a planned trilogy: Ice and Ice Genesis. As a result of everything being shut down, I mothballed my marketing business, including the e-mag and newsletter, which was still enjoying a large audience. That gave me time to finish the third book: Ice Revelation.
Watching Elon Musk re-imagine Twitter reminds me of those long nights writing after an even longer day with clients. It’s like hitting a plot roadblock and wondering aloud, “Why am I doing this? This is a huge waste of time!” Everyone will have these thoughts along the way to a new career. Don’t get sucked into a cascade of depression while pushing through to your dream career. My marketing background was crucial to my sales success. I understood I was developing a brand, not just authoring a book. Legacy and indie writers expect their novels to jump off the shelves — never happens on its own. Keeping control of your rights and pricing control, plus your ability to promote through reader e-mags like BookBub puts you in control.
By referencing the Ice Trilogy, I got invites to research giant offshore wind turbines, salt mines, strategic hydrogen storage, and undersea submersibles for my next novel. The trilogy sold more than 600,000 copies to date. The audiobooks, narrated by Pamela Almand, have won many audio awards. The trilogy is being developed for a film/television project with Ken Atchity as producer. My next novel, Vortex, will be out this summer. To my continued shock and delight, I am a full-time author.
Zack Ruskin writes on music, cannabis, and culture. His bylines include Vanity Fair, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Merry Jane, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Danielle, and their cat, McCovey.