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Bring On the Pink Slips: Going from Laid Off to Entrepreneur

“It’s a blessing in disguise.” Uh-huh. That’s what people tell you when something bad has happened for seemingly no reason.

The recession has surely inspired more than a few utterances of the old maxim. The pink slips come and the platitudes come out. But that doesn’t mean the saying isn’t actually true in a few cases.

As we like to do at Tonic, a good news site, we took a look at the brighter side of the downturn and found two people who saw the ax fall, but only months later have become sought-after entrepreneurs. Blessing in disguise, indeed.

New Mom Gives Birth to Milkstars
Jamie Rubin recalls hearing something like “It’s a blessing in disguise” from her mother after becoming a casualty of Yahoo’s mass layoffs last December.

Just days back from maternity leave and out of a job, Rubin was at a loss. Fortunately, Yahoo! provided outplacement services, so she started some entrepreneurship classes. But the former online news producer had an idea brewing even before she lost her job.

Rubin says she knew nothing about breastfeeding a baby and was shocked at the lack of options in post-birth attire. “I had really cute maternity clothes. There’s all this clothing leading up to having a baby and then there’s… nothing. The clothes are very literal – a line across the shirt? What is that? It’s nothing you’d ever want to wear. The only thing that’s out there is nursing pajamas—like I want to hang out in pajamas all day,” she says laughing. But really, it’s no joke.

So Rubin quickly got to work, brainstorming what professional, breast-feeding women would want to wear. And then, as fate would have it, one of her career counselors had a friend with her own maternity line. A quick introduction later, Rubin was on her way to learning everything she needed to know about making shirts. Before long, Milkstars was born. Think your favorite double layer deliciously paper-thin cotton/rayon/spandex blend t-shirt with a bit of cleverly tucked away functionality. Shirts are shipping all across the US as you read this.

BBQ Barons Make Hot Dogs—Asia Style
While Rubin was working hard to breaking into fashion, Melanie Campbell and Steve Porto were on their way out. The duo from Brooklyn both lost jobs in the fashion industry and freelance gigs kept them afloat while they tested the waters of the culinary world. Steve in particular was “so into cooking and eating” that he decided to help his friend, Vihn, open his restaurant Silent H. Then, in summer 2008, he came up with the idea for Asiadog.

“My friends own Trophy Bar,” Porto said. “They opened their back patio and wanted to start having BBQs there. Since I love grilling so much, they asked if I wanted to do a BBQ. I wanted to incorporate something Asian since I am half Korean.”

Campbell and Porto served up a one-of-a-kind mélange of beef, chicken and veggie dogs topped with unorthodox fixin’s. Among them, kimchi and seaweed flakes, Chinese BBQ pork belly and onions or mango relish, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, crushed peanuts and fish sauce. Good luck finding those on a New York City street corner.

The BBQ was supposed to be a one-off, but after so much positive feedback – friends and critics alike—Porto started thinking about it as a potential full-time deal, and so began the “traveling BBQ.” On Mondays you can find them at An Choi in NYC, Tuesday at Trophy Bar in Williamsburg, Wednesdays at The Suffolk Beach Bar in NYC, Saturdays at the Fort Greene Flea Market and on select Sundays you can come down to the Brooklyn Yard in Carroll Gardens. And although traveling around serving up exotic hot dogs sounds like its all fun and games, Porto says otherwise:

“Being a ‘traveling BBQ’ sounds fun and exciting, but behind the scenes involves endless hours that we have to prep and clean and transport and lug equipment up and down multiple flights of stairs—and numerous nights I have stayed up all night prepping. But I am so passionate about this venture that it isn’t even a question of is it worth it? That is when you know you have to go for it.”

And just like Rubin, Porto got the old “blessing in disguise” bit, but from his girlfriend. At the time he was super bummed about getting laid off, saying, “It took a big toll on me. I really started to rethink what I wanted to do in life. I wouldn’t say I am happy I was laid off but that I think everything happens for a reason.”

We’d have to agree. If these ostensibly unfortunate lay-offs never happened, the world might still be living without the spectacular Asiadog delicacies and Milkstar’s chic functional nursing shirts—and well, that would just be an awful shame.

By Lisa Germinsky for Tonic, a good news site.

Photo courtesy of Tonic