We were overwhelmed by the many amazing entries for the $1000 Mom-Owned Small Business Grant. It was really tough to narrow it down. We had so many incredible entries that we could not choose five. So below are our SIX finalists.
Now YOU get the final say.
Cast your vote below and help us choose the winner. The woman-owned business with the most votes by the end of the day on Friday, November 3rd is the winner of the $1000 grant from Comcast and ABQ Mom.
Thank you to Comcast.
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Check out our six finalists for the $1000 Mom-Owned Business Grant. (They’re listed in alphabetical order.) Scroll all the way down to vote below.
Dr. Sharmin Dharas, Owner
Not your mother’s motel–but really it’s her mother’s! Home of the golden banana, Hotel Zazz is the brainchild and passion project of hospitality visionary Dr. Sharmin Dharas, an Albuquerque and Nob Hill native. Her parents owned and operated the property as the University Lodge motel since 1996. This meant many long days and late nights as a child with just the hallways, rooms, and her imagination as her playground. Ever since then, her mission has been simple: create an unforgettable immersive boutique hotel experience through unique art, a melody of chromatic visuals, and a vibration of sounds that breaks free from the ordinary. With a dream, a lot of elbow grease, and some help from local artists, she turned an old motel into a bold hotel that prides itself on sustainability, community, and charitable giving.
Whenever Dr. Sharmin Dharas designed a new room at her Nob Hill motel, Hotel Zazz, she asked her 2-year-old daughter what her favorite color was. “Every week, I asked my daughter, ‘What’s your favorite color?'”Dharas said. “And, of course, as a toddler, it never is the same.” Whatever color tickled the tot that day would guide the décor for the room. “I was designing the rooms as we went, so she really helped me with that,” Dharas said. Dharas is renovating and reopening the midcentury motel, formerly University Lodge, as a boutique hotel experience just blocks from the University of New Mexico. The hotel is currently accepting guests with a grand opening scheduled for early October–the same month that the speakeasy Z Lounge and Spa is scheduled to open on-site.
Dharas grew up in the University Lodge, which her parents bought in 1990, just as her own daughter will grow up in Hotel Zazz. “Growing up here, I would ride my bicycle in the parking lot, I would play in the little fountain my parents created with the fish and stuff in the front,” Dharas said. “So, I wanted that same thing for my daughter, you know, where she could come and play here.”
Play is key at Hotel Zazz. Whimsical metal flowers adorn the railings and an oversized chess set is checkmate-ready in the courtyard. Dharas said she tried to make the hotel a feast for the senses. Each room smells like banana slurpees and includes vivid colors and tactile elements. “When you come into a room, you might want to touch things,” Dharas said. Although Dharas studied medicine and worked as a physician in Arizona, she never stopped loving hospitality. “We would always see people from all over the world–Finland, Sweden, New Zealand–and they would come here because of the New Mexico culture and purchase, like, the turquoise from next door.”
Dr. Dharas will use the grant money to incorporate a children’s corner as well as provide money for an internship to encourage more women into hotel hospitality. She believes we need more women of color in this industry, and together we can provide a generation of sustainable growth and development.
Justine Jean Baptiste, Owner
Livi & Mimi‘s is an indoor play space for toddlers ages 7 years old and younger. It is a place for their caregivers (moms!) to sit and relax, take a breath, and maybe even get some work done while their little ones play closely in front of them. They are also a birthday party venue.
When Justine was pregnant with her secondborn, she had a rambunctious 18-month-old who was running circles around her. She was so desperate for a place to let her run and play that was enclosed and safe during those hot summer months, where she could sit and catch her breath while her daughter got some energy out.
That first year of having two babies under two years old was rough. She wanted a place where they could play and meet up with friends that wasn’t a large park with huge climbing structures and open gates for a toddler to run out of. She wanted a place to meet a friend for coffee and a place where she could work on her new small business, an Etsy shop named Liv & Mimi‘s Boutique. Nothing like this existed in Albuquerque. Justine feels that Albuquerque has plenty of indoor trampoline parks, but they’re huge and not designed for toddlers or for a tired mama who felt like she was running in opposite directions after her two toddlers.
So Liv & Mimi’s Play Cafe was born. Justine learned of other play cafés in major cities and even heard of a play café that existed here in Albuquerque pre-Covid. Her mom-friend group had the same desperate need she had too! The response she has received since opening the play café has been amazing.
Justine would use the grant money to invest in a security system for the play café with indoor security cameras.
Kellie Tomlin, Owner
Nurturing Insight LLC is a mental health and wellness company that focuses on improving the mental health and behavioral health of New Mexico residents. They offer in-person and video therapy sessions for adults, children, couples, etc. Additionally, Kellie focuses on the well-being of children and parents through teaching parenting classes, guidance/coaching, and Parenting Coordination.
Kellie is a certified Circle of Security Parenting class facilitator. During the pandemic, she recognized the need to offer Parenting Classes via Zoom. She knew that many families who were on CYFD radar and lost temporary custody of their children would be required to take Circle of Security Parenting Classes as a condition of their required treatment plan. She recognized that there were many barriers for these parents. These robust parenting classes are usually expensive for parents (Medicaid or insurance does NOT cover these classes for parents) and offered very infrequently by other agencies or instructors. Kellie offered a class for 6-8 parents and received such an overwhelming response. This caused her to teach three different class times for 8 weeks. She offered the classes for free and noted that parents who were working a CYFD treatment plan would get top priority for placement in the classes.
Kellie would use the money to send another licensed Social Worker (LBSW
or LMSW) to receive the official Circle of Security Facilitator training which is ironically exactly $1000. This would allow them to offer more classes and to be able to co-facilitate. Another plan she has for the future is to offer a similar series to educate and reduce substance use/abuse in our community.
Kathleen Sacoman, Owner
Sweet Pea Bakery is a home bakery in Albuquerque built around the belief the best memories are made around the table with those we love! Katie focuses on classic flavors to remind clients of times with family. (Think grandma’s chocolate chip cookies or making brownies with mom and dad.) She is best known for her decorated sugar cookies that look as delicious as they taste! (And fun fact, Katie was instrumental in getting cottage food laws passed in New Mexico. Just a few years ago, running a bakery out of one’s home was illegal in our state.)
She also hosts Cookie Classes. These evenings allow locals to make new memories with loved ones. Owner and cookie artist Katie Sacoman guides participants through decorating three cookie designs at locally owned venues around Albuquerque.
If she wins the grant, she is planning to use the money toward expenses for onboarding and paying her first employee in the coming months. This person would be working her booth at markets and helping her during busy weeks to prep products. She has two very large events this fall and winter season (the New Mexico Artisan Market and RailYards Holiday Market) which span multiple days. Markets like this are essential to get the word out about her business, but having help will allow her to also be present with her family this holiday season.
Kayla Kitts, Owner
The Doodle Shop is a hand-drawn gift shop that makes gifting easy and hearts happy. Items are drawn digitally and made into stickers, keychains, coloring books, notepads, bookmarks, and more. This company is all about bringing joy, cultivating connection, and happy dancing along the way!
Kayla is passionate about The Doodle Shop because she believes wholeheartedly in cultivating calm and connecting moments, and she loves a good gift–especially if it’s themed! This little gift shop is focused on bringing joy and making the gifting experience one of ease + fun. Many of her items encourage others to be creative on their own, and she loves that her art is the starter to others’ creativity and connection with others. It’s so fun to get out to pop-ups around town and see people get excited about items that she is excited about. She loves the moments of giddiness between friends when they see items like baby sloth stickers and grandma’s joy when she knows she found something awesome for her grandson’s Christmas gift. She considers it such an honor to get to create and call it a job!
She plans to use this grant money to be able to create more new products (and fund those initial purchases of new items), put money towards more pop-up display items, and continue to prep for moving into a bigger space for the business, hopefully one that can have open hours for customers to shop.
Vanessa Alvarado, Owner
Toddler Town NM LLC is a mobile soft play company serving Albuquerque and its surrounding areas. Their mission is to create vibrant, engaging, and safe play environments for young children, promoting their physical and cognitive development. With a commitment to convenience, they bring the fun directly to your doorstep, whether it’s for birthday parties, playdates, or community events. Their colorful and aesthetically designed play setups offer a stimulating experience, fostering creativity and social interaction. As a locally-owned business, they take pride in enhancing early childhood experiences, promoting active play, and helping families build lasting memories in the heart of New Mexico. Loved by little ones, approved by parents!
Vanessa plans to utilize the grant money to further enhance and expand Toddler Town NM in two essential ways–a practical investment and a fun expansion.
Firstly, a portion will help cover the cost of liability insurance, a critical need for their new business. This investment ensures both their safety and the safety of the families they serve.
Secondly, in a more exciting and enjoyable endeavor, she intends to use a portion of the grant money to purchase a larger soft play set designed for older children (2-3 years old). This expansion will address their developmental needs and provide engaging play options, broadening their customer base and promoting their growth and development.
These two uses of the grant will enhance Toddler Town NM’s safety and entertainment offerings, ensuring long-term success.