Calgary woman leaves poverty behind to start her own business
The rich aroma of Jamaican jerk spices —pimentos, cinnamon, cloves and Scotch bonnet peppers — fills the air at Wings n Tings, Necole Hines’ food stall at Crossroads Market. Hines bounces constantly around less than 100 sq. ft. of space. She pops a pan of freshly-made vegetable patties into the oven, then turns around to the stainless steel sink to wash as many dishes as she can in between cheerfully serving customers plates of patties, rice and peas and her signature jerk chicken wings.
Originally from Toronto and born to Jamaican parents, Hines moved to Calgary 10 years ago. A year later, she left a difficult marriage and struck out on her own, taking her three young sons with her.
For the next three years, Hines worked a succession low-paying jobs, struggling to make ends meet as she raised three growing boys on her own. Poverty, she said, stifled her ability to dream about the future.
“When you’re living in poverty, you’re pretty much in survival mode,” she said. “You don’t really have a lot of time to spend dreaming. I have to worry about how I’m going to pay for a car payment, or my rent, or a cell phone bill, or food – that’s what takes precedent.”
However, all that changed when she began bringing her Jamaican jerk chicken wings to potluck parties and received rave reviews from both friends and strangers. “My mind started to working differently when I started to hear people say that,” she recalled. “That’s where I decided, maybe I could turn this into something and actually live a life off of this.”
To get started, Hines found the Women’s Venture Program in April of 2013, offered through a Calgary-based non-profit organization called Momentum. The program guides women through the process of starting their own business.
Working alongside industry professionals, Hines developed a business plan for Wings n Tings, and was then able to apply for grants and loans to help fund her start-up.
While Hines’ original dream was to own a food truck, she quickly realized that it wasn’t the best way for her to turn her food into her main source of income thanks to the limited operating season that Calgary’s harsh winters offer. Instead, Hines turned to Kingsland Farmers’ Market, now called Market on Macleod. Wings n Tings opened for business in December 2013.
Hines’ sons — Jordan, 18, Tyson, 16, and Joshua, 12 — have proudly watched their mother succeed during the last 18 months, and helped her through the relocation from Kingsland to Crossroads Market in July of this year. Jordan and Tyson work at the indoor stall occasionally, and Joshua has worked at outdoor markets.
“I help out every now and then, when she goes to other events,” said Jordan Hoskins, Hines’ eldest son. “Working at the booth, it’s like it takes you to the island — the decorations, and the music, and the food. I like the atmosphere.”
Hoskins said he is both proud of and grateful to his mother for the work she has put into making Wings n Tings a reality.
“She’s always driven, always working, always trying to provide for us,” he said. “Before, it was just a pastime, a hobby, making the wings. Then she started to think about actually turning it into a business, and now here we are. It happened. Anything is possible.”
While Hines, too, is proud of her success at Crossroads, she is now looking beyond her market stall. The small space limits Hines’ ability to expand her menu, and since the market is only open on weekends, she can’t work there full-time. Instead, she is part-time event staff at the National Music Centre during the week.
Hines wants to turn Wings n Tings into a full restaurant, and is looking for locations in some of Calgary’s most vibrant inner-city communities. Her ideal neighbourhood would be Inglewood, but she is also considering Mission, Marda Loop and Bridgeland, among others.
“I really believe it would be a benefit to the city,” she said. “There are a lot businesses that cater to Jamaican food or Caribbean food, but there aren’t a lot of them that actually allow for a sit-down location.”
Hines is also an avid supporter of Calgary’s arts and culture scene, and wants her restaurant to be a hub, not just for Jamaican culture, but for the entire urban arts community.
While Wings n Tings has only been in business for a year, Hines is already turning heads, having won the 2013 Obsidian community award for start-up business of the year. She is now back at Momentum, where she is taking the Accelerator program, a continuation course that helps participants stabilize and grow their young businesses.
Allison Smith is the facilitator of the Accelerator and Women’s Venture programs. She has been working with Hines since October, and said Hines is an inspiration for other women in similar situations.
“She never gives up,” Smith explained. “She’s been given a lot of opportunities and she never fails to seize them. She wants to be someone who empowers other women and other entrepreneurs.”
She was once unable to think beyond her next paycheque, but Necole Hines now dreams of taking her business to a national and even international scale. Her ultimate dream for Wings n Tings includes restaurant locations not just in Calgary, but also in Vancouver, Toronto, and the Caribbean.