A spotlight on the winners of Yelp’s Veteran Business Fund | Yelp

To support and celebrate veteran business owners and entrepreneurs, in 2022, Yelp launched the veteran-owned business attribute and Veteran Business Fund, awarding $10,000 each to several veteran-owned small businesses.

One year later, we followed up with some of the winners to see what they’ve been up to, how the grant has impacted them, and what their goals are for the upcoming year. 

Meet the businesses

Raw Smoothie Co.

Owner and co-founder Gian Birriel served in the army before starting Raw Smoothie Co. seven years ago in Tampa, Florida. From its origins as a self-described “hidden gem,” Raw Smoothie Co. has grown significantly but still maintains its mission of cultivating a community centered around healthy eating and high quality ingredients. 

Photo from Raw Smoothie Co.

Black Girl Magic Museum

CEO and co-founder Dominque Hamilton created Black Girl Magic Museum with her husband and sister, both of whom are veterans. Black Girl Magic Museum was founded in 2021 with the intention of creating a safe and celebratory space for Black women, particularly in the midst of the social injustices of 2020 and the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Atatiana Jefferson.  

Photo from Black Girl Magic Museum on Yelp

bRaised in the CLE

Stephanie and Greg Kobunski started their food truck bRaised in the CLE with the mission of making “slow cooked comfort” food for their community.

With Greg’s 35+ years in the culinary industry and the discipline and organization Stephanie practiced during her time as a veteran, their skills complement each other well as Greg the “cooker” and Stephanie the “booker.” 

Photo from bRaised on the CLE

How each business used the funds and what’s next

Raw Smoothie Co.

How they used the funds: To enhance their social media strategy and get new signage for the business

I was surprised that we won. It was a great feeling to know that we won and that we were recognized.

Gian Birriel, Raw Smoothie Co. 

What’s next? Going forward, Gian said their goal is to continue to increase sales, grow their offerings, and expand their business on a larger scale. “We are working on dialing in our leadership structure and management structure in a way where [we] as owners can be less involved in the day to day and our processes can be a little more autonomous,” Gian said.

Black Girl Magic Museum

How they used the funds: To hire additional staff and expand operations to their second location which opened in January 2023

When I found out we received the Yelp grant, we were opening our new location. [In the construction process, we had] gone over budget… and I looked at my email that night and it was like, ‘You won the grant.’

That was such a relief, me and my husband were crying… We needed this for our company. So I was able to pay my rent for the facility and hire additional staff at our location to get it up and running. The Yelp grant has had such a tremendous impact on our business.

Dominque Hamilton, Black Girl Magic Museum 

What’s next? Dominque hopes to continue to introduce new locations and mobile activations across the country. Additionally, they hope to expand their museum to new audiences and community members. “One of my actual goals in the next five years is to create spaces not just for Black women, but for Asian women, Hispanic women, and for everyone. I’m partnering with different organizations to create a space where all girls [can] feel uplifted and inspired [learning about] what the people before them have done for them.” 

bRaised in the CLE

How they used the funds: To remedy weather-related damage to their food truck ahead of their second year of business

It was a pretty unique experience. I just can’t stress enough just how things kind of fell into place.

Stephanie Kobunski, bRaised in the CLE

What’s next? Stephanie and Greg hope to continue expanding their reach in the community and are optimistic about their newest service addition: large-scale catered events. 

Photo from bRaised on the CLE on Yelp

What being a veteran means to them

For Gian, being a veteran is one of his greatest accomplishments. 

“It’s an honor to serve and to have served. I take my veteran status really seriously. It’s not something that I necessarily advertise because my service was for the good of the country, but I am proud to be a part of that,” Gian said. 

“It’s just great to hear when someone appreciates your service and goes out of their way to find your establishment due to your service. I’m just greatly honored and greatly humbled by that. When you’re military or prior military, you’re part of a brotherhood, sisterhood—however you want to say it with everyone included—where it’s a lifelong thing, and only those that have been through the experiences that one typically goes through in the military can understand. It’s a great pride of mine,” he said.  

For the teams behind Black Girl Magic Museum and bRaised in the CLE, giving back to their community is a key tenet to their business models. While both businesses work tirelessly to expand and continue to gain visibility, they’re incredibly dedicated to making sure that their communities aren’t left behind in the process. Community is entirely at the heart of everything they do, and they want to make sure the success of their businesses is paid forward to others, especially to veterans. 

Black Girl Magic Museum: Representing the underrepresented and serving the underserved

Dominque started Black Girl Magic Museum to highlight the experiences, stories, and lives of Black women in an interactive way. After opening their first location in 2021, Dominque along with her husband and sister—both of whom are veterans—opened their second location the following year with the goal of serving even more of their community. 

Photo of Black Girl Magic Museum from Ashley J. on Yelp

“We wanted to open up in more of an underserved community. We knew that [this second location] would have its own barriers, but we don’t have things down here in South Dallas—really nice things—so being able to provide a space where people can have fun and enjoy themselves [without having] to travel 30-45 minutes to get that experience meant a lot to me as an entrepreneur.” 

She’s also partnered with local organizations, like colleges, Girl Scouts of America, and other veteran-owned businesses to deepen her connection with the community while learning in the museum.

Coming up, the museum will host a Veterans Day exhibit to highlight female veterans.

“I feel like women are forgotten in the military… so we’re using real women and their stories to highlight the impact that women veterans have in the U.S. and across the world,” she said. “We want to humanize our female veterans.”

She explained that this exhibit will be different from the other exhibits in the museum and will ultimately put a spotlight on the lived experiences that are unique to female-identifying veterans. 

bRaised in the CLE: ‘a domino reaction of good things coming to good people’

After a series of operational challenges in their first year, including high costs of repair for weather-induced damages, the Greg and Stephanie were over the moon about receiving the $10,000 grant —and the domino effect that came afterwards. 

After their truck broke down, Stephanie explained that she and her husband felt like they had a series of bad luck, but receiving the grant helped the team at bRaised get back on the road for their best season yet. Furthermore, with the jumpstart of the grant, Stephanie and Greg were able to donate to local organizations and pay it forward to their community, a long-term goal for their business. 

Stephanie spent 20 years in the Army National Guard and understands the hardships many veterans face during and after their time of service. On the 22nd of each month this past summer, Stephanie and Greg donated a portion of their sales to Save22, an organization that raises awareness for and allocates resources to suicide prevention of first responders and veterans. 

“It’s such a domino reaction of good things coming to good people,” she said. “We were able to donate $2,000 to those organizations this year, so that’s been pretty awesome for us, just in the second year of business.” 

Soon after getting back on the road, bRaised was featured on WEWS News Cleveland and the TODAY Show. TODAY partnered with Sherwin Williams to donate $10,000 to Save22. Stephanie explained how grateful she and Greg were for the opportunity to share more about their business and their dedication to raising money for Save22. 

  Photo from Stephanie Kobunski

“If it wasn’t for Yelp and the business grant, then we wouldn’t have [been] mentioned on local news, national news, [and the] TODAY Show wouldn’t have seen or heard about it. It just took off from there. Save22 got a check for $10,000 [from Sherwin Williams and the TODAY Show] because we mentioned [we were raising money for them] and because of the story that we did,” Stephanie said. 

“You know, we want to give back. Even before Yelp’s grant, we had plans of giving back. I think the more goodness that you put out there, you’re going to get that back tenfold,” Stephanie said. 

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