WHO SAYS EVERY JOURNEY NEEDS A MAP?

How can one woman's individuality cause the fast food industry to turn a new leaf?

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A lot of people spend their entire life not fitting in. "I've always been a square peg in a round hole." That's Sharon Mays' summary of her personal journey before starting her unique restaurant concept: Baby Greens, healthy fast food. Taking that first, scary step of starting her own business was when Sharon Mays first discovered a place in the world where she totally fit in. "It was liberating!"

Of course, launching a business needs to be more than simply therapeutic. And the launch of Baby Greens has not been without its sleepless nights. There was not a bank in Austin willing to front money for Mays' brainchild. The seed money came from Sharon's mom. "It was all I ever talked about. Finally one day, my Mom said 'Either do it, or stop talking about it.'" That day Sharon's mother put her money where her daughter's mouth is.

But first Sharon did her homework. She took a job at a nearby Chipotle. She worked the counter, the cash register and observed. She wanted her venture to be a fresh idea, but she also wanted to glean insights from others on what it takes to make a quick service restaurant hum.

When Sharon opened up her first Baby Greens she was ready. Scared. But ready.Today, five years later, Sharon is scouting locations for her Baby Greens expansion. It's a concept she plans on franchising. "It is perfect for a mom and pop operation: low investment, high margins and you can pretty much run it yourself."

What's Sharon's secret? "You have to believe in yourself 100%," she laughs, "more like 200%." Believing in yourself and in your business is what gets you out of bed every day. Believing in yourself also means occasionally ignoring conventional wisdom. "Sometimes you have to stop listening to what everyone else has to say and listen to your own heart and mind."

Sharon sleeps better now that she has learned that failure is nothing to be afraid of. "There cannot be success without failure. The two are tied together." The other lesson of the last five years is learning to trust her instincts. If she could travel back in time and give herself some good advice, Sharon says she would say "Trust yourself more." After all, "I jumped off the ledge with this hare-brained idea and it worked!"

Every day, Sharon goes to work and finds a new adventure. "Some days I'm the cashier, some days I'm the president of the company." And whatever hat she has to wear, they all seem to fit perfectly.

"I feel free," she smiles, "I've finally found the place where it is all right to be me."

Sharon Mays is the founder and president of Baby Greens, a successful Austin fast-food concept that is rapidly expanding and will soon be available for franchising.


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