Business Boosting Breakfasts Now Being Served in Tribeca

Michelle Gutierrez, a mediator and Grid member, talks to the group about her work. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Mar. 31, 2014

Once a month some 20 people, mostly women and mostly from Downtown, gather for breakfast in the back-room of Tribeca’s Sarabeth’s to cross-cultivate their businesses and boost their entrepreneurial spirits.

It’s called The Grid, a growing networking group of small business owners—an architect, landscape designer, interior decorator and photographer, to name a few—who mine contacts and actually make some sales.

The group has far outgrown its beginnings of just a year ago, when the first few members—many of whom knew each other through their kids—would meet in living rooms and end up talking about…their kids.

“At the first meetings we used to introduce ourselves and say, ‘I have two daughters and where they went to school,’” said Amy Bergman Bonomi, a real estate agent and co-founder of the group. “Then, after a few meetings, we moved away from the kids and it became all about business.”

The sessions follow a set format with each member giving a brief introduction about their work, a review of referrals that came through the group and an in-depth presentation by one member about their business. A file stuffed with business cards is passed around the table.

At a recent meeting, members shared a rapid-fire list of referrals. Astrid Herbette, a portrait photographer, had referred landscape designer and FiDi resident Karine Du­teuil for the renovation of P.S. 234’s yard (she won the job). She also told food photographer Frances Janice about some website contacts. Yasmine Karrenberg, a floral designer, had put Julie Pitman in touch with a fashion design company that needed a graphic designer. The list went on.

Members pay $20 for each meeting but no other fee. To create a non-competitive environment, the group has a one-seat-per-profession rule. That is one of the reasons that The Grid has what co-founder Loretta Lester calls a “sense of warmth.”

“We want everyone to feel a personal commitment to the group, a sense of solidarity,” she said.

Graham Short, a contractor and so far the group’s only man, admitted that, at first, he dismissed the group as “a knitting circle for all the housewives of Tribeca.” He has reason to eat his words.

“Right now all the work I’m doing is through The Grid,” he said. One of the projects, the renovating of a building lobby on 22nd Street, includes four other Grid members.

Duteuil said that in addition to the work her landscape design business has gotten as a result of The Grid, she appreciates the business tips and camaraderie.
“It’s reassuring to meet people who are all in the same boat,” she said. “We have the same struggles and we support each other.”

Michelle Gutierrez, a professional me­diator, agreed. “Other networking groups I’ve joined end up being social clubs,” she said. “But that’s unproductive.”

Bonomi laughed. “We try to keep to the schedule as everyone has to get back to work after the meeting.”

Most don’t have far to go, as the majority live and work below Canal Street. Liz Kaplanski, who opened Par­adigm Kids preschool in the Fi­nancial District a few months ago, feels the neigh­borhood connection is part of the group’s success.

“We have so many cross-references from being Downtown, we run into each other a lot around the neighborhood,” she said. “Lots of our kids go to school together and I think that makes it a stronger network.”

As the group broke up, the talk was of website redesigns, locations for pop-up stores and the next meeting’s presenter. Then it was back to the cold, hard work of running a business.

For information on The Grid, email