10 Leading Ladies of 2015

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cassandra ayala and nichole malbon eat the streets 757 coastal virginia leading ladiesCassandra Ayala and Nichole Malbon

Occupation: Cassandra Ayala, Founder/Creator/Visionary, Eat The Streets 757

Nichole Malbon, Co-Director/Implementer, Eat The Streets 757

What makes them inspirational?

Cassandra Ayala worked in investment real estate for 25 years before burning out and looking for a new endeavor to fill her creative soul. Coastal Virginia stomachs are glad she did. In a flash of brilliance she came up with the idea for the first food truck in the area that was out publicly—Twisted Sisters Cupcakes—effectively transforming the concept of a traditional storefront business that goes to the customers instead of vise versa.

As other food trucks started to make their way to the scene, Cassandra saw the value in bonding together with her fellow food gypsies, uniting under one voice. From this unity sprang The Hub—the first food truck park in Virginia where artists, musicians and food trucks could get together and have a platform for people in the community to simply come and enjoy. (Read more on The Hub here.)

Arising from the platform was the next logical step in local food truck evolution—Eat The Streets 757, a business unto itself that serves the food truck community as a whole. It partners with local governments, event organizers and even local businesses and individuals who are interested in having food trucks at their events.

When Cassandra met Nichole Malbon it was a match made in business heaven. Nichole shares Cassandra’s passion to create a new industry and make it thrive. But she also offers the other half of the success story—the backend of the business that coordinates food trucks with events, making sure that everyone participating gets the proper paperwork in, and creating flyers that businesses can post. 

What do you feel has been the key to your success?

Cassandra: “Being free with advice, free with my knowledge, offering support and being able to bring people together. At the end of the day, I am an entity, but I don’t have a business or a voice without a collective voice. So being able to bring everybody together and treating everybody equally, and empowering each food truck—whether they are selling hot dogs or gourmet food—everybody has to be treated equally."

Nichole: “Consistency. It can be frustrating creating a new market that wasn’t there before and not having anything to compare our results to as far as nationally or locally. There are certain food truck associations, but we’re not an association. They aren’t set up the same way we are. The trucks don’t work together. So our business is very unique, and the best way to keep it going is to stay consistent with the branding.”

What has been your proudest moment?

Cassandra: “When I made the decision to leave real estate and follow a passion—a passion of going out and creating something that brings thousands of people together. There is no bigger joy than watching an event come together from the ground up. That just fills your heart when you’re standing there and you watch so many people come, spanning generations, coming together. It’s just neat. It’s very humbling. It’s a joyous business.”

Nichole: “Getting City Council’s permission to put food trucks down at the Oceanfront. That was really exciting. I would also say that seeing our brand on television commercials and getting our Facebook followers up to 15,000. We do all the Hampton Roads Show series. Probably my proudest moment would have been convincing the local governments that food trucks are here, and they’re not just a trend. They’re here to stay.”

What’s the best advice you can offer young women?

Cassandra: “You can do whatever you want. You can follow your dreams and you can be successful. Don’t be afraid. Don’t install barriers of fear. Conquer those. Ask questions. Knowledge is power. You don’t know what you can do until you take that first step. The next steps will follow.”

Nichole: “Stick to your gut and what it’s telling you to do. Pick what you’re doing, see what you’re doing, then look at the circle around what you’re doing right now and try to move out of it.”

christy everett chesapeake bay foundation coastal virginia magazine leading ladies

Christy Everett

Occupation: Hampton Roads Director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

What makes her inspirational?

Christy Everett oversees volunteer recruitment, restoration, outreach and advocacy programs, and communicates CBF’s “Save the Bay” message to the broader Coastal Virginia community. Her top priorities include ensuring that CBF is doing three things well on our local waterways, including: Getting kids out on the water and teaching them about our environment; Helping people fight for clean water; and Teaching people how to be “Bay Stewards.”

What do you feel has been the key to your success?

“Being able to work well with others in a team-oriented way. Every success that I have been part of is because of a collaborative approach in a team setting working with others who bring various skills, talents and resources together for the common good.”

What has been your proudest moment?

“Helping to save Pleasure House Point and be a part of the team that made CBF’s Brock Environmental Center, one of the world’s greenest buildings, a reality.

What’s the best advice you can offer young women?

“Pursue a field that you love. It is so much more gratifying to put in the hard work when you are dedicated to and believe in the outcome. Also, make the effort to seek out internships in your field of interest. Not only is it valuable to see first-hand the day-to-day activities that a career involves; it also adds a competitive edge to your resume and helps you mature and develop skill-sets that allow you to become a stronger hire.”


jean haskell commodore theatre portsmouth coastal virginia magazine leading ladiesJean Haskell

Occupation: Co-owner, Commodore Theatre

What makes her inspirational?

Jean Haskell served as Director and Professor with the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University from 1993 to 2003 and as Director of Appalachian Studies and as a faculty member in communication studies and humanities at Virginia Tech from 1970 to 1993. While at Virginia Tech, she also served as Associate Director of the Center for Programs in the Humanities and Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Back home, she is Vice President of Commodore Associates, the owners and operators of the historic Commodore Theatre in Olde Towne Portsmouth. She continues to work as a consultant on Appalachian issues with a variety of groups, and is working on a new book titled Elegant Sufficiency: Stories of Food from Appalachia.

What do you feel has been the key to your success?

“Really good work only comes through collaboration with folks whose skills and abilities complement your own. Along the way, optimism, humor, graciousness and kindness enrich your accomplishments. I feel my success started with determination to get a good education and then make good use of it in service to others.”

What has been your proudest moment?

“To be co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, so that people could know the region better and more accurately. I also felt honored to be a visiting faculty member at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, gratified by the national and international recognition the Commodore Theatre receives, and I loved learning to pilot an airplane, seeing our beautiful coastal region and the Virginia mountains from the air! But, I guess I was most proud upon receiving a plaque from the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington, D.C. given in ‘recognition of services to the people of Appalachia.’”

What’s the best advice you can offer young women?

“Develop a strong sense of personal integrity to keep you on course in life and let you sleep peacefully. As you have success, help others have greater opportunities for realizing their own potential. Have a generous spirit. Do worthy work, care for yourself and your friends, and meet life with open hands and an open heart.” 

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