Family opens side-by-side Binghampton businesses

Lucas Trautman and Kristin Fox-Trautman are redefining family business. The husband-and-wife entrepreneurs recently planted business roots in Binghampton. And, they brought what they call their extended family along.

The couple’s connection to Binghampton started before they became mister and misses. In 2001, while dating, they sponsored a family from Sierra Leone through Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program, where they taught the new Memphians about the city and advised them throughout their transition. The family, which included five children, was relocated to Binghampton. They remain in the neighborhood and live down the street from the couple's businesses Stardust Jiu-Jitsu, 510 Tillman Street, Suite 108, and Inspire Community Cafe next door at Suite 110.

These two spaces are among the first locally-owned businesses in the Binghampton Gateway Center, which opened in February. The center addresses food availability through options such as a new Save-A-Lot as the neighborhood has been considered a food desert. It additionally provides nearby employment opportunities and an overall strategy to increase economic viability.

Lucas Trautman, top left, practices grappling technique with students, from top, Kelan Branch, 10, Keyveyoun Chandler, 14, and Eric Booker, 11, at his Stardust Jiu-Jitsu studio in Binghampton. The business is next door to the future site of his wife Kristin Fox-Trautman's Inspire Community Cafe. (Brandon Dill)

Trautman owns Stardust Jiu-Jitsu. A nonprofit, the grappling studio officially opened on September 1. The studio is a place for kids between the ages of 9 and 15 years old to come after school and experiment with complex movement and feel supported.

“I love exploring, loud, hands-in-the-dirt type of education,” Trautman said. “We help that educational journey along, the interpersonal education, the science education of movement.”

Four days a week, the studio is open for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, American wrestling, and creative movement classes. Terrance Whitley’s four children train at the studio.

Related: "Binghampton, Frayser Gateway Centers and proposed TIF plan models on how to revitalize communities"

“The way most children are nowadays, they don’t go outside. They’re not active,” Whitley explained. “Like my son is a very smart person, but school sometimes stresses him out. So, instead of him going home and having all of this built-up aggression, he gets to get it out. I’m seeing a big difference because last year he didn’t have an outlet. It works and it teaches them discipline.”

Soon, studio students will be able to refuel next door. Fox-Trautman’s Inspire Community Cafe is expected to open in December. The for-profit cafe will provide and advocate for living-wage jobs while offering healthy, hearty meals and a gathering place.

Kristin Fox-Trautman stands inside her restaurant, Inspire Community Cafe, which is under construction and is located next to her husband Lucas Trautman's Stardust Jiu-Jitsu studio. (Brandon Dill)

“There are thousands of people in our community who are working really hard and often in jobs where the employers don’t really value the employees to the degree that we believe that they should. [The cafe’s mission] really came out of this passion for economic justice,” Fox-Trautman explained.

The cafe will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menu items will include coffee, smoothies, aguas frescas, quinoa bowls, rice bowls, sandwiches, salads and more. There will also be signature items like slow-cooked barbecue chicken quesadillas and hand-dipped ice cream from Sweet Magnolias out of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Veena Rangaswi has been a fan of the quesadillas as a regular of the cafe’s food truck that hit the road in the summer of 2017.

“Their food is still very affordable. Which I like because it shows you can provide really great quality, affordable food and still provide a great working environment for your employees. And I hope that’s a model that other people will kind of take and run with,” Rangaswi said.

The food truck is now closed so that priority can be placed on the cafe. The cafe is already staffed with five full-time and four part-time employees who will be paid $15 per hour. Eventually, the cafe will also offer apprentice opportunities to teenagers focusing on mentorship and paying $10 per hour.

Fox-Trautman has been on an entrepreneurial journey as a freelance consultant to nonprofits for five years. Prior to freelancing, for eight years she worked with the local nonprofit BRIDGES. Since 2014, she has been trying to bring her cafe to life.

Inspire Community Cafe owner Kristin Fox-Trautman, center, walks with her team, from left, Charlena Branch, Jacqueline Chandler, Tevin Whitley, and Terrance Whitely, inside the restaurant which is currently under construction in Binghampton. (Brandon Dill)

“My long-term vision was always to have a brick-and-mortar as a gathering place for folks. I had a venue and location that I had scouted out and was fiercely considering in the earlier phases of planning. And when that didn’t work out, I chose to do a mobile cafe to get the business off the ground,” Fox-Trautman explained.

For the mobile cafe, Fox-Trautman leased commercial kitchen space from Kaleidoscope Kitchen, an initiative of the Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC). The BDC is a community-oriented and faith-backed nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life.

Related: "Binghampton Development Corporation provides growth opportunities for food entrepreneurs" 

"As our business grows, we will be looking to hire as much as possible from the surrounding neighborhood," she said, adding that she hopes to further partner with the Kaleidoscope Kitchen entrepreneurs by providing a location within the cafe where they can sell pre-prepared or packaged goods. 

Likewise, Stardust has deep roots in the community. 

The BDC’s student outreach coordinator, Ambrose Chisholm, leads a wrestling program at the studio on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Overall, the studio coaches about 40 youth and half of them come from Binghampton. Trautman also leads an adult class with Hannah Wilson-Wisner.

Trautman is actually Dr. Trautman. An MD and MPH, he specializes in personalized child, adolescent, adult, and addiction psychiatry. Additionally, he’s coached state champions, All-Americans, and NCAA D1 wrestlers at Christian Brothers and Raleigh Egypt high schools. Trautman is a USA Wrestling Bronze Certified Coach and brown belt in Brazilian jiu-iitsu.

“It was basically martial arts that allowed me to build relationships, learn how to overcome challenges, and get out my energy,” Trautman explained. “I always wanted to start my own kind of grappling arts studio. Kristin and I empowered each other to create our entrepreneurial dreams.”

Their dreams are coming to fruition. Finding employees that align with the cafe’s mission proved seamless for Fox-Trautman.

“Our core team has been together for the past four years," she said. “This is really like a small, family business.”

Whitley has known Trautman and Fox-Trautman since he was 12 years old, and in addition to having his children in classes at the studio, he will be the chef at the cafe.

Students warm up inside Lucas Trautman's Stardust Jiu-Jitsu studio in Binghampton. (Brandon Dill)

“Lucas and his wife are the best people that I ever could have met,” Whitley said. “And, they’re not just a blessing to my family. There are other families that they go above and beyond for.”

In addition to sponsoring the family from Sierra Leone, the couple sponsored a mother and son from Afghanistan through the refugee program. They also have two adopted daughters. Youth development is both a personal and professional passion for them.

Trautman and Fox-Trautman are excited to grow in Binghampton. The cafe is a self-funded undertaking for Fox-Trautman. Trautman also poured a significant amount into his studio, in addition to support from one generous anonymous donor and the backing of about 100 donors through a Go Fund Me campaign. Self-ascribed “assets-based” thinkers, the couple foresees more good than bad ahead.

“We’re not blind to the fact that we will face challenges. Honestly, being right there at the corner of Sam Cooper and Tillman, where there’s a lot of traffic coming by, we anticipate the challenge of cooking enough food and making enough drinks fast enough,” Fox-Trautman said.  

Trautman added, “Just having an after school program for some fun, like martial arts, I think that’s really needed in many neighborhoods. I’m really excited for building and growing in Binghampton and giving kids an opportunity to do something uplifting after school.”

Community is key for the two business owners. Their relationships with people and organizations are at their business models’ cores. The two have benefitted from mural art from Toonky Barry and co-constructed furniture from Arkwings. 

“There is a desire to support female- and person of color-owned businesses. But, there needs to be more traction,” Fox-Trautman said. “We’re going to be celebrating and lifting up those business owners and leaders because we want to help build a network.”

She added, “We’ve had nothing but positive experiences so far building our businesses in Binghampton, and we hope that more people will invest in Binghampton and other neighborhoods like it.”

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Read more articles by Ashlei Williams.

Memphis native Ashlei Williams has been writing for business, philanthropic, minority and academic audiences for a decade. She earned her master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School and bachelor’s in English from Spelman College. In 2016, she started GJC Publicity, focusing on editorial, marketing, advertising and creative writing. Get in touch with her at [email protected].