Neil A. Carousso produces and co-hosts WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight series with Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments featuring advice for business owners on survival, recovery and growth opportunities.
Neil A. Carousso is the producer of The 880 Weekly Rewind with Lynda Lopez, airing Friday nights at 7 PM on WCBS Newsradio 880. Each week Lynda talks with newsmakers for a deep dive into the top stories of the week and the impact it has on people.
See Neil A. Carousso’s original reporting on American heroes and veterans-related issues on Entercom’s platform.

The Latest

  • Small Business Spotlight: Software Tailored for Restaurants Hones New COVID Sales Strategy

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Restaurants are trying to get control over their destiny.

    SevenRooms, co-founded in 2008 by Joel Montaniel, created backend software for restaurants and hospitality companies to streamline ordering and reservations. Now, they are more of a data-driven technology company helping restaurateurs gain repeat customers in a precarious time for eating out.

    “The most significant change that restaurant operators need is to have their own platform where consumers can order delivery directly from them,” Montaniel told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    He emphasized that control over takeout and delivery – the most common pandemic pivot in the food industry – will increase profit margins by saving commission many owe to third-party delivery apps such as Grubhub, Postmates, DoorDash and Uber Eats.

    The second key for restaurants to recover, Montaniel believes, is capturing customer data internally, which SevenRooms’ software does, to upsell those who have placed orders. The technology company recently introduced digital menus to establishments that tracks order history.

    “If you had opted into their marketing database, the SevenRooms system will automatically email you again, and say, ‘Hey Neil, here’s a complimentary tzatziki when you order delivery or pickup directly from us,’” he hypothesized using Carousso as a customer in his example. “So, it’s a great way to leverage what you’re actually doing inside the restaurant and use it as a benefit for you to order pickup and delivery or come back into the restaurant when you feel comfortable doing so.”

    Montaniel told WCBS 880 that 64 percent of SevenRooms users prefer ordering directly from an establishment rather than third-party apps. He said many are eager to support their local eateries since the industry was largely shutdown due COVID-19 and remains open with strict safety restrictions.

    That loyal customer base is essential to restaurants’ recovery. The SevenRooms co-founder and CEO labeled Domino’s Pizza the “gold standard” because they own their own application for contactless ordering, pickup and delivery.

    SevenRooms counts Wimbledon, Live Nation Entertainment and Topgolf among its hospitality clients.

    “They’re thinking about the world the same way, which is how do we create the best, most optimal, and now recently, safest guest experience and I think technology can play a role in that to make everyone feel safe,” Montaniel said of how they are looking to reinvent themselves as local venues reopen to fans for the first time in about a year.

    See how SevenRooms is helping this hard hit sector survive on the video above.

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  • WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast: How to Grow Again Featuring Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful

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    How to Grow Again Featuring Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful – WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast, Presented by The First National Bank of Long Island

    Streaming Thursday, March 18, 2021 – 9 AM

    Be part of the program! Share your questions for Joe Connolly and Kevin O’Leary here.

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – Businesses are looking to rise up from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic and offer solutions in the post-pandemic economy. WCBS 880 is producing a premier virtual event for entrepreneurs, owners, managers, and dreamers to tackle critical areas where opportunities lie for growth despite the unprecedented global pandemic.

    WCBS Business Reporter Joe Connolly will host a virtual video conversation with “Shark Tank” investor Kevin O’Leary as part of the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast series, presented by The First National Bank of Long Island. You can stream the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast at or the WCBS 880 YouTube channel on Thursday, March 18, 2021 beginning at 9 AM.

    “Mr. Wonderful” will share his keys to business recovery, actionable advice for small and mid-size business owners in various industries, and what they need to be focused on heading into the spring.

    “In times like these, you really want to play to your strengths,” O’Leary told Connolly on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight in April, emphasizing decisive actions to grow despite the crippling pandemic.

    Photo credit: ABC

    The “Shark Tank” star will highlight relatable stories of business pivots, explain digital sales strategies that are yielding results for his companies, and reveal the top new business opportunities in growing markets amid the pandemic.

    “(Customers) genuinely care about companies and products and services that they’ve grown to trust and they want to support them during this period of difficulty to make sure that these businesses survive,” O’Leary told WCBS 880.

    Learn how to survive and grow in this new era at the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast with Joe Connolly, presented by The First National Bank of Long Island, on March 18.

    You can share your questions for Joe and Kevin here or Tweet @WCBS880 and @JoeConnollybiz using #WCBSBizBreakfast in your post.

    About Kevin O’Leary:

    Photo credit: ABC/Andrew Eccles

    Kevin O’Leary’s success story starts where most entrepreneurs begin: with a big idea and zero cash.

    Kevin O’Leary was born to a middle class family in 1954. The combination of Kevin’s mother’s family heritage as merchants and his father’s Irish charisma truly meant that O’Leary was born for business. Kevin learned most of his business intuition from his mother. She taught him key business and financial insights from an early age. These became Kevin’s core philosophies, and the pillars upon which he would one day build his empire.

    Kevin’s approach to business went through major changes as a teenager. During his second day on the job at a local ice cream shop, his boss came into the front of the store where Kevin was scooping ice cream. She looked at Kevin and asked him to scrape all the gum between the Mexican tiles on the floor. Kevin refused and he was fired. That was the moment he realized he never wanted to work for someone else again and charted his path into entrepreneurship as a high school student.

    As a university student, Kevin’s innate business sense led him along several different paths – including some very unusual, very entrepreneurial ways of making a profit.

    Not long after he finished his MBA, Kevin had a meeting that changed his life forever. He met a man who had a strange idea for a software product – an idea with huge, high-profit potential that Kevin immediately recognized.

    After years of ups, downs, sacrifices, challenges, and lessons learned — not to mention a critical phone call that nearly cost him everything — the opportunity that Kevin saw eventually turned into a computer software giant that was acquired for more than $4 billion dollars.

    After his extraordinary success at the software company, he founded – and a difficult period of obstacles and legal disputes – Kevin eventually found himself on television, quickly becoming a sought-after host and personality on a range of shows – including Discovery’s Project Earth, CBC’s Dragons’ Den, and ABC’s Shark Tank.

    Kevin has since launched O’Leary Funds, an investment fund company; O’Leary Fine Wines; and a best-selling book series on financial literacy.

    In 2014, Kevin founded O’Leary Financial Group – a group of brands and services that share Kevin’s guiding principles of honesty, directness, convenience, and above all, great value.

    His net worth is estimated at $400 million.

    Executive produced by Neil A. Carousso.

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  • Veterans Organization Builds Remote Talent Pipeline to Fortune 500 companies

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The transition from the military to the workforce is often a challenge for veterans, but the pandemic has exacerbated that challenge. A non-profit organization based in Manhattan is taking up the task to virtually match vets and major U.S. companies.

    “We’ve got some super smart people who enlist in the military and we wanted to create those pipelines for them to get into these Fortune 500 companies,” said Lt. Col. Michael Abrams, founder of FourBlock, who is currently serving in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

    FourBlock prides itself on preparing veterans for a career after service. The average salary for its national members is $92,811, according to the non-profit’s 2020 data.

    “The companies that we work with are the ones who pay good salaries,” Abrams told WCBS 880’s Neil A. Carousso.

    Since the pandemic hit, FourBlock pivoted from in-person networking events to virtual workshops and training on remote interviews.

    Maxwell Acker-DeOliveira was looking for a job after recovering from COVID-19 in California where he was visiting family in May. FourBlock helped him prepare for remote job interviews with Deloitte in June – a process that happened rather quickly.

    “I’m a social creature,” said Acker-DeOliveira, explaining Zoom meetings presented an obstacle for him to get over.

    The Marine sergeant had been used to leading a six-man sniper team for five years. His deployment concluded in March 2018.

    “You kind of have to push through that wall,” he said, adding, “You either network or you stay on the bench at Deloitte.”

    Acker-DeOliveira was hired at the Big Four accounting firm within the month as a technology services optimization consultant.

    Abrams said hiring managers understand they can trust veterans to take the initiative while working remotely.

    “They’re not going to just sit around and wait to be told what to do,” he said, continuing, “They’re going to kind of figure out what needs to get done and get it done.”

    Abrams emphasized it’s “trust and resiliency,” experience gained through their military service, that makes veterans attractive hires in the pandemic.

    Watch the video above for more on this story.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Cindi Bigelow Shares Tips for Surging Online Sales as Retail Remains Sluggish

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — It’s no surprise online sales have surpassed retail sales given pandemic restrictions, but Bigelow Tea’s third-generation president and CEO Cindi Bigelow understands exactly how to grow her fan base.

    “It’s very important that you build out each page for each product with as much as you can both from a visual perspective and a verbal perspective so that you have to make that product come alive,” said Bigelow on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    She calls this the “digital shelf,” likening it to a store shelf that should capture shoppers’ attention ideally at eye level.

    “We have a team of individuals that literally work on the different places that we are on the web to examine every single page to make sure that page is maximized,” Bigelow said.

    She told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso her world famous Bigelow Tea is very much in demand with online sales of some teas surging beyond 100 percent. But, the overall business is only up 6 percent while retail, restaurants, offices and universities are closed or limited 11 months after COVID-19 shut down large swaths of the U.S. economy.

    “That’s a high hurdle to get over,” she said.

    Bigelow’s manufacturing plant based in Fairfield, CT. She employs 400 workers at her family business with 300 employees in manufacturing who are required to be on-site with safety precautions in place. She expressed concern on WCBS 880 about small businesses that do not have the resources to invest in digital infrastructure.

    “What about Main Street?” Bigelow asked with excitement, continuing, “Don’t you want your child to be able to work at the pizza shop down the street during their summers and being able to work at a shoe store?”

    She explained she is sensitive to how local businesses have been stifled by the deadly virus and the lack of government relief, noting it could impact generations to come.

    Those that are in operation, Bigelow said, need to pay close attention to consumer behavior and changing trends.

    “We will listen to absolutely everybody,” she said, using a customer complaint about the lack of “peachiness” in one of her teas as an example. She noted that’s how they “identify what to do better.”

    Bigelow’s motto is “the meanest taste bud wins,” meaning she will listen closely to those who offer criticisms to improve her products, which have been on store shelves for 75 years.

    That’s one way she limits the echo chamber of “yes men” around her and a way to anticipate changing consumer preferences she applies to tea, but can apply to any industry.

    See Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso’s conversation with Cindi Bigelow of Bigelow Tea on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Industry City Draws Scores of Weekend Shoppers, Positions Retail ‘Partners’ to Succeed

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Industry City has developed the holy grail of retailing by attracting 10,000 visitors each weekend – 75 percent of pre-pandemic volume – while investing in its tenants’ recovery.

    The historic complex bills itself as “Brooklyn’s vibrant creative hub along the scenic waterfront of Sunset Park,” housing 550 local shops, restaurants and manufacturers – many of which have suffered steep losses. But, Industry City’s largely open-air space has allowed them to operate safely. About 40 percent of its tenants have reopened since the shutdown.

    “They can safely come, hang out, have a drink, see some music, shop at Sahadi’s, shop at Japan Village, etc. and that’s really helped them considering the environment,” Industry City Director of Development Jim Somoza said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    The complex owns its own streets and has sprawling outdoor dining space with large tents for inclement weather.

    Somoza was part of the development team of Chelsea Market, starting in 2003, before embarking on Industry City’s vision of new-age retail-tainment featuring innovative local businesses that appeal to Brooklynites and tourists alike.

    He told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso about several Industry City tenants, including a blacksmith that entices customers to the waterfront space.

    “While they’re coming to see that, they’re also buying a drink at the Frying Pan, they are going to Standard Wormwood and Brooklyn Kura,” Somoza said, adding, “They bring people to the overall project.”

    Industry City’s business plan revolves around the experience, which he describes as the “antidote to the Internet.” People are itching for an outlet and Somoza anticipates high post-pandemic demand.

    “When we are doing our jobs well at I.C., we’re transporting people,” he said. “We’re taking you away.”

    Shoppers can take blacksmith classes at Nazz Forge, savor chocolate as they watch it being made at Li-Lac Chocolates, and watch the Christophe Pourny Studio restore antique furniture on the other side of the glass. This connects consumers and producers on another level through an Epcot-like or Hershey Park adventure in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

    It could be the model for business communities who will need to convince hardened online shoppers to shop local and in-person.

    Businesses in Industry City have been set up to recover and succeed. Somoza told WCBS 880 he likes to think of their role as a “partner” to its tenants rather than a “landlord” – a word he avoids using.

    “What we do is we support them,” he explained.

    At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, Industry City offered rent breaks, changed leases to percentage rent, and helped business owners navigate the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications and requirements.

    “I think that’s a part of the reason, with one exception, every single one of our retailers has reopened,” said Somoza.

    Small and mid-size businesses there feel they are nearing the finish line at the end of an arduous year, according to Somoza, who noted many are applying for the latest round of the PPP loan.

    See keys for creating economic development to recover from the pandemic on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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