By Kevin Heffernan
Title Image Courtesy Danielle Raymo
Through our involvement with Upstate Social Sessions (coming up on October 3 + 4) over the past two years, we were fortunate to meet its cofounder, Danielle Raymo. Another one of Rochester’s Renaissance Women, Danielle has her hands in all aspects of digital and social marketing for her clients, but continues to push in-person, live experiences for everyone. As the owner and co-founder of Rochester Brainery, she’s doing just that.
Rochester Brainery is a community classroom and event space located in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts (NOTA). Each month, they offer over 50 classes on an unrestricted variety of topics in their space. From wreath making and cooking homemade pasta to hand lettering and cake decorating, Over 2,500 classes and counting.
Included on the docket are local authors, actors, artists, chefs, graphic designers, and distillers. They also rent the space to the public for various events. When I finally checked it out in person last fall, I was head over heels. The high ceilings, washed out white behind the green and brown of plants and shelving, massive industrial windows, the energy from the class I observed going on, it’s something we don’t see often in Buffalo.
I chatted with Danielle about the mission and vision for the space, and then talk about entrepreneurship and the challenges that come with renting space and getting feet through the door as well as Rochester’s really strong collaborative scene.
When did it begin, and how did you move your idea into ownership of a space that guarantees 40 sessions per month on top of renting it out to others?
We actually always had our own space! We felt it was important to create a singular space that had everything our teachers needed and to be a home base, at least as people were getting to know us (we’ve since branched out and offer lots of off-site classes, but we didn’t at first). Our first space was inside of Village Gate, opening on March 2013. We opened with about 25 classes a month, and much to our dismay a good number of those in the beginning were cancelled. Luckily though, as word of mouth grew and we started to incorporate events like Brainery Bazaar (a craft show we did once per month from 2013-2018) to draw people to out space, we began to grow. In 2015 we started to feel like we were outgrowing the space (class and event sizing was limited), and started to see all of the lost opportunities as a result (we didn’t have windows in the space, our own bathrooms, etc. – certain comforts). So, in June 2016 Rochester Brainery moved down the street to 176 Anderson Ave. and that’s really when the business began to grow in a way that’s helped it become what it is today. It was the best decision we could have made at the time. It’s only been in the past few months that I was able to hire our first full-time staff member, but we’re a team of 6 in total (1 full-time team member, 4 part-time team members, and me). My incredibly talented team has also been vital to the growth of the business.
Do teachers/presenters come to you, or do you seek them out?
It’s a bit of both, but more often than not teachers reach out to us through our website. Some classes are born out of new class ideas that come from existing teachers (sometimes our teachers partner up for combo classes, which is super fun), thanks to student suggestions. If we do seek out teachers, it’s usually with a tweet: “We have a class request for such and such a class! Anyone interested in teaching?”
What do you see Rochester Brainery’s roll in the community as?
I think we wear many hats, but when it comes down to it we’re a hub, a connector, an intersection, if you will. My goal is to create an affordable, comfortable, and creative multi-purpose space that provides multiple outlets in which to engage with the community (for example, our classes, our blog, our craft shows, our local retail area, etc.). In some cases we’re a launching point for new businesses – a place where they can connect with an engaged, new audience, or host a pop-up shop. In other cases we’re a space where people can simply share what they know for fun, or meet new friends.
How important have partnerships been to your growth? Examples?
Rochester Brainery wouldn’t have any classes if it wasn’t for partnering with so many individuals and teachers – I could talk about those for days! But, what’s been really important to our growth is partnering with Eat Me (for cooking classes), The Daily Refresher (Flower City Drinksmiths cocktail making classes) Living Roots Wine & Co., and Nox Cocktail to offer regular off-site classes. These spaces give us a regular space to hold additional classes, many of which are classes that we can’t hold at our space (we don’t have a kitchen or a liquor license), while at the same time introducing people to those businesses. It’s really important to me that all of our partnerships are mutually beneficial in that way – for the students, the off-site locations, and our students.
What was your professional background before starting Rochester Brainery?
I graduated from The College at Brockport in 2008 with a degree in Communications, and five years of experience volunteering for a radio station (DJing, assisting in running events, etc.) I was very lucky, and right after graduation I was hired as a part-time DJ at a local station. It gave me a look into using social media for business (my radio persona!), and eventually became the part-time Promotions Coordinator for that radio group as well, running somewhere between 10-20 events a week. I moved to NYC in 2010 with the hope of moving up in the radio world. While I was looking paid for radio work (I volunteered at a station for a while), I worked part-time as the Office Manager for a farm. I ended up using those same skills I practiced with the radio group for the farm, minus the DJing, of course. I picked up handling their events (donations, sampling, tabling, etc.), then took on their social media, and more. My official title was Brand Development Specialist. In 2012 I got the itch to move back to Rochester, continued to work as their Brand Development Specialist as I opened Rochester Brainery, leaving in 2013 since the traveling was getting to become a conflict with Rochester Brainery. I kept working with social media clients as a Social Media Manager after that, and become an Office Manager to support myself while Rochester Brainery grew. I left that position in 2016, to focus more on Rochester Brainery, but still continue to work as a Social Media Manager for small business clients.
What are your goals for The Brain Blog?
The Brain Blog serves as space where we can curate longer form content that can give a different kind of look into what we do, who we are, and who we work with that wouldn’t make sense on platforms like Instagram. We share everything from interviews with our teachers, inspirational playlists that give people an insight into what creatives listen to while they work, ideas for events and meetings, and more educational content.
Favorite class you ever offered?
This is a tough question! We have so many classes taught by people I admire and love working with. Our first class ever was Improvisation with Megan Mack, and that’s still running 6 years later. Pierogi making, calligraphy, macrame, shibori dye, wreath making, cake decorating, cookie decorating, how to make vegan cheese, mindfulness – these are all long-running classes that are favorites of our community.