The Colgate Scene
May 2008

People on the go

Melissa Gray '96
[Photo courtesy of Melissa Gray]

For most Americans, sharing the latest news is something you do with colleagues during a time-out at the water cooler. For Melissa Gray '96, CNN Wire's writer and reporter in London, publishing news is a full-time job; her water cooler is the English Channel, and her audience is the world.

The CNN Wire is a clearinghouse for the network's news-gathering machine. Employees in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., collect information from reporters, local bureaus around the globe, and other sources, creating print versions of the day's stories. Gray, an offshore addition to the wire staff, covers Europe and Africa from her Soho office.

"You're constantly trying to do the best reporting you can, working under constraints," she said. "It can be very rewarding when you get the story done in spite of whatever hurdles you had to jump."

Gray began leaping hurdles the minute she left Colgate. Contacts she made during a radio broadcasting internship brought valuable advice but no firm job offers, so with air-check tape and resume in hand, she hit the pavement and spent six months searching for work while living with her mother in Atlanta.

"I sent out 56 resumes and copies of the tape up and down the East Coast," she said, "and would you believe that I got two responses back: both for part-time jobs in Atlanta?" One of those jobs — as a freelancer for the CNN Radio Network — became Gray's foot in the sound-booth door.

While the Clinton impeachment was playing out on televisions from Syracuse to Shanghai, Gray was doing nationwide radio updates every 15 minutes, relying on adrenaline and techniques she learned onstage in Colgate student theater productions.

Filing in-house stories from the relative comfort of CNN's Atlanta wire offices between 2000 and 2003, she honed her editorial and reporting skills. "I remember my boss towering over my computer and saying, `Why can't get you just get the facts? Why can't you just make the phone call?' That's what it means to be a dogged reporter."

In 2004, Gray joined the Associated Press as a Europe and Middle East radio correspondent, covering various fronts in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the death of Pope John Paul II, the appointment of Pope Benedict XVI, Yasser Arafat's funeral in Ramallah, and Saddam Hussein's trial in Baghdad.

"The moment I saw Saddam Hussein — he was ten feet away from me — I thought `Oh my gosh.' But then I started to think, `What do I notice about him? He's shorter than I thought he would be.' You get on with your work."

Unlike her AP job, CNN doesn't require Gray to keep three bags of radio equipment packed at all times in case of a late-night call from headquarters. She doesn't have her travel agent on speed dial, her heated socks on standby for assignments in cold climates. But she continues to tell imperative stories to an inquisitive audience.

"I have worked in almost every area of the industry — as a field reporter, in a newsroom with top journalism professionals," she said. "You don't lose the excitement that comes with being a witness to history. You're the one who's seeing and hearing it all, and you have to convey that emotion."
— Mark Walden


Nick Kenner '03
[Photo by Rob Bennett]

There's salad — as in, the usual hasty combination of weary lettuce, shredded carrot, and dressing-from-a-bottle that we all pretend to like because pizza makes us fat — and then there's Just Salad, a hip New York City restaurant mini-chain started by Nick Kenner '03.

Just Salad's 11 "designer salads" incorporate everything from butternut squash to barbeque chicken, all paired with custom dressings created by Chef Laura Pensiero, a family friend of Kenner's. To boot, the salads are served in eco-friendly reusable plastic bowls customers can bring back to score free toppings.

Creating a healthy, green-friendly restaurant catering to Manhattan's young professionals was hardly Kenner's lifelong dream. But after two years post-Colgate working on Wall Street, he felt the itch to do something entrepreneurial — and enlisted high school best friend Rob Crespi to help him brainstorm.

"We were trying to predict trends. We were just thinking of different

types of businesses and things we thought weren't being done . . . and we got stuck on health," Kenner explained. "We both love fast food and we both love to eat healthy. So it was a combination that was obvious to us. When we first came up with it we were immediately imagining it as a cross between Jamba Juice [a trendy smoothie chain] and Chipotle [a made-to-order burrito restaurant] — a feel-good happy place where people could just grab and go."

Kenner and Crespi wrote a business plan, secured investors, and hired an architect who worked with high-profile national chains to develop their new space in midtown Manhattan. They debuted in May 2006.

"The second we opened the door, the line was down the block," said Kenner. "I was less shocked about the people and more shocked about how confusing it was to operate a salad bar. It was the hardest thing ever, those first few days.

"It was so bad that customers were not even ticked off, they were just amused — our cash registers would go down, we couldn't take money, the air conditioning system went down so it was ninety-five degrees . . . it was completely chaotic."

New-business hiccups aside, Just Salad continued to draw its target demographic — prompting New York magazine to write that it had become a place for young urban professionals to flirt on their lunch breaks. The day after the story ran, sales went up drastically.

Then came a spot on the Martha Stewart Show, where they showed Martha how to whip up their top-selling "Immunity Bowl" salad (so named because it's high in anti-oxidants). Soon after, Inc.com included Kenner and Crespi on its nationwide list of the top 30 entrepreneurs under 30.

The success enabled Just Salad to open two new restaurants last year. They have since expanded to 60 employees and experienced double-digit, year-after-year growth. Eventually, they hope to go national.

"We've got three good stores . . . but I don't think we're even close to being satisfied. I guess the best way to put it, Robbie and I don't go home and pat ourselves on the back, ever," said Kenner.

Which isn't to say Kenner's not getting a little recognition for his troubles.

"The funniest thing is when you go out and someone asks, `Aren't you Just Salad?' I always get a kick out that. I'm like, Yeah, I'm a D-list celebrity. People eat my salad."

— Elisa Benson '06

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