After graduation, Pullano worked as a school photographer. But after eight years she was laid off, just as she’d had her second child, Lulu, in January of 2013. With a new child and no job, Pullano felt terrified she might lose her home. "I was getting eviction notices every month on my door, and I'd wake up every morning with this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't want to get up and face it."
One day, down at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market, she ran into a Ugandan woman she'd gotten to know named Betty Udongo, whom everyone called "Dr. Betty." When Udongo saw Pullano's crestfallen face, she got worried. "Mamalulu, what's wrong," she asked, using her nickname for Pullano.
When she finally told Udongo her problems, Udongo asked what her talents or skills were. But Pullano, who couldn't even muster up the energy to feel she was worth something, told her "I do nothing."
Udongo, determined, wouldn’t let her get away with that. "Surely you do something. Can you cook?"
When Pullano admitted she could cook, Udongo immediately put her to work making and selling her famous samosas door to door for $2.50 a piece. She was only making maybe $30 a day, but it gave her a feeling of purpose, and money in hand to put towards her rent. Eventually Udongo told her they should go into business together, and mentioned Can-Do Kitchen, a non-profit food incubator that gave scholarships to low-income grant applicants to launch small businesses.
But when Udongo was forced to go back to Uganda over visa complications, Pullano was on her own. Still, she pushed forward, knowing the grant could be a lifeline if she figured out the right idea.
One day, she wandered into the grocery store drinks aisle and saw something called cold brew coffee for sale. Though she didn't have the money to buy it, she did some research and became fascinated by the seemingly simple process, and the fact that it was hip in the third-wave coffee community. Suddenly, the passion for coffee she first cultivated in Spain came roaring back. "This is what I have to do," she thought. Only problem: The application deadline was a week away, and Pullano had never made cold brew before in her life.
Quickly she got to work, experimenting in her apartment, tinkering, reading everything she could. And on January 15th, 2014, her daughter Lulu's first birthday, she finished her application and presented it to the seven-person board.
"How long have you been doing this?" one of the board members asked her during the presentation, as she passed out samples.
"Oh you know," Pullano said, worried a wrong answer could derail her chances. "A... while?"
The panel was impressed -- none were very familiar with cold brew -- and they thought the idea was promising. Can-Do gave out nine scholarships that year. Pullano got the second-to-last.