JWU Powers Rhode Island Small Businesses

From financial and media services to local meal delivery giants, Johnson & Wales alumni help to power the Rhode Island economy.
Gaebe Common

The first annual Ignite the Night event, a new student tradition at JWU Providence. Photography by Mike Cohea.

Since its founding as a business school in 1914, Johnson & Wales has embraced a bold, industry-responsive culture committed to shaping agile graduates who are prepared and confident to enter a highly dynamic workforce. The university is dedicated to the professional and personal growth of its students, ensuring access to an immersive education, resources, networks, and expertise necessary for a world of possibilities.

It should be no surprise then that the university’s entrepreneurial spirit is carried on by its graduates. JWU alumni businesses dapple the state, from Westerly to Woonsocket, graduates use the skills they honed at their alma mater to help create a thriving small business economy in the Ocean State.

Hear from a few of these entrepreneurs below.


Lisa A. Ranglin, M.S.’20, Founder, President and CEO

Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA) | ri-bba.org

JWU Major: Human Resources Management

Headshot Lisaranglin5x7fin2dsc 7989

Courtesy of Johnson & Wales

Please share a brief overview of your business

In November of 2010, while still working in the banking industry, in a volunteer capacity, seeing the struggles of Black businesses, and firsthand from my brother, I knew I needed to do something. I mobilized the small business community and local leaders to look at barriers, challenges, issues, and the lack of access to capital and contract opportunities affecting small businesses in underserved cities. We conducted multiple listening and brainstorming sessions and performed a random sampling of individuals and business owners, which informed our critical steps and prioritized our actions, leading to the formation of the Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA). RIBBA is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the business opportunities and vitality of Black-owned and minority businesses in Rhode Island through access to capital, contracting, entrepreneurship training, one-on-one business counseling, business certification assistance, financial analysis, business advocacy, meaningful investor services, and workforce development. RIBBA works tirelessly to support minority entrepreneurship, businesses, professionals, and community development, which promotes growth, and sustainability and builds a strong economy and vibrant communities.

What does being part of the Ocean State mean to you and your business?

I am inspired by the rich diversity in Rhode Island and the ability to engage directly with changemakers. Based on the state’s size, we can quickly mobilize our neighbors and deploy equitable resources to drive a positive impact for all communities. Hope and action will allow us the opportunity to build a sustainable, strong, vibrant, and robust community where everyone can thrive. I value our size because it allows us to share our individual stories and see the changes we want to create. There is no hope without action, and Rhode Island is poised to act.

What skills did Johnson & Wales provide that help you to run your small business?

In my capacity as the founder, CEO, and President of RIBBA, JWU was instrumental in providing strategy to build high-performing teams and global talent development. These skills were vital in this market and the war for talent. I was able to leverage my skills gained in corporate to not only build but scale my organization. JWU helped me develop an organizational structure with business strategies that allowed me to attract and retain high-performing talent, which helps us build a culture that supports growth and cultivates passion. Graduating during the pandemic allowed me to practice pivoting and managing in a fluid environment.



Robert Arel Jr. ’05, Founder and Creative Director

Black Door Creative | blackdoorcreative.com

JWU Major: Marketing Communications

Rob Arel

Courtesy of Johnson & Wales

Please share a brief overview of your business.Black Door Creative is a marketing agency based in Rhode Island that specializes in helping small businesses in the local area and throughout New England to grow and expand their companies through digital marketing efforts. With services like web design, SEO, social media, branding, and video marketing.What does being part of the Ocean State mean to you and your business?

We take pride in being based here in Rhode Island and seeing how our efforts help other Rhode Island businesses succeeded and grow. There is no better feeling than seeing our work throughout the state and its impact.

What skills did Johnson & Wales provide that help you to create/run your small business?

While at Johnson & Wales, I was fortunate enough to be part of the AAF Advertising team which was run by Professor Chillabato and being a part of that group really taught me how to develop the marketing strategies and team management skills that I use every day at Black Door.


Maggie Pearson ’16, Founder

Feast & Fettle | feastandfettle.com

JWU Major: Culinary Nutrition

Maggie In Kitchen

Courtesy of Johnson & Wales

Please share a brief overview of your business.

Feast & Fettle is a local, fully-prepared meal delivery service.  We prepare, package, and deliver fresh meals to families across MA, RI, CT, and NH. All of our recipes are made from scratch (without preservatives) in our kitchen in East Providence, RI. We aren’t shipping or mass producing, just putting wholesome well-made meals on the dinner table for families that may be too busy to cook.

What does being part of the Ocean State mean to you and your business?

Though we have big goals and have expanded to several states across New England, Rhode Island will always be the cherished home of Feast & Fettle. When I was a personal chef on the East Side of Providence, my first clients were actually who inspired me to grow my business and share my food with others. That community is the reason we put so much quality and care into our service.  Rhode Island’s vibrant and tight-knit community has played a pivotal role in our success. We are grateful for organizations like Hope & Main in Warren, which provided us with invaluable resources and support as we launched our venture. Additionally, our local partners have been instrumental in helping us establish and grow Feast & Fettle by utilizing their audience and providing high-quality products that align with our mission. The strong sense of community in Rhode Island, along with the support from organizations and local partners, has enabled us to infuse our service with a level of quality and care that sets us apart.

What skills did Johnson & Wales provide that help you to create/run your small business?

The JWU Culinary Program provided me with a solid foundation in both culinary and business skills, which have been integral in creating and running my small business. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Nutrition in 2016, my original plan was to become a registered dietitian. However, after spending a few years as a personal chef, I discovered my passion for cooking for families and decided to establish a meal delivery service.

Attending JWU exposed me to a teaching-focused cooking environment and allowed me to learn from diverse culinary experts and chefs. This education equipped me with a wide range of techniques and culinary styles, crucial in understanding and cooking various cuisines. Moreover, the Culinary Nutrition Program provided knowledge in recipe writing, menu planning, with an emphasis on nutritious perspectives. Labs such as vegetarian cuisine and designing healthy desserts formed a foundation for creating diverse, plant-based, and low-carb options in my business.

Beyond culinary skills, JWU instilled in me important business acumen. Courses in purchasing, inventory management, and cost control helped me understand the essentials of sourcing ingredients, managing inventory, and optimizing efficiency while minimizing waste, all of which are invaluable when starting a food-related business. The school has also provided me with a valuable network of chefs and culinary professionals. Through these connections, I have gained insights, collaborations, and opportunities that have contributed to the success of Feast & Fettle.

The comprehensive education I received at JWU empowered me with culinary expertise, nutrition knowledge, and essential business skills, which have played pivotal roles in the successful creation of my small business – Feast & Fettle.

Maggie With Ff

Courtesy of Johnson & Wales


Joshua I. Gorra ’04, Founder and Managing Partner

Gorra Financial Group | gorrafinancialgroup.com

JWU Major: Financial Services Management

Josh Gorra Headshot

Courtesy of Johnson & Wales

Please share a brief overview of your business.

Our mission at Gorra Financial Group is to get to know and understand your financial needs, wants, and long-term goals. We want to help you develop, implement, and monitor a plan that’s designed to address your individual situation.

From managing debt to saving for college to retirement, these personal finance challenges can be overwhelming. Our commitment is to utilize all of our resources to help you pursue your goals.

What does being part of the Ocean State mean to you and your business?

It means I get to give back to the community by providing financial literacy and helping people plan for their future.  I get to support local business owners and I have the opportunity to provide careers to individuals who want to make an impact in the state, it’s the best of both worlds. From a personal standpoint I met my wife here, my children were both born in Rhode Island and I launched my agency here.  Needless to say, the ocean state is special to me.

What skills did Johnson & Wales provide that help you to create/run your small business?

Johnson & Wales provided me with my degree in financial services management in 2004 but I also learned a tremendous amount about how to embrace becoming an entrepreneur.  Most importantly, I met so many talented people during my time there, the faculty and alumni network are just fantastic.

Josh Gorra

Courtesy of Johnson & Wales



To learn more about Johnson & Wales University visit jwu.edu.

Jwu Providence's Harborside Campus In The Fall. Photos: Mike Cohea 2018

JWU Providence’s Harborside campus in the fall. Photography by Mike Cohea.