NOTE: Every once in a while a lighter version of my look at people best illustrates the struggle people make to somehow set their own narratives in a pretty harsh world of economic and social injustices. Yes, this person is young and naive, but isn’t that a majority of the word now — young and naive. We as citizens of the planet should have been working on the very concepts of Plan for Seven Generations Out, or, It Takes a Village to Raise/Teach/Nurture/Celebrate a Child.
First appeared in my column, Deep Dive with Paul Haeder, Oregon Coast Today.
The Big Guy is All Heart
One big dude, former Emo, ex-football player, advocate for LGBTQ peers and anti-bullying leader, or just known as Nicholas Grant-Grierson.
He’s 21, works in his parents’ shop in Waldport, the well-known and homey Chocolate Frog, and has big plans to finish a degree in sound engineering and music production.
I don’t always riff with quippy inspirational modern quotes, but here are a few from “Tiny Beautiful Things” bestselling author Cheryl Strayed, the inspirational voice behind “Dear Sugar.” They are apropos for millennials, that group that is overtaking Baby Boomers in sheer numbers — 73 million.
“Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go.”
“Accounting for what happened in our childhoods and why and who our parents are and how they succeeded and failed us is the work we do when we do the work of becoming whole grown-up people.”
“Be brave enough to break your own heart.”
“We must help ourselves. After destiny has delivered what it delivers, we are responsible for our lives.”
Nick strives to break out of any negative space and move ahead in his life to not only achieve his dreams but to one day return to Waldport to help be the glue of what he consistently calls – “coming together as a community.”
The Chocolate Frog has been going strong for five years in Waldport, but now the shop has been moved to Lincoln City, in a space three times as big with a commercial kitchen. His mom Leslie, and stepfather, Ken Hohstadt, created a place of “happiness and positivity,” Nicholas expresses. The concept for the chocolatier came from the Frog and the Toad story series by Arnold Lobel.
For Nick, maybe these Lobel lines best represent the goodness of homemade chocolates and various sundries his parents sell under the moniker Chocolate Frog:
Frog said, ‘I wrote ‘Dear Toad, I am glad that you are my best friend. Your best friend, Toad.’
‘Oh,’ said Toad, ‘that makes a very good letter.’
Then Frog and Toad went out onto the front porch to wait for the mail. They sat there, feeling happy together.
Ken and Leslie saw the store as a godsend. “Our little candy store is nothing short of a miracle for us,” Ken said, “as we built it out of nothing with most every expense accomplished from out-of-pocket funds and amazing friends that helped make it happen. Due to the market and many other factors, I went to work for the last four years as a volunteer bartender/manager at our local Moose lodge. I met my wife at work who was in a bad way as well. After many years of fund-raising events and fraternal activates at The Moose Lodge we were able to leave the lodge in very capable hands and open our store.”
Nicholas worked at the store in several capacities, but mostly as a volunteer intern, working to fulfill some high school credits and with an agreement with the Seashore Literacy Center in Waldport.
“This is an amazing business which has taught me so much about myself, but also about customer service, things about this community, and the wonderful people in it,” Nick tells me as he gives out a few free saltwater taffy samples (out of 32 flavors, licorice and huckleberry are customer favorites).
Early Roots Spread Around
Nicholas is open about his life, about being an “angst-riddled millennial,” and about the dynamics of being raised by a single mother after his biological father split from the family unit.
His mom met his biological father in Portland, a man who was originally from South Africa, a military officer during the apartheid years. The couple ended up on the coast, as Nicholas’ father became a firefighter in Yachats.
Nicholas’ biological father is not completely out of the young man’s life, as he lives in Vancouver and the young man just saw him this past January.
However, Nicholas raves on and on about his stepfather, Ken Hohstadt, who has been in his life for nine years. “He’s the best father a son could have. He’s fantastic for my mother, too.”
Nicholas goes back to at time when he was living in Oregon City and Molalla. That was from 2nd to 6th grade. He also discusses how the family lost their house to foreclosure in 2010. He has a half-sister, 20, Sierra who lives in Salem, and an older brother who lives in Portland.
Nick even did a stint in Pecos and Las Vegas, New Mexico, working as an intern with his father on the set of the TV series, “Longmire,” helping with sound engineering.
It’s clear how important Waldport has been to Nicholas’s spiritual, educational and ethical foundations. The shop his mother and stepfather started also has been a linchpin to Nicholas’ outlook.
He even chuckles that a Canadian travel magazine put the Chocolate Frog on its “Top 10 Things to Do on the Oregon Coast” list a few years ago.
Sins of the Son
Nicholas rattles off some of the “sins of the teenager”:
• I was this Emo teenager
• I was all angsty and moody
• I smoked a lot of pot
• and I drank even more
“I grew up rough,” he says, impressing upon me that he’s seen many youths in much tougher situations. “I have lived my life sort of hippy-ish.”
He tells me that he wished he had finished football. “It’s a good team-building exercise for young people Sort of builds a family.”
He ended up at Clackamas Community College for two years, working on a transfer degree. That’s where he ended up in an Alcoholics Anonymous program for college youth. Nick says he has had to seek therapy to deal with “anger issues” and “commitment issues.”
“I know everybody goes through things, and I believe everyone’s feelings are valid,” Nick says while smoking a cigarette outside. “I worked through years of holding back my feelings. You know, we are told as men to hold back feelings, cover up our emotions. That’s not good.”
He says his mom did well raising them, but struggled as a single parent with three children. They were “homeless for a bit.”
“My mom’s amazing,” he beams. “She always put us first and strives for the best things for us.”
He also credits Seashore Literacy Center and its founder, Senitila McKinley, for getting him through some rough stretches during high school by putting him to work as both a janitor and safety advisor. “She is all about teaching kids about the real world. I learned how to write an essay there. The DaNoble House [where Seashore is located] is a big part of what makes this community amazing.”
He is concerned about certain ramifications around his parents’ moving the business to Lincoln City.
He said the community rallied around his family. I go to the Facebook page for the Chocolate Frog, and some more things come to light that have shaped the 21-year-old’s next iteration in his life. This is from his mother:
“We are NOT going out of business. Last April we thought we were done, but by reaching out to you all, our little candy store was saved! Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for that. We made it to June which brought on the tourists and gave us new life. June brought 2 major health events (1 required my first EPI pen and the other was surgery which put me in bed 2 weeks). I’m not complaining lol. Then we were approached by an Angel for investing and acquired [a] perfect space for the perfect price for a 2nd shop. Whew! What a roller coaster ride. Well having 2 shops was an exciting idea. I was interviewing for employees when our Waldport shop became un-leasable for us. I cannot comment on that. It was not our decision but we were unable to negotiate a new lease.”
Customers flow in and ask Nick about the chocolates and the move to Lincoln City. He towers over the mixture of local and tourist customers, offering them one of 32 taffy flavors as a tasting enticement. He beams as he shows the tourists the various confections and gift items his mother and step-father have set out as their local fare.
I had a chance to talk to his mother, Leslie, and she is quick to say, “I’m proud of Nicholas, and I know he is on his own path as a man.” She recounts how the then 16-year-old Nick helped set up and paint the Chocolate Frog when it was about to open.
She realizes that this feature about her young entrepreneurial-minded son is not all a bed of roses. “He has to find himself and express himself the way he believes will help him move ahead.”
Riffing with Nick the Chocolate Frog
I like riffing with all sorts of people, but especially young people, students, and Nick was open to answering 10 diverse questions I posed:
- PH: In One word, describe your personality.
NG-G: I gotta say it’d have to be, “Determined”
- Two things — a sentence each — you love about Waldport and/or the Central Oregon Coast.
I love how no matter how long I’m gone, or where I go, I know when I come back, it’s still home.
I love the scenery, it changes every time I look at it, never a dull moment with Oregon.
- What’s your definition of success?
My definition of success would have to be, the ability to keep on trying even if you failed. You are supposed to fail, it teaches you to get back up and try again. Never quit.
- What’s the best one or two sentences to describe what it is to be a millennial to someone who continues to put millennials down?
Have you ever seen like a cartoon or movie, where the kid who is bullied for things he cannot control, is constantly told that he isn’t cool, or isn’t going to get the girl? And then in the end he gets the girl, and becomes the coolest? Yeah, it’s that, but with lots of stress and mental issues.
- What’s good customer service?
Good customer service is being nice even if the customer is having a bad day and is not nice. It’s quite basic actually. It just takes a warm smile and a caring gesture to be able to help someone. As my mom always said, ‘Never underestimate the effect you have on others.’
- You talk a lot about “getting the community together.” So, in a couple of sentences, put that concept into play.
Ever been to a Waldport volleyball game? Or football game? The spirit that comes from that, I want that same spirit to come from our community to help those in need. Families that are struggling. Waldport should be a safe haven for people. Young or old. Black or white. Poor or rich.
- A sentence to define “good customer service.”
Repeating the same thing I’ve said multiple times, without reaching across the counter cause they have interrupted you several times.
- If you were not going into sound production, what would be your second choice and why?
If I wasn’t going into Sound Production, I would go into teaching. I have always had an ability to teach and I understand the importance of hands on, and visual/verbal learning. I feel like I’d be a great teacher.
- Your two favorite candies in the store?
My two favorite candies in the store? Oh jeez, my mom’s salted caramels, and Warhead Minis. BUT DEFINITELY MY MOM’S CARAMELS.
- A favorite story or two with a customer or two interaction in the five years you’ve been in and around the store.
I remember I met this girl one time while working late. Her and her mom came in around 7pm. The moment she walked in, sarcasm took over us both. We sent jokes at each other every chance we got. She was smiling and laughing her mom was enjoying that her daughter was having fun, and I was having a bad day prior to this, and my day got so much better. At the end of the encounter, she thanked me. Sometimes, reading situations is a big play in customer service. And sometimes, I wing it.
If I Was Mayor of Waldport, I would . . .
Nick was quick to point out that Waldport needs permanent festivals, like the Beachcomber Days festival and others. “I think I’d get the citizens and businesses to come together and show how this town is about love, kindness and respect.”
He also has some tips on how to make youth more interested in education, since Lincoln County has one of the highest non-graduation rates in the state.
He is all about teaching diversity, getting youth into the arts, and making sure freedom of choice exists for young people. “Just because a kid is tall, don’t force him into basketball. Or a big kid, don’t force him into football.”
He advocates for better pay for teachers, to allow teachers to have more hands-on learning modules, and to end the forced common core curriculum . . . “so every teacher can go for it and make learning fun.” He’d like to see home economics back, healthier food in the school and to bring in more earth and ecological sciences and activism to the classroom.
His dream is setting up a recording studio in Yachats, with a buddy or two helping design a place where bands and artists can perform in front of an audience with their snacks and libations. “I want the stage to be up against a huge window overlooking the amazing Pacific scenery we have here.”
We’ll be awaiting that day when his dream is fulfilled, and who knows, Mayor Nick might one day be walking along your block with a big band behind him rallying the citizens to come out and love, rejoice and help our fellow men and women. Babies, kids, pets welcomed!