You ask, “how does a guy do it being homeless and starting a business catering cookies?”
Sort of like a latter day “Famous Amos” but without the “famous” tag before his name.

Anyone who knows the story of Wally Amos knows his tale of having been a talent agent who tried to hang his own shingle, but ran up huge amounts of debt.

To take some of the sting out of his shortcoming, he baked cookies from a recipe his Aunt Della used to use; thereby starting an empire that lasts to this day; albeit under different management.

Amos now takes up most of his time being a motivational speaker advocating that parents read to children more often.

Shift to Salem City where Jason Mercado started his own business baking cookies.

“Everyone told me I was crazy, but I thought it was the perfect situation,” said Salem native Jason Mercado, owner of Just Cookies. “I had nothing to lose.”

Mercado, 41, now bakes out of two locations — one in Philadelphia and one in Salem — but his road to owning a cookie business was not always a sweet one.

After growing up in Salem, Mercado decided to move out and see the world when he was approximately 18 years old.

He moved to Philadelphia, met some people and moved to Austin, Texas shortly after.
During his time in Texas, Mercado got involved in the “club scene,” began using drugs and alcohol and ended up spending a couple months in jail.

One day, he received a letter from his sister.

However, when he returned, he saw a different Salem.
So instead of staying in Salem, he moved to an apartment in Philadelphia and got a job at a Starbucks in the city.

“I was there for a few years, then I was transferred to Atlanta, Georgia,” he said.
He was in Atlanta for two years before he was transferred back to Philadelphia in June 2011, only to be laid off a couple months later.

“I had to move out of my apartment and was homeless,” Mercado recalled. “But it was right around the time the Occupy (Philly) people were out. They had tents, three meals and snacks all day, and a place to shower, and that’s all I needed.”

It was during this time that Mercado came up with the idea to start his own business.
He saw a flyer advertising classes — costing $200 — at Entrepreneur Works for those interested in starting a business.

“I didn’t have any money, but I decided to go online and sign up anyway just like I had the $200,” he said.

He attended the class, obtained the book to be used, and then was told tuition was due.
“I could either keep the book at home, or just go and see what happened,” he said. “So, I went to the director and told him I didn’t have the money.”

Mercado told the instructor his predicament.

“He told me to write an essay telling him why the class was important to me, what I wanted to do and why they should keep me in the class,” he said.
During the next class, the instructor told Mercado he wanted to see him after class.
“He said they had one scholarship left and they were going to award it to me,” Mercado said.
And that’s where his success story began.

In early 2012, Mercado moved into the St. John’s Hospice shelter where he began baking out of their kitchen. While there, his shelter helper suggested he go to public assistance for food stamps.

Because he had food, clothing and shelter provided to him through the shelter, he was hesitant, but then had an idea.

“I qualified for $102.50 every two weeks, so I used that money to start my business,” Mercado said. “One week, I would buy cooking utensils. Two weeks later I would print flyers.”

Now, Mercado has partnered with St. John’s Episcopal Church on Market Street in Salem where he bakes dozens of cookies for his Just Cookies cookie catering business.
Father Steve Carroll said Mercado approached him recently about using the church’s kitchen.
Mercado hopes to continue to build his business.

“Never did I imagine it would go to this extreme,” he said. “When I first started the business, I just wanted security — a place to live and money to survive. And now I’m going to use it to teach others. If I never sell another cookie, but can impact one life and give someone hope, it would be worth it.”

And Mercado hopes his story inspires people to use the skills and creativity they have and pursue their dreams and goals.

“If I can start a business with $200 in food stamps, what’s your excuse?” he said.

I guess you can call the $200 in food stamps “seed money.”
But he found a way to use it to get back on his feet and inspire others they can do the same.

Jason Mercado – today’s Ray Ray of Hope!