DL:RP Series: Matt James (ft Tyler Cameron)

Hello, DeacLinkers! The DL:RP Series returns with a recent addition, Matt James and ABC Food Tours. The fantastic ex-football player has enjoyed a surge of support and activity in the charity program, most notably involving former Wake teammate and Bachelorette sensation Tyler Cameron on NYC tours. Congrats to both Wake athlete alums, we’re proud to share your story!


Matt James: Founder, ABC Food Tours

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Economics

image (11).png

ABC Food Tours founder Matt James recaps his journey from Winston-Salem to NYC, including major lessons about networking, giving back, and hitting your stride after graduation.

DeacLink: Walk us through your path since graduation day, up to the founding and fruition of ABC Food Tours.

Matt James: Man, where to start! I didn’t think I was going to make a career out of football, but I thought my stint in the NFL would be longer than a few months. Fortunately, I had a support system back home in Raleigh (Mom) who allowed me to stay at her house and train while I figured out my next steps. By the end of that first season in 2016 I had moved on from football and off to Pittsburgh for a Corporate & Institutional Banking role in Pittsburgh with PNC. After a 1 ½ years in Pittsburgh, which I loved and still cherish, I spread my wings a flew up to NYC where I felt like I was missing out on life. My first six months were spent couch surfing, navigating the new NYC landscape and deciding if this new role in advertising as a media planner was for me. Ultimately, I left that job (just in time as the company went belly up 12 months later) and took a position as a research analyst at a commercial real estate company called CBRE.

Four months into my CBRE role, I began to realize how much I loved food. I was eating out virtually every meal! I also really missed interacting with kids, since at Wake I was very involved with programs like Eat with the Deacs and Project Pumpkin through SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). I met a group of “kids” who were students from a local neighborhood elementary school P.S. 188- where 50% of the students are homeless- hanging outside my favorite restaurant in the Alphabet City…. way later than they should have been out. We joked on each other for a few minutes then parted ways; they didn’t realize that wouldn’t be the last they saw of me. I reached out to their principal the following morning to set up a time where I could take their students to my favorite restaurant called Bob White’s. Although it was located right in their back yard, the kids had never been inside! This occasion marked the first food tour… the rest is history!

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: You were an athlete at Wake (on the football team). What impact did this have upon your undergrad experience, and did it influence the moves you made upon graduating?

MJ: Being an athlete, I grew to appreciate everything that had been granted to me closer to the end of my time at Wake. Some random person decided it would be a good idea to give Wake over a quarter million dollars to support someone like myself going to college! I’m close to the benefactor, Dr. Stan Rogers, to this day. He changed my life!

Going to Wake also cultured me. I know that sounds crazy as most students would say that a majority of the kids a Wake are pretty similar. It was a chance for me to see peers from across the country all aspiring to be different things; see how being brought up in different areas of the country had quite an influence on the type person you became. It inspired me to want the best for myself and question why I would allow anything less than the very best for myself, why couldn’t I be just like these kids at Wake?

DL: Away from athletics, how much did your studies and general classroom experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

MJ: Looking back, my favorite teachers were professors I had before I even knew I wanted to major in Economics. I have always been business minded, so Econ made the most sense (since I would NOT be taking accounting and making a run at the business school). I would say students, parents, and my interactions with individuals associated with Wake, validated that you didn’t need to be an athlete to be successful. An important mentor for me in this case was Mr. Leak, who was a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley and invited me to intern with him my senior year.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various jobs you’ve held since graduating? Do you have any tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

MJ: The best networking I’ve done was during undergrad at Wake! That being said, it’s never too late. Wake Forest is a family, and alumni are more than willing to help introduce you to the right people and steer you in the right direction. My first job was through a connection I made with a baseball player at Wake (who is one of my boys to this day!). His father put me in contact with someone who linked me to another person, who eventually offered me a job in Pittsburgh! That opportunity came from my willingness to be flexible through the process… like, I would have taken a job in Montana. Nothing is permanent, living experience is invaluable.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MJ: From a student-athlete perspective, I didn’t realize that although being eligible to play GPA-wise was great, that GPA isn’t close to high enough to be competitive in a job market. Good grades matter initially- they can get you seen in a competitive pool. I would also encourage undergrads to connect with as many students as possible. Figure out what their parents do and ask lots of questions because you may be in class with someone whose parents do something super interesting! I’ve found that parents are more than willing to talk to a current college student as opposed to a college grad who is “desperate” for a job.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in NYC? What is the most interesting thing going on in the food scene, in your opinion?

MJ: I love lots of things about living in NYC! Top things being:

Diversity – you have no choice but to be inclusive. The thing about NYC, regardless of your culture, religion, gender, etc. if you’re competent and work hard then you will succeed! You aren’t discriminated against (like some parts of the country) as NYC is a melting pot like no other city.

Opportunity – You are uniquely positioned in a city where there is every industry and influential people all around you. If you’re a mover and shaker, the world is your oyster. The resources are here for anyone to be successful if they choose to apply themselves.

DL: What is your favorite part about running ABC Food Tours? What are your hopes for the future of the program?

MJ: My favorite part of running ABC is working with kids! They’re at an age where they’re super impressionable. No one is born racist or rude; these are all traits that are acquired through influence and experience. If you can positively influence these students at this age, you can potentially change the course of their lives. Also, I love seeing our students try new foods! We went to Blue Ribbon Sushi recently and it was so rewarding watching these 3rd and 4th graders try sushi for the first time. We encourage them to try everything. The kids don’t’ have to like it but they’re able to speak as to why they do or don’t by the end of a tour.

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: How can Wake Forest alumni or current students support ABC?

MJ: The biggest way they can support is by joining us for a tour! We strive to surround our students with individuals who are nothing like them (typically upper middle class, white male/female). This allows them to see for themselves who these people are and not be influenced by their parents and the media on what certain demographics represent. You can also go online and sponsor a tour on our website allowing a student or entire classroom the opportunity to experience these restaurants (and fitness classes now!).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: What and where is next for you?

MJ: I’m headed into brokerage (with CBRE) in a few months so I’m stoked about that! We’ve also launched ABC Fitness which takes students on fitness tours of local gyms in NYC focusing on health and wellness in 2019. We also recently hosted our first international tour in Brixton, London!

DL: That’s fantastic- long may this expansive effort continue! What piece of advice would you like to leave with the readers?

MJ: Be a good person. A smile can go a very long way.


Support ABC Food Tours by visiting their website here.

Follow ABC on IG to keep updated on the latest food and fitness tour activity (Matt’s IG is pretty great too).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Spotlight Interview: Matt James

Matt James: Founder, ABC Food Tours

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Economics

image (11).png

ABC Food Tours founder Matt James recaps his journey from Winston-Salem to NYC, including major lessons about networking, giving back, and hitting your stride after graduation.

DeacLink: Walk us through your path since graduation day, up to the founding and fruition of ABC Food Tours.

Matt James: Man, where to start! I didn’t think I was going to make a career out of football, but I thought my stint in the NFL would be longer than a few months. Fortunately, I had a support system back home in Raleigh (Mom) who allowed me to stay at her house and train while I figured out my next steps. By the end of that first season in 2016 I had moved on from football and off to Pittsburgh for a Corporate & Institutional Banking role in Pittsburgh with PNC. After a 1 ½ years in Pittsburgh, which I loved and still cherish, I spread my wings a flew up to NYC where I felt like I was missing out on life. My first six months were spent couch surfing, navigating the new NYC landscape and deciding if this new role in advertising as a media planner was for me. Ultimately, I left that job (just in time as the company went belly up 12 months later) and took a position as a research analyst at a commercial real estate company called CBRE.

Four months into my CBRE role, I began to realize how much I loved food. I was eating out virtually every meal! I also really missed interacting with kids, since at Wake I was very involved with programs like Eat with the Deacs and Project Pumpkin through SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). I met a group of “kids” who were students from a local neighborhood elementary school P.S. 188- where 50% of the students are homeless- hanging outside my favorite restaurant in the Alphabet City…. way later than they should have been out. We joked on each other for a few minutes then parted ways; they didn’t realize that wouldn’t be the last they saw of me. I reached out to their principal the following morning to set up a time where I could take their students to my favorite restaurant called Bob White’s. Although it was located right in their back yard, the kids had never been inside! This occasion marked the first food tour… the rest is history!

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: You were an athlete at Wake (on the football team). What impact did this have upon your undergrad experience, and did it influence the moves you made upon graduating?

MJ: Being an athlete, I grew to appreciate everything that had been granted to me closer to the end of my time at Wake. Some random person decided it would be a good idea to give Wake over a quarter million dollars to support someone like myself going to college! I’m close to the benefactor, Dr. Stan Rogers, to this day. He changed my life!

Going to Wake also cultured me. I know that sounds crazy as most students would say that a majority of the kids a Wake are pretty similar. It was a chance for me to see peers from across the country all aspiring to be different things; see how being brought up in different areas of the country had quite an influence on the type person you became. It inspired me to want the best for myself and question why I would allow anything less than the very best for myself, why couldn’t I be just like these kids at Wake?

DL: Away from athletics, how much did your studies and general classroom experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

MJ: Looking back, my favorite teachers were professors I had before I even knew I wanted to major in Economics. I have always been business minded, so Econ made the most sense (since I would NOT be taking accounting and making a run at the business school). I would say students, parents, and my interactions with individuals associated with Wake, validated that you didn’t need to be an athlete to be successful. An important mentor for me in this case was Mr. Leak, who was a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley and invited me to intern with him my senior year.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various jobs you’ve held since graduating? Do you have any tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

MJ: The best networking I’ve done was during undergrad at Wake! That being said, it’s never too late. Wake Forest is a family, and alumni are more than willing to help introduce you to the right people and steer you in the right direction. My first job was through a connection I made with a baseball player at Wake (who is one of my boys to this day!). His father put me in contact with someone who linked me to another person, who eventually offered me a job in Pittsburgh! That opportunity came from my willingness to be flexible through the process… like, I would have taken a job in Montana. Nothing is permanent, living experience is invaluable.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MJ: From a student-athlete perspective, I didn’t realize that although being eligible to play GPA-wise was great, that GPA isn’t close to high enough to be competitive in a job market. Good grades matter initially- they can get you seen in a competitive pool. I would also encourage undergrads to connect with as many students as possible. Figure out what their parents do and ask lots of questions because you may be in class with someone whose parents do something super interesting! I’ve found that parents are more than willing to talk to a current college student as opposed to a college grad who is “desperate” for a job.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in NYC? What is the most interesting thing going on in the food scene, in your opinion?

MJ: I love lots of things about living in NYC! Top things being:

Diversity – you have no choice but to be inclusive. The thing about NYC, regardless of your culture, religion, gender, etc. if you’re competent and work hard then you will succeed! You aren’t discriminated against (like some parts of the country) as NYC is a melting pot like no other city.

Opportunity – You are uniquely positioned in a city where there is every industry and influential people all around you. If you’re a mover and shaker, the world is your oyster. The resources are here for anyone to be successful if they choose to apply themselves.

DL: What is your favorite part about running ABC Food Tours? What are your hopes for the future of the program?

MJ: My favorite part of running ABC is working with kids! They’re at an age where they’re super impressionable. No one is born racist or rude; these are all traits that are acquired through influence and experience. If you can positively influence these students at this age, you can potentially change the course of their lives. Also, I love seeing our students try new foods! We went to Blue Ribbon Sushi recently and it was so rewarding watching these 3rd and 4th graders try sushi for the first time. We encourage them to try everything. The kids don’t’ have to like it but they’re able to speak as to why they do or don’t by the end of a tour.

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: How can Wake Forest alumni or current students support ABC?

MJ: The biggest way they can support is by joining us for a tour! We strive to surround our students with individuals who are nothing like them (typically upper middle class, white male/female). This allows them to see for themselves who these people are and not be influenced by their parents and the media on what certain demographics represent. You can also go online and sponsor a tour on our website allowing a student or entire classroom the opportunity to experience these restaurants (and fitness classes now!).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: What and where is next for you?

MJ: I’m headed into brokerage (with CBRE) in a few months so I’m stoked about that! We’ve also launched ABC Fitness which takes students on fitness tours of local gyms in NYC focusing on health and wellness in 2019. We also recently hosted our first international tour in Brixton, London!

DL: That’s fantastic- long may this expansive effort continue! What piece of advice would you like to leave with the readers?

MJ: Be a good person. A smile can go a very long way.


Support ABC Food Tours by visiting their website here.

Follow ABC on IG to keep updated on the latest food and fitness tour activity (Matt’s IG is pretty great too).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: Meagan Hooper

Meagan Hooper: Founder & CEO of bSmartGuide.com

New York City

WFU Class of 2004

Major: Theatre

MHpr.jpg

Meagan Hooper graduated from Wake Forest with a Theater major and enormous amounts of ambition. She soon found herself balancing auditions with part-time work at a hedge fund in New York. Meagan speaks to us now as founder and CEO of bSmartGuide.com, an online platform for women to network and mentor one another. Learn how Meagan’s path since Wake led her to founding this incredible online community.

DeacLink: Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

Meagan Hooper: When I graduated in 2004, my husband and I moved to Italy for the summer for him to teach English and music. In the Fall we moved to New York - a condition of his proposing. ;) I was an aspiring actress with a film and TV agent and manager. I had worked for a regional theater company, the Williamstown Theater Festival, that won a Tony Award and had a film reel from student projects at UNC School of the Arts. I began auditioning for anything and everything from soap operas, Netflix series, network pilots, and feature films. I auditioned for How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Gossip Girl, Law and Order, and High School Musical to name a few.

During this time, I had a freelance job working in finance. Through a fellow WFU Theater Major, Melissa Jones, I met a family who needed a part-time babysitter. The gentleman I babysat for ran an emerging markets equities research firm. I asked him if I could be of any help to him and his business as I was looking for extra work. Being a Wake Forest University Theater Major, I felt confident I could help edit the stock reports and create a monthly newsletter featuring emerging market sectors and stocks. I was really grateful for my liberal arts education because I could apply my versatile education to a field like finance. I worked for his firm on a freelance basis while I auditioned. I gained a tremendous education in finance that year learning on the job. I learned how to value a company, how the stock market works, how to read financial statements, and much more - I found it fascinating! Then, in 2006, I was babysitting again. This time for another Wake Forest graduate and Theater Major, Cambra Overend (key tip here - your college friends are your professional network!).

Through this babysitting job, I became acquainted with a WFU Babcock Business School graduate, who managed a hedge fund. I told him I was an actress who worked for an emerging market equities research firm. He shared that his COO could use an assistant and asked if I would be interested in the role. I accepted on the condition that I could go on auditions as they arose and he agreed. This job exposed me to investment management, which proved even more interesting, dramatic, and fabulous than any of the movies I was auditioning for (including Wall Street 2!).

I continued auditioning, but I realized more and more my heart was back at the office. I would put a stock trade in the market, run to an audition, watch the markets while auditioning for MTV or Nickelodeon, then run back to the office. I found myself really loving the office environment and the people. I was scared that if I booked a part - no matter how big, I would lose this place and the feeling it gave me. I was presented with touring theater opportunities but turned them down to stay, but stayed open to film and short-term national commercial bookings.

In 2008, my mentor and COO of the hedge fund decided to retire. I put myself forward to fill the position, and after much consideration and candidate interviews, was chosen for the role. Fortunately, I was still allowed to leave for auditions even with this increased responsibility. The hedge fund was completely supportive of my performing arts dream, which made endeared them even more to me.

During this time I was experiencing a tremendous amount of success, professionally and personally. An increasing number of people were asking me to get coffee to pick my brain about how to get a raise, a promotion, or what I had learned about personal finance. It became clear to me how mentorship and advice was in scarce supply for women in this industry. I was also noticing firsthand how few women there were in senior positions, not just in finance, but in all industries.

I decided to do something about it. I created a post-college guide - a curriculum for women on how to be successful after college. I drafted a nonfiction book proposal, conducted interviews, pitched the sample publishing houses, and got rejected. I then thought ‘Nobody can stop me online’... so I set up a website. My goal was to create a community where people could share content about how to be smart and mentor each other online.

I launched the site in 2010, providing a place for women to share their advice, watch video interviews featuring smart, successful women, participate in masterclasses, and more. The key at the heart of all this was networking online. Women needed easier access to help one another, in order to share information and increase the number of female leaders and decision makers. Men conduct business with their friends. So if women are going to get ahead professionally, we need to do business with each other.

DL: You launched your site eight years ago. It’s almost as if bSmartGuide.com was ahead of its time.

MH: It definitely was. People didn’t understand the concept of a community blog with a variety of writers, let alone know that bSmartGuide.com was a blog itself. At the time Huffington Post was the only recognizable ‘blog of blogs’ and Facebook was the only online platform people felt comfortable creating a personal profile attached to their name.

DL: Networking seems to be the fulcrum of your platform, and your journey in total. How important is networking to you?

MH: Democratized networking with easy access will be the key to increasing the number of women leaders and decision makers globally. Unfortunately, women are socialized to view networking as ‘asking for something’ or ‘being a bother to someone.’ Instead, the successful men I worked for viewed networking as looking at your circle or the people around you and asking yourself, ‘How can I be helpful to them, and how can they be helpful to me?’ That is the foundation of utilizing your network. If your circle is only comprised of people who don’t want to be helpful to you,, then you should build a new community around yourself and your goals. A woman I recently interviewed shared that you can host a meetup group, create a student group, or move to a different city, to give a few examples for creating your network. It’s very important to be proactive about your network. You can have a LinkedIn connection or a bSmart connection, but it’s only useful if those connections are utilized to help each other.

DL: What is your favorite part about being the Founder of bSmartGuide.com?

MH: I love seeing people recognize their potential, then take action towards that potential. It’s amazing to see that light go on in someone’s mind, realizing their capacity is far bigger than they thought it was. That’s the whole mission of bSmart, for us to help users realize and take steps towards their full potential in our online community and through our content.

DL: Have you got a kernel or two of advice for theatre majors?

MH: I cite my Wake Forest Theatre Major as one of the most influential factors of my success. I was able to capitalize on opportunities by applying the myriad skills I obtained in Theater. I learned how speak with a mantra while performing, how to understand and enact the concept of status, to identify my objective and try different tactics to achieve it, leverage a high emotional intelligence, and developed the ability to make choices with my body and my voice based on the professional role I enacted. All of these things were the cornerstone to crafting the person I wanted to be as a professional.

When I entered the world of New York finance there were very few women leaders, so I borrowed the mindset, characteristics, and behaviors of the men that were successful. Through my ability to play with status in real life situation, identifying my objective whilst trying different tactics within the office environment, I was able to navigate the waters quickly and create the reputation I wanted. I essentially cast myself in the role. Now corporations bring me in to train their associates and managers on the same strategy. I call it “Acting for Success.”

As a theatre major, you have every opportunity and option available to create the life you want. You will always have to learn on the job - even if it’s accounting or finance like me - so don’t limit your vision!

At the conclusion of our interview, Meagan imparted a special message to all female students and alumnae, inviting YOU to join the bSmart movement:

bSmart women utilize our platform for mentorship and networking and have told me they view it as ‘LinkedIn for women.’ We’re flattered by that comparison and to make mentorship and networking even more accessible, we’ve just launched our app for Apple and Android. We’d love for the women of Wake Forest to join us as members or apply to be Campus Ambassadors. If you do join, be sure to say hello and connect with me on bSmart here and join my mentorship group here.