The engineer who drives a Zamboni.
The welder who creates tables out of Porsche engines.
The teacher who makes macarons.
The dance instructor who does six other things.
The machinist who forges custom knives.
The social worker who “credit churns”—applies for numerous credit cards in order to obtain the sign up bonuses. (And who has a shirt made out of credit cards.)
Soldier-turned-Porsche table maker
by Robbie Spencer
It’s not every day you put an item on eBay and it gets purchased … by eBay.
Such is life for self-proclaimed tinkerer Greg Melartin, a National Guard veteran whose love of metal and cars has transformed into a thriving side hustle crafting tables and other home goods out of old engines.
Melartin, 33, has always loved playing with any vehicle that has wheels.
“I was the kid that took parts of everyone’s bikes,” he says. “I tore apart my bike every weekend and greased it up.”
Jesse James of biker reality TV fame was an early inspiration for Melartin’s love of all things metal.
“The mechanical aspects of it really get me,” he says of his hobby. “I sought out opportunities to learn how to work with metal, play with stuff. When I was growing up, my uncle had a chopper shop with his best friend. I learned about painting there, and realized I like to work with my hands, painting, bending metal.”
The Spring Valley resident moved to the area from New Jersey along with his wife and now four-year-old daughter. He worked as a security professional after serving two deployments in Afghanistan. He’s done personal security detachments, worked as a jailer for a time, and is now a welder and fabricator for a construction company. Security was a natural transition from serving, but welding was always his true passion.
“I invested all my play money into welders and metal, car parts, all the crazy crap,” Melartin says.
He’s even gone to the local high school and taught students about welding.
“It’s sad, but the trades aren’t being taught in school anymore.”
Back in 2015, a friend of his had the ambitious idea of building a race car using a Mustang mod motor. The idea, and the Mustang, collected dust in Melartin’s garage. After a while, he told his friend it was time to get rid of the thing—it was getting in the way of Melartin’s hobby.
“It sat there for the longest time. I did all my work on a wood bench in there, so I asked my friend to get it out.”
All of the sudden, Melartin realized he had a dirty metal motor in his garage, just waiting to be crafted into a beautiful table. His inspiration came from an episode of the wildly popular car show “Top Gear.”
“What most people do is they’ll take the [motor’s] connecting rods and bolt it to the deck through head bolts and just set a piece of glass on it,” Melartin explains.
That wasn’t enough for this tinkerer.
“I had to take it to the extreme. I really got in there and cleaned it all—I cut the nose off the crank, and painted it a burnt-orange, rust color. I covered all the machine/aluminum surfaces in a light layer of grease and then spray painted it.”
The spray paint formed a shell that Melartin was able to peel off, revealing a smoothed out surface that could be easily polished. He cut out little eighth-inch thick steel discs that sat in the engine’s cylinders, welded the connecting rods to the cylinder walls so the pistons would actually be coming out of the cylinder, and quite literally brought the engine back to life.
“I made it so some pistons were lower and some higher like the engine was actually running.”
The end result was a black, burnt-orange, polished aluminum engine table. He threw it up on eBay and it sold a couple months later … to an eBay server building based out in Utah. The company placed the table in its motors conference room.
“Pretty cool for selling my first piece!” Melartin says.
While the table still sat on eBay waiting to be sold, another man contacted Melartin about making a table out of a Porsche engine. One thing led to another, and now he’s taking on commissioned work from people who’ve heard about his engine table art pieces. The engine tables run from $800 to $8,000.
He’s also made clocks (starting at $100) out of old clutch pieces. He makes lamps out of carburetors. He’ll basically make anything you want from your favorite vehicle’s old parts.
After viewing this as a hobby for many years, Melartin is close to turning his side hustle into something more.
“[The money I’ve made] all goes back into tools. I haven’t made much, but I’m finally at the point where I’m making a little money,” he says. “Hopefully one day it’ll take off.”
Along with his side hustle, Melartin is a bit of a history buff when it comes to cars—he does some nonprofit work dedicated to teaching the public about the hot rod and the rockabilly lifestyle. This work culminates every year with an annual Spring Valley celebration called Fins and Films. It’s typically the second weekend in July, just after Independence Day. There’s burnouts, live music, rockabilly blues. And the coolest part—the event turns part of the town back into a drive-in movie theater.
“We pull up a semi right on the main drag on Broadway. People throw out picnic blankets, bring lawn chairs, popcorn, and we watch movies,” he says. “You’re out there surrounded by classic cars and it’s just awesome.”
All of these initiatives are centered on Melartin’s love for welding, and making things. He relishes getting the table mounts just right, leaving some room for adjustability. Painting, polishing, finding that old, beat up engine that’s ripe for a makeover. He loves the whole process.
“You’ve gotta enjoy what you’re doing. This is my release—I enjoy welding, fabricating, making stuff,” he says. “I do like to jump around a lot, but when you’re working for others … I thoroughly enjoy whenever I complete a project, but the little stuff is what I really enjoy.”
There is one thing he doesn’t like, something that even this writer can relate to.
“I despise deadlines,” he says.
Le Petit Sweet
by Abby Ashbacher
If life really is all about the little things, then Madeline Allen has it down pat.
Allen, an adjunct English instructor at Rochester Community and Technical College, bakes out of her tiny studio apartment as a way to relieve stress. When she tackled the top of her “baking bucket list”—the macaron—Maddie Mae Macarons was born.
“I didn’t expect to pull them off right away,” Allen says of the French confections. “They’re not something you can just whip up and throw in the oven—there are a lot of steps.”
Macarons—not to be confused with macaroons, those chewy golden coconut clusters—are delicate meringue cookie sandwiches that date back to 16th-century royalty. Arrayed in every shade of the rainbow, Allen says the aesthetic is what drew her to these seemingly pretentious pastries.
“My philosophy has always been to make them for everybody,” she says. “You can make them approachable and fun, but still beautiful.”
The majority of Allen’s orders are received online at maddiemaemacarons.com—a website that she designed herself. She also takes all the photos of her colorful creations (on an iPhone, mind you). This one-woman success story doesn’t see herself as a business owner, though.
Allen graduated from John Marshall High School in 2007 and earned her Master of Fine Arts from Eastern Washington University. Spending time in the kitchen with her parents growing up evolved into “procrastibaking,” as Allen calls it, while attending college. When in need of a break from writing papers, she would bring in trays of goods to class. Her friends convinced her they were quality enough to sell.
Word of mouth spread quickly, and requests for parties and holidays started rolling in (on average two per week). From book clubs to baby showers, Allen began experimenting and expanding her flavor offerings.
Some of her favorites over the past year include Fruity Pebbles, Halloween-themed macarons with monster cookie dough filling, and red velvet for Valentine’s Day. The largest order she’s ever done was 12 dozen—that’s 144 cookies—for a wedding. She charges $24 per dozen.
“It’s been a labor of love,” says Allen. “It’s something I get to do—I never want it to get to a point where I hate doing it because then, what’s the point?”
It takes around three hours to make a batch, with each yielding about one and a half dozen macarons. Depending on numbers, Allen bakes between three and four batches per week.
As if her schedule wasn’t full enough, Allen balances her sweet tooth and endless sugary samples by teaching fitness classes at Pure Barre four days a week.
“I’m a champion of self-care,” she says. “You have to be very in touch with your own personal health and needs—drink enough water, exercise, rest when you need to.”
Allen describes herself as an introvert and homebody, and lives with her “sassy and spoiled” cat Theodore. She doesn’t, she says, have enough space and storage: Tubs of equipment and ingredients line her living room.
“Baking can be lonely,” Allen says. “Being able to interact with customers [at Rochester Farmers Market’s Holiday Bazaar in December] was really fun.”
What’s next for Allen? More events—for one, her macaron-iversary in April. And someday a larger kitchen with plenty of storage and counter space (and maybe even a double oven).
by Robbie Spencer
Josh Rocholl’s family, like many in the North, has the love of hockey running through its veins. Josh and his wife, Jamie, have three children, all of whom play the sport. Their high school-age son has played since he was four, and two daughters—one in middle school and the other in kindergarten—have played hockey at some point.
“We figured [Josh] was spending enough time at the hockey rink, he might as well be paid to be there,” Jamie says.
And so Rocholl, 37, who’s an engineer by day, started working some of the hours he spent at Graham Arena as a Zamboni driver.
The Rocholl family moved to Rochester from Madison in 2013, and Josh began driving the Zamboni a year later. (“Luckily, there’s a lot of Green Bay Packers fans in Rochester,” he says with a laugh.)
Rocholl says it wasn’t too difficult to pick up skills needed to drive the Zamboni.
“I watched a DVD on how to operate it, and the best way to learn is hands-on training. At Graham Arena, we have someone who’s certified in ice maintenance. There’s not many individuals around the country with that certification, so he had me watch the video and then trained me how to run [the Zamboni].”
It’s all, Josh says, about learning how to drive blind … and getting the hang of how to skid through wet ice.
“You can’t see the front of the machine when you’re turning. Once you’ve driven an all-wheel drive vehicle that you’re intentionally putting water under like a Zamboni, it definitely makes you a better [regular vehicle] driver in weather—you get used to controlling the vehicle when it skids.”
The move to pick up the side hustle was prompted by the sheer amount of time he already spent at the rink with his son, who’s been playing hockey for more than a decade.
“I’m only cutting the edge [that’s the cool term for driving the Zamboni] every hour or so. I do other stuff around the rink—sweep the floors, take out garbage, make sure kids aren’t breaking stuff,” he says.
Rocholl also helps out around Graham Arena when there are events going on, or just making sure the kids don’t get too wild when games are being played. Since Graham is located on the county fairgrounds, he’s helped out with the fair, various dart and pool tournaments, and other sporadic events as a Parks and Recreation employee.
His day job as senior project engineer at McNeilus Truck in Dodge Center doesn’t conflict with the weekend, so he’s able to work the Zamboni about once a week on average. The money he makes goes to a familiar expense.
“I mostly spend the money on hockey equipment,” he says. “My son’s a goalie, so it can get more expensive [than for the other players]. He plays competitively on club teams in the winter and summer—summer hockey clubs aren’t cheap! And there’s travel associated with them.”
How has he been able to juggle raising a family, working a full-time job, and a weekend side hustle? You need a good partner to make it all work, he says.
“I probably have the most organized wife ever,” Josh says. “She maintains our home calendar, and it’s shared on all of our devices. Both girls do competitive dance four to five days a week, then competitions in the spring. So we divide and conquer based on the schedule.”
Aside from the extra cash driving Zamboni brings in, Rocholl said there’s definitely some entertainment value being one of the local drivers.
“I have seen or know most of the kids around my son’s age,” he says. “They try to get away with a few extra things that they shouldn’t, just because they know who I am.”
There are also some extra perks for his kids.
“Because I’m a driver, they get in to open hockey more frequently. And my son knows all the other Zamboni drivers, since some of them coach hockey.”
Travel-Hacking Social worker
by Maggie Ginsberg
Juan Vasquez has been a school social worker in Rochester for 13 years—not exactly the large-living, globetrotting, jet-setting type. But, last year, his side hustle earned he and his wife, Erin, $8,000 in airfare and lodging. All they had to do was apply for new credit cards.
They each have 20.
“When I talk to my friends and they tell me they have one or two credit cards, I just think gosh,” says Vasquez, “you guys are leaving money on the table.”
It’s called travel hacking, or credit-churning, and it’s legal. When credit card companies dangle big sign-up bonuses, it’s in the hopes of luring new customers into racking up high-interest balances they’ll never pay off. But Vasquez always pays the full bill every month, so he never accrues charges.
“We’re very frugal. We’re not out there spending more money,” Vasquez says. “They don’t like us because of the fact that it is a game, and we’ve become very, very savvy at being able to churn these cards.”
Vasquez and his wife are busy people. Between work and their three kids’ activities, it’s difficult to imagine another way the working family could ever afford to fly off on fun vacations. Years ago, Vasquez’s in-laws suggested the couple try using a credit card sign-up bonus once in a while to earn some travel points. Maybe the whole family could travel together once a year. At first, Vasquez didn’t think much of it.
“But as time went on I was like ‘Wait, why are we only applying for these cards when there’s a special?’” says Vasquez. “What if we applied, essentially, non-stop?”
That’s what he did. Turns out, it was shockingly easy.
Typically, Vasquez works on one credit card at a time. He applies, then patiently and diligently meets the requirements of the sign-up bonus. In most cases, this yields a 15 to 20 percent return on all purchases that can be used towards travel. In January, he completed a Southwest Airlines promotion that earned one free companion ticket on unlimited flights for the next two years, plus 128,000 points. He doesn’t yet know how they’ll use this windfall yet—the couple only used half of last year’s $8,000 in travel credits so far.
“It’s nice to have that amount of money just waiting for us to decide what trip we want to take next,” says Vasquez, before admitting that he’s become addicted to the game itself. He loves trying new strategies, and connecting with the vast online community of fellow travel-hackers he’s discovered.
He’s grateful his addiction doesn’t extend to spending itself—that would be a different story, he says. If you’re already struggling with debt, steer clear of these promotions.
But for those who can practice discipline and not get caught up in overspending, it’s a real opportunity, one Vasquez is happy to share. He even teaches a popular community ed course to show locals how to travel hack like him (and he’s got a class coming up on May 2). He shares strategies and addresses misconceptions, the most common being that credit churning hurts your credit score.
“What I came to find out was in many cases, it actually helps your credit,” says Vasquez.
Credit scores in part are based on how much of your extended credit you utilize. The more cards you have, the more credit you have available—the less of it you use, the higher your score. He tries not to ever cancel a card—that would negatively impact his score—but he downgrades to drop the annual fees.
With each new application he takes an initial ding of 10 to 15 points on his credit score, but it generally rebounds within weeks.
“By the time we’re ready to apply for another card, my score is back up. And honestly, in many cases it’s actually a little bit better than it was before I started.”
Vasquez doesn’t know if he can keep this up forever; the longer he’s been at it, the more roadblocks he’s seen from credit card companies growing wise to his ways. But for now, Vasquez’s side hustle has brought tremendous value to his quality of life. Besides that, it’s fun. He didn’t invent the game. But as long as credit card companies keep offering, he’s going to keep playing.
“I’m not willing to slow down, I enjoy doing this,” Vasquez says. “Until they shut me down, it’s not gonna happen.”
Knifemaker and Guild Organizer
by Maggie Ginsberg
Jeb Taylor’s 20-year U.S. Army career took him all around the world. But he never imagined one day he’d be handcrafting and selling 250 custom knives a year out of his own shop in Rochester, or that he’d start the Midwest’s first knifemaking guild. The Colorado native had loved knives since he was a kid, but he never connected them with making money. And Minnesota sure as heck wasn’t on his radar.
Taylor joined the Army straight out of high school. He was stationed in North Carolina, but he traveled just about everywhere. During an assignment in Rochester about 15 years ago, Taylor said he met and fell in love with “a Rochester girl” named Jessica. They got married, settled back down in North Carolina, had two kids. But she made one thing clear from the get-go: As soon as the Army was done with him, they were moving up to Rochester for good.
Taylor’s interest in knives continued to follow him wherever he went. In the Philippines, he watched a local knifesmith work and wondered if he could ever do the same. What he didn’t know was there was a thriving knife-making community right in his own backyard.
“The southeastern United States, there’s more high-end knifemakers down there than you can shake a stick at,” he says.
When he wasn’t traveling on duty, Taylor started playing around in his hot, dusty garage, making his own knives. They weren’t very good, but it sure was fun.
Then he learned about knifemaking guilds, where other enthusiasts gathered to network and learn. He started dropping by a local meeting when he could. One day, a member invited him to his shop, which happened to be only ten minutes from Taylor’s house.
“That was the worst mistake he ever made,” Taylor laughs, “because I was over there all the time after that.”
Then, in 2017, everything changed.
“I got medically retired,” Taylor says, “after getting my bell rung a few times.”
It marked the end of his career. But it was the beginning of a dream side hustle.
Taylor got connected with the U.S. Special Operations Command Warrior Care Program (So-Com Care Coalition), which helps veterans transition into meaningful work programs utilizing internships, among other supports.
“Those guys are geniuses. If you told them you wanted to be a dolphin trainer, they would find you a way to do an internship at Sea World,” Taylor says. His own personal version of Sea World? A North Carolina company manufacturing production knives and high-end knife grinders, at which he accepted a 10-month toolmaking internship.
“That changed the arc of my life, honestly.”
Taylor was already starting to get the hang of knifemaking. But the internship taught him the business side: How to take a knife from idea to prototype to finished product, how to improve processes on a timeline. When the program wrapped up, the Taylors left North Carolina for good. True to his word, they moved to Rochester.
This time, he set up a climate-controlled shop where he started making quality one-of-a-kind knives from scratch and putting them up for sale. At the same time, he used his veteran’s education benefits to enroll in the tool and die program at Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona.
“I’d like to work in the field, because making knives is really machining at its core,” says Taylor. “It’s advanced my learning curve immensely.”
But he’s not giving up his side hustle.
From the start, Taylor found customers for his work, who immediately recognized the passion and knowledge he poured into each piece. A good knife depends on a complex balance of quality metals and specific heat treating processes. Forging, grinding, handle fitting—it isn’t cheap. Jeb Taylor Knives sell for $140 to $200 each. That first year in Rochester, in 2018, he sold 75 knives. The next year he sold 250.
Best of all, it never felt like work.
“I enjoy the concentration. It’s very thought clearing, just the calmness of it,” Taylor says. “I think for a lot of people leaving the military, it’s maybe good to have a place where you can just focus on the present. Like a meditation practice. Focus on what’s right in front of you right now, as opposed to the enormity of what’s in your head.”
Still, Taylor missed the community he’d found in North Carolina. He’d been shocked to learn that one of the biggest knife components and materials supply houses in the world—Midwest Knifemakers— happens to be in Mankato. And his own sales proved there were other knifesmithing enthusiasts around, he just had to find them. So he scoured Instagram for people posting photos of beautiful knives, then sent messages introducing himself. One by one, the Midwest Knifemakers Guild was formed.
Now an official 501c3 nonprofit with quarterly meetings and 206 members from five states, the Midwest Knifemakers Guild is the only one in the Midwest. Everyone is welcome, says Taylor, from master bladesmiths to novices who are just like he once was: obsessively curious. Everybody’s got to start somewhere.
And you never know where it’ll go.
Full-time side hustler
by Maggie Ginsberg
Close your eyes, and point to a random day on Emily Whitcomb’s color-coded calendar. Guarantee you’ll find her somewhere different.
She might be over at Tippi Toes Dance Studio, where she teaches ballet and tap to kids 15 hours a week. Or Join the Journey, the breast cancer nonprofit where she puts in 20. Together, these take the bulk of her time, so all other side hustles are assigned a color: Mayo Clinic—where she serves in the standardized patient program—gets blue. Teal is for gigs singing and playing with her acoustic duo, Going Up. Shifts at Salem Glen Winery are green; the violin, French horn and guitar lessons she teaches are yellow. If there’s time for anything personal, that’s purple.
It makes for a dizzying rainbow, but Whitcomb wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m always hungry for opportunity, and I love that my schedule is so flexible that I can dial my jobs up or down depending on my needs,” says Whitcomb. “Especially for the opportunities coming in the future that I don’t even know about yet.”
Whitcomb grew up in the small community of Chatfield, where she learned to pursue her passions regardless of opportunity. She started violin lessons at four years old, and dance and acting not long after. Her dad is a folk instrument maker, so she picked up the baritone ukulele and taught herself. She couldn’t find many songs arranged for odd instruments, so she learned to write her own.
After graduating with a psych-ology major from Winona State University, she went to work full time at a drug rehabilitation center. It was important, satisfying work, but her shift started at 5:30 a.m.—which left her afternoons open for anything else that caught her interest. And something always did.
“I started having opportunities to do these little side things, and after a while my side gigs got in the way of my full-time job,” says Whitcomb. “So I decided to quit the full-time job and just pursue where my heart was leading me.”
Each of Whitcomb’s side gigs fulfills her in different ways. Most meaningful is Join the Journey, the local nonprofit breast cancer advocacy center that provided so much support when Whitcomb’s mom was enduring her second go-round with cancer.
Whitcomb was 14 at the time, so it was a powerful, formative experience. When the opportunity came ten years later to serve as Join the Journey’s only paid employee—bookkeeping, admin, social media, donations, event planning—she jumped at the chance.
“It’s amazing to be surrounded by people who are really giving their time to this organization, and all the money we raise in Southeast Minnesota stays right here in Southeast Minnesota,” Whitcomb says. She gets to see the impact of that money firsthand, and she knows how much it means. Her mother is healthy today.
Whitcomb also gets to feel like she’s making a difference with Mayo’s Standardized Patient Program. As one of 80 local actors at the teaching hospital, she might be called in to participate in a practice procedure like an ultrasound, or pretend to be a mother with a sick child so doctors can practice their bedside manners. Sometimes the marketing team needs actors and models for online content or informational videos. (Some may remember a PG-13 episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer played such a role, “Standardized Patient’s one pop culture reference,” Whitcomb laughs.)
At family-owned Salem Glen Winery, where she often works a Sunday shift, Whitcomb appreciates simply connecting with and enjoying happy people.
“Everyone goes to a winery to relax and have a good time, there’s not that stress and pressure that a lot of service industry jobs have,” she says. Whitcomb’s had the chance to try everything, from picking grapes and bottling to pouring in the tasting room or working events in the community.
“I call it ‘the grape juice factory’ when the little kids ask,” she laughs, referring to her Tippi Toes Dance Studio students, who range in age from 18 months to 12 years old. Whitcomb’s dance instruction isn’t limited to the studio—she offers freelance choreography services for middle and high school musical productions, or anyone who wants help maybe planning a surprise dance at a wedding reception, for example.
She also gives music lessons on a variety of instruments, and the acoustic duo she formed with a friend has been booked at both the Mall of America and Minnesota State Fair.
It sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t feel that way.
“I think the traditional model of the nine-to-five job works really well for some people, and there’s that structure they crave and are satisfied with,” Whitcomb says. “But I came across this quote right around the time I really started focusing on the side hustle. It’s, ‘When you go to work, you shouldn’t have to leave your heart at home.’ That really resonated. I get to bring my heart to all these different jobs.”