Until recently, Natasha Ouzts wasn’t happy living in Sasebo.

The 31-year-old mother of two found little outside of family life to fulfill her personal need for accomplishment.

“You know that old saying: ‘When Mama’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.’ Well, that’s about the way it was,” recalled Ouzts, wife of Ensign Leonard Ouzts, an electronics maintenance officer on the USS Harpers Ferry, stationed at Sasebo Naval Base in Japan.

At Pacific military bases, spouses and dependents, as well as some servicemembers and civilian employees, possess other talents than those that brought them overseas. As an outlet for those abilities, some choose to operate businesses from home.

People perform lawn maintenance for cash, offer massages and manicures and share expertise in cosmetology, bake and sell cakes and other goodies. They cater, repair computers, type résumés, shoot photography and video, and teach piano, guitar and language.

Some of these entrepreneurs do it to earn extra money. Others simply seek the satisfaction that comes from sharing the fruits of their creativity; still others find fulfillment in knowing they provide goods or services not otherwise available on base but in community demand.

But starting a home business isn’t easy. The sponsor’s command must approve the businesses annually; base leadership also must give a thumbs-up. And there are plenty of rules and regulations to jump through first.

The right job

Ouzts felt she was stagnating at home while her husband sailed the high seas, so she considered getting a base job. None of the available positions caught her interest, and she soon realized child care for Leonard Jr., 9, and Taliah, 5, would cost more than the jobs paid.

“I didn’t want to work for nothing,” she said.

Then she attended a Pampered Chef party, which demonstrates cooking techniques and takes orders for various kitchen tools and gadgets the company makes.

“I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I could do that,’” she said. In June, she signed up as a Pampered Chef kitchen consultant, “and I truly enjoy what I’m doing now,” she said from her kitchen, briskly stirring ingredients for a cake.

She finds great satisfaction in operating a home business. She also appears to be pretty good at it. Based on earnings in September, when she headlined six Pampered Chef kitchen shows, “I made $749 in commissions, and that’s a killin’ to me,” Ouzts said.

She spent about 30 hours planning and attending parties and doing other tasks. Ouzts made $25 per hour that month for a part-time home business, and had no need to ladle her income into a child-care center’s pot.

“The main thing … doing this business is something for me. It’s something I don’t have to take my kids to, and I … meet a lot of very interesting people,” Ouzts said. “It doesn’t interfere with my family time. I can do it when I want to, and I don’t have to worry about clocking in, so to speak. If I want, I can take a vacation.”

How sweet it is

At Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, about 150 people run businesses from their homes, said Kyna Weaver, career focus program manager at the Family Support Center.

Most are spouses, such as Kathy Shoemaker, 34, who sells homemade chocolates and gift baskets.

Turning a pastime into a commercial enterprise was hardly in her life plan, she said.

“I never did this as a business until I moved here to Yokota” three years ago, she said. “I just did it for Christmas presents.”

But one year ago, a co-worker who was the beneficiary of one of Shoemaker’s chocolates asked if she could pay for chocolates for her family.

Shoemaker agreed but not before someone who overheard the conversation told her she would need a business license.

“So I went and got the license, and it just took off,” Shoemaker said recently, while melting chocolate in her kitchen.

Nothing But Sweets by Kathy is one of the more successful home businesses at Yokota, Weaver said.

Shoemaker and the others who do well “are very committed, very good at what they do and very customer-service oriented,” she said.

Shoemaker spends about 15 hours per week juggling chocolate making with substitute teaching and leading her daughter’s Girl Scout troop.

She does earn some profit — “I charge a little bit over my cost,” she said — but dipping pretzels in fudge and creating white-chocolate lollipops with blue snowflake designs isn’t about the money.

“It’s more of a hobby,” she said. “This is my fun job.”

Shoemaker’s chocolate making started when she was 16 and her mother signed up Shoemaker and her sister for a class on the craft. Over the years, her collection of plastic molds used to shape chocolate into myriad designs has grown to more than 250.

She and Pampered Chef consultant Ouzts likely would be ecstatic showing each other their cooking tools and gadgets.

Shoemaker makes chocolates for baby showers, weddings, parties and the holidays. Her busiest times are Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day. Her cut-off for Christmas orders this year was Dec. 20.

She said chocolate-covered Oreo cookies are her most popular item. The sweet concoction is easy to make: She pours melted chocolate into a cookie mold; taps it for air bubbles; dips and covers the cookie; and finally, pops the mold in the freezer for several minutes.

Besides plain, Shoemaker uses mint, peanut butter and chocolate cream Oreo flavors, which she buys from a friend in the States. They sell for 75 cents.

Because rules regulating home enterprises on military bases prohibit her from buying products on base to use in her products, she orders online from Candyland Crafts, and buys gift bags and wrappings from 100 Yen stores in Japan.

Shoemaker shares ideas about her craft with chocolate makers from around the world through an Internet message board.

Most people find out through word-of-mouth or at the Family Support Center’s home business expo, held on the second Saturday of the month. “They let us start selling our merchandise,” she said.

Her advice to new entrepreneurs: “A lot of times, you don’t get a lot of business when you first start out. Be persistent. I used to make candy and take it to the schools, and that drummed up a lot of business.”

Sewing it up

Elsie Leitzke, 44, is a busy lady. She takes care of her family and home in Ume Tower at the Hario Housing Village in Sasebo, and as if that’s not enough, she also operates LC’s Basic & Simple Alterations from home.

The petite seamstress-for-hire is married to Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Leitzke of Assault Craft Unit One; he operates and maintains four Landing Craft Utilities, or LCUs, in Sasebo. They have three children: James, 14, Brandon, 7, and 4-year-old Samantha.

Her sewing service has a direct impact on sailors stationed at the small southern Japan base, where the family has lived for five years.

“For many years, I have been sewing on the patches the sailors need on the uniforms, and doing hems on the slacks and buttons and other things,” Leitzke said. “I’d always done it for free because it was guys my husband worked with.”

“Then, as people heard I was doing this through the years, it became more and more and more. So finally, I told my husband I wanted to charge for what I do,” she explained.

“I mean, the main reason I do it is because I really enjoy it; it’s not about the money. But it would be a way for me to get a little money for my effort, because I don’t charge them too much.”

To sew a new patch on a uniform, she charges $2; hemming a pair of slacks costs just $3.

For the sailors she serves, her greatest selling point might be speed. In her classified ad published in Sasebo Soundings, the base newspaper, her one-day turnaround service is emphasized.

“Most of them are so happy that I get sewing done so fast, that many of them want to give me extra money,” Leitzke said, laughing. “If they take it to the base (Navy Exchange) alteration service, they tell me it takes three or four weeks to get it back.”

Leitzke also enjoys baking delicious Filipino pandesal rolls, as well as ensemada, a Filipino sweet roll, for her family and friends. She spends what little time she has left working on Japanese arts and crafts.

Based upon friends’ interest, she may incorporate the baking and craftsmanship into her command-approved home business operation in the near future, she said.

The Leitzke and Ouzts families live a stone’s throw from each other, and each businesswoman praised the other’s efforts. Ouzts said such home businesses assist in maintaining military readiness, even if only indirectly.

“Sometimes, you come to realize that the ladies just want to get together at these Pampered Chef parties. Maybe you might not have a lot of sales … but it’s just a reason for the ladies to enjoy socializing and getting to know each other. I think that does a lot for the morale of the spouses,” she said.

“That aspect also helps the military person too, because if the spouses are happy, then the military person’s happy. They can function better, and they will do their jobs better,” Ouzts said.

“When I wasn’t happy, my husband wasn’t happy; you know how that can go.”

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now