“It's not just about money with us”
by A.K. Folami
“It's a Family Affair” could be the theme song for Skate Zone, the roller skating rink owned by Debra and Richard Phillips. Located in Morrow, Georgia the facility caters to families and the Phillips list this as the main reason for their success. Debra told BlackBusinessList.com [BBL] it's important the community knows families are always welcome. Richard added competitive admission and skate rental pricing plus good customer service also contribute to the business' longevity.
Even through tough economic times the rink remains open for all scheduled sessions, most of which welcome skaters of all ages and only two catering to specific audiences: the Saturday teen night and Sunday adult skate. Skate Zone's family sessions remain popular with children and adults because of low admission and the family atmosphere. Debra said reasonable prices ensure individuals and families can afford to keep skating in their lives.
Spiritual convictions guide the couple and they feel a duty to “give back” because of their many blessings. Debra explained the rink has certain standards and one of them is the no-sagging rule. Ms Deb has no problem asking men and boys to be better examples and pull up their pants. She typically makes her request one-on-one but other times she's heard on the rink's PA system making an announcement. “What we allow is a reflection of us,” she said. “When you come to someone's home, respect their rules.” Her husband is not so quick to pull customers to the side and jokingly calls his wife the “bad cop” of the duo. On a serious note, he said the two get along great and their work days go by quickly.
Debra shared a secret to their success working together as a couple is they leave business matters at the rink. It might seem they're together all the time but they both also enjoy participating individually in the hobbies and activities that bring them joy away from the business.
Keeping it in the family
Married for 19 years, the Phillips have three sons and intend to keep the rink in the family for generations to come. Richard noted how difficult it is to name one Black-owned business or empire where the wealth of it has passed down through one family. He recounted how he and Debra were two of only a handful of Black rink owners at the Roller Skating Association International's 78th annual convention held in May.
The roller skating industry remains full of Caucasian-owned rinks, many in operation for decades and still run by descendants of the original owners. The Phillips want the same for Skate Zone and made sure their sons, (the oldest now in college majoring in marketing), spent their teen years working in the rink.
“We've owned businesses since they were little,” Debra shared. As parents they've made sure to instill entrepreneurial spirits into their offspring. “Business ownership is important. If you want to make your own rules and build your own equity you have to have your own.”
Previous rink venture
The couple previously co-owned Decatur Family Skate, in operation from 2001 to 2004. Richard knew he wanted to own a business and began associating with the “right people.” He considers that an essential key to success and one that results in “one chapter leading to another.” In their first rink venture, the Phillips had investors and partners. The lessons learned from being in that business seven days a week prepared the two for what would come later: 100% ownership of their own rink.
Richard counts approval of the loan to purchase Skate Zone and the first day of business as his most memorable and overwhelming moments. “It was a great day for our family,” he said of the Nov. 5, 2004 grand opening. Debra added it was also scary not knowing what was around the bend but more than a decade later, after weathering many storms and eating the fruits of success, she says, “I'm blessed to have Rich. We're partners in everything.” Richard referred to himself and his spouse as Bonnie and Clyde. “We're in this together.”
Long time customer Rachel De (far right), a native of New Orleans, moved to Georgia after Hurricane Katrina. Skating relieved a lot of stress in her life during that traumatic time. She fell in love with Skate Zone's owners the first time she met them and speaks highly of the family environment of the rink. She's pictured here with (l to r) daughter Raquel Keyshawn and granddaughters Ty'ana, 3 and Ta'niya, 8.
Advice to future entrepreneurs
As someone adopted at a young age, he encouraged people to push on through difficulties and not let childhood traumas deter them from pursuing their goals. “Whatever you put your heart to, you can do,” he said.” Debra admonished those who think they want a business to count the cost. “It's 24/7. People have to be up for the task.” Your job, she added, is everything. “You can't miss one thing.” As rink owners she said their days continue on even after sessions end. “There's no checking out.”
Do adults still roller skate?
Although Skate Zone has many children and teens as customers, the rink has its share of loyal adult patrons. Non-skaters sometimes express surprise that grown ups still put on skates and “get their roll on.” Dedicated skaters like Rachel De laugh when asked to respond to questions such as, 'Do you still roller skate?' Her response: “Do you still play Bingo?,” in reference to the number of adults who regularly play the game they learned as children.
Keivonta Lawrence encouraged those in doubt to visit a skating facility for themselves. “Come to the rink once and it'll take it from there.” The 24-year-old has been a Skate Zone customer since his teenage years and enjoys his 'me-time' skating as well as the family and friends he regularly sees at the rink.
De skates at several Atlanta area rinks but calls Skate Zone her home away from home and the place she always holds her yearly birthday party. One of the most popular and respected skaters in the area, she unashamedly boasts her love for her favorite past-time, “When I'm on the floor, it's all about me. I'm a celebrity in my own world. I'm in love with my skates and my skates love me.”
What makes this rink different?
Her daughter and two young granddaughters also skate at Skate Zone and the Phillips place the entire family on the list of the rink's longest term customers. Such connections help them know they're on the right track. “It's not just about money with us,” Debra said, adding that they always try to treat people fair. Richard said one thing that makes the business stand out is that he and Debra emphasize the family atmosphere and personally interact with those who spend money and time at their facility. “We like to be visible and accessible to our customers.”
Connect with Skate Zone: (770) 960-1400, 6766 Mount Zion Blvd., Morrow, GA, or on Facebook: SkateZoneMorrow
BlackBusinessList.Com had the chance to spend some time at Iwi Fresh Garden Day Spa on Tuesday May 19, 2015. The spa hosted our "Business Networking After Hours" event for our Atlanta Chapter.
The day spa is owned by Yolanda Owens and features all natural ingredients for all of their skin care products. No artificial ingredients are used. Owens, goes to local farmers and gets fresh natural ingredients to create her formulas. The spa's clients can then pick and choose which ingredients they want used on their skin in their spa treatments.
Iwi Fresh is also a full service spa. Clients can get everything from mani/pedis to full massage sessions. There is even a barbershop on site for men, where they can get haircuts and hot shaves.
Located in downtown Atlanta, Iwi Fresh is situated in a very convenient and upscale location. Parking is available on the street in front of the spa or in a parking garage nearby. When in Atlanta, you should definitely give them a visit.
A few photos of their spa and their web link is below.
Iwi Fresh Garden Day Spa
Creativity sets cafe owners apart from the pack
by A.K. Folami
Thinking outside the box remains the standard in this age of start-ups and business ventures conceived in the minds of non-conformist, youthful-minded entrepreneurs like Jahari (J.T.), 37, and Tolanda (Toi), 40, Tabor, owners of PotatoHeadZ Cafe (PHZ), a unique eatery with a potato-based menu.
The PHZ grand opening took place in January at the restaurant's location on Main Street in downtown College Park. Five months later the establishment continues to rake in positive reviews as satisfied and oft-returning customers spread the word and play key roles in the PotatoHeadZ success story.
Celeste Hall, one of those customers, called PHZ a “jewel in College Park.” One recent Tuesday evening she spoke with BlackBusinessList.com (BBL) and praised the exemplary customer service she receives on every visit. She went on to express how good it makes her feel to walk in and receive a welcome from people genuinely happy to see her. “It's important to support businesses that cater to you,” she said, stressing the importance of Blacks patronizing Black-owned companies, especially those that strive for excellence.
The Tabors take great pride in their restaurant and how it stands out from the pack. Whether it's spelling potatoes with a 'Z' instead of 'S' or recording video reactions of first-time customers and posting them on Facebook, the couple's creativity propels them into a category of their own making. Toi told BBL the pair wanted PHZ to stand out and not blend in with the image many expect from Black-owned establishments.
College Park vs Buckhead
J.T. shared that one of the challenges the young restaurant faces relates to demographics. He explained that his wife and he knew the cafe would do better in Buckhead or Peachtree City but they wanted to start out in College Park. Even in the weeks prior to opening, while renovating and cleaning up the place, Toi recalls neighborhood visitors popping in and upon finding out about PHZ, telling the Tabors they should consider locations in North Atlanta.
“Just because a restaurant is Black-owned doesn't mean it's ghetto or trifling,” Toi said, addressing the assumptions some have about businesses in predominantly Black areas and that they won't attract a diverse customer base.
She and J.T. hold PHZ to high standards of cleanliness, customer service, food preparation and menu selection. She went on to say they even draw a line with sagging, refusing to take orders or even employment applications from individuals with their pants hanging below their hips, a style popular with many youth but criticized by numbers of adults.
Not to give the wrong impression, the Tabors love young people and employ several students from nearby Frank McClarin High School. They have learned, however, that although the school teaches teens book knowledge, youth still suffer from lack of education in life skills like knowing how to fill out a job application or resume, how to dress for an interview, how to balance a checkbook or how to use critical thinking to solve problems.
The value of 'giving back'
PHZ's owners understand the need to “give back” and partner with the school to provide part time employment for young people who will learn cash and time management and food preparation. By the end of their employment term, ideally the students will be able to move on and not only work in entry level positions for other establishments but have the confidence and skill set to step in and run a kitchen if necessary.
Symbolically taking youth by the hand and passing on skills and opportunity is “vital” and something Tolanda said other communities have done after undergoing long-time oppression. She recounted how her and a young employee carried on a discussion comparing and contrasting the Jewish holocaust and the history of Blacks with American slavery.
“The difference between the two is that after the holocaust all of the Jewish people got together to rebuild their community. After slavery we all split up and went separate ways,” she said. “If we would have stuck together we'd be a lot further along than we are right now.”
The couple went on to have a son, marry in 2006, move to Atlanta in 2009 and both served as chef contractors for Halliburton in Iraq; J.T. at the U.S. Embassy from 2008 to 2011 and Toi from 2012 to 2013. She worked in southern Iraq and fed up to 10,000 troops per meal. An injury forced her back home and afterward, they both decided they wanted to have their own business.
Their first thought was to operate a food truck but after weighing several factors, they opted for a sit-down location. Toi explained that in deciding what product to focus on, they asked, 'What's the most abundant food that's naturally in the earth?' Potatoes came out on the top of the list and that's what they based their menu on. Their first choice of business name was already in use by another eatery so they allowed the creative juices to flow again to come up with PotatoHeadZ.
The labor of love continues and plans are to open additional cafes in other neighborhood locations and also at the airport. All things, however, to take place in stages, according to Toi. She listed the most popular ordered dishes as the Buffalo Chicken Friez, the Rib Friez and the Cheeseburger Friez. Ms Hall said the rib tips were her favorite dish for several months but now the menu selection she likes best is the vegetarian Broccoli & Cheeze stuffed potato.
The PHZ menu is full of creative items but they represent less than 25% of the selections the two chefs have in their goody bags. Toi said she wants staff members to master the cooking of current menu items before adding new selections.
PHZ serves meals from breakfast through dinner, Monday through Saturday at
3719 Main St., College Park, GA 30037, 470-891-8783. Find them on social media under PotatoHeadz Cafe.
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