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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