Business Person of the Month : Claire Herthum Major

EBRPL Business Person, EBRPL Business Tip

­ClaireArtvark, Ltd, LLC
Claire Herthum Major, Owner/Designer
672 Jefferson Hwy.
Baton Rouge, LA
(225) 778-5160
 “The artful design of living and work space”

Claire Major, owner/designer of Artvark, Ltd. specializes in art, interior design and decorating.  The shop features antiques and vintage furniture along with other items such as original artwork from local artists (and beyond!).  Artvark, Ltd. can be hired to do a re-design of existing items or space or for renovations of space with new interior design.  If you want a new, fresh look using a combination of your own furniture or accessories or if you are looking for a complete renovation or redesign, Claire Herthum Major of Artvark wants to help.

The showroom offers an eclectic mix with a modern vibe and is composed mostly of vintage and mid-century modern furnishings and accessories. There is an abundance of beautiful things from times past that with a little paint, refinishing, new upholstery, or repurposing, can give your home character and pizzazz.  Customers can also get a modern look that many folks long for these days in the task-cluttered, time-deprived world we live in.

Claire has been working in the business world since 1978.  Customer service has always been the focus of her career beginning with her 12 years with the Marriott Hotel chain.  She learned the value of making people feel comfortable and at home. The Marriott focused very heavily on client service and people pleasing by promoting the Marriott Hotel and its services to encourage return business.

After leaving the hotel business, Claire consulted for 15 years helping companies develop customer-focused cultures.  She was instrumental in developing employee relations. This background and experience led her to establish her own consulting business that fostered the importance of employee well-being and job satisfaction.  Her consulting experience took her to many places around the world.  Eventually, she grew tired of the travel restrictions and regulations and decided to stay home.  During this time, Claire redecorated her house three times and moved on to decorating her friends’ houses.  Claire began to collect more items than she needed for herself or others and her husband told her to open a store and sell the stuff or have a garage sale.

interiorIn May 2011, Artvark, Ltd. opened at 672 Jefferson Highway and shares the space with MJ’s Café.  They often have art events and sales and participate in the Mid-City Merchant activities.

We like to think that designing and decorating your home is like the wedding saying: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”  No matter how modern your style is (and we lean toward fresh and contemporary) we believe having an antique, vintage or mid-century piece (or pieces) is a must.  Conversely, regardless of your love for the traditional, “modern, updated, and fresh” makes your home engaging, uncluttered, and have better resale value.  “Something borrowed” comes from our belief that a piece of furniture, art, or an accessory should be from somewhere other than your own country.  Borrow from another culture—it adds interest and variety to your home.  Finally, “something blue” is not restricted to this color only—but using any color can add punch, create balance and generate visual interest.

As an artist, I am a firm believer that art makes your home or work space more stimulating, unique and provides food for the soul.  I love decorating with pieces that tell stories—this is the difference in “plain old store bought everything” and a home where your eye is drawn in by items that are meaningful and sentimental to you—and makes it so inviting and interesting to your guests.  As Goethe said, the home should make us happy and give us “peace.”  Whether your budget affords original art or reproductions, art of any kind is a must!

3Claire feels fortunate to have the business experience that she has and to be able to roll it all into one incredible form of work—Artvark, Ltd. art and interiors—the artful design of live and work space. She knows the value of friendly, genuine attention to the customer.  Her avocation was art and interior design and decorating and now this is her vocation.  Practicing her own art-painting took a back seat to the business. “Interior design, decorating, and renovating homes is now my business and art is very much a part of it.”

Business Person of the Month: Growing Into Excellence

EBRPL Business Person, EBRPL Business Tip

GIE828 N. Sabine Dr.
Baton Rouge, LA  70809
(504) 609-9755,
(504) 975-8124,
(225) 636-9908
Colette Pate
Taeneia White-Ducre
Leah White

Do you wish children and young adults would show manners and respect?  Growing Into Elegance (GIE) is the perfect place to start. Colette Pate saw a lack of manners and disregard in the practice of etiquette in children wherever she went.  She saw a need to teach social graces to the young people she encountered at church, school, the mall, everywhere!  Colette decided to do something about it and Growing Into Elegance was born.

GIE strives to reinforce moral values, instruct etiquette, and encourage academic success and leadership to further empower our youth.  There are three instructors and approximately thirty participants per season that include group classes for ages 3-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15 and 16 & up. Classes typically begin in November and include various social events such as high teas and recitals.  The program incorporates various classes in social etiquette and community service/fundraising projects.  Participation culminates with a cotillion ball in May.

Parents say seeing the changes in their children is priceless.  Parents notice changes in manners and behavior and report an overall improvement in grades and classroom conduct. The child’s self-confidence, self-esteem and sense of self-worth improve, thus exposing them to life and other peers outside their realm of like.

GIE 2Colette Pate, Director, started Growing Into Elegance in October 2012.  She and co-directors, Leah White and Taeneia White-Ducre try to build character, self esteem, motivation, and integrity through life exposure and experience.  At GIE, young girls and boys are formally introduced into society and celebrate their transition into young adulthood.  Colette has over 20 years of experience dealing with both children and the elderly.  She is very active in her church having directed several church plays.  Colette believes faith and education are most important.

As a young adult, Taeneia White-Ducre learned the core value of social graces.  Her motivation to encourage young people to truly live and explore everything possible comes from her own life experiences and hopes to help change the lives of young people so they can become successful, fearless, and confident leaders. She is also a certified Etiquette Instructor from Etiquette Leadership Institute in Athens Georgia. Taeneia received her Business Management degree from LSU and traveled to six countries while participating in an International Business Seminar program.

Leah White has a Kinesiology degree from LSU and has received a Master’s Degree from the University of Phoenix.  Leah hopes GIE will be able to provide support to youth across the state by extending their services into schools and by helping build a greater partnership between parents and schools in order to prevent youths from falling through the cracks.

GIE 3The directors visit churches and schools to create awareness of their program to students and parents.  Growing Into Elegance advertises in Baton Rouge Parents Magazine and has its own Facebook page.  GIE has plans to become a non-profit foundation to give greater opportunity to every child and youth. Growing Into Elegance believes “some young people are academically gifted; some are athletically gifted; all can be socially gifted.”

We welcome everyone to join us at our upcoming Cotillion Sunday, December 15 at Boudreaux’s in Baton Rouge, LA.  This will be a Red Carpet event and the theme will be “The Impossible Dream”.  Please contact one of the directors for additional information.

Business Person of the Month: Lathan Ross Alexander

EBRPL Business Person, EBRPL Business Tip

Lathan Ross Alexander, President & Co-Ownerlathan_alexander

Alexander’s Highland Market

18111 Highland Market Drive

Baton Rouge, LA   70801

Phone:  225-615-7800

Store Hours:

Mon – Sat: 6am – 10pm

Sun:  7am – 9pm

“Any definition of a successful life must include serving others” (George Bush)

Lathan Alexander “grew up” in the family grocery business.  Richard Alexander, Lathan’s great-grandfather, opened the first Alexander’s grocery in Ascension Parish in 1921.  Murray, Richard’s grandson and Lathan’s father, took over the store in 1977 and named it Murray’s Supermarket. This store is still in operation today and is managed by Lathan’s brother Reid.     Murray’s Supermarket was Lathan’s “center of gravity” as a child.  His mother was a school teacher in Ascension Parish and his dad ran the store.  Lathan would attend elementary school, which was just around the corner, and walk to the store after school.  He would do his homework there and “help out” in the store until it was time to go home.

Lathan is a 1984 graduate of St. Amant High and a 1988 graduate of LSU’s College of Business (Accounting).  After graduation, he worked for one year as an accountant at a private firm.  In 1989, he chose to return to the family business where he (along with his brothers, Ryan and Reid) continues to actively develop and expand their two core businesses – the retail grocery store business and the aftermarket automotive parts business

“Although I was raised in a family business that I inherited with my siblings, I chose to continue this because I love serving customers. Life in a family business taught me a good work ethic, but life in the grocery business taught me about service and human interaction. I’ve learned how to connect my faith life to my business. By recognizing the opportunity to serve the community, my work life took on a far greater significance for me. And that is rewarding. It became the basis of my entrepreneurial idea.”

In October of 2011, the Alexanders purchased 3.5 acres at the corner of Highland Road and Perkins Road East to build a 37,000 square-foot state of the art facility that houses a cafe, bakery, deli, floral department, and pharmacy along with an old-world style market offering organic foods, locally harvested produce, fresh seafood, choice meats, and an extensive wine department. Brothers Lathan, Ryan, and Reid Alexander lead the effort to ensure Alexander’s Highland Market continues the family’s reputation for excellence.

It is the mission of Alexander’s Highland Market to provide a full service neighborhood grocery store with a strong sense of community ownership. Rooted in Biblically-based principles of welcome and service to our neighbor, disciplined work ethic, and charity, The family’s intent is to provide an inviting and warm atmosphere, amiable customer service, the finest quality products available utilizing local brands & growers whenever possible, and a selection of wholesome products that can only be delivered by a locally-owned family operation that shares and understands the history and unique culture of our community.

Customers will find that Alexander’s Highland Market is owned and operated by their neighbors. And like visiting a neighbor, customers will experience a similarly warm and friendly welcome. Throughout the entire organization is a sense of pride that comes from belonging to this special community in the heart of South Baton Rouge. “We’re from here, too!” Lathan likes to remind people.

“It’s our mission to be the store of choice for the neighborhood, the connoisseur of good food, and the amateur chef,” he says.  The choice of where to spend the food dollar is up to the customer.  At Alexander’s Highland Market, the customer can choose organic, gluten free, hormone free, or regular processed food items.  They can choose healthy options and quick options.  If the customer is looking for convenience, they can purchase and take home prepared food ready to serve, or foods that are oven-ready for cooking and serving at home.  The market also carries a full line of staples: meat, fruits, vegetables and spices for “start from scratch” meals.

According to Lathan, small local businesses have a role to play in fostering community in the market place.  “In ways that big box national retailers can never understand, we strive to connect with our customers on a personal level. We try to provide a forum for community to happen. As a neighborhood store we do that by creating an environment where our neighbors can not only shop, but also visit with their neighbors in an environment that reflects the culture of our community.”  Alexander’s Highland Market provides a cafe that is comfortable and decorated in our city’s history – a place to gather for socializing, meeting, or relaxing in an environment that celebrates the connection to our city’s past and present.

That sense of community in the marketplace is also enhanced through Alexander’s association with local small businesses. Because they are small and local, Alexander’s more effectively supports the local economy by hiring local citizens and providing a way for them to support their families, and by utilizing local businesses rather than national firms to provide the services needed to run the business. For example, Alexander’s Highland Market hires local attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, and advertising firms, whereas most national retailers do not.

“National firms do not provide any of this web that is necessary for our whole community to thrive. Without small local businesses, there would be a lot of local farms, businesses, and professionals who would not have a job. That is what is so important about local small Louisiana businesses. It is my hope that more people understand the value these connections provide to the health of our local economy.  Not only that all small businesses network and give their best effort to support each other, but that we everything possible to use a local alternative before resorting to an out-of-state alternative.”

Lathan believes the greatest challenge for all small businesses is the role of administrator. The inevitable tasks of handling administrative matters are multiplying exponentially in this ever more complicated business environment and take up more and more time. For him, those are necessary tasks, but they take him away from what got him into the grocery business in the first place – serving and interacting with customers.  “Whatever business venture you decide to pursue, make sure it is something you can be passionate about. Without a passionate interest, you will never be able to justify the time it takes to run a successful business.”

The Alexander family supports various charities such as the Food Bank, Cancer Services, and Community School for the Arts. Lathan is a member of St. George Catholic Church where he has participated in the past as a Baptism sponsor and now participates as a Confirmation Sponsor.  For business advice, he reads the Wall Street Journal and reads historical fiction in his leisure time.

The family also owns B&B Automotive Warehouse and Blues Auto Parts, a chain of 6 stores located in Gonzales, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Houma and Hammond.  They are wholesale distributors of aftermarket automotive parts and distribute their lines to general repair shops, tire stores, paint and body shops, government agencies, and retail auto parts stores.  They also specialize in delivering quality professional products with unparalleled service and are a member of the Federated Auto Parts network.  These stores are currently run by managers, industry professionals, who have been with the company for 10 years or longer.  This arrangement leaves Lathan free to concentrate on Alexander’s Highland Market.  “This was where my heart was.  Having your own business is something you can build, run, succeed or fail.  Whatever happens, you only have yourself to blame.”

Business Person of the Month: Tommy and Melissa Dykes

EBRPL Business Person, EBRPL Business Tip

MePaMePa’s Diner
Tommy and Melissa Dykes
6643 Sullivan Road
Greenwell Springs, La  70739
(located in La Central Plaza)
(225) 400-9912

Tues & Wed 7am – 8pm
Thurs 7am – 9pm
Fri 5:30 am – 10 pm
Sat 7am – 9pm
Sunday Brunch 8am – 4pm
Takeout available

MePa’s Diner is located in Central and serves melt-in-your-mouth Southern cooking. Owners Melissa and Tommy Dykes have created a restaurant that promotes the warm family feelings found when dining at Grandma’s house.  As Melissa states, “We want people to feel welcomed, like they’ve become part of our extended family.”

MePa’s Diner opened in 2012, serving breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday, with a special Sunday brunch served from 8am to 4pm.  Daily specials include Steak and Gravy or Fried Pork Chops (Tuesday), Chicken Fried Steak–Melissa’s personal favorite–or Hamburger Steak and Gravy or Liver and Onions (Wednesday), Spaghetti and Meatballs or Chicken and Dumplings (Thursday), and Baked Chicken or Fried Fish (Friday). The Daily Specials come with two side items along with bread and are very reasonably priced. The dessert menu features rotating favorites such as Lemon Ice Box Pie, Mississippi Mud Pie, and Banana Pudding – all homemade.

Beginning in March 2013, hours were expanded to include dinner. The restaurant now stays open till 8, 9, or 10pm depending on the day of the week. Thursday and Friday are designated as steak nights.

Opening a restaurant came naturally for Melissa after working for Broadline, a food supply business, for over 10 years selling food to restaurants, schools, and hospitals. Melissa loves to cook and entertain people in her home and has catered outside events for several years. Cooking runs in both Melissa’s & Tommy’s family. Many remember Tommy’s mother, Lorraine Dykes (known as “The Cake Lady”), who made wedding cakes in Central for many years. Melissa’s grandmother, Florence Hudson McAdams, is also well-known in the Central area for her cooking and the recipes she shared with others.

MePa’s Diner offers family style dining that developed as people would often sit down to visit with other diners and ended up sharing the table while eating their meal. Melissa and Tommy felt the community needed this type of family restaurant and they wanted to offer the people of Central a place to eat out without having to drive to Baton Rouge. They also welcomed the opportunity to create more jobs in the Central area. All of the family has been involved with the restaurant in some fashion since it opened, either helping in the kitchen or serving out on the floor. Tommy, who works as a superintendent for a large cabinet maker, was in charge of the remodeling effort of the restaurant having done most of the work himself.

The name MePa’s is a combination of two names familiar to most of us in Louisiana as nicknames for grandparents: Meme and Papa. In fact, Melissa and Tommy were given these nicknames by their own grandchildren. The restaurant name was also chosen since several menu items came from their mothers, grandmothers, and other relatives’ recipes and the dishes are named for them. Items on the kids’ menu are named after Melissa and Tommy’s grandchildren.

The kitchen is in the capable hands of experienced cook Casey Springer.  “She’s VERY good!” Melissa states emphatically.  Casey oversees the preparation of family recipes like made-from-scratch fried green tomatoes, onion rings, and daily specials. The specials, Monte Cristo sandwich, and fresh fried chicken fingers are the most popular. Another popular item is the Sensation Salad. MePa’s has recently begun serving Blue Bell ice cream in your choice of a bowl or cone. You can top off a meal with a cool dessert or drop in for a quick sweet treat.

Melissa and Tommy live their lives according to Proverbs 16:3 (“Commit to the Lord in whatever you do and He will establish your plans”) and have this displayed on the wall of the restaurant as a daily reminder. They have faced many challenges since opening the restaurant including earning the support and business of the community.  Finding the best means of advertising that reaches the residents of Central and the surrounding area has been difficult. At the local Christmas parade they distributed over 400 discount coupons and only one was redeemed for a meal. Melissa and Tommy advise others starting a small business to carefully select the community they choose for their business to ensure a good fit.

Melissa and Tommy want the Central community to know that they are here for the long term. Tommy, a Central resident for 45 years, and Melissa, whose mother and her 7 brothers and sisters graduated from Central High School, are dedicated to offering Central the best old-fashioned cooking served in the most welcoming atmosphere.  “We want our customers to come and make themselves at home. Wear your comfortable attire, bring the kids, and enjoy yourself!”

For a family friendly dining experience, stop by MePa’s Diner today located off Sullivan Road in the La Central Plaza shopping center next to Chase Bank. They look forward to serving you.

Business Person of The Month: Kim Gordon

EBRPL Business Person, EBRPL Business Tip

Abigail's Best

Kim Gordon Owner, Manager

Abigail’s Best Children’s & Maternity Consignment
17221 Jefferson Hwy, Suite E
(a block south of Highland Rd)
Baton Rouge, LA 70817
(225) 448-3387 (phone)
(225) 448-2936 (fax)
Monday – Friday 10-5
Saturday 10-4

Abigail’s Best Children’s & Maternity Consignment is a business that sells gently used children’s clothing (boys & girls sizes 0-8), Maternity Apparel, baby equipment, books, toys, shoes and accessories. Kim Gordon, the store’s owner since 2011, has extensive experience in the retail clothing business. Kim’s assistant, Sharon, has been a big part of reestablishing the store’s business in the last year. Sharon has worked in consignment for over 11 years and has a good grasp for selecting and pricing items that are accepted for resale. Abigail’s Best does not buy used clothes for resale; all clothing, maternity and baby items are available on consignment at half the price of new items. Abigail’s Best also carries new handmade merchandise for sale on consignment. Abigail’s Best is a growing business with plans to expand into adjacent building space and begin carrying women’s/plus size clothing along with maternity plus size apparel.

Abigail’s Best accepts clothing, toys and baby equipment with store inventory approximately 33% in each category. Clothing includes both name brands and boutique brands. Items are taken on consignment for 60-90 days with day one beginning when the item is entered into the shop’s computer system. If the item does not sell within 90 days, the client may reclaim it. Items not reclaimed are donated to 12 baskets Ministries, a local charity. In most cases, clients usually donate the item if it does not sell. Monies owed to clients are given as store credit and may be spent on items in the shop or they may request a check.

StoreThe store’s decisions about accepting items brought in for consignment are based on condition. Worn, faded, or stained items are not accepted. Kim’s team determines the price for each item accepted for consignment and resale through internet research and then lists them for sale at 50% off retail. Some clothing items brought in for resale still have the original price tag attached, yet they are priced 50% less.

Baby equipment includes items such as infant swings, high-chairs, exersaucers, strollers, bouncers, carriers, etc. and often sells quickly. Abigail’s Best does not usually carry furniture due to lack of display space. Car seats are also not sold in the store as it is against state law in Louisiana to resell these. New car seats must be purchased and fitted for each child.

Toys accepted for consignment must have all their parts and be in working order. Adult and children’s books must be clean and free of all markings (i.e., crayon, drawings, etc.). Adult books include topics such as pregnancy, birth and infant/toddler care, prenatal care and nutrition. Books are also priced at 50% off retail. New items in the store, also on consignment, include handmade bows and hair accessories along with custom-made children’s jewelry and pillowcase dresses. Bows may be custom ordered by style, school and special event colors.

Abigail’s Best operates like any retail store with special promotions and sale events held monthly. Some events are themed to include holidays (i.e., Easter, Halloween costumes, Christmas), back to School (uniforms), LSU/Saints items, and fall extravaganza. Clearance sales are held seasonally to make room for new “next season” items. Kim maintains an email list of all consignees & customers and sends notices of upcoming events so they can clean out their closets and plan their shopping trips.

Acquiring Abigail’s Best was a natural progression for Kim, having spent the past 25 years in retail management of both women’s and children’s apparel. She has managed stores for Strasburg Children, Babies R Us, and Catherine’s. Kim received an Associate Degree in Business from Bryant and Stratton in Rochester, NY.

Kim’s advice to others starting a small business, or purchasing an existing one as she did, is to be prepared to devote a lot of time and money to make it happen. One of the challenges Kim has had to overcome with Abigail’s Best was reestablishing a reputable operation by getting word out about the store and its new management. She regularly advertises in Parents Magazine and on Facebook. Sales and special events are posted on their Facebook page and announcements are sent via email to her regular customers.

Kim looks to author Dave Ramsey for business advice and likes having access to libraries for new books. She believes the role of a small business is in building partnerships with other businesses and working together to ensure more successful small businesses in Baton Rouge.

Abigail’s Best is a nice, friendly place to shop and includes a play area for children. Kim will help you shop, watch your children while you shop, and even recommend other places to go if she does not have what you need. Kim feels that in any business, “Success is learning from your mistakes without losing your enthusiasm”.