Entrepreneurs Win $70,000 in Awards to Start Businesses in Hopewell

Shelby Mertens | The Progress-Index

HOPEWELL — “We need more people taking a chance on Hopewell,” Maurice Jones, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade said to a room full of local entrepreneurs in the Beacon Theatre on the night of June 2.

“It will pay off, but the first move is yours,” Jones said the crowd.

The 25 competitors, comprised of 13 different business ideas, sat anxiously in their chairs to await the reveal of the Hopewell Community Business Launch winners — a chance to win at least $15,000 to start a business in downtown Hopewell.

Chanda and Lamonz “Kane” Tyler, Marilyn Craig and Deangelo Williams, Dave McCormack and Craig Richards were announced as the winners of the competition. The checks valued at $70,000 total.

“Honestly we sat in the back because I didn’t think we were going to win and I was going to run out and go get my daughter,” Chanda Tyler confessed afterwards.

Chanda and her husband were one of the recipients of a $15,000 check to open K&J Fitness, a personal training business.

“He and his brother are both personal trainers in this area. His brother actually went into the military and is deployed now in Afghanistan, but they were personal training in the area and got to the point where their clientele was just so saturated that it would be better now to have people come to us,” she said.

K&J Fitness will initially operate as a personal training studio with the hopes of eventually evolving into a fitness center and full fledged gym.

Hopewell was among the first three localities chosen for Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Community Business Launch pilot program that aims to revitalize economic development in small communities across Virginia. Among recent announcements from industries that plan to expand or relocate operations in Hopewell, Jones sees Hopewell’s potential.

“From where I sit in this job of Commerce and Trade, Hopewell is a great place to be in and now is the time to be there,” he said. “Hopewell is clearly on a roll.”

The competitors first endured an eight week long business course taught by industry professionals. The entrepreneurs then had to make their business pitch to a panel of judges who made the ultimate funding decision. The judges were Tanner Collins, of REDC Community Capital, Rita Joyner, board president of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership, Joseph Brisbee, of Richmond Score, Nathalia Artus, of EVB, and Brandon Butterworth, a philanthropist of The Community Foundation and Hopewell Downtown Partnership.

Evan Kaufman, executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership, said the decision was difficult for the judges.

“There’s so many people who deserve this and I really hope, win or lose, that you stay with us and meet with us so we can show you, help you and move you forward,” he said.

Dave McCormack, a developer and entrepreneurial veteran of 20 years, won $20,000 for his idea to open a doughnut shop on East Broadway. Founder of Waukeshaw Development Inc. and mastermind behind Demolition Coffee in Petersburg, McCormack plans to make Fat Babs a premier destination in Hopewell.

“The idea here is just to have a lot of fun and bring a lot of energy to the space, but also to the street so we just want to blow it out a little bit and not take ourselves too seriously but offer a product that’s really amazing,” McCormack said.

McCormack is planning to open his shop at 246 E. Broadway. He has even purchased the doughnut machine already, but the work is far from over.

“I know there’s some flexibility. It’s one thing to start a business, but it’s another to start a business in a derelict historic property so we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.

Marilyn Craig and partner Deangelo Williams will be opening their dream restaurant The Greedy Spoon, which will be a mix of seafood and southern soul food. Natives of Jacksonville, Fla., the pair saw a need in Virginia for the kind of seafood they loved.

“It’s something that we’ve always wanted,” Craig said. “Back home, I cooked seafood all the time and everyone was raving about how I put my meals together well and when we moved up to this area we noticed that the style that we’re wanting called the ‘Pot’ with garlic crabs, you can’t find it anywhere here.”

Craig’s family in Florida is in the commercial fishing business and will be providing fresh catch to The Greedy Spoon. The restaurant will focus on seafood mainly, with items like collard greens as sides.

Williams came up with the restaurant’s name that reflects a person’s hunger when they’ve already had their share.

“I was thinking I was hungry and I was going to be greedy because I just had a spoonful of something,” he said.

The final winner, Craig Richards, is carrying on a family legacy of chocolate-making with Sweet Tooth Candies, a division of Richards Chocolatiers. Richards, publisher of the Hopewell Publishing Company, will open a combined candy store and chocolate-making warehouse.

“What we’re doing is bringing a family chocolate company from West Virginia and relocating to Hopewell,” Richards said. “We’ve had generations of family members who have been in chocolate. This will be the first time we add a candy store to the front of our chocolate business.”

The company previously operated solely as a wholesale business to grocery stores and chains. Although its wholesale operations will continue, Richards plans to expand the company’s reach.

“We’re going to have a kitchen wall where you can watch the chocolate being made,” he said.

The winners are now challenged with the daunting task of opening a business in just a few months. The businesses are supposed to be opened by Sept. 30, roughly.