After a disheartening experience in commercial real estate in California, Michael Norwich Jr. moved to El Paso, Texas to work with his father who owned several Jack in the Box restaurant franchises.
He began with the restaurant by learning the basics – making hamburgers and French fries, working the drive-thru and cleaning the restrooms. Within six months, he was given his own store to manage.
Shortly after Michael had begun with Jack in the Box, a Seattle affiliate was linked to an e-coli outbreak that sickened over 500 people. News of the outbreak was so wide spread that the chain experienced revenue declines in excess of fifty percent within a week. The restaurant Michael was managing had its weekly revenues drop dramatically and in order to survive he worked with only one other employee.
The first year loss after the Seattle incident was overcome through assistance from the corporate Jack in the Box and a local lender who agreed to convert the business notes to interest only.
Michael was slowly able to pull the business out of debt. Throughout these difficult years, Michael continued to maintain the image of the restaurants, ensured that he kept the best people on staff, focused on customer service and improved profit margins.
Michael acquired the operation of the business in 1993; he worked to boost revenues by trimming costs and staying lean as sales volume increased and when it came time to expand he turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). With the help of an SBA 504 loan Michael was able to purchase land to construct a new building and acquire equipment. Since that first SBA 504 loan, Michael continues to benefit from the support and assistance from the SBA 504 loan program.
He’s a strong believer in reinventing his business to keep his customers interested and to attract new customers. He now operates 11 restaurants in El Paso and two in Las Cruces, New Mexico with an overall employment of 350 people.
His hard work and determination to maintain his business even through the difficult years and his ability to bounce back and increase sales and employment led to his selection as 2007 State of Texas Small Business Person of the Year.
After graduating from Virginia State University with a Bachelors of Administration in Political Science, Von Washington joined the U.S. Army as an officer Air Defense Artillery Corp. After serving 13 years in the military, he went to work with Lockheed Missiles and Space Company conducting development, planning and coordination for the Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THADD) missile defense system.
Washington gained valuable management and technical skills while serving as operations officer, company commander and operations research systems analyst and weapons system manager. After working with Lockheed he decided to work as an independent consultant with the Department of Defense. During this time he began to formulate his idea of starting his own small business.
In 2007 Washington formed Integrated Defense Applications, LLC doing business as IDA Technology. IDA Technology is a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Business, specializing in program management and project analysis, systems evaluation and analysis, information technology services, weapons systems independent operational evaluation and analysis and other technical services.
He decided to pursue being certified into the SBA 8(a) program, a business development program that is aimed at assisting entrepreneurs in obtaining federal contract opportunities and entered the program in March 2010. He also became certified as a service-disabled veteran owned business and these certifications help him to gain a competitive advantage for government contracting set-aside programs.
Washington is a dynamic leader who is taking his fast growing company forward with a clear focus on goals and objectives. In 2010, He was able to quickly obtain two federal contracts and has grown his business to 54 employees. Most recently, he obtained an SBA 8(a) contact for facilities maintenance at Fort Bliss Military Base and has grown the business to a total of 72 employees.
Veterans make up a large number of successful small business owners. Nine percent of small businesses are veteran-owned. These 2.45 million veteran-owned businesses employ more than 5 million individuals. In the private sector workforce, veterans are more likely than those with no active-duty military experience to be self-employed.
Von Washington and his wife Gayla have consistently provided their talent and finances to the support of marriage groups and family organizations. IDA Technology continues to provide technical support services to the Armed Services YMCA. He works closely in supporting minority-owned business as a board member of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the El Paso 8(a) Government Contractors Association.
While on a flight to New York City, Clara Khoury was passing time by reading the air carrier’s magazine and noticed an advertisement that caught her eye. She read about a franchise opportunity for Edible Arrangements, a gift store offering a variety of fresh fruit bouquets for special occasions. Father’s Day was coming up so when she returned to El Paso to purchase a fruit bouquet she looked for an Edible Arrangement but there was none to be found. This discovery led to the idea of owning an Edible Arrangements store in El Paso.
Clara is no stranger to small business ownership since her father owned a restaurant and at an early age she learned his work ethics and the importance of being dedicated to the business. Her husband, Tony Khoury is an entrepreneur as well and has owned a commercial flooring business for 27 years. At this time, Clara had been employed as a teacher for 23 years but she now had become consumed with the idea of owning her own business.
She wanted to learn more about the particulars of operating a franchise business and attended an Edible Arrangements “Discovery Day” for interested franchisees at the corporate headquarters in Connecticut. While learning about the franchise opportunity she discovered that a nationwide U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) lender could provide small business financing for the franchise purchase.
In December 2007, Clara decided to end her teaching career and seek an SBA 7(a) guaranteed loan from CIT to purchase the company and open her doors for business on July 7, 2008 in East El Paso. Her hunch that this would be a good business venture was right. Her store is often ranked one of the top stores in total sales of the 68 stores in Texas and in the top five stores in the nation.
“My customers love to celebrate special occasions and they like the idea of purchasing a fruit bouquet. Many people are living a healthy life style and this has helped build my business,” Khoury said.
Soon after opening the store she quickly increased the number of employees to meet the immediate demand for her product. She started with a staff of seven and in one week had to increase the number to 12 and later employed 25 people. Additionally, her store had reached maximum operating capacity and she noted that 40 percent of her delivery orders are to customers on the West side of El Paso.
Clara decided to look for a new location and when meeting with a lender at First Light Credit Union she learned about the SBA 504 loan for the purchase of land, building and equipment. The loan can also be used for the renovation of a building that she had identified on the West side. Clara’s second Edible Arrangements is located on El Paso’s West side and opened in June 2011.
Clara’s daughter was hired as the store manager and after one year she was recognized as the national Store Manager of the Year. Clara’s daughter decided to pursue her higher education degree and is now attending college at Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio, Texas.
“Once my daughter completes her degree and if she is interested she can help me open a new store in Las Cruces, New Mexico,” Khoury said. Her son moved to Austin, Texas and is now working at and Edible Arrangement there. The entire family is recognized across the nation since the East side location is still one of the top stores in the nation.
The West side store is growing. “Now that we have two locations I moved some of my employees and have 10 on the West side and 15 on the East side but plan to hire five more employees by the end of the year bringing the total to 30 employees!” Clara said.
When asked what it was like once being a teacher and now an entrepreneur she said that owning a business is a lot like teaching. “Working with new employees is like teaching students, they need to feel that they are valued, involved, appreciated and provided with the support tools they need.” Her advice to new entrepreneurs is to work your business, be there and be involved.