Making It: A Look Back

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, September 20, 2009

After a little more than three years, this is the last Making It column (the Post Magazine is gearing up to launch some new features next week). As a regular writer of the column, I found the subjects interesting and engaging -- being personable really helps when you are an entrepreneur -- and often left interviews feeling inspired. It was also impressive to see how some folks used not just opportunities, such as a buyout, to propel themselves in a new direction, but adversity as well: a divorce, a spouse's illness, a parent's death, a layoff.

The entrepreneurs had several qualities in common: inventiveness, optimism and willingness to take risks, among them. But the most important characteristics, I came to believe, were persistence and energy: the refusal to give up on an idea and the willingness to put in whatever effort it took to make it work. Benjamin Franklin, perhaps America's greatest entrepreneur, said it himself: "Energy and persistence conquer all things."

Well, maybe not an economic meltdown. At least one of the businesses I profiled, Pure Bliss Day Spa, has fallen victim to the recession. But when I checked in with some of the other Making It subjects, I was happily surprised to find that many are holding their own, or better.

Brigitte Le: The creator of the flying golden pig statues -- who marketed them in connection with President Obama's election, which some had predicted would happen only "when pigs fly" -- sold 207 statues in the two months after the inauguration.

Carbecue: Jeff Korns says his barbecue-in-a-retrofitted-Beetle business has been down about 30 percent because of cutbacks in corporate events; meanwhile, business partner Mike Jewell had a bad fall, from which he is recovering. But Jeff says they plan to keep chugging along and will branch out with a Carbecue presence in Stowe, Vt.

Cold Spark Films: Marc Mangum is still making distribution deals for his movie "Food Boy," has started a family-friendly DVD-of-the-month club and has several other projects in the works.

Dogtopia: Amy Nichols, chief executive, says the doggy day-care center now has 22 franchise locations across the country, with five more scheduled to open by the end of the year.

Dr. Fish: John Ho and Yvonne Le say their fish pedicures are still popular; some Redskins cheerleaders dropped by recently. Last year was their best ever in their 12 years in the salon business, and they are planning to open a third location, in Crystal City, this fall.

Havana Banana: Retired Army National Guardsman Mike "Top Banana" Lawrence says his bread business is growing 15 percent a month. He is selling at several more markets and is supplying businesses in Key West, Fla., and New York, as well as the Army National Guard cafeteria in Arlington.

Keith Donohue: The best-selling author who wrote "The Stolen Child" while commuting on the Metro still has his day job with the government. But his second novel will come out in paperback in October, and his third, which is based in Washington, will go to the publisher this fall.

"Modern Jewish Mom": Meredith Jacobs and her daughter Sofie have co-written a book to be published in the spring. Jacobs now hosts a show on cable's Jewish Channel and is negotiating deals for a follow-up to her book about Shabbat.

Redecorate Today: Mangum's wife, Jennifer Mangum, and her business partner, Suzan Meredith, are having their best year yet as "interior refiners," he reports.

Sidamo Coffee and Tea: Ethiopian immigrant Kenfe Bellay, whose mentor and backer was a General Mills vice president he met while driving a cab, and around whom the community rallied after his H Street NE shop was broken into -- twice -- says his business is growing slowly but steadily. He and his wife, Mimi Desta, plan to open a second store in Howard County by the end of the month and are scouting locations for a third. "Slowly, we are going up," he says. "We are so blessed."

Simply Soles: Kassie Remple, of the high-end shoe catalogue business, is no longer selling from her basement; she now has retail space in Columbia Heights.

Spaloo: Bruce Santhuff still believes in his "shower toilet" seat. He and his wife, Kate, who have moved to Wilmington, N.C., sold the first lot of 400 seats and are trying to keep the business going.

Stifel and Capra: Theresa Stifel's art gallery moved to a Falls Church space that is three times as large, with retail on the main floor and working artists and galleries above.

Unitee: Tami Mensch says her "inspirational activewear" clothing company, which features expressions such as "Dream Big," is expected to double its sales this year and will be a sponsor of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary concert in October. Who knows, Bono might be spotted wearing her words.

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