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Boom-time for L’Enfant

Jim Ball, Christopher Lynch, Cafe L'Enfant, gay news, Washington Blade

Jim Ball and Christopher Lynch hoped to contribute to ‘café society.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Like the newly confident city for which the venue namesake designed the geographic layout, L’Enfant Café & Bar is in boom-time mode. Steps from French architect and civil engineer Pierre L’Enfant’s original Florida Avenue city boundary sits the long-popular dining, drinking and entertainment landmark at 2000 18th St., N.W.

Eleven years ago, co-owners Jim Ball and Christopher Lynch discovered this “perfect place” for the next adventure in their lives. The lively restaurant-bar the then couple opened in April 2003 became a unique component of a maturing nexus of evolving commerce straddling Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan at the intersection of 18th and U streets.

Last weekend was an anniversary for the duo. After exchanging Valentine’s Day gifts at the Manhattan apartment they shared a year prior to launching their hospitality enterprise in D.C., traditional Tiffany treasures were followed by Ball presenting Lynch with a flip chart. Ball asked his cohort to list five “hopes and dreams” while he did the same.

Both lists contained a solitary shared item – opening a coffeehouse and bar. “We wanted to do something different and be our own boss,” Lynch says. They soon would.

“We hoped to contribute to ‘café society’,” Ball recounts. “Fusing what we liked about the East Village spots we frequented,” Lynch notes, as Ball adds, “combined with the tradition of the French.” “At the time there were few places with outdoor space,” Ball recalls. They now offer the area’s largest sidewalk patio.

Their goal was a destination to enjoy a cappuccino or glass of wine along with a meal. “Where a table for two suddenly grows larger” on the spacious wrap-around patio with the addition of friendly faces both known and new, Ball says.

The menu features French-inspired classics and notes “we are the true backbone of this economy, a small business that dreams big.” Steak frites, bistro burgers, savory dinner crepes, and mussels are popular plates. Aperitifs, specialty cocktails, a selection of draft or bottled beers and wines are offered. Open until midnight Sunday-Thursday and 2 a.m. on weekends, seasonal spring-summer-fall lunch service will soon re-initiate.

A national “Top 100 Brunch” among 14,000 Open Table venues, the weekly Saturday reservation-only “La Boum” early-afternoon booze-and-breakfast “house party” with DJ fills 60 interior table and bar seats. With either Lynch or Ball as emcee behind covered windows, guests are exhorted to celebrate debauchery. “We’re pretending our parents are away for the weekend and we have the keys to the liquor cabinet,” Ball writes on the business website. An acclaimed Sunday “Speakeasy” cabaret supper club featuring drag performers from New York, Las Vegas, Berlin and London is on hiatus.

The owners relish the relationships developed with patrons. After investing in imported French café tables and chairs and installing shrubbery boxes, locals were quick to appreciate the streetscape enhancement. The desired “street activation” of city government terminology is more simply expressed by neighbors as “enlivening and beautifying” their street-corner location, Lynch says.

The venue’s sustained success was no certainty. Neither Lynch, previously a sales and marketing professional with Estee Lauder Companies or Ball, an independent event and marketing consultant, had prior industry experience. “We met in a bar and ate in a lot of restaurants,” Ball chuckles. “We ‘winged it’,” he says, “and that was the most exciting part. We learned a lot fast. It’s all part of a story being written every day.”

“We’re proud of these 11 years,” Lynch adds, “most of all that we’ve created a sense of community with our customers.” “We can brainstorm a new idea today and tomorrow make it happen,” explains Ball, “that’s the magic of it.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

18
Feb
2014

Creative flow at Fathom

Drew Mitchell, Fathom Creative, gay news, Washington Blade

Fathom Creative president and CEO Drew Mitchell discovered an interest in visual communication at a young age.

Similar to other digital success stories, it started in a garage.

Fathom Creative president and CEO Drew Mitchell discovered the art of visual communication at a young age. While eight-year-old contemporaries worked lemonade stands on the suburban Silicon Valley sidewalks of his childhood, he hosted gallery-like showings of his youthful drawings inside the family car space.

“Always creative,” Mitchell spent summers at art school instead of soccer camp. Another athletic activity, however, had Mitchell devoting five hours training daily with his high school swim team. He enjoyed “excelling in a sport where you’re primarily competing with yourself and striving for self-improvement.” It would later inspire his firm’s moniker.

In 1994, following several years first as graphic designer and soon creative director at high-profile D.C. public relations firms, including an art director stint at News Corp., he “decided to go out on my own” at the age of 29. “I always knew I wanted to start my own business before I was 30,” Mitchell notes.

Setting up shop in 1994 as sole proprietor behind an oversized plate glass window visible along Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle, Mitchell would recall his days in the water when naming the soon-to-expand firm. “As soon as I thought it I knew it was right,” he says, noting its relevance to public communication.

Adopting the slogan “Think Deeper,” Mitchell’s penchant for presentation would lead him to install an oversized video monitor in the studio’s second floor window with images running day-and-night. It was an attention-getter similar to those he would employ when relocating five years ago to a storefront at 1333 14th St., N.W., in the Logan Circle area.

In the fall of 2009, when Mitchell’s original office lease expired, he and his life partner Bill Fischer decided to invest in a property suitable for both living and working. Purchasing an expansive 7,500-square-foot three-level historic commercial property, they reserved the top floor for their residence. Fischer, having coordinated the building renovation and subsequently handling business infrastructure and operations, recently returned to a career in business intelligence technology systems management.

Those among Fathom Creative’s 20 staffers working on-site are located on the ground level, currently undergoing renovation. The company has maintained a satellite office in New York City since 2003 and is preparing to open a similar San Francisco outpost late this summer.

A retail-style “showroom space” that has featured eye-catching company branding installations will soon become an independent coffee shop launched by a third party. The firm also operates Fathom Gallery on the second level, and an adjoining 1,500-square-foot outdoor deck. Each accommodates 100 guests for gatherings and approximately 100 annual event rentals – including corporate retreats and board meetings, tech industry “meet-ups,” gay and “mixed-gender” weddings, cocktail receptions, dinners and other gatherings. Fathom often invites clients and associates for grilling parties and to sample a signature beer of homegrown hops.

Specializing in all aspects of business branding, strategic communications and social/digital messaging for national and local-based clients, Fathom serves as an off-site creative department for some and project fulfillment agency for others. GSA-certified for federal contracts alongside handling association and advocacy accounts, Fathom is also one of only five U.S. firms with recognized expertise in Prezi – a sophisticated alternative to PowerPoint presentations.

“Our work is often complex but always exhilarating,” Mitchell modestly offers in light of 20 years of proven results for a diverse client base.

Mitchell adopted the title “fearless leader” along the way, with whimsical job descriptors for staff. “It’s a reminder to me and a promise to clients,” he says, “reflecting our attitude when taking on new challenges.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

29
Apr
2014

Celebrating silver in style

Mitchell Gold, Bob Williams, furniture, design, home, gay news, Washington Blade

Mitchell Gold (left) and business partner Bob Williams at their Washington store for an event in 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams

25th anniversary event

A benefit for Sitar Arts Center

Wednesday

6-9 p.m.

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Washington location

1526 14th St., N.W.

mgbwhome.com

RSVP requested

rsvpdc@mgbwhome.com

202-332-3433

Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, co-owners of the eponymous furniture company, didn’t originally intend for their company to be as big as it is today.

Gold says they were originally thinking of a modest business model in which they’d work four days a week, have a small stable of customers and do about $5 million a year in sales.

“We didn’t have to make that much money,” Gold says. “It was just the two of us living down South, it’s much less expensive to live here, and we thought we would just have this nice little company. … But as Bob often tells people, ‘It’s not that Mitchell lied — it’s just that he can’t count.’”

Started in 1989 with about $60,000, things took off rather quickly. They sold about 800 dining tables and 5,000 chairs before they started making any of the pieces. Gold, who’d been fired from the furniture company he’d worked for, had connections with major retailers like J.C. Penney, Crate & Barrel and others, which he visited armed with sketches and fabrics Williams had made. They were profitable the first year they were in business.

“We had fabrics that were different and unusual for the time,” Gold says. “So we were able to show retailers, ‘This is how this will look in your store.’ And they bought it right away. People have said I’m not a bad salesman, so I was able to close the sales and get the production going quickly.”

The two, who’d been together as domestic partners about two years before, had moved to Hickory, N.C., from New York and were interested in going into business together.

“We just thought we could do it better than traditional manufacturers,” Gold says. “We thought we could make a better commitment to customers, ship it more quickly and with Bob’s sense of style, you know, I certainly felt we could offer people a more stylish look for a better price.”

Williams worked for a small ad agency and gradually cut back his time there as he spent more and more with the company, then known as the Mitchell Gold Company (it was changed to its present name in 2002).

Now they’re celebrating 25 years and have more than 700 employees, a stable of celebrity clients, 17 stores and plans to open four more by year’s end and a 600,000-square-foot factory and home base in Taylorsville, N.C.

Several spoke at a company event two weeks ago where 11 of their original 21 employees who are still with the company were recognized. It appears, from a transcript of comments, that morale there is strong.

Ken Hipp, the company’s senior vice president of retail stores and merchandising, has been with them for seven years and calls Gold and Williams “wonderful mentors.”

“It’s been quite a ride,” says Hipp, who’s also gay. “I can’t imagine my career or my life without them.”

Known for a style they call “quintessentially American,” their products are designed to be stylish, yet comfortable. Interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn of TBS’s “Movie & a Makeover” show has called their products “custom-looking pieces at medium-to-high price-points” and says it’s a “genius brand” he and his clients “can’t get enough of.”

On Wednesday, the two will be in town for an event at their D.C. store at 1526 14th St., N.W., an anniversary event that will benefit the Sitar Arts Center. It’s one of a series of events they’re having at their various locations throughout the year.

In a country where just 25 percent of new employer firms are still in business 15 years or more after starting according to the Small Business Administration, theirs is a nearly unfettered success story.

It hasn’t all been easy going, though. Williams remembers many long hours in the early years, though he also says those were some of the most “exhilarating times of my life.”

They recall years of working what felt like round-the-clock schedules and didn’t take a vacation until two years into it, but were gratified by strong out-of-the-gate sales.

“Customers liked what we were doing immediately,” Williams says. “We never had to go call on people. The more they heard about us, the more we had people wanting to buy from us.”

They broke up on the personal side about 12 years into the business, though they’re wholly comfortable working together and are each married and have been with other men for years — Gold has been with Tim Gold for seven years; Williams has been with Stephen Heavner for 11 years.

Might their relationship have lasted if it weren’t for the company? It’s a thorny question they don’t wish to dwell on.

“We don’t give much thought to it,” Williams says.

“It takes a lot of time and energy to go back and visit the past,” Gold says. “We’re more focused on the future.”

They acknowledge there were “a few little awkward moments, but not too much,” as Gold says. Keeping the company strong was chief among their priorities as always, they say.

The only time they had any significant downsizing was in 2008. Gold says it was a hard, but at the time necessary, decision in the face of a huge recession.

The company prides itself on the health care package it offers, on-site day care and cafeteria and unabashed LGBT advocacy work.

They say providing such amenities pays off in the long run.

“I think what we have proven is that you can be profitable and do the right thing,” he says. “When you have people who aren’t sick, they’re being more productive and that makes things more profitable. With our day care, if little junior has a problem, somebody goes and takes care of it and is back in 15 or 20 minutes, not the three hours it would take to go across town.”

They guess about 15 percent of their employees are also LGBT and estimate between 15-20 percent of their clientele is as well. Gold says it’s “certainly higher than other furniture retailers.”

Gold, who wrote a book called “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America” in 2008, says being open about such things is a central component to the company.

He relishes telling of a celebration dinner they had with loan officers after paying back a $25 million loan they’d used to expand. Several of the bank execs told him how reading “Crisis” had given them new compassion for LGBT issues, from one man who stepped up his giving at a homeless shelter to another whose wife came out.

“One by one, they went around the table and told us how much our advocacy work had meant to them,” Gold says.

Coming from a staid banking environment, Hipp says finding a place he could be out on the job was a revelation.

“I thought I loved banking but I realized banking did not love me,” he says. “I was very uncomfortable and very conflicted over my future and I was met with some very harsh realities. I could not believe that someone of my age, I was in my early 20s at the time, could actually go to work someplace where it was OK for me to be who I was. I didn’t have to tuck any part of myself under my sleeve. I could actually say that I was gay and it didn’t matter. … I was just a kid from the south and I thought that was the best it would get.”

Some of the 25th anniversary events will benefit LGBT and AIDS causes. Gold next plans an open letter to the Pope urging him to change Vatican teaching that homosexuality is sinful behavior.

“When you get down to it, that’s really the seminal reason why people think gay people should not have equality,” Gold says. “The whole issue of sin is really the crux of why people are against it.”

But has there been backlash or lost sales along the way?

“Our business just keeps going at such a pace that’s ahead of the industry with sales and growth and things like that,” he says. “You know, we can’t worry about the one or two people who aren’t going to buy from us because we’re gay and outspoken.”

 

Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams on:

 

Mitchell Gold, Bob Williams, furniture, design, home, gay news, Washington Blade

Bob Williams (left) and Mitchell Gold in the early years of their business. (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams)

• Their all-time favorite products:

GOLD: Leather club chairs they designed after spotting vintage pieces at a Paris flea market.

“If something sells that well and looks pretty, I sure do like it,” he says.

WILLIAMS: “Our slipcovers are great because they’re just so versatile — you can dress them up or down, change the style and they just give off this great ambience of relaxed, casual comfort.”

 

• How practical the whites and neutrals they use so often are for everyday

GOLD: “Today’s fabrics are a lot different from what you saw 20-30 years ago. They’re much friendlier to live with and stain resistant.” And if you spill red wine? “In a lot of the fabrics, yes, it will come out. But you have to get it quickly, not let it sit there a day.”

 

• Nate Berkus

GOLD: “We love Nate Berkus.”

WILLIAMS: “He has great hair.”

GOLD: “Yes, he has great hair, he’s cute and adorable and we’re fairly friendly with him. I like his work a lot.”

WILLIAMS: “His last book was great.”

 

• Thom Filicia (of “Queer Eye” fame)

GOLD: “Sweet guy and talented. We were at a design kind of home in South Hampton and his room was really a standout.”

 

• 2013 sales?

GOLD: “Over $100 million.”

 

• Lulu, the company mascot

GOLD: “She’s resting in peace. She was 12 and a half and she will be the mascot in perpetuity. The thing about bulldogs is once they decide on something, that’s it. They figure out a way to get it. She came to work with us everyday and loved walking around and saying hi to everyone.”

21
Feb
2014

Praxis makes perfect

Joe Freeman, CrossFit Praxis, gay news, Washington Blade

Joe Freeman opened his unique 6,400-square-foot fitness facility in 2011. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Local entrepreneur and CrossFit Praxis gym owner and fitness coach Joe Freeman has long been focused on constructing things.

First it was roads and bridges, followed by residential buildings. Now it’s bodies.

Freeman opened his unique 6,400-square-foot fitness facility in November 2011 at a former television studio near Florida Avenue on the north end of the 14th Street corridor section the New York Times calls the District’s “Magnificent Mile.”

Featuring 22-foot ceilings in a warehouse-style environment at 2217 14th St., N.W., the two main rooms of the street-level location and additional outdoor space make it one of the largest and most functional venues among the small number of CrossFit “boxes” in the area. A popular physical exercise philosophy promoting personal training as a combined competitive and collective engagement, Freeman’s gym boasts several hundred members.

When the now-49-year-old Virginia Beach native graduated from Radford University in the southern Virginia Highlands, the political science major and student government leader eagerly headed to Capitol Hill and a U.S. Senate office stint. Freeman would subsequently sign on with two successive Republican Virginia governors, first as federal liaison and later as office director.

His duties included managing funding priorities for state transportation projects. “I literally spent eight years on the massive Wilson Bridge replacement and expansion,” Freeman recalls of the period leading up to his departure from government service in 2002.

Freeman’s private sector transition led to real estate development in the Dupont and Logan neighborhoods. As managing partner of Freeman Development Group, he continues to specialize in a full range of activities – from property acquisition and project financing to design coordination and construction supervision to sales marketing and property management – shepherding smaller boutique residential housing projects from concept to completion.

Similar to many business owners, Freeman was inspired to launch his fitness facility from personal experience. A stereotypical “gym rat,” he too often felt “stuck on the treadmill and at the water fountain, waiting for access to weight machines.” He became increasingly bored with his workouts, desiring more intensity. A friend suggested switching to one of then only two local CrossFit venues. It wasn’t long before Freeman set out to open his own facility, finding the perfect place in a prime location.

A diverse range of men and women of all ages, body types and fitness objectives exercise in hour-long group sessions held throughout the day, alongside individual workouts. Certified full-time and part-time associate “coaches” scale individualized routines for each “athlete” that typically include a warm-up, stretching, monitored skill development and a high-intensity “Workout of the Day” combining interval training, gymnastics and weightlifting.

“Individual performance is scored at each session to encourage competition and track progress,” notes Freeman. “You might find a middle-aged mom next to a D.C. firefighter next to a Howard University student next to someone training for a marathon,” he points out, “with everyone doing the same workout with differing weights and at variable intensity levels.”

“People have heard that CrossFit is popular among Navy SEALS and professional athletes,” Freeman says, “but sessions include those spanning ages 20 to 68, with workouts scaled to their abilities.” Members “add muscle, shed fat, build strength, enhance agility and increase mobility,” he explains, “you’ll be able to apply achievements to any sport or activity.”

“It’s going to change your mood, your energy, your performance at work,” Freeman says of CrossFit training. “It really works and it’s really fun,” he says, and “there is a great community aspect to it. People who go through the ‘shared suffering’ of short intense workouts develop bonds that build friendships and push them to achieve their goals.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

13
May
2014

Creating art that pops

Glenn Fry, gay news, Washington Blade

Visual artist Glenn Fry moved to D.C. nearly 15 years ago. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When visual artist Glenn Fry moved to D.C. nearly 15 years ago, he bartended at some of the gay community’s most popular nightlife venues and nightclub events. Quickly pegged as a recent transplant due to his failure to observe the local habit of reflexively asking customers what they do for a living, Fry remembers those exchanges from his perspective.

“People didn’t know how to process my being an artist,” Fry recalls, “although they were intrigued.” “Danger, Will Robinson,” was the comic strip thought bubble he would imagine floating over their heads while he concocted beverages.

“Ever since I was a kid I loved cartoons, loved the Pop Art movement,” Fry explains. “I would have loved to have been a part of that whole Manhattan ‘new art’ scene during the days of Andy Warhol.” “Warhol, along with fellow New York City pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, brought silkscreening to the forefront as a respected and appreciated art form.”

Fry chuckles when re-telling an art patron compliment, “if Warhol and Lichenstein had a kid, it would be you.”

The iconographic, bold, colorful, thought-provoking, graphic-inspired silkscreen prints Fry composes blend the pop art cultural influence of his youth and the marketing designs that would follow college. Printing on heavy paper, wood, glass or canvas in often oversized formats, he creates both one-of-a-kind and limited-edition images. From inspiration to composition to production, Fry fashions all aspects of his craft.

After earning a Fine Arts degree from Edinboro University in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Fry moved to Cleveland to work as a graphic designer. Specializing in corporate advertising for 10 years, he grew increasingly impatient to focus on more creative endeavors.

Now 47 and a full-time artist-entrepreneur managing Glenn Fry Art as his business enterprise, Fry is glad he gravitated to D.C. “I may not have been able to continue as an artist had I not moved here,” pointing out that economic downturns have largely not affected Washington – or interest in art. “D.C. has been good to me, my art has been well-received and I’m appreciative of that.” Besides, he notes, “New York’s bohemian culture isn’t around anymore.”

The stark simplicity of his silkscreened compositions initially belies both the complexity of their thoughtful origination and multi-layered manual execution. “I’m often inspired by situations I’ve gone through or those friends have experienced,” Fry says in describing the genesis of a piece. “I want my art to be fun, uplifting, colorful, graphic and bold, with a contemporary twist.”

While Fry designs pieces at his apartment near Logan Circle, he produces his prints at a nearby studio, organized by local artist Gary Fisher. Ten years ago, Fisher invited Fry to join him and three other artists in renting the basement level in a small commercial building at 1327 14th St., N.W., near Rhode Island Avenue. “Gary was the one who prodded me and inspired me,” Fry says, recalling his professional transition while still bartending.

Fry launched his first exhibit at Gallery Plan B, a couple of blocks north on 14th Street. “They really helped me spring to life in my profession,” says Fry. Working full-time as an artist since 2008, Fry has since garnered high-profile commissions for permanent installations at two Federal Reserve Board buildings, IBM, National Geographic Channels, and the Washington Design Center.

As his art gained exposure and grew in popularity, requests for commissioned pieces by both local businesses and individuals would follow. “Trusting me to create something they’ll enjoy, knowing my style and investing in my work” gives Fry great satisfaction.

“I’m grateful every day that I’ve found my passion,” Fry says, “I’m doing the thing that makes me happy.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

Glenn Fry, gay news, Washington Blade

Glenn Fry (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

07
Jan
2014

Time for a new employee manual

manual, gay news, Washington Blade

A review of existing employment manuals is especially important when there are significant changes in the laws governing the employer/employee relationship.

By JOHN J. MATTEO

The beginning of the New Year is always a good time for companies and employers to review their existing employee manuals or employment policies to insure they are compliant with current law and with their own practices.  An old adage states that the only thing worse than not having an employment manual or written policies is to have them but not follow them. This adage reflects the need to insure that your policies comport with your company’s actual practices and that such practices are consistent with applicable law.

A review of existing employment manuals is especially important when there are significant changes in the laws governing the employer/employee relationship, as we have seen in 2013. These include the Windsor decision issued by the Supreme Court that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the implementation of some portions of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the push for mandatory sick leave by some jurisdictions, the IRS’s continued focus on properly classifying employees v. independent contractors, and the EEOC’s stated strategic goal of focusing on workplace discrimination. Any one of these issues would require a revision to most employer’s policies and manuals, but together they call for a complete revamping and review of the way policies are formed and enforced by most employers.

D.C. employers have been used to protecting gay employees from discrimination given the D.C. Human Rights Act; however, employers in Maryland and Virginia have not had a state law with the same level of protections, although Maryland has moved in that direction. Given the Windsor decision and subsequent IRS guidance, gay couples that are lawfully married in a state or jurisdiction recognizing such unions may avail themselves of the same rights as heterosexual couples when filing their tax returns. The effect on employers in the region (where two of the three major jurisdictions recognize gay marriage) is that they cannot deny certain benefits to gay employees who are legally married. Employers should be sure that these protections are clearly set forth in their employment manuals.

Much has and will continue to be written about the ACA as its provisions are implemented but employers – especially smaller employers/companies need to be prepared. The most important lesson at this juncture is that employers with fewer than 100 employees need to begin to prepare their workers for the changes that have now been delayed until 2015. This will include mandatory participation in the local health care exchanges, as well as mandatory minimum benefits that must be provided by almost all employers.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued public statements that are clear — elimination of workplace discrimination will be one of the major focuses of the commission. Accordingly, employers need to be well trained on the EEOC standards so that business owners and managers can insure adherence to EEOC rules and regulations. These standards should also be well described in the company’s employment manual and procedures so that the company has guidance, employees know their rights and if a complaint is made both parties will know the process to follow.

Another important feature that should be clearly set forth in employment manuals or procedure policies given the EEOC’s stated goals, are the rights afforded to those seeking maternity, paternity and other family leave benefits. Depending on which local jurisdiction a company is situated in and how many employees are employed, the laws will differ. It is important for the employer to know these rules, to clearly state the company policy in the manual and most importantly to consistently apply them to all employees.

These are just a few highlights of provisions that employers should make sure are part of their employment manuals or policies and are some of the most important given recent EEOC statements. Other provisions that also should be clearly defined are policies related to full time/part time distinctions, Internet use and privacy, confidentiality, termination procedures and severance benefits.

In sum, the lessons are simple — employers should be educated by a professional on the myriad laws governing the employer/employee relationship and should seek out qualified advisers to assist them in drafting consistent policy manuals to avoid the risk of employment claims.

 

John J. Matteo is president and chair, Business & Employment Practice Groups, Jackson & Campbell, P.C.

This is part of a series of articles by Jackson & Campbell on legal issues of interest to the LBGT and greater business community.  Jackson & Campbell is a full service law firm based in Washington with offices in Maryland and Virginia. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact John J. Matteo at 202-457-1678 or jmatteo@jackscamp.com. If you have any questions regarding our firm, please contact Don Uttrich, who chairs our Diversity Committee, at 202-457-4266 or duttrich@jackscamp.com.

28
Feb
2014

A city of two tales: Benefactors and junkies

tax, gay news, Washington Blade

Will D.C. tax relief passage signal new era of better business treatment?

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council gave final approval with only a single dissent to a significant, if largely symbolic, measure of historic and first-in-15-years tax relief for residents and businesses both.

While too modest in size and too lengthy in implementation, community businesses welcomed the modicum of phased-in tax cuts like a thirsty camel in a desert. An attempt by the Council to recast the District as more business-friendly and regionally competitive, corporate tax reductions will slowly take effect over five years. Rates will then match only the excessive extraction levels of neighboring nemesis-to-enterprise Maryland when fully complete. The tax rate in adjoining Virginia will remain substantially lower.

The tax reform provisions originated with recommendations finalized last December by the D.C. Tax Revision Commission, chaired by former mayor Anthony Williams. After the proposals were unexpectedly shunted aside by Mayor Vincent Gray to sit pretty on a shelf in his Wilson Building office, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson surprisingly and successfully lined up the support of his colleagues in a controversial behind-the-scenes eleventh-hour alternate budget drafting outside of public view. It soon became clear the Council would unexpectedly embrace nearly all of the commission’s reforms and strike a decidedly unfamiliar economic posture.

Spending, however, continues to rise – nearly doubling in a decade to $6.8 billion in locally originating tax revenues, part of a nearly $12 billion total annual city budget. The Council’s free-spending ways have not been reformed, only the tax-taking component. The meager measure of tax relief does not represent spending constraint.

The ease of approval for a comprehensive package of income and business tax cuts was a tacit acknowledgement of the need and necessity for relief. Although to be “triggered” by sufficient new tax revenues in order to convey – $143 million in the first of five years, for example – business operators are confident that the city’s average of more than $280 million in recent annual surpluses will guarantee activation.

This unforeseen political development was also an important signal that revenue restraint was likely to remain dominant for the foreseeable future. The fact that it occurred absent serious opposition was astonishing. In fact, an impressive array of disparate groups and community opinion leaders wholeheartedly embraced the full tax relief package and worked hard to emphasize to the public that all the balanced parts were necessary to achieve the gamut of tax-lowering elements.

Gray is grumpy about losing control over the final budget in his now lame duck single term and flung condemnations against the Council tax provisions and budget details like spitballs. A mayoral veto, however, is clearly unsustainable.

These until recently unanticipated political developments represent stark philosophical crosscurrents in a city of two tales, often at odds.

One story is a government with an intractable appetite for hunting and hurling cash, often with little or no effective performance oversight. The other is the narrative of local enterprises long burdened by official disrespect and disregard, and notoriously high tax rates – all while infamously over-regulated and saddled with simultaneously silly and serious operational mandates and restrictions. Local business owners have a litany of tales to tell – some amusing, most not.

It’s the dichotomy between spendthrift politicians lusting to feed incessant urges contrasted with independent enterprise leaders burdened with the ravages of a seldom-satiated beast.

Council members look to the boom in business and, like the junkies they are, think few levies on the city’s benefactors unreasonable. Entrepreneurs are befuddled that politicians never stop to consider the impact tax policies and regulatory obstacles have on the ability to grow jobs and share the fruits of success with those in search of work, in need of opportunity, in hope of comfort.

While some limited tax relief is on the way like water dripping from a leaky faucet, restraining revenue will serve to slow spiraling expenditures and compel elected officials to spend more wisely and less wastefully. That will benefit us all.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

25
Jun
2014

Ambassador of 17th St.

Dito Sevilla, Dito's Bar, Floriana, gay news, Washington Blade

Dito Sevilla (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I live above a restaurant on 17th Street and work below another one,” chuckles Dupont Circle neighborhood bar manager Dito Sevilla. It’s clear that is where he feels most at home.

“Entertaining has always been in my blood,“ the offspring of a prominent ambassadorial family says. Sevilla’s paternal grandfather served as Nicaraguan envoy to the U.S. for nearly four decades, until 1979, later becoming a dean of the Washington diplomatic corps. His father would also serve as an emissary, first representing Nicaragua in Argentina and later as United Nations ambassador. Sevilla’s elegantly beautiful mother, who stops by to see her son at his bar on occasion, was a Miss Nicaragua international pageant contestant in her youth.

“I fell in love with hospitality,” explains the 35-year-old Sevilla, “and find it extremely rewarding.” “Serving guests is an expression of my best traits, the ones that come naturally to me.” The suburban Maryland native studied finance and marketing in college, but made a “conscience decision to stay” in the business.

Sevilla can be found most nights orchestrating the cozy conviviality for which Dito’s Bar at Floriana restaurant has long been known. Tucked away down a short stack of steps behind a door obscured from street view, the small lower-level bar at 1602 17th St., N.W., opened 10 years ago next month. The business moniker, like the friendly familiarity that often develops among the bar’s patrons, naturally evolved.

As the venue became a popular destination and pop-by hotspot, “we discovered we needed a name,” explains Sevilla. Floriana restaurant management and staff suggested referencing it as the customers already did – using the bartender-host’s name.

Dito’s Bar is part of the 65-seat noted culinary contributor on the commercial stretch. Known for its well-regarded modern Italian cuisine and extensive wine list, Floriana relocated to a previously converted multi-level row house near Q Street in 2000. Sevilla launched the basement bar a few months after he joined the staff of the upscale yet comfortable dining venue.

The restaurant menu is also available at the bar, enlisting early evening customers following a 5 p.m. opening each night. The bar generally stays open until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, extended to 1 a.m. on weekends.

“Guests refer to the bar as ‘the bunker’,” Sevilla jokes. Its 450 sq. ft. size is smaller than most studio apartments in the area but is surprisingly spacious. The set-up offers 16 stools at both an angular bar and alongside wall-hugging ledges.

Seated patrons engage in private conversations amid the bustle of others standing and moving about, as if at a house party. Sevilla will wave a hand or shout out a greeting as new arrivals enter – welcoming both frequent customers and first-timers alike.

Although Sevilla considers contrived the “speakeasy” motif adopted in recent years in the industry, “we have a sort of clandestine feel,” he admits. The exposed brick walls and subterranean environment give the bar a decidedly “underground” vibe and “hideaway” ambience.

Devotion to conveying high-quality cocktails, utilizing his own specially batched mixers infused with natural ingredients, along with a personable service style have earned Sevilla a high-profile reputation as “ambassador of 17th Street.” He regularly assists nearby businesses in promoting the area and coordinating community events. “Cobalt/Level One manager Mark Rutstein and JR.’s bar manager David Perruzza are my mentors,” he says, giving them “huge credit” for their business acumen and “understanding the constant need to reinvent.”

Dito’s Bar is “a community room with liquor,” Sevilla laughs, describing the diverse clientele. “The more different types of people spend time together the better we understand one another,” he adds. “That’s what happens here.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

14
Jan
2014

Business now greatest ally in LGBT equality pursuit

LGBT equality, corporate, cooperation, gay news, Washington Blade

Corporate leadership on LGBT equality should be embraced as an asset in broadening civil adoption and cultural acceptance.

“The Fortune 500 is the most effective lobby for gay rights.”

So declared television journalist George Stephanopoulos, a former Democratic Party adviser, last Sunday on the political news program he hosts.

Stephanopoulos was referencing the widely acknowledged role that business played in Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto last week of state Senate Bill 1062. The legislation would have extended the legal shield granted to religious institutions against being sued for denying service to persons based on religious beliefs. Existing law would have been broadened to include “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization” provided the required religious beliefs were “sincerely held” and a lawsuit or other sanction would substantially burden the exercise of them.

Public focus on developments in Arizona, and to a lesser extent similar bills being considered in other states, was widespread – as was public disdain. Business leaders, industry organizations and corporate entities are credited with prompting Brewer’s decision.

Clarion corporate antipathy, both within the state and across the country, was decisive. Business pressure for a veto, both in the public arena and behind the scenes, was pervasive and engaged businesses both small and large. Brewer prominently referenced business opposition when announcing she had halted the law. The next day White House Press Secretary Jay Carney first identified business when enumerating those who had successfully contributed to the bill’s demise.

Government has long been a lagging indicator of popular opinion and tardy in implementing policy revisions. Public sentiment on LGBT civil equality has outpaced legislative action at the federal level and in most state and local jurisdictions. Large numbers of businesses have led the way in implementing a complement of now commonplace protections in the workplace, usually much earlier and often more broadly than those guaranteed by the actions of either elected officials or government bureaucracies.

Since the landmark adoption in 1975 of sexual orientation employment protections by AT&T, fair treatment has expanded exponentially among businesses. In its Corporate Equality Index for 2014, the Human Rights Campaign reports that historic numbers of American businesses “champion LGBT equality” – including 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies providing explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation. Growth in recent years has accelerated at unprecedented rates.

Business leaders and organizations understand that embracing modern standards of equitable treatment is essential to attracting and retaining talent and best maintaining a corporate environment encouraging success. Companies also require the ability to relocate employees absent reluctance based on the territorial legal implications for workers and families. Larger enterprise with centers of commerce spanning geographic locations and political jurisdictions have little patience for the burden of managing the administration of variable tax and benefit policies or suffering inconsistencies in workplace matters.

Disgruntlement with differing jurisdictional same-sex marriage laws, for example, will likely speed laggard federal regulatory and benefit clarifications as well as spur national uniformity. Business advocacy could prove to be a notable incentive for encouraging both a national right to marry and consistent conveyance of privileges and obligations.

Ironically, should the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act be enacted its practical significance will be largely illusory, outpaced by wholesale prior corporate implementation as standard practice. The numerous exemptions stipulated in the long-languishing legislation will leave untouched the small segment of micro-businesses and other institutions most likely to include the relative few who would desire to resist compliance if affected. In local jurisdictions with similar laws, legal claims have been nearly nonexistent – softening business concerns regarding the potential volume of frivolous or retaliatory complaints and the expense of defending against them.

Business affirmation and advancement of fair and equal treatment offers benefit of normalizing the notion and strengthening community support. Corporate leadership on LGBT equality should be embraced as an asset in broadening civil adoption and cultural acceptance. It is imperative that allies be acknowledged instead of permitting those promoting a perpetual state of alienation to prevail.

Enterprise is not the enemy.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

04
Mar
2014

BestBus steers market

Asi Ohana, Richard Green, BestBus, gay news, Washington Blade

BestBus co-founders Asi Ohana and Richard Green are celebrating seven years of the successful business this month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Less than a decade ago, the launch of independent bus services providing low-cost travel between D.C. and New York City was an evolving and unreliable transit option. Two local entrepreneurs set out to correct deficiencies plaguing prior start-ups.

Now named BestBus, co-founders Asi Ohana and Richard Green pioneered many of the protocols and amenities later adopted by others. Eliminating the practice of overbooking due to chronic no-shows with the introduction of guaranteed seats and advance ticketing, no longer would frenzied first-come curbside “cattle calls” leave passengers stranded. From a starting date that sold out three weeks in advance on the wildfire word-of-mouth promise of enhanced service, BestBus has continued to set the standard for customer satisfaction.

That distinction has fueled the long and strong marketplace popularity of BestBus as an industry leader and has allowed the enterprise to expand pick-up stops and travel destinations. Formerly known as “DC2NY” until a recent rebranding reflecting new service locations, an enduring commitment to customer service and traveler enjoyment has been as much a key to the company’s success as a full tank of diesel.

Offering convenient and affordable travel, BestBus is the discriminating rider’s choice. Often referred to as the “upscale bus,” the company counts among its clientele professionals from local corporations and trade associations to political staffers and luminaries toiling in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Bookings are available on weekdays and weekends, with variable low-cost competitive rates.

The company pioneered on-board WiFi service and at-seat electrical outlets, complementary bottled water, and passenger voting on whether to watch a movie and schedule a rest stop. Critical to this type of enterprise, a singular focus on maintaining immaculate interiors and well-stocked bathrooms earned patron acclaim. Utilizing charter coach buses, cooperatively trained accredited drivers and on-call relief operators for all routes ensures both customer comfort and a spotless safety record.

Celebrating its seventh anniversary this month, BestBus now serves six cities with 10 routes, including seasonal service to the Delaware beach towns of Rehoboth and Dewey from both Washington and Manhattan. Building on the five-year popularity of its two-way sun-and-sand transport from the District, last year BestBus inaugurated service from NYC.

“We always had requests for service from New York to the Delaware beaches,” says company president Ohana, “but were surprised how quickly it took off.” Ohana and his now-husband Green, company CEO, rode one of their buses in last weekend’s New York Pride Parade – as they did last month in D.C. The Logan Circle couple of more than eight years will celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary the same week they commemorate the annual inauguration date of the only gay-owned bus business.

This week, BestBus general manager Avi Cohen opens a new Dupont Circle operations office at 2029 P St., N.W., as BestBus prepares to expand service stops. Designated bus stops off Dupont Circle and at Union Station in Washington, Times Square in Manhattan, Vienna/Fairfax and Franconia/Springfield Metrorail stations in Virginia, and its seasonal dual beach destinations will soon include new service stops in Manassas, Silver Spring and Baltimore.

BestBus plans to add destination cities Philadelphia and Boston in coming months. Green, a recently retired 27-year veteran of global corporate hotel sales, notes that “planned, gradual growth and service expansion was always part of our vision.”

VIP and regular memberships offering high-value frequent-rider discounts and booking deals are available on the company’s website. Most BestBus riders purchase tickets online or on mobile devices.

Whether planning a last-minute trip or an affordable alternative to the hassle of driving or the expense of the train, BestBus distinguishes itself with each mile and every happy traveler.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter @MarkLeeDC or reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

01
Jul
2014