Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

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

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

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

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

In a LEAGUE of its own

Josh Hampshire, LEAGUE, AT&T, gay news, Washington Blade

Josh Hampshire is the new CEO of LEAGUE at AT&T. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When Josh Hampshire was a teenager in Michigan, he lived the life of a nerd. His fascination with technology contrasted with his earlier years growing up “almost Amish” on the small dairy farm operated by his “old hippie” counterculture father.

Later developing an interest in the communications technology of the era, he would soon find himself rummaging through a dumpster to retrieve the discarded miscellany of a closing telephone switching station near the subsequent childhood small-town home he would share with his mother. He assembled the salvaged parts to create his own two-node hard-line network linking to a friend’s home next door.

Hampshire, beginning the year as the new CEO of LEAGUE at AT&T, now heads up the 30-chapter network of company LGBT employees, engaging more than 3,300 members across the country. The organization’s board of directors and chapter leadership gathered in D.C. last weekend to plan strategic priorities for the year.

Established in 1987, the trailblazing AT&T Employee Resource Group, one of 11 current internal associations, became the first gay workplace support and advocacy organization of its type in the country. It would survive the multiple evolutions of telephone industry re-configurations and re-brandings through which the company would transition.

Embraced by a welcoming corporate attitude from the beginning, the novelty of such a gay employee association was a natural fit for the telecommunications giant. AT&T management and personnel had, after all, been instrumental in establishing the Telephone Pioneers of America in 1911 – now the world’s largest industry-specific organization of employees and retirees dedicated to community service.

According to AT&T LEAGUE Foundation founder and president John Klenert, a retired Washington employee, the corporation’s embrace of equal protection policies was both immediate and organic. When the now-named National Gay and Lesbian Task Force wrote to the late and then AT&T chairman John deButts in early 1975 requesting that the company adopt sexual orientation employment protections, he quickly agreed – distinguishing the company as the first Fortune 500 enterprise to do so.

Hampshire, who began as an entry-level customer service rep, praises AT&T “for being a pioneer in LGBT workplace policies,” noting its additional distinction as “the first large company to provide employment protections for transgender employees.” AT&T is ranked as a Human Rights Campaign “Best Places to Work” and has long enjoyed a perfect score on the organization’s Corporate Equality Index.

“There are few businesses that have celebrated diversity like AT&T,” Hampshire points out, noting that the company “doesn’t ‘toot its horn’ about nondiscrimination policies and philanthropic activities,” that are the result “of a unique grassroots management culture from the bottom up.”

Hampshire, now a Dallas-based senior program manager for the 200-city AT&T Aspire high school mentoring program, recalls how being a techno-nerd and growing up gay was a dual estrangement from his peers. “At one point I thought I would drop out of high school,” he says, adding that those memories help him understand the importance of his current job. “AT&T has committed $350 million to the program over 10 years,” Hampshire notes, enthusiastically detailing the positive impact it has for at-risk students, the educational values it instills, and the opportunities the program provides through an emphasis on science and technology skills.

LEAGUE of AT&T is expanding its organizational foundation’s existing college scholarship program, funded by AT&T and private donors, by providing LGBT student mentoring in affiliation with the Aspire program.

For Hampshire, who is planning a New Mexico wedding with his partner of 10 years and with whom he is expecting twins in late August by in vitro surrogacy, that is a goal as clear as any modern-day mobile phone call.

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

20
Jan
2014

What windows wear well

Mike Witkop, Adam Holzsager, Window Wears, business, gay news, Washington Blade

Business partners Mike Witkop and Adam Holzsager of Window Wears. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The staff at Window Wears knows their business so well customers likely think they have a magic portal into their homes.

Business partners Adam Holzsager and Mike Witkop take great pride in serving clients with acquiring custom window blinds, shades, motorized shades, shutters and other window treatment products. If satisfaction, referral and repeat business, and preferred provider status among local builders and real estate agents are indicators, they’re at the top of their game. The company’s glowing online reviews provide testimonials the envy of enterprise.

It’s simply the way they like to operate.

Founded by Witkop in 1996, the former men’s sportswear specialist launched the business as a result of personal experience. Needing blinds for his residence, Witkop self-ordered them. He discovered it was difficult to locate product options, navigate selection and undertake installation. His off-the-shelf purchases soon developed problems, requiring replacement or repair.

The lack of a specialized company providing customized service in D.C. inspired Witkop to discern a business opportunity – still fulfilling a unique niche.

Customer service experience from previously working in the business equipment industry helped Witkop decide to take the leap. He cut the corporate cord cold with a phone call while vacationing in Rehoboth.

He set out to master all aspects of his new endeavor with an office on his kitchen table. He learned the ropes, established vendor relationships and promoted his business by word of mouth – later running ads in the Blade to grow his client base. An underserved marketplace was constantly confirmed as client calls came.

Holzsager, a senior buyer for a major grocery store chain, was an acquaintance and had been a previous clothing customer. Whenever Holzsager would ask, Witkop would report his new endeavor was booming. “It was always as successful as I needed it to be,” Witkop recalls. Holzsager started to tentatively inquire, “don’t you think you’ll need someone to help out soon?” In 2000, he would follow his friend’s entrepreneurial path by leaving his job and teaming up with him.

Five years later, Holzsager would buy out his co-worker when Witkop relocated to San Francisco. Although he enjoyed the West Coast, operating a Window Wears West while there, Witkop would return to D.C. in 2011, re-joining the firm. Shortly thereafter, design and installation team member Bill Carson would begin working full-time.

“What makes us different is that we’re familiar with every single task involved in our business,” Holzsager says, “there’s nothing we haven’t done or don’t know well. Both Mike and I have more than a decade of experience working with clients and knowing our products, and we strive to offer low-hype, low-stress service delivering exactly what our clients want with exacting installation in the most convenient way possible.”

A commitment to excellence and their longevity of operation have enabled the duo to work directly with major national and international manufacturers – allowing for quick delivery and great pricing on the highest quality and most innovative window coverings available. “We’ve put a lot of effort into creating relationships with premier product sources that allow us to offer custom products of quality materials made to last and at good value,” emphasizes Holzsager. “No national franchise operation can provide that level of service and attention to detail,” Witkop adds.

Working out of an office suite in the Dupont Circle area when not consulting with clients in their homes or handling installations, Window Wears limits service within the Beltway. “We want to be able to maintain quick response to ensure clients enjoy complete satisfaction,” explains Holzsager.

What gives them the most pleasure, however, is helping them decide what their windows will wear.

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

04
Mar
2014

Home loan service Apex

Franckie DiFrancesco, gay news, Washington Blade

Francki DiFrancesco (Photo courtesy of DiFrancesco)

Fresh from a Sirius/XM Radio appearance last Saturday, longtime community personality Francki DiFrancesco fast personifies the passion fueling her successful career. The knowledgeable local mortgage banker at Apex Home Loans had finished discussing new lending regulations and was eager to talk the trade.

Facts and figures, however, aren’t what propelled the 45-year-old Certified Mortgage Planning Specialist (CMPS) to the pinnacle of her profession. That came with dedication and an instinct for customer service first honed as a popular local bartender and women’s nightlife event producer.

“If you can’t trust your bartender,” she jokes, “whom can you trust?” Working ‘back-in-the-day” at former nightclub Tracks and prior restaurant-lounge Trumpets on Dupont Circle’s 17th Street taught the value of an attentive ear and art of personal confidences. “Mortgage lending is more than just loan rates,” she explains, “people need to feel comfortable along the way.”

“Assisting a client should feel like I’m sitting in their living room,” says DiFrancesco, adding that her “goal is to always bring information on how to best structure a purchase or refinance a loan.” “It’s one of life’s most important financial decisions,” DiFrancesco emphasizes, “and it should be with a trusted adviser who understands their situation and future financial goals.”

In her earliest days in the business, clients would pick up mortgage documents at her bar at Trumpets. “I was their friendly gay mortgage banker,” DiFrancesco recalls. “Back then, client couples didn’t want to explain their relationship to a stranger in order to acquire ‘joint on title’ status and develop survivor arrangements,” she explains. “I was one of the first to handle same-sex couple loans.”

DiFrancesco, now a long-established Senior Mortgage Banker at Apex Home Loans headquartered in Rockville, Md., is a top producer at the award-winning firm. Apex was recently named “Best Small Business of the Year” in Montgomery County following national recognition as among the “Top 100 Mortgage Companies in America.”

Last year she handled 133 home loans totaling more than $45 million, highest volume by other than firm principals. Mission success at Apex, however, isn’t calculated in dollars – it’s measured in customer satisfaction.

Her recently launched “Francki’s Rock Bottom Rates” Facebook page provides testimonials. While mortgage processing oftentimes ranks alongside undergoing a root canal, DiFrancesco’s client commendations prove it can be otherwise. Credited with making it “easier than buying a refrigerator,” plentiful praise reaps a steady stream of referral and repeat business. Both individual borrowers and real estate agents laud her attention to the details leading to inking final documents.

DiFrancesco services D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Rehoboth Beach – as a direct lender. That’s an important distinction, she points out, allowing for an expedited process and independent underwriting brokers can’t provide. “There aren’t many who can handle all the steps,” noting her additional certifications throughout Delaware and New Jersey, with Pennsylvania and Florida licensing pending.

“Many banks don’t do business with brokers,” she notes, “they prefer to deal with mortgage bankers. We understand the local market and know our clients. We provide personalized service, handle credit vetting and hold the initial note.” That level of “customer relationship speeds up the process, allows us to shop for better rates among banks and provides the best solution for borrowers.”

Having raised two children with a former partner, DiFrancesco will soon share her Gaithersburg, Md., home with Dr. Tammy Anderson, a University of Delaware sociology professor. They met several years ago at a Mautner Project benefit while DiFrancesco was relaxing at her house in Rehoboth.

“Home is the place we feel most secure, where memories are made,” DiFrancesco says. Her clients quickly discover she loves helping them acquire theirs.

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

29
Jan
2014

Aesthetic of the good life

Leslie Apgar, Pura Vida, business, gay news, Washington Blade

Dr. Lesile Apgar takes a holistic approach to patient care. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Schoolteachers and diplomats, men and women, young and older alike have discovered a unique aesthetic skin care and anti-aging oasis north of Washington. The holistic approach of founder Dr. Leslie Apgar and her five-person staff has engendered a loyal and devoted patronage throughout the metropolitan area and beyond.

It takes only a moment talking to the effervescent Dr. Apgar to discover her zeal for patient care and commitment to encouraging the health and happiness of her clients.

Apgar launched Pure Vida Medspa & Cosmetic Laser Center a little more than five years ago, in addition to a hospital medical group practice in obstetrics and gynecology. A board-certified physician for 10 years, the 45-year-old Apgar sought an opportunity to evolve her professional focus and was inspired by the encouragement of patients.

Although providing non-surgical treatment at Pura Vida, employing a minimally invasive cosmetic approach, it was Apgar’s skill as a surgeon that impressed her patients. “Skin is the largest organ of the body,” she points out, “and my incisions were always good.” It was that attention to the physical results of surgery that prompted Apgar to open the award-winning cosmetic laser center she leads.

Specializing in advanced aesthetic and anti-aging procedures, the business takes its name from a Costa Rican salutation translating as “the good life.” The Seattle-born Penn State medical school graduate infuses her practice with a distinctive desire to assist those seeking to enhance their appearance and maintain healthy skin. “We promote a natural approach,” Apgar notes, “to soften the blow of aging.” “None of us on staff wears makeup,” she says, “healthy skin is what is really beautiful.” Referrals for plastic surgery are available for those requiring or desiring surgical treatments.

Located at the upscale Maple Lawn Town Center off Columbia Pike north of D.C. in Howard County, Md., nestled midway between Washington and Baltimore in Fulton, clients are drawn to the personalized approach and modern technologies employed at the center. An inviting light-filled ground-level office provides a fitting introduction to Apgar’s patient-centric practice. A relaxation room, consultation office, and private treatment spaces adjoin the spacious concierge area’s soothing earth tones and wood plank flooring.

A complementary consultation initiates identifying and evaluating patient areas of concern – whether laser hair removal, brown spot elimination, skin peels or microdermabrasion, cosmetic facial fillers and toxins for wrinkle reduction and fine line elimination, laser skin resurfacing, vein therapy, acne or rosacea treatment, diet and weight management or a range of other specialties. A distinctive feature is utilization of a Visia complexion analysis unit, described by Dr. Apgar as “the Bentley of skin appraisal.” This technology allows for a detailed age-comparative survey of skin condition.

Laser treatments are key to advancements in effective skin care, a therapy for which Dr. Apgar and her colleagues are specially trained. “What is scary are the spas without trained physicians, especially those using lasers,” Apgar cautions, highlighting the importance of professional staff skilled in equipment and procedures.

Pura Vida Medspa has continued to invest in cutting-edge technologies and laser treatments providing significant benefit and impressive results. A recent advancement in permanently eliminating chronic sweating using the non-surgical miraDry procedure is available and popular. An additional specialty is expertise in treating all skin colorations, a surprisingly unique capability that distinguishes Apgar’s facility and services.

Apgar continues to split her time with the hospital group, but dreams of expanding Pura Vida Medspa into a comprehensive holistic health center, allowing for the integration of a full complement of care.

The beauty of Dr. Apgar, a self-described “down-to-earth sweats-and-tee-shirt kind of gal,” is she’s likely to reach her goal.

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

10
Mar
2014