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14th Street shows need for parking

parking meter, 14th Street, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The following was submitted as a letter to the editor in response to Mark Lee’s column of Jan. 31, “Stop counting cranes, it’s embarrassing all of us.”

After nearly 10 years of reading this newspaper, I have come to respect the viewpoints of many of the columnists. Mark Lee, for instance, provides an interesting perspective each week as a community business advocate. I have come to recognize his regulation-is-bad-private-business-is-the-savior editorials well in advance. Many times I agree with him, but I think he has some misconceptions on the parking issue.

In the last year I have been fortunate enough to relocate to Logan Circle, and subsequently moved into one of the large 14th Street buildings that now dominate the area. Lee argues that legally requiring a certain amount of parking spaces hinders development and leads to higher rents. He seems to miss the impact on the residents, however. In my building, the street level is for businesses. As such, the first parking level under the building is used for their employees. If these folks did not have access to the parking structure, where would they park? Many are not D.C. residents, and thus couldn’t park on the street for more than two hours because they don’t have the resident permit.

Secondly, well over 50 cars are parked on the resident parking level of my building.  If this option were not included, that would mean 50-100 more cars on the street. Those familiar with the area know that off of 14th Street you have blocks of rowhouses, some with parking in back alleys and some without. Since several of these structures are divided into multiple apartments, there is barely enough parking currently to support all these people. If my building, in this example, did not have optional lower-level residential parking, this would create parking gridlock throughout the neighborhood.

Lee also suggests that taking away the parking requirement would reduce rental/condo rates. I doubt that considering the demand for city living. I also point out that in many buildings parking is not free. My building offers one space for several hundred dollars a month. That is not part of rent, but a separate fee for those that don’t want to search the street for parking.

I don’t argue his frequent point that the city is an overwhelming maze of confusion for permits, zoning and bureaucratic nonsense. However, a lot of progress could be made for the positive just by following some of Lee’s other suggestions. Putting more cars on the street will only negatively impact our way of life. Until D.C. becomes more pedestrian and bike friendly (such as more shopping options that don’t require a trip to Maryland or Virginia), cars will remain a part of life. Let’s keep them underground and out of the way.

—Chris Greaver, Logan Circle

05
Feb
2014

Quintessential QCaterers

QCaterers, Carlos Cesario, Paul Herndon, business, gay news, Washington Blade

Carlos Cesario and Paul Herndon of QCaterers. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Tasting the sweet success of 10 years concocting a recipe of slow-cooked growth, the three partners at QCaterers are planning to dramatically expand their popular culinary enterprise.

Quintessential small business entrepreneurs and company founders Pepe Neira and Paul Herndon, along with chef Carlos Cesario who joined them three years ago, are as confident as their clients are appreciative that they smell a good opportunity to grow in scope their local catering operation.

Specializing in both corporate events and private client residence functions, QCaterers typically serves 15 to 300 guests at meetings, receptions and dinners at company facilities, prominent event venues or private homes. Menus highlight traditional American cuisine fused with Latin and Mediterranean influences.

Peruvian-born longtime D.C. resident Neira last month headed to his birthplace to study at Le Cordon Bleu Peru in the upscale Miraflores district in Lima. Enrolled in an intensive six-month program at one of only three campuses in the Western Hemisphere, he is concentrating on advanced studies in culinary enterprise management. Also a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine, chef Neira is preparing for the next phase of the trio’s business plan by complementing his college law degree with the practicalities of business administration.

While awaiting classes to begin next month, Neira has immersed himself in the “flavors, sounds and smells” of the capital city and its fast-growing economy. Speaking passionately about the “explosion of Peruvian cuisine” in both Washington and worldwide, he notes the country’s plethora of native spices and colorful ingredients utilized in regional cooking and the 300 varieties of locally grown potatoes.

Neira remains engaged in the D.C.-based catering operation, connecting regularly with his colleagues via Skype to plan scheduled events and revise event menus, while also handling administrative tasks from afar. His partners, including now-husband Herndon who notes their one-year wedding anniversary later this month, also use meeting times to detail their new venture.

Having developed a strong client base in the D.C. area, they plan to initiate catering operations in Lima early next year. Excited about the expansion, they are quick to point out that local service for a constantly expanding client base will continue unabated. They are also exploring the launch of a small import operation featuring company-branded quinoa, Peruvian chocolate and pisco brandy.

“Most of our new catering accounts and event requests come from existing clients,” says former South Beach retail manager Herndon, who primarily handles on-site client relations. “The quality of our food and attention to detail is what recommends us,” he adds. “We have built our business on customer satisfaction, and repeat business and referrals.” QCaterers was voted Washington Blade “Best Caterer” in 2012, and is currently focused on expanding service for same-sex wedding events. “Wedding clients tend to trust someone who catered their own,” Herndon jokes.

Venezuelan-native Cesario landed his first culinary job as sous chef for a local caterer, working for a decade alongside a former White House chef. With no prior experience, it was his passion for food and familiarity with world cuisines from extensive travels and architectural studies in Europe that landed him the job.

Cesario was sometimes assisted in the kitchen by an occasional chef-freelancer Neira and the two became fast friends. Cesario would eventually accept a job offer at QCaterers, recalling that “joining a small business operation was one of the most important decisions of my life,” noting his enjoyment working for himself alongside others.

“What is most exciting about this journey,” says Neira, “is the chance to work with great customers.” “We’re at the top of our game,” he adds, “and now have the exciting opportunity to expand what we do.”

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

08
Apr
2014

Yeme’s universe of love

Yeme Mengistu, Universal Gear, gay news, Washington Blade

‘I go home happy every day,’ says Yeme Mengistu of Universal Gear.

When local clothing retailer Universal Gear moved four blocks north on 14th Street last week, Yeme Mengistu made sure business was interrupted only one day. She and the staff packed up the store on Sunday night, moved on Monday and re-opened on Tuesday.

That’s the high-energy effervescent personality that has earned her the affection of legions of store patrons over the years.

“I love ‘love’ and I love life,” she is known to say, failing to sound corny. “This is my dream job,” Mengistu explains, “I’m giggling 24 hours a day.” Known to many only by her first name, she’s a smart and sassy woman who easily wins friends with her quick smile, easy repartee and infectious attitude.

Spanning 21 years of success under the stewardship of owner David Franco, Universal Gear is newly set up in a spacious street-level storefront in the new Harper apartment building at 1919 14th St., N.W., a half-block south of U Street. At the center of one of the city’s busiest commercial corridors, the new corner retail space offers floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, brightening the interior with light and connecting it to the bustling streetscape.

Mengistu began working at Universal Gear a little more than a year after the original 17th and Q streets location opened in 1993. Living in her first apartment nearby, it hadn’t taken long for the 19-year-old Howard University nursing school student to become a familiar face in the neighborhood. Preceding short stints working on the patio at the former Trio Pizza adjacent to the namesake restaurant and at Java House across the street provided a mutual introduction.

She would often host early-morning gatherings in her home after the area’s bars had closed. “It was a crazy time and I did it all,” she recalls of those halcyon days. “I was a foreign-born young woman adopted by this gay neighborhood family while figuring life out,” she says, noting her Ethiopian heritage. Her parents sent her to D.C. at the age of 13 to attend school.

Mengistu will briefly return to her homeland for two weeks this month to finalize conversion of her grandmother’s bequeathed estate into an orphanage – to be named “Love Mission.” Her voice cracks when describing the children who have lost their parents to HIV. “I always come back heavy-hearted,” she quietly offers, “now it is my time to give back.”

When Mengistu landed a job as emergency room nurse following graduation, she thought her retail days were over. After six months “of the constant trauma coming through the door,” however, she discovered she “couldn’t handle the stress” of her chosen profession. Married to NASA photographer Chris Gunn and pregnant with their now 13-year-old daughter Blaine, she devoted herself to her offspring’s first two years.

She kept in touch with Franco and then co-owner Keith Clark, accepting their invitation to return evenings and weekends while her husband covered childcare duties. Once her daughter began school, Mengistu again took on a full schedule. She later assisted in opening the former Rehoboth store and in the 2012 opening of the first of two New York City locations.

Now company director of operations, Mengistu frequently travels north to oversee the Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen stores. The 45 storewide employees “usually know when ‘Momma’ is coming,” she laughs.

Most days, though, you’ll find Mengistu in D.C., constantly popping out from her office to chat with customers wanting to say hello.

“I go home happy every day,” she points out, “the beneficiary of the same ‘retail therapy’ we provide our customers.”

She’s also spreading a lot of love along the way.

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

11
Feb
2014

TheStudeo’s ‘glamour and grit’

Frankie Sanderson, TheStudio, gay news, Washington Blade

‘To remain competitive it’s important for stylists to keep current,’ says Frankie Sanderson of his business. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“My style is glamour and grit,” says Frankie Sanderson, hairstylist and owner of TheStudeo, a recently opened salon in Dupont. That taste is echoed in his shop. The walls are a serene ice blue. Sleek white chairs face outsized mirrors with elaborate white frames. But the concrete floors are covered in graffiti, and the waiting area’s long, narrow window seat is strewn with funky, multihued pillows. It’s an inviting atmosphere, both calming and fun.

Sanderson who studied design before getting into hair enjoyed creating the salon’s look, and says he didn’t mind helping with the renovations throughout the months leading to the TheStudeo’s opening in late January. What he wasn’t prepared for was the all the red tape involved in starting a business. By far, the most frustrating part of the process, he says, was dealing with the D.C. Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs: “Each visit to their offices was like going fishing. You never knew what you might get.”

Over the last dozen years, Sanderson was employed by top salons around town and later became his own boss working at home and more recently renting a booth in another salon, but TheStudeo (1742 Connecticut Ave., N.W., thestudeo.com) is Sanderson’s first brick-and-mortar business. And as any new business owner will attest, the first months are particularly stressful. Sanderson’s experience has been no exception. “When you’re working for yourself, in the end it’s you who are responsible. It’s you who has to make sure the bills are paid. But despite the responsibilities, the satisfaction involved is amazing.”

Located on a busy block of Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle (just next door to the popular Bistro du Coin), TheStudeo holds an enviable position. Of course that kind of location doesn’t come cheap, but according to Sanderson it’s already paying off.

“We’ve got foot traffic passing by from early in the morning to sometimes night. We get lots of walk-ins. When I work late people will pop in and ask what’s happening here. I’ll give them a card and they often come back.”

In Washington, the salon competition is fierce: “D.C. is definitely a tough market. To remain competitive it’s important for stylists to keep current,” says Sanderson who frequently travels to New York City to update his skills. “What sets TheStudeo apart from other salons is our staff [seven hairdressers including him and a nail person who also does full body waxing] of talented, educated stylists. We regularly take classes to seek new trends and relearn basics. And we’re a very friendly, very open, full-service salon.”

TheStudeo’s clients range from conservative to edgy, says Sanderson. He credits his long roster of beautifully coiffed, seemingly natural blonde clients to a recipe of bleach, sweat, and know-how. “It’s important to listen to your clients, but a stylist must be intuitive at the same time.”

Sanderson was born in Washington and raised in West Virginia around Charles Town and Shepherdstown. “Growing up I went through New Wave and goth phases, so there was lots of big hair. I got a lot of stares.” He studied design at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond before apprenticing at a salon in Richmond and taking classes at TIGI in New York.

Sanderson lives with his partner of six years in Logan. “He’s in finance so he understands long hours,” he says. “We appreciate each other’s professions and work ethics. I’d like us to spend more time together than we’re able to now, but the time we do spend together is that much more valuable.”

A new business owner must make concessions. Sanderson has had to cut back on travel and his passion for shopping, but not entirely. “After all, a salon owner needs to look good,” he says grinning devilishly.

For now, Sanderson says the focus is on getting through the first year. “I want TheStudeo to be the kind of professional, creative, friendly salon that I’ve dreamed of owning. I’ll think about opening a second shop later.”

22
Apr
2014

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