It can be a challenge for small businesses that open in underserved communities to thrive, but Alesha Hicks and David Magby pushed to make it a success.
The couple celebrates the first anniversary of the opening of Tropical Smoothie Café at the Shops at Iverson in Temple Hills, an area considered a “food desert” lacking options of healthy foods and grocery stores.
The business has become a fixture in the community as one of eight franchises in Prince George’s County. According to company rankings, the Temple Hills location consistently ranked in the top 1 percent in weekly sales this year among the company’s 800 stores nationwide.
The couple, who are county natives, also represents a handful of Blacks who own a franchise of Tropical Smoothie, headquartered in Atlanta. They currently oversee 33 employees and seek to open a second café.
A stream of customers calmly walked inside the café Monday, Nov. 11, making an array of orders, including a smoothie suited for the fall season: pumpkin pie comprised of real pumpkin, Ghirardelli white chocolate, cinnamon and nonfat yogurt.
“We are providing a healthy food option in a community that needs it,” Hicks said. “What we are doing is bigger than us.”
Striving to keep a business afloat isn’t easy, but the couple says the struggles made them stronger.
One day when the café ran out of some products, Magby rented a U-Haul, drove to Baltimore to pick up additional items and brought them back to the café on the same day.
“I loaded that U-Haul truck by myself,” he said. “We can laugh at it now. It taught us a valuable lesson.”
One source of pride for the couple is seven former employees who are currently in college or the military.
Mabgy says there’s a running joke at the cafe, but with a serious undertone.
“If you don’t get a 3.0 [grade point average], then you get your hours cut,” he said. “We say that jokingly, but we hope that inspires those who didn’t to work harder.”
It pays off with the couple rewarding the young people with Visa or Uber gift cards.
A few employees such as Tim Vinson of Forestville joined the company when the café first opened last year.
“When I first heard about the idea of bringing healthy food options coming to this area, I was on board,” said Vinson, now a general manager at the café. “Every day we are bringing great joy to this neighborhood. These people deserve it.”
The colorful Tropical Smoothie sign situates on the property where the mall owners continue a $30 million renovation at the former Iverson Mall, which sits along Branch Avenue (Route 5), one of the county’s busiest highways, in a community known for heavy police activity.
Police reported a burglary Sept. 24 from a business in Temple Hills. On the same day, a grand jury indicted former police officer Cpl. Radames Gonzalez on 11 charges that included extortion and false imprisonment for conducting illegal traffic stops in Temple Hills.
“Not everybody can handle being in this location,” Magby said. “You have to treat everybody equally, no matter what.”
Despite whatever negative vibes may exist outside the café, customers who walk inside are greeted with a warm environment with colorful portraits. Near the bar area, one can smell fresh fruit such as pineapples and strawberries.
The churning of an ice maker methodically mixes into the variety of music from the overhead speakers.
But, most importantly, the voice of an employee says, “Hello. Welcome to Tropical Smoothie.”
Customers such as Monica Miller always have a favorite dish. Her choice: a Caribbean jerk chicken bowl.
“I’m glad we got healthier options,” said Miller, a community manager for WC Smith in southeast D.C. “Plus, the customer service is just great. I think [the Temple Hills location] is going to be around for a long time.”
Another long-term commitment is on the horizon for Magby and Hicks, who are engaged to get married next year.
“I’m happy,” Hicks said with a smile. “Each person has a strength and weakness. We just work together. We respect each other decisions whether here, or at home. I couldn’t be in a better place.”