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How Five Community-Owned Businesses Were Bolstered with Cares Act Money – Teesha Yoga



teesha yoga
Latesha Grant wants Yoga to be accessible to all and create the space for well being.

Latesha Grant hung out her shingle at Teesha Yoga in February of last year, just as the term Coronavirus was becoming familiar to the American public.

Grant said the ancient practice of yoga is an embodiment of “trying to find your true inner self through a healthy lifestyle.” Lifestyle habits became a huge consideration as the pandemic tightened its grip.

She has been quick to tell potential students that those who were surviving COVID with little to no lasting harm were those with strong immune systems and such qualities as good range of motion and a healthy diet. The CDC has said another version of the same thing, pointing to such risk factors as smoking, obesity and a weakened immune system as making severe COVID-19 illness more likely.

“Unfortunately, I opened my studio in February of 2020, so it was the very tip of COVID being known to other countries before it came to us,” lamented Grant.

She said her business was literally nothing for about seven or eight months. She offered virtual classes for those not comfortable coming to the studio but was still forced to cut back staff and utilize personal funds to keep going.

A CARES Act grant which came through the city eased the pressure, she indicated, aiding with rent, utilities, payroll and some marketing to keep the name of the business and its services in the public eye.

The big expense has been her lease, and that debt has placed the survival of the business in doubt. “I’m still drowning,” she said. “I could be confident, but you also have to be realistic. Confidence doesn’t pay the bills.”

Grant also said she applied for help under the Paycheck Protection Program but was unable to get any allocation. And she thinks the government could do more to help small business enterprises.

At what could be called the other end of the spectrum, she said her employees were understanding when she had to cut staff, and those in her classes have been nothing short of “fantastic “in terms of their support.

Now that the pandemic numbers and restrictions have eased, she’s seeing some improvement but has been cautious about the process, bringing back a couple of instructors and returning to in-person classes, albeit with limited class sizes and distancing. She leads sessions equipped with a microphone so that people who choose to be in a separate individual room can hear and follow along.

Also on hand is a diffuser regularly spraying a mist designed to help keep her business clean and safe.

And Grant asks students who come in for a session to wear a mask until they actually get on their mats.

She maintained that what she offers has been beneficial to some struggling with the uncertainty and loneliness of the last 16 or so months. In her words, “I have had students express to me verbally that they had thoughts of suicide and that just being able to come and express themselves and release the tension and frustration that was all bottled up (was good). Coming to yoga actually helped them to get a sound mind and to clear negative thoughts.”

Grant began her yoga practice back in 2000 while a student at the College of Charleston and has been teaching for more than a decade, racking up multiple certifications. As business begins to trickle back in, she’ll put that hard-won knowledge to more use.

“We just want to be able to be here and help change the community,” she said, noting that her business also offers services such as nutritional counseling, a yoga therapy program for teens and a kids’ yoga program.

“What I give out here can save lives,” Grant said.

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Soliant Continues Expansion in Peachtree Corners



Soliant 2021 Summer Internship Program (Facebook page).

Soliant, a leading provider of specialized healthcare and education staffing services to hospitals and schools around the nation, is growing in Peachtree Corners. Soliant recently expanded their Peachtree Corners headquarters at 5550 Peachtree Parkway by 25,000 square feet, bringing the total to 83,000 square feet.

In 2020, the company announced the relocation of its national headquarters to a 58,000-square-foot space in Peachtree Corners. The majority of new job opportunities now open to applicants will be focused on education and healthcare recruiting. Soliant will employ more than 600 people once this expansion is complete.

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Local Production Studio Innovates to Stay Afloat and Keep Creating



MMP Production using Unreal Engine (Facebook Page)

What started as a business offering music lessons and instrument rental has grown by leaps and bounds, now supplying major concert venues with equipment and providing filmmakers with XR film capability.

Music Matters Productions (MMP) in Peachtree Corners pivoted from pandemic hardship into a new division. When live events sank in the wake of the spreading coronavirus, MMP took a different tack. The company, which had just signed a lease for 40,000 square feet of space on Green Point Parkway, began creating “live” environments within its studio with the help of the Unreal Engine.

With no events to produce in 2020, the company experimented with the Unreal Engine software, typically used in video game environments, to create XR scenes and environments to help clients create innovative content. The company began using it to produce films, music videos and commercials for clients who couldn’t perform for live audiences, all within its XR studio.

MMP sold a six-episode show to Apple Music and created a piece for Jimmy Fallon. Thus, its newest division was launched. Now, the company’s founder and visual designer, Aaron Soriero, is planning to expand in Salt Lake City and Nashville.

“It has been fun to expand our horizons and services, while staying fully in our lane of capabilities,” said Soriero. “Having the ability to shift the business into content creation and to have the opportunity to own and produce our own content is invaluable.”

In addition to mobile staging and virtual event production, the company organizes drive-in events, provides live event production, creates music videos and customizes, manages, and designs projects. In short, MMP is a one-stop production shop.

MMP has created productions for the Atlanta Jazz Festival, Shaky Knees Music Festival, Sweetwater 420 Fest, the Fox Theatre, State Farm Arena and the Tabernacle, among other venues. For more information, visit musicmattersproductions.com.

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A Risk and Hard Work Lead to Sweet Success



Left to right, co-owner Nancy Rangel, Ally Fowler, manager and co-owner Diana Hsieh.

What started out as a search for a part-time job turned into Peachtree Corners resident Diana Hsieh becoming the co-owner of The Chocolaterie at just 27 years old.

The Chocolaterie is an artisan chocolate shop located in the oldest remaining building on Main Street in Historic Downtown Duluth. It has a beautiful assortment of luxury chocolates, gourmet ice cream, handmade fudge and unique gifts.

Humble beginnings

Diana was just two years old when her parents moved to Atlanta from Vietnam. When her family arrived, they moved into a one-bedroom apartment across from Turner Field and her father worked two jobs to support them.

“Growing up, I fell into the trap of the Asian stereotype and believed that in order to be successful in my parent’s eyes, I had to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer,” she said. Her parents fought to make it to America and worked extremely hard to raise her and her brothers. She didn’t want to disappoint them.

Over time, she realized that her parents didn’t have those expectations at all. They just wanted her to be happy and successful.

Finding her way

In 2015, Diana graduated from the University of Georgia, where she majored in Public Health and Sociology. “The plan after college was to get my Master’s in Public Health and go into disaster management,” she said. “I was frustrated with not finding a job in my field since the positions I was interested in required years of experience.”

Because of this, Diana had to move back home with her parents. “I was pretty disappointed with myself,” she explained. “I really thought that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I watched all my friends moving on with their lives and I thought that I should be doing that too. But instead, I felt like I was going backwards. I felt as if, at that point in my life, I should be done with having my parents help support me. I wanted to be out on my own and not depending on someone.”

Over the next couple of years, Diana bounced around to more jobs, got married and she and her husband Calvin bought their first home in Peachtree Corners.

“We kind of stumbled upon the home and knew it was more than what we could afford and bigger than what we were looking for at the time, but it was a great deal,” she said. To help them, Diana’s parents gave them money for their down payment and Calvin’s parents matched the gift.

Pathway to destiny

Once settled into her home, Diana began looking for another part-time job since she had just enrolled in Kennesaw State University to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science. She saw a post on Facebook that The Chocolaterie was hiring.

“I applied and got the job. Right when I was hired, the owners, Mike and Elizabeth Ashworth, made it clear that they were looking for someone to take over the store.”

Diana saw people coming often to meet with the owners, but they were never a good fit. “Everyone was interested in the store for its prominent location,” she recounted. “However, they didn’t want to keep the chocolate business.”

One day, when Diana and Elizabeth were working in the store together, Diana said, “Elizabeth casually asked me what I thought about buying the store. I was surprised by the question, but told Elizabeth I would give it some thought.”

Over the next month, Diana thought hard about the opportunity. After going back and forth with the idea and trying to convince herself that she could take on this challenge, Diana’s brother told her, “It sounds like you already made your decision, I don’t know why you’re doubting yourself.” That’s when Diana finally decided that she was ready.

The time is now

After Diana made the decision that she wanted to be the next owner of The Chocolaterie, she approached the store’s manager, Nancy Rangel, about partnering with her on the opportunity. “I was super nervous bringing it up to her,” Diana said. “I knew there was a chance that she wouldn’t go in on this with me, which is fair because I was asking her to make a big commitment.”

The owners stand in front of a custom mural of some of their great chocolates (pictured below mural)

Nancy told Diana she would think about it and get back to her. “That took a couple weeks, but once she got everything in order, we had lunch at Fox Brothers where she told me she’d love to do this with me.”

Diana and Nancy went back to Mike and Elizabeth to let them know they wanted to buy The Chocolaterie, and their parents helped them with the capital to purchase the store.

“From there, we really hit the ground running,” stated Diana. “We had lunch in March and by April, we were incorporated and got all of our licenses in order. By the end of June, we were finalizing everything and took over the store on July 1, 2018.”

Never give up

After a little over a year of getting up to speed on the business and finally getting in their groove, COVID-19 hit and forced Diana and Nancy to temporarily close the store for in-store shopping for almost four months.

“It was so stressful,” said Diana. “Everything happened so fast during the shutdown there was almost no time to think; it was just do.”

Diana was worried about how they were going to continue paying their staff because they didn’t want to lay anyone off. “We continued to have them at the store taking the phone in and online orders while Nancy and I worked on getting a PPP loan and figuring out how we could convert the store to allow for in store shopping again,” she said. “Shutting down the store was just not an option. It never crossed my mind during the shutdown that we weren’t going make it through this somehow. The store was my livelihood, Nancy’s livelihood. I just knew I didn’t want to fall back on depending on someone to take care of me again.”

Now, Diana can’t help but reflect on the challenges she endured to get her to where she is. When asked about her decision to buy the store, Diana said, “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I learned so much in the short time that I’ve had this store. I obviously learned a lot about the business side of things and how to manage and operate a business. But I also learned a lot about myself. About how much I could achieve once I got over the idea of doing things because I thought it was expected of me, to doing things that I wanted,” she said.

“To this day, I still think I’m crazy for buying the store but I’m forever grateful that Mike and Elizabeth, my parents and Nancy believed in me.”

Diana finding her own path and purchasing the store changed her relationship with her parents. “It brought a deeper understanding of what they wanted for me all along,” she said. “To be happy and successful no matter what it was that brought that success.”

Coned ice cream

After the initial experience of being frustrated and unsure of her career trajectory, purchasing The Chocolaterie gave Diana the confidence boost she needed. “I feel that the business is going to be just fine. I feel like, after dealing with COVID, I can handle anything that comes my way.”

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