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

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Mojitos

“I don’t want to say it was a drop in the bucket, it was very helpful,” said Luis Fernandez of the thousands in federal money his business got under the Paycheck Protection Program, a later COVID-19 grant and from elsewhere.

“But one rent check, one liquor license renewal and a couple of utility check payments and you just blew $50,000,” said the owner of Mojitos Cuban American Bistro at the Forum as he recounted well over a year of struggle in his Peachtree Corners restaurant and other locations. He said without the money from the paycheck program, they wouldn’t have made it until December of this past year, when they got the grant.

As the pandemic flickered to life in the spring of 2020, he said, the dining room was closed for more than a month, then open for takeout only, and when the dining area finally reopened, 80% of their square footage disappeared due to social distancing.

Thinking initially that the crisis would peak and begin to subside in 15 days, Fernandez said he gathered staff and told them that he was going to pay them as if all and sundry were going on a couple-week vacation.

When that span came and went with no sign of recovery, “that’s when the body aches and the grey hairs came. I feel like I aged 30 years in ten months,” he lamented.

Efforts to stay afloat included them cashing in life savings and maxing out a home equity line of credit. Not so good.

But much better: Fernandez credits both the city of Peachtree Corners and ordinary citizens with being a huge help. The grant money that he had applied for in late November-early December came through a couple of weeks before Christmas — a very timely holiday gift, if you will.

As with Harwell, Fernandez said since reopening and easing back toward “normal,” business has been a roller coaster ride. “We saw some amazing weeks of sales come in late May and early June (of 2020) and we said, ‘Hey, baby, we’re coming back.’ And then the whole riots and everything started happening with spikes in cases and (business) went back down again.”

He credits the city with helping to stem the bleeding in a couple of ways. Fernandez said when they decided to reopen the dining room, he procured a large banner announcing the reopening. Unbeknownst to him, he said, was a provision in the city’s building code limiting the size of such signage. A code enforcement agent drove the point home with a visit.

The Cuban restaurant owner decided to plead his case with city hall, emailing a member of the council and getting a sympathetic hearing. “A week later, the city announced they weren’t enforcing the signage code,” he said, adding, “you’re not thinking about the city code when you’re trying to save your financial life.”

The city also eased up on late fees for paying liquor sales tax, Fernandez said, which alone saved thousands of dollars. The move made sense, he said, given that restaurants, with historically little profit margin, have to closely allocate their money in order to meet such obligations in a timely manner.

The community also rallied, buying gift cards while the restaurants were closed and placing garden-variety-sized orders with a $100 tip attached. “They really did bring tears of joy on more than one occasion, just knowing that we have a community that wants to help small businesses,” he said.

Fernandez said the business is back to about 80% of its former level. He noted that the latest wrinkle involves finding enough staff. “We had an amazing Mother’s Day weekend at all of our restaurants,” he said. “But we have like 40% of the staff, so it feels a lot harder.” He said the weekend was a mad scramble as a result.

While the trend is in a positive direction, he added, a business model meant to evoke a crowded, hopping 1950s Cuban nightspot faces a tough challenge in an era of social distancing and face masks.

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VyStar Credit Union Continues Growth in Georgia with the Opening of a Peachtree Corners Branch

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A grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for May 29, 2024

VyStar Credit Union has to announced that its Peachtree Corners location is now open at 5125 Peachtree Parkway in Peachtree Corners. This is VyStar’s fifth full-service branch in Metro Atlanta and joins branches in Stockbridge, Suwanee, Smyrna and Marietta.

In support of its purpose to “Do Good,” VyStar partners with non-profit organizations across the communities it serves. VyStar will make a $5,000 donation to the Rainbow Village to celebrate the grand opening of the Peachtree Corners branch at the ribbon cutting event in late May.

“VyStar’s first branch in Gwinnett will provide residents and business owners with better banking options, including free checking, access to early direct deposit, great rates, financial wellness education through VyStar’s Financial Fitness initiative, and unbelievable member-centric service that only a credit union can provide,” said VyStar EVP/Chief Operations Officer Chad Meadows.

The Peachtree Corners branch features VyStar’s digital-forward design, which enhances how employees connect with members. This includes interactive touchscreen kiosks that provide financial tools and allow members to quickly explore the latest products, services and rates. 

Lobby and drive-thru hours for the Peachtree Corners branch are Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

VyStar continues to work with local organizations to build up the communities it serves. In Metro Atlanta, that includes supporting the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Junior Achievement of Georgia, Frontline Housing Inc., H.E.R.O. For Children and many others.

“Each time VyStar opens a new branch, it is another opportunity for us to support our purpose to Do Good. With eight full-service branches now in Georgia and our first Contact Center in Metro Atlanta, VyStar is able to provide residents and area businesses with exceptional financial products along with personalized service,” said VyStar SVP/Georgia Market President Janean Armstrong.

VyStar has seven additional locations in Georgia: Marietta, Smyrna, Suwanee, Stockbridge, Brunswick, Savannah and Thomasville, with plans to open branches in Pooler, Kingsland and Peachtree City over the next year.

The credit union is also expanding its services in Florida with a third branch in Tallahassee scheduled to open in May followed by a branch opening in the Lake Nona area in August.

To celebrate the grand opening, the community is invited to a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 29, 2024, at 10:30 a.m. Learn more about the Peachtree Corners branch.

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Kendra Scott Opens New Store At The Forum

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Kendra Scott

Kendra Scott is celebrating the opening of its newest store in Peachtree Corners the weekend of May 10 at The Forum.

Upon opening, the 2,263 square foot store will display Kendra Scott’s current collections. The store will also showcase the brand’s unique Color Bar, offering shoppers an interactive experience to create customized jewelry in minutes and leave with it in hand.

Worn by celebrities including Hailey Bieber, Camila Cabello, Mindy Kaling, Zendaya and Kelly Clarkson, Kendra Scott’s collections are known for their custom-created stone shapes, genuine materials and design details.

This will be Kendra Scott’s first store in Gwinnett County, which joins five other retail locations in Georgia.

The brand will continue to show its support for the community through partnerships with non-profits and local businesses. For the grand opening weekend, Kendra Scott Peachtree Corners will host various non-profits for Kendra Gives Back events, donating a percentage of proceeds directly back to the causes.

Kendra Scott hosts more than 10,000 Kendra Gives Back events in retail stores annually and looks forward to establishing relationships and connecting with the Gwinnett County community.

“We’re excited to continue introducing the community to new brands, bites and events at The Forum as part of our vision to create downtown Peachtree Corners. Kendra Scott will be a welcome addition, providing our guests a top-notch experience to shop its unique offerings in person,” said Charlotte Hinton, The Forum marketing manager.

Doors will open on Friday, May 10, at 10 a.m. with celebrations throughout the weekend, including giveback events, gifts with purchase and giveaways. RSVP for more details here.

Upcoming events:

  • Friday, May 10 from 10-12 p.m. – Kendra Scott Peachtree Corners is partnering with The Forum for a VIP event. Supporters who spend $100 will receive a special jewelry gift with purchase.* Guests will also enjoy refreshments from Giulia, The Italian Bakery.
  • Friday, May 10 from 5-7 p.m. – Kendra Scott Peachtree Corners is partnering with the Norcross High School Cheer Team and donating 20% of proceeds. Supporters who spend $100 will receive a special gift with purchase* Guests can also receive a custom embroidered bow from Quiet Hours Embroidery with purchase.
  • Saturday, May 11 from 4-6 p.m. – Kendra Scott Peachtree Corners is partnering with Spectrum Autism Support Group and donating 20% of proceeds. Supporters who spend $100 will receive a special gift with purchase.* Guests will also enjoy complimentary cotton candy from Wonder Soirée with every purchase.
  • Sunday, May 12 from 12-2 p.m. – Kendra Scott Peachtree Corners is celebrating the Community of Motherhood. Supporters who spend $100 will receive a special gift with purchase.* Guests will also receive a complimentary Mother’s Day bouquet of flowers from Nancy’s Flower Truck.

*One per person while supplies last.

Kendra Scott Peachtree Corners is located at 5155 Peachtree Parkway, Suite 710 in Peachtree Corners at The Forum. For companywide updates and product details, follow @kendrascott on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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BRACK: Peachtree Corners to lose Peterbrooke Chocolatier

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Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson.
Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson. Photo provided.

Peachtree Corners will soon lose one of its most iconic, popular and tasty businesses.

Peterbrooke Chocolatier, run by Geoffrey Wilson and Scott Gottuso, has been told by Peachtree Forum landlords, North American Properties and Nuveen Real Estate, that its lease will not be renewed. The last day of business will be July 25.

Meanwhile, Peachtree Forum is getting several new stores. They include Kendra Scott, Sucre, and The NOW Massage. Previously announced were Alloy Personal Training, Cookie Fix, Gallery Anderson Smith, Giulia, Lovesac, Nando’s Peri-Peri and Stretchlab. Wilson adds: “We are not in their big picture.”

Wilson has operated Peterbrooke at the Peachtree Forum for 14 years and Gottuso has been there nine years. They have made the chocolatier profitable and doubled sales. Wilson says: “We turned it around through community involvement and made relationships. We worked with the schools, gave donations, did a lot in the community, and made a difference. We produce most everything we sell in the shop, so it’s labor intensive. We make European-style chocolate treats from scratch from the very best ingredients, package it, make gift baskets, and also sell a lot of gelato.”

Key items include truffles, hand-made caramels, cherry cordials, chocolate-covered cookies and pretzels and strawberries hand-dipped in their own blend of chocolates. (They are all good!) One of Wilson’s and Gottuso’s most iconic products is chocolate popcorn. Once you try it, regular popcorn is tasteless. “We sell a lot of it.” Wilson adds: “Gelato sales have carried us in the summertime, since there are not many chocolate holidays in the summer.”

Peterbrooke now has five employees, and would like to have 10, but it is difficult to hire people with the skills in chocolatiering. A key part of its business is corporate companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Capital Insight. The Peachtree Corners’ Peterbrooke has corporate customers as far away as Cleveland, Ohio.

The operators were surprised when the Forum owners did not renew its five year lease. “The big decisions were made in Charlotte or Cincinnati, not locally,” Wilson feels. “We were no longer in their big picture. They want new and glitzy, shiny, fancy and trendy.”

The operators plan to start their own chocolate company, to be called “Scoffrey,” and initially sell online, plus have pop-up locations during holidays, and possibly have a booth in other merchants’ stores on occasions.

“Whatever we do would look different. We might rent a space somewhere close by so that people can still have the good chocolate experience with us, but we won’t have a regular audience walking by.”

Another element: the price of chocolate futures has spiked this year, with a bad crop production year. Wilson says: “That is key to our business and a huge cost increase. That doesn’t help.”

Wilson adds that the forced closing of the Peterbrooke location “is something like the death of a friend. But you go to the funeral and to the wake, and in six months or a year, It won’t be so bad.”

Have a comment?  Send to: elliott@elliottbrack

Written by Elliott Brack

This material is presented with permission from Elliott Brack’s GwinnettForum, an online site published Tuesdays and Fridays. To become better informed about Gwinnett, subscribe (at no cost) at GwinnettForum

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