New maker’s market

Queen’s Temple Handmade, Columbia

After spending her early career in law enforcement, Richelle Johnson focused on a new approach to life in 2013 that included better self-care. That included starting a business that has recently gained new traction.

It started when she was browsing the soaps in Whole Foods. “It was a new world. I learned that glycerin bars were the easiest to make, so I made some bars for family and friends. Then one suggested selling from the Patapsco Flea Market,” Johnson said. “I did ― and left with $125.”

A move in 2017 to Columbia eventually led her to Laura Bacon, CEO of The 3rd, who directed her to M&T Bank’s accelerator program. That led to QTH being invited into the M&T Spotlight and selling her product from the Federal Hill branch.

After a decade and spending $55,000 of her own money, the boost has given Johnson the idea to finally take QTH full-time: by founding a maker’s market in Columbia. “I may make that move as my business grows,” she said. “I want to give makers a space to sell their goods on the spot. Customers like good stories and they also like visualization.”

Robot server delights

K-Manna Fusion, Columbia

Diners react as a robot delivers food to their table at K-Manna Fusion in Columbia (TBM / Jason Whong)

Anyone who’s visited the new K-Manna on Snowden River Parkway has noticed its star server. He’s not very big, but does his job flawlessly, has a great work ethic and never cops an attitude.

If you don’t know his name, that’s because he’s a robot.

Augustine Yoon, a human server who works “in tandem” with this new colleague, said the robot came on board after K-Manna Owner Iksoo Song found a company in Korea, BeXcom Solutions, that markets the robots. They work via a cashier typing in an order on a tablet, which is then approved by the customer.

Then the robot, which can hold multiple trays, turns to accept the orders at a counter behind the register as the cashier types in a delivery code. Next, the robot brings the food to one of KManna’s 10 tables. If anything impedes its progress, it stops.

The reaction among the clientele has often been one of bemused positivity, which has helped to boost the Korean bistro’s bottom line. “Customers are shocked, amazed and excited to see its silky-smooth trek to the appropriate customers,” said Yoon. “We’re just trying to get more people to come here and check it out.”

A mindful approach

Ellie Mental Health, Columbia

Ellie Mental Health held a ceremonial ribbon cutting on May 1. The new company, owned by Warr Family Group, is a franchise of Minneapolis-based Ellie Mental Health, aims to destigmatize mental hhealth care while encouraging its practitioners to have a good work-life balance. Pictured from left are Ivy Gales from the Maryland Department of Commerce; Ginamarie Gorey, a therapist; Connie Blizzard, the clinic director; Jessica and Marcus Warr, co-owners; Chante Pittman, a therapist, and Lori Kleppin from the Howard County Chamber. (TBM/Jason Whong)

Ellie Mental Health recently opened in Columbia. And while the name might suggest a connection to someone named Ellie, Managing Partner Joye Warr said the name makes a strong correlation concerning the company’s mission.

“The name refers to elephants, which are more mindful and have more brain function than most humans understand,” said Warr, and thus inspired founders Erin Pash and Kyle Keller to create an approach to mental health “that is more approachable and less stigmatized.

“We don’t talk at people, we talk with people, with acceptance,” she said, “and creativity, innovation, humor and compassion.”

To that end, the company uses what it calls Ellie Match “to ensure that the client connects with the right counselor or psychiatrist,” said Warr. “If someone is having issues with anxiety, for instance, we find a specialist in that area for that age group.”

It’s about a “brand standard,” she said, “We allow therapists to concentrate on their strengths, which are never intake, paperwork or back office functions; handling those necessities can discourage professionals from entering the business. And we don’t have a receptionist who might know your neighbor; we have a kiosk.

“We even provide counseling for our counselors,” said Warr. “That overall approach makes us different.”

10-year lease 

Dragon Scale Paint, Laurel     

Andrew Weiss had been trying to open a paint store in Laurel for seven years, with no luck. But a funny thing happened due to the state of the retail real estate market: rates dropped, so he signed a 10-year lease at 14207 Baltimore Avenue, invested $220,000 and opened Dragon Scale Paint.

The new entity, which carries Benjamin Moore Paints, epoxy-grade materials and concrete acid stains, is Weiss’s fifth company; they also include Dragon Scale Flooring, Dragon Scale Construction, Weiss Brothers Properties & Auto Care and East Coast Kemiko, all of Jessup. He’s relocated his commercial and residential paint and supplies to the new location, where said he “carries more brush and application devices than Lowes or Home Depot, easily, times three.”

The new company is also partnered with big boxes like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, Floor & Décor and Home Depot. “We’re their exclusive installers via our application arm,” said Weiss, a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business operator.

Weiss’s next goal is to open five more Benjamin Moore stores in Maryland “that are no more than 40 minutes apart,” he said. “I hope to retire in 20 years and give my companies to my employees. My businesses are all about community support.”

Record attendance 

Annapolis Blues Football Club

One goal of the Annapolis Blues Football Club was to open its debut season on June 3 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium by setting the National Premiere Soccer League regular season attendance record. With the announced throng of 8,368 for the win against Frederick, Detroit FC’s mark of 7,410 was easily shattered.

Then came the June 10 match against Virginia Beach City FC with 7,665 supporters watching another victory, again breaking the previous record. So how is this Division 4 soccer team working its way into a vast local entertainment market? In a word, integration.

General Manager Fred Matthes said “community is part of our mission statement. We understand that Annapolis isn’t Washington and isn’t Baltimore. We wear Annapolis on our chests and the locals are taking pride in it.”

That’s a top-down approach. “All of our investors are local and they also invest their time in us,” said Matthes, who noted that merchandise sales exceeded $10,000 for both games.”

With seats only sold on the south (or “blue”) side of the lower deck of the 34,000 capacity venue, Matthes knows “that’s more than enough room to grow. But just how big and for how long,” he queried, “who knows?”