Althea Hanson, cofounder of Althea’s Almost Famous, operates out of a commercial food truck. The company is looking for a storefront. (Imiivo Photo Studios photo)

Althea’s Almost Famous, Columbia

Looking for a storefront

Five years ago, Althea Hanson was in the process of adopting her goddaughter from Jamaica and was told that it was going to cost $35,000. That jolt led to some quick thinking that started paying off after she got cooking.

Literally. Cooking jerk chicken, to be exact.

“While I was figuring out how to raise the money, I was feeding her Jamaican food,” said Hanson, “but was giving extra food away to neighbors. But then I started selling it and made $3,000 one day by working from home. So I earned my catering license.”

She was working in residential real estate and her husband with an engineering firm, but they decided to found Althea’s Almost Famous and design a commercial food truck. A connection with Rosa Scharf, then of M&T Bank, resulted in a $50,000 loan to invest toward the $65,000 enterprise.

The company was recently featured in M&T’s Spotlight location in Baltimore’s Federal Hill, as well as two TV commercials, and has earned accolades from the Restaurant Association of Maryland. Today, the couple is looking for a storefront in Howard County, which will run them more than $100,000.

“We want to create a bistro experience,” she said, “with an outdoor element.”

 New option for pet medical care

Veterinary Emergency Group, Elkridge

Given 335,000 people live in Howard County, and that close to half of Maryland households own pets, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there’s a need for medical care for those pets.

The White Plains, New York-based Veterinary Emergency Group invested $2 million in its 51st location, which is in Elkridge and complements nearby offerings in Washington, D.C. (on H Street and in Georgetown). Number 52 is about to open in Pikesville.

VEG’s concept is based on access and speed, with eight to 10 doctors working a dozen 12-hour shifts per month, with the initial consultation and exam fees set at $175. It features “an open concept” with four exam rooms, an isolation room and state-of-the-art equipment, “such as an EKG machine; blood pressure, surgical and anesthesia monitoring; oxygen cages,” etc., said Dr. Nastassia Germain, a medical director.

Germain reported solid initial returns. “We’re seeing 7-12 cases a shift. We usually have at least three doctors on hand, as shifts overlap.”

And many pet owners will love that it doesn’t cost extra to stay over with their pet, “be it in the kennel on a cot or with a blanket on the floor,” she said.

Hillary Jones, center, and Gil Moody are co-owners of G&H Custom Workshop in Savage Mill. (Danielle Moody photo)

Expanded retail space

G&H Custom Workshop, Savage Mill

While COVID-19 devastated many a business, it also inspired the creation of others. G&H Custom Workshop falls into the latter group.

“We were a home-based gift shop that made ornaments during the shutdown,” said Hillary Jones, co-owner, “that developed into an online business. Then we progressed to brick-and-mortar last fall.”

That progress was exciting for Jones, a one-time executive director for a nonprofit; and partner Gil Moody, an ex-fitness industry executive. But the opportunity required not only the right timing, but intestinal fortitude. “We’ve already invested $60,000,” she said, “and anything we’ve made, we’ve reinvested.”
That infusion has already helped cover the expansion of the retail space from 750 square feet space in the New Weave Building to a 1,200-square-footer in the Old Weave Building, so G&H can accommodate classes as well as expanded browsing space.

The duo reported that while the foot traffic ebbs and flows, it’s been good during the summer tourism season and they’re looking forward to the holidays. “Everyone is a maker,” said Jones. “Technology is great, but people want to use their hands.”

And to think, Jones and Moody used to visit the Mill “and think how nice it would be to have a business here,” she said, “and voilà.”

 Solid sales

Toby’s Dinner Theater, Columbia

While business at the venerable Toby’s Dinner Theater hasn’t yet returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, Associate Producer Mark Minnick said it’s “at about 85%, which is a tribute to our venue’s loyal fan base.”

Toby’s supporters buy “from 5,000-7,000 subscription books for $276 each,” said Minnick, “which equates to 85,000-100,000 patrons in seats per year” for Toby’s eight weekly shows with from 250-270 guests per performance.

Of late, the venue has featured a sold-out, 12-week run of Grease and reported solid sales for Jimmy Buffett’s Escape To Margaritaville. Next up is Sister Act, with “presales and matinees almost sold out,” said Minnick; then on Nov. 10 Miracle on 34th Street opens “during our holiday run that always sells out.”

But the big news at Toby’s is its new home, which will replace its circa 1967 building as part of the new Howard County Cultural Center on its current site. “It’s a go,” Minnick said; it will also include the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts and affordable housing.

He also cited accessibility as a prime draw at Toby’s. “If you go to Annapolis, Baltimore or Washington, you have to deal with traffic, parking, etc. Here you park for free, have dinner and see a show, all in one stop.”

Booked for ice time

Bowie Ice Rink, Bowie

The development of the new ice arena in Bowie sure hasn’t unfolded in an expedient fashion. However, it’s happening.

After the originally-planned two-sheet facility near Freeway Airport was scratched in May 2020, talks focused on building a single-sheet on a seven-acre site the city owns on Route 197 by the Bowie Golf Course. That proposal was approved by the City Council, so today Minneapolis-based JLG Architects is preparing a $1.6 million engineering and design plan that’s slated for completion next spring.

While it’s early to predict a completion date for the new arena, “especially with the cost issue, given the possibility of eventually adding a second sheet,” said Bowie Ice Arena Manager Carrie Robertson, the plan “should be available by the end of the year.”

What eventually happens to the 52-year-old Bowie Ice Arena, which is located on Northview Drive near Allen’s Pond, is up to the Council. But as for today, business is booming.

“Between the summer camps and our programming,” said Robertson, “we’re booked from 6 a.m.-12 a.m. daily from September through March, but I still get calls from people looking for ice time. The new facility won’t give us room to grow unless that second sheet is added.”