The Ultimate Juggling Act

From tackling bedtime to increasing the bottom line, local “mompreneurs” do it all.
Tabitha Bethune of The Wild Reserve and Cherie Melancon Franz of Thinkerella are among a dynamic group of local women juggling the demands of motherhood and owning a business.

Mompreneur: Coined by two leading authorities on women-owned businesses, Ellen H. Parlapiano and Patricia Cobe, during the late 1990s, the term now refers to women who constantly endeavor to balance the demands of motherhood and running their own business.

Here in Southeast Louisiana, we have quite a few examples of successful, well-known mom-run businesses, including Fleurty Girl (Lauren LeBlanc), ZukaBaby (Erin Reho Pelias), FuzziBunz (Tereson Dupuy) and The Occasional Wife (Kay Morrison). In fact, the Ruth of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – founded here in New Orleans in 1965 – was a divorced mother of two when she mortgaged her house to buy her first restaurant. The chain that bears her name now boasts nearly 140 locations worldwide.

Nationally, women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of small business growth – growing at one-and-a-half times the national average. Women currently make up 38 percent of self-employed workers in this country.

However, according to a report last year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana ranked a dismal 47th out of 50 in its percentage of businesses that are women-owned.

In an effort to inspire more women to follow their passion, and in honor of Mother’s Day this month, Biz New Orleans takes a look at local mompreneurs from seven different industries that you may not know, but should. Whether drawn to take on the demands of two all-consuming occupations at once by a desire to control their own schedule, leave a legacy for their children or make a difference in the world (or a combination of all three) all are examples of real wonder women determined to leave their mark on the city they love.

Photos by Cheryl Gerber

Tartine and Toast – Cara Benson

Founded: June 2010 and April 2014

Business: Named for its signature open-faced sandwiches served on baguettes, Tartine is an Uptown New Orleans restaurant that also serves regular sandwiches, salads, soups and breakfast. In less than four years, demand for increased breakfast offerings inspired Benson to create Toast, a bakery and breakfast bar, less than 2 miles away.

Success: Just blocks from Audubon Park, Tartine quickly became a popular lunch spot for the nearby universities. “We get a lot of faculty, especially women,” Benson says. After just a few years, business was strong enough to support a second offering. “I signed the lease on Toast and was a bit surprised to find out I was pregnant with my second child one month later,” Benson says.

The Journey: Born and raised in New Orleans, Benson is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City. After three and a half years working as a sous chef for Muriel’s Jackson Square, she had her first child. “It was so much harder returning to my 50-hours-a-week schedule,” she says, noting it was her dad that convinced her to take the leap and open her own business four months after becoming a mom. With a mix of savings, help from her parents and a loan, Benson raised the $60,000 it took to open Tartine at the site of a former hair salon.

Kids: Teller, age 5 and Louis, age 6 months
Finding Balance: “I love taking the kids in to work, and they love it, too. Teller loves the restaurants and I love that he’s seeing what his mom can do.”

Lessons Learned: “I’ve found having the two restaurants is actually easier – at least financially – than one. When one’s not busy, the other is.”

Advice to Entrepreneurs: “Have enough money to carry you through for a while. I thought I’d make a profit in a month or two – it was more like a year.”

The Future: “Eventually I’d love to open more Toast restaurants.”

Photos by Cheryl Gerber

Nurture Nannies – Nicole Fraser

Founded: December 2011

Business: Nurture Nannies provides families with full and part-time nanny services, as well as regular or short-term babysitting and overnight nannies. Services are also available to guests of local hotels.

Success: In 2012, Fraser employed three nannies and grossed under $50,000. Just two years later, the company had grown to 29 nannies, with over 100 active clients and was grossing $250,000. “We’re on a hiring kick right now,” Fraser says. “This year’s going to be even better.”

The Journey: A Tulane law school graduate, Fraser intended to return to practicing law after becoming a mother but had problems finding childcare. “We have a particular parenting style – we are vegetarians, I was big on breastfeeding – and I was having a hard time finding a nanny that would respect those choices,” she says, noting she caught one potential nanny sneaking her son a ham sandwich. Frustrated by agencies that “charged astronomical fees just to start a conversation,” it was a conversation with her sister (a nanny) that spurred Fraser to leave law behind and create her own service.

Kid: Jude, age 4

Finding Balance: “I guess it’s ironic that my search for a nanny has actually enabled me to be able to stay home with my child full time,” she says, noting that after two or three phone and in-person meeting with a potential nanny she will commonly bring her son in to help with the process. “I want to see how they interact with a child – how they engage.”

Lessons Learned: “A friend of mine advised me early on to keep my overhead as small as I could. Thankfully I did, because that’s all that allowed me to survive that first summer lull.”

Advice to Entrepreneurs: “Be cautious, but have no fear. Make sure your bases are covered – the lawyer in me, I guess – but then go for it. The worst thing that will happen is you’ll have to think of something else.”

The Future: “I’m extremely hands-on. I do all the vetting and meet with every family. I’m very much invested in every client relationship and I like it that way. Of course that limits growth, but I’m OK with that.”

Photos by Cheryl Gerber

Ringletts Salon – Mindy Porche Hobley

Founded: 2005, reopened in 2008

Business: New Orleans’ largest multicultural hair salon, Ringletts’ 1,700-square-foot location includes 14 stylists and 1 esthetician.

Success: The salon’s second location is set to open by July. “It’s a partnership with the Hilton Riverside Downtown that connects to the Riverwalk,” she says. “We’ll offer express salon services to locals and vacationers/cruisers with any type of hair that are short on time.”

The Journey: A native of Glynn, Louisiana, Hobley came to New Orleans to attend John Jay Beauty College when she was just 17. While in her early 20s with a 3-year-old daughter, she opened her first salon, Elements, in 1997. “I made a ton of mistakes,” Hobley laughs. “I had no plan, no vision and I never looked at my financials.” Three years in, she closed the salon, returning five years later to found Ringletts in Lakeview, just five months before Hurricane Katrina. “We had 10 feet of water,” Hobley says. “It was devastating.” After retreating to Glynn, Louisiana, she says she was soon inundated with calls from clients, now scattered throughout the country. “Three months after the storm I had a lineup of people waiting for me to do their hair out of my father’s garage.” Three years later her old Elements location became available and Ringletts was born.

Kid: Morgan Elizabeth Taylor, age 20

Finding Balance: Hobley’s daughter, Morgan, now works as a stylist at Ringletts. “She’s the reason I do everything,” Hobley says. “If I make this work, I will have this legacy to leave to her.”

Lessons Learned: “With my first salon I was working IN my business but not ON my business. It wasn’t until I took the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses class that I learned the real meat and potatoes of running a business.”

Advice to Entrepreneurs: “Failure is going to happen. Through failure you learn. If you can remember that, you got it.”

The Future: “I’d like to eventually bring Ringletts, and our express services, to every major city in the country.”

Photos by Cheryl Gerber

Thinkerella – Cherie Melancon Franz

Founded: March 2014

Business: A science lab for kids ages 3 to 13, Thinkerella offers safe, fun, STEAM-based activities (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) through birthday parties, scout sessions, workshops, summer camps and after-school sessions for both boys and girls throughout Greater New Orleans.

Success: Over 1,500 kids have experienced Thinkerella since its opening last year. ThinkerKids, the company’s after-school program launched this school year, currently includes 23 programs in 17 elementary schools in Greater New Orleans. Franz hires local teachers, both to facilitate these after-school sessions and develop the projects and coordinating lessons. “By the end of May I will have paid out approximately $20,000 in supplemental income to local teachers. I’m very proud of that.” Thinkerella has a storefront for parties in Uptown and just opened its second location in Mandeville on April 11.

The Journey: A stay-at-home mom for 11 years, Franz’s muse struck after taking her daughter to a spa-themed birthday party last year. “On the way home I was thinking to myself, that’s not really the message that I want to be sending my daughter and her friends. They’re all beautiful, but they can be so much more.” Franz’s husband then challenged her. “What would you do different?’” he said. “By the next day I had the idea, the name and the logo.” Using her $3,000 tax return, Thinkerella was born.

Kids: Annabelle, age 12, and Ethan, age 8

Finding Balance: “I’m in the shop everyday while my kids are at school. Then I’m home for homework and dinner,” she says. “Many nights I go back after they’re asleep.” Franz’s children also serve as models for her company’s logos – Annabelle for Thinkerella and Ethan for the male counterpart, Thinkerfellas.

Lessons Learned: “If I’ve learned anything through all this it’s that if you treat your employees well, they will do their job well,” she says. “I believe in paying teachers well for the work they do. We also have a Facebook group where they can discuss successes and failures and offer support and ideas.”

Advice to Entrepreneurs: “Having a business is like parenting really – you don’t know what you’re doing, so there’s a lot of trial and error. Early on Kay [Morrison, owner of The Occasional Wife] told me, ‘There’s always going to be a fire to put out. Don’t dwell on it. Just learn to roll with the punches.’ That’s so true.”

The Future: “I’d like to make Thinkerella a national brand. People think I am already, which makes me think I’m on the right track.”

Photos by Cheryl Gerber

The Wild Life Reserve – Tabitha Bethune

Founded: 2008

Business: The Wild Life Reserve is a retail and collaborative design space that produces limited and short-run goods, “building brands and protecting fashion.” Located just off the intersection of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, the company’s location boasts not just a retail space (which features designs from the company’s lines, as well as local and international brands), but also a classroom for educating designers on everything from pattern making to manufacturing, its own manufacturing area and a private showroom.

Success: Wild Life Reserve has helped launch 16 fashion brands and resurrected three more. In March, Bethune won both the Urban League of Greater New Orleans’ 2015 Women in Business Challenge (and $10,000) and the Downtown Development District’s Downtown NOLA Arts-Based Business Pitch.

The Journey: Born and raised in New Orleans, Bethune and her husband, Micaiah, are both designers – Bethune creates dresses and evening gowns, while Micaiah began selling ties at the Freret Street Market in 2008. It wasn’t long before other designers were coming to them for advice. “I’m a designer, but my real passion is for the business side of fashion,” Bethune says. “I believe fashion is about telling stories, and I love to help people to do that.” In an effort to help other designers, the fashion incubator was born. The company’s flagship location opened in February of last year.

Kids: Jasmine, age 15, and Olivia, age 9

Finding Balance: “Every time I travel for work I bring my kids – whether that’s Brooks Brothers in New York, or showrooms and fabric houses. Thursday nights we also set aside to be together. Nothing comes between that.”

Lessons Learned: “It’s so important to take time for yourself. I believe that’s one of the most important things I do, both for myself and my kids. Even just to take a moment to be alone can make a world of difference.”

Advice to Entrepreneurs: “You can’t do it alone. It’s important to have support. You also need to have a time frame set when you go to accomplish something. If it’s not accomplished, you need to move on to something else.”

The Future: “My goal is simple: I just want my girls to be able to look back and say, ‘My mom helped a lot of people.’ I want to teach them to be helpers – people who care.”

Photos by Cheryl Gerber

The Remedy Room – Dr. Mignonne Mary

Founded: July 2013

Business: A medical clinic with a spa-like feel, The Remedy Room offers infusion therapies of fluids and vitamins designed to help with everything from the common cold, to hangovers, to boosting athletic performance. “We see a ton of tired moms and executives,” she says. “The basic idea is that you can’t heal the body if it’s not hydrated and nutritionally sound.”

Success: In business less than two years, The Remedy Room treated over 2,000 people last year, and business is growing. “It’s pretty much all through word of mouth – people are feeling better, and they’re telling their friends and family,” she says.

The Journey: The daughter of Dr. Charles Mary Jr., a pioneer in IV nutrients, Dr. Mignonne Mary grew up personally experiencing the benefits of her father’s work. “When we were sick, that’s how he would treat us,” she says. “Colds, flus, all of it, and we would get well.” After graduating from LSU Medical School and working as an internist at the family business, the Mary Medical Clinic, Dr. Mary opened the Le Papillon Medi Spa at the Old Uptown Square in 2004. It was the first of its kind in the area – a single location with everything from yoga classes to Botox and laser hair removal – and was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Mary spent the next years focusing more on motherhood before she was drawn again to entrepreneurship – opening The Remedy Room in July 2013.

Kids: Lynn, age 14, Eleanore, age 10, and Charlotte, age 5

Finding Balance: “The clinic is like a fourth child for me – it demands a lot of attention, but every night we always have dinner together as a family, that’s our time to really zero in on our kids’ days,” she says, noting that at least one of her daughters has already shown interest in continuing the family business. “My oldest thinks she wants to run the front desk this summer,” she laughs.

Lessons Learned: “Having a business is like being on a roller coaster: it’s a ton of fun, but there’s definitely some scary parts. It’s exciting though – a complete rush.”

Advice to Entrepreneurs: “Especially for moms, I’d say put your phone down when you walk in the door. I’m not going to lie and say I do this every day, but I try.”

The Future: “Right now we’re trying to grow our own line of supplements and recently began offering a 10-day detox program to help those with drug and alcohol problems…Eventually, the goal is to take the company nationwide.”

Photos by Cheryl Gerber

FauDo and Get Online NOLA – Wendy Dolan

Founded: 2010 and 2013

Business: Get Online NOLA specializes in building affordable websites for local small businesses and nonprofits by offering a customizable gallery of web designs. Dolan also offers teaching workshops. “We’ve become a resource. It’s not just a one-time web build and we’re gone,” she says.

Success: Working from home, Dolan says she had such little overhead that she was profitable almost right away. From 2011 to 2012 her business grew by 100 percent. It grew by 50 percent last year. In October 2014, her husband was able to leave his job and come to work for the company. Dolan was named as one of the 100 most innovative, influential and active people in tech and entrepreneurship in Louisiana, by Silicon Bayou News this year.

The Journey: Originally from Houma, Dolan was working as an artist and graphic designer when she moved to Los Angeles with her husband in 2008. There, both worked as freelancers – she designing company websites while he wrote the code. “Eventually my husband got so busy that he began teaching me code so I could help,” she says. “From there, I was hooked – I used online resources to keep learning. When Dolan got pregnant in 2010, the couple decided to move back to Louisiana, where her husband took a job and she decided to focus on FauDo, a full-service marketing company that she had founded that year. “I soon found that there were all these businesses that really needed websites but couldn’t afford my services, so I thought, ‘I’ll do something they can afford.’” Get Online NOLA was born.

Kid: Kai, age 3

Finding Balance: “Working from home, I’ve had to become really strict about shutting off. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every night I shut off my cell phone and do not check emails.”

Lessons Learned: “While the typical gap is 67 cents on the dollar, women in technology are earning more like 95 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. After being surprised by my own love for coding, I’m now passionate about seeing more women consider themselves in different roles.”

Advice to Entrepreneurs: “Listen to your clients – to what they want and need. For me, that was so valuable.”

The Future: “Our big goal is to expand regionally. We hope to be in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Houma in the coming years.”