Jewish News asked three Jewish-owned businesses what they do to make their brand stand out in a sea of sameness, how they give back, what they have learned, and how resilient they are to change.

November 24, 2019

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Avi Eli: Hebrew Hustler

Avi Eli

Avi Eli

In 2011, Avi Eli was the guy with the funny accent hustling Dead Sea products at the mall. Today’s he’s enjoying life in Miami while Mr. Shawarma runs “hands free” and dominates Norfolk’s Middle Eastern street food sector. In 2015, following in the footsteps of his food proprietor parents, Eli went from kiosk guy to owner/operator of Mr. Shawarma, where he introduced the shawarma pole, a secret weapon of Israeli street food that flavors shaved morsels of turkey and lamb for pita and flatbread wrapping.

Eli was first to market it, teasing and tempting the Norfolk kosher (and non-kosher) community with thousands of years of Middle Eastern history in every bite. Today, he has three local managers, giving him the freedom to enjoy the sunshine state, conduct a real estate business, and come and go when needed.

How does Mr. Shawarma align with your customer’s lifestyle?

We are a Kosher and Health friendly business with a multicultural customer base.

What makes Mr. Shawarma different?

First, we are the only Kosher restaurant in Tidewater. Secondly, we are in the fast food niche, but we make everything fresh daily and in house. We also pride ourselves on our meticulous cleanliness.

How does internet and pop-up culture impact your business?

We have a strong Facebook and Instagram presence. Customers constantly come in and comment on posts we have made about new foods, recipe changes, and specials.

What’s the one thing you had to figure out the hard way, but wish someone told you?

Some people look for instructions and ask directions. I have found I learn best by trying and failing.

Do you mentor? What is your best experience, being mentored, or mentoring someone else?

I like to promote and mentor within my business and employee family. I would rather build up my staff and see them succeed then bring in outside help.

How do you like to give back?

It is my belief you give in secret. The blessing is in what is hidden.

What animal best describes you?

I would say an octopus. They are methodical, problem solvers, adaptive and can make the choice to be seen or blend into the scene around them.

Jody Greason: Kitchen-to-closet lifestyle zester

Jody Greason

Jody Greason

Many know Jody Greason as a mom and twin sister who helps modern women own their personal style in denim, cashmere, and organic cotton. Greason is neither hyper-focused on fitness nor averse to adding fries to an occasional food order. So, it might surprise some to know that her interest in health and nutrition got serious enough to become a certified nutritionist. Casual conversations with customers about health, nutrition, fashion, and kids took a serious turn when a good friend was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, eluding and rattling everyone who knew and loved her. Greason led a fierce campaign researching everything she could find on the impact of food on health, particularly on cancer. “People told me, ‘you should have been a nutritionist,” Greason says. To which she told herself, “‘I still can.’”

How does JodyG align with your customer’s lifestyle?

It’s a beach lifestyle, casual, comfortable, but classy and stylish, too. Effortless style. My girls may or may not work, most have kids of varying ages, many do volunteer work, and enjoy date night or a night out with the girls. All want to look put together, with minimal thought or preparation. I try to provide a wardrobe for this lifestyle by providing fashion right pieces that are easy to grab out of your closet for kids’ sports events to date nights to charity events to lunches with the girls.

What makes JodyG different?

I think with any boutique, it’s all about point of view. I believe fashion is a form of expression, it’s how you wish others to see you, because like it or not, first impressions are a fact of life. It’s not about age, or size, or trying to look younger… it’s about looking and feeling your best, no matter what your personal situation is. I help busy women, and bring a highly edited selection each season, that is fashion right, age appropriate, and suitable for the awesome beach lifestyle that we are all fortunate enough to lead.

How does internet and pop-up culture impact your business?

The internet is awesome! It enables us to get our message out on a consistent basis. Before the internet, we would have to send an email or snail mail postcard to announce new arrivals. It’s so quick now. We just take new items out of the box, post a photo, and it’s out there! People are constantly coming in and asking for something they saw we posted on Instagram. The power of social media is truly amazing.

What’s the one thing you had to figure out the hard way, but wish someone had told you?

Running a retail business isn’t all rainbows and butterflies…it’s really hard. My background prior to opening my store prepared me somewhat…but it’s still really, really hard and stressful.

How do you like to give back?

People are always asking for donations for charity functions. I very rarely, rarely say no. Being on the board at JFS provides new opportunities for me to give back.

What animal best describes you?

I have no idea. I love most animals. My husband says “cheetah.”

Lindsay Bangel: Behind the LABL

Lindsay Bangel

Lindsay Bangel

Lindsay Bangel lived in New York and loved her work and workout life. During the day, she taught second graders with Asperger’s syndrome. Her typical after-work routine included hailing a cab to one of her top three spin gyms and fitness studios, and meeting girlfriends for drinks and dinner.

In 2016, Bangel moved back home to Virginia Beach to heal after losing her twin brother, Justin. At the time, both parents faced health issues that worried her enough to kiss her New York lifestyle goodbye.

As a walking billboard for elevated work-out wear that local women couldn’t help but notice, but didn’t know about, and wanted for themselves, Bangel, the entrepreneur, saw and seized a budding athleisure market. The idea for LABL solidified on a trip home for her grandmother’s graveside unveiling where everyone asked, “What are you wearing and where can I get it?”

LABL began as a pop-up at Jim White Fitness studios and at various other area venues. In 2018, Bangel joined Tommi Long, owner of Contravan, and together they formed The Collective, first at La Promenade in Virginia Beach and most recently, at Hilltop East on Laskin Road. Merchandise at LABL consists of: leggings, joggers, sports bras, tanks, sweatshirts, casual dresses, kitsch hair accessories, Alexa Leigh Jewelry, and men’s activewear.

How does LABL align with your customer’s lifestyle?

Fashion meets function and comfort. I started this business because being in fashionable activewear made me feel confident during workouts and everyday life. There’s something for everyone and if you go anywhere in town, everyone is in activewear!

What makes LABL different?

I bring the knowledge of my favorite brands from NYC to Virginia Beach. I am always researching new and different brands that I can bring to the area.

How does internet and pop-up culture impact your business?

It’s nice living in a small town because there seems to be a mentality of supporting small business. Social media has helped business tremendously. People see things and want it instantly.

What’s the one thing you wish someone told you when you started LABL that you had to figure out for yourself the hard way?

You can’t make EVERYONE happy!

Do you mentor? What is your best experience, being mentored, or mentoring someone else?

I am in a unique situation in that my business partner, Tommi Long (Contravan) has been in retail for over 10 years. We are fortunate in that we can bounce ideas off each other and working on growing our businesses together. It’s been nice sharing this experience of growing a business with someone who is like-minded and creative.

How do you like to give back?

Tommi and I have organizations that are close to us and we have decided to choose an organization monthly to host a shopping event in which we donate a percentage of sales from the day.

What animal best describes you?

Owl. Owls are wise and birds of integrity. I’m good at getting what I want and take my responsibilities seriously.

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