Despite the pandemic, business is booming in Middle Georgia. Here's a sampling of the region's success stories.
The entrepreneurial spirit thrives in the Robins Region. Even with the disruption associated with the pandemic in 2020, more than 100 new businesses opened, a sign of the region’s resiliency and vitality.
Find out how these six businesses found success during challenging times.
Good Boy Goodies
Keicha Danzie wanted to feed her dog, Chubb, healthy treats free of corn, wheat and soy, so she started making them herself.
Her business, Good Boy Goodies, was born and began to thrive. Then came the pandemic, and Danzie had to reassess her business model. She sold most of her treats from booths at festivals, markets and events, but those events disappeared in 2020.
“When the bottom fell out of the world, like a lot of small businesses, I had to pivot,” Danzie says. “I had to concentrate on e-commerce, and that’s not my comfort zone. It stretched me as an individual and a business owner.”
There were some peaks for Good Boy Goodies in 2020. Dog adoptions increased during the pandemic, and that helped Good Boy Goodies’ sales. And now, she has partnered with a bakery to make her treats.
“Festivals are happening again, and we are super excited,” she says. “The Robins Region is a perfect spot. We get to participate in the Cherry Blossom Festival and Forsythia in Forsyth. We’ve also done the National Fair in Perry. Plus, we get good support from the Robins Regional Chamber.”
Serving as both an education center and an entrepreneurship center, FireStarter FABLab in Warner Robins provides specialty classes throughout the year inside the 7,000-square-foot building Houston County Career Academy.
Students have access to equipment and training in several course offerings, including welding, laser engraving, woodworking, CNC routing, three-axis machining, 3D printing and more. During the early days of COVID-19, FABLab students even produced face shields, medical gowns and other personal protective equipment for health care workers.
To enroll in classes or for more information about FireStarter, click here.
Mini Dixie Donuts
For Ashley James, opening her donut shop is a dream come true. “While working most of my career in the car business, I often dreamed of one day being an entrepreneur and a baker,” she says.
She purchased a shop in St. George, Utah, in 2017. That experience served her well when she moved back to her home state of Georgia and opened Mini Dixie Donuts in Warner Robins.
Despite the pandemic, James launched her business in April 2020. “It was difficult on so many levels,” she says. “We have persevered with a few setbacks and bumps along the way.”
James says she would best describe the region’s atmosphere as always being about community over competition.
“The Robins To-Go (Facebook page) has been a great way for so many businesses to reach a new customer base and stay updated about COVID updates and restrictions throughout this past year,” she says. “As local businesses, we have all shown resiliency through supporting and promoting one another through the pandemic. I realized through volunteering and other initiatives how important helping others could be.”
Growing up in Middle Georgia, Terrence Ferguson of Fort Valley and Vernard Hodges of Talbotton developed a love of animals. Now, they are both veterinarians and business partners – and reality television personalities.
Drs. Ferguson and Hodges are the stars of Nat Geo WILD’s “Critter Fixers: Country Vets,” a series about their veterinary practice in Bonaire.
Both military veterans, the two men met while attending Fort Valley State University and went on to Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine and then opened Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital. The call from National Geographic came in 2018, and the show began airing in early 2020.
“We’re just two country boys trying to make our way. But it’s not about where you start – it’s where you end up.”
Dr. Terrence Ferguson/Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital
“Our family and friends have been super excited about (the show),” says Dr. Ferguson. “We’ve been able to share this experience with those around us, and they’ve been so supportive. Hopefully, we’ve been able to shine a light on Middle Georgia, which is an amazing place to live.”
The two men are Black, and that’s rare in their profession. Less than 2% of the nation’s veterinarians are Black, Hodges says. He hopes to encourage young men and women of color to pursue veterinary degrees.
Ferguson and Hodges have plans to expand their Bonaire practice with Camp Bow Wow, a dog daycare facility that has been a longtime dream.
“We’re just two country boys trying to make our way,” Ferguson says. “But it’s not about where you start – it’s where you end up.”
Gracie’s: A Rooftop Bar
Gracie Preston Rigby opened Gracie’s: A Rooftop Bar in September 2020. The steak and bourbon bar is located above the Best Western Plus at Rigby’s Water World, businesses operated by the Rigby family.
The family continued to work on the projects during the pandemic, opening the hotel and rooftop bar the same day. “Business is going well,” Preston Rigby says. “Fall in Georgia is wonderful, so we had good weather when we opened, and people like spending time on a rooftop deck.”
The patio features lounge areas, multiple televisions, a firepit and views of Rigby’s Water World and the Kathleen-Warner Robins area.
Beautiful sunsets and delicious cocktails keep guests coming back. “The Robins Region is a great place to do business,” Preston Rigby says. “This area is super conducive to growth.”
Over the Border Coffee
For more than 100 years, the Samayoa family has grown and harvested coffee beans from a farm in Huehuetenango, Guatemala − and that same taste of Central America is available in Middle Georgia.
Tabitha Samayoa founded Over the Border Coffee in 2018. The company imports its beans from the land in Guatemala that’s been in her husband Loiber Samayoa’s family since the early 1900s. Loiber was born on the Guatemalan family farm, which also sells beans to coffee corporations all over the world.
Over the Border beans are harvested from the land and shipped in bulk to the Bonaire location and then slow roasted for the best flavor. Tabitha Samayoa says her business experienced growth in 2021 despite the pandemic.
“Our business, like every other small business during this pandemic, has been slightly affected,” she says. “We have been able to grow and expand our business in many ways.”
Tabitha Samayoa says the Robins Region is a great location. “Bonaire, Georgia, has been a wonderful place for Over The Border Coffee and our flooring business, L&T Contracting,” she says.
The coffee is available online from the company’s website and Amazon and is also sold at Walmart and Lane Southern Orchards.