For nearly six years, I’ve spotlighted several Southern Suburban small business owners in this column. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen how these companies are affected. Here’s an update from his one in this intermittent column series.
A year ago, Antonio Barnes and his wife, Syntyche Barnes, told me how their plans for entrepreneurial expansion were ruined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the owner of Juiced By Shic!, a Midlothian-based fresh juice and sandwich business, says the brakes are on. The couple are in partnership to open a vegan restaurant, Meek’s Vegan Kitchen, at 12778 S. Harlem Ave. in Palos Heights this month, offering a variety of vegan dishes, sandwiches and beverage offerings. A juice bar will open in Forest Park and in the Healthy Lifestyle Hub at 839 West 79th Street in Chicago in the second quarter, said Antonio Burns.
“We have the opportunity to grow and expand our brand now, and we will do everything in our power to do that,” said Antonio Burns.
Earlier last year, Syntyche Barnes said the pandemic “made them more timid because things could change so quickly.” “But coming out of the pandemic, if it works, it will work, and if it doesn’t work, it’s not because we didn’t try.”
Entrepreneurs have survived some tough times. They initially launched their juice business as a takeout business for Syntyche Barnes’ nail salon SHIC! Luxury nail boutique opened in Midlothian in 2018. Expanded to include his second juice store in Palos Heights. That his second site had tables for seating and an extensive menu that included sandwiches and smoothies.
But that opening took place in March 2020, just as the pandemic began to rage on. The nail salon had to temporarily close for several months as a forced shutdown was implemented. We continued to offer juice products along with oatmeal and other items.
Last November, the couple closed their Palos Heights location after deciding to partner with a friend to open a vegan restaurant in a larger location right across the street.
“My buddy owns a vegan pizza restaurant in Houston and gets a lot of attention,” said Antonio Burns.
He said it made sense to close the Palos Heights juice shop and move it into a new restaurant.
Last year, the couple dealt with supply chain issues and inflation. This is the impact of the ongoing pandemic. It doesn’t solve those problems.
Syntyche Barnes said: “Our stock of plastic cups is really difficult.
Before the pandemic, the couple paid $50 for a case of cups.
“Right now we’re paying $100 a piece. Prices are going up and they’re staying there,” she said. “We need to adjust our prices so we can walk away with a profit.”
However, the couple are acting cautiously there and don’t want to alienate customers by raising the prices too high.
Syntyche Barnes said: “Pricing is always the last option.”
For some items, we have opted to switch to comparable lower priced brand names.
As for her expectations for this year’s pricing issue, she said, “I don’t expect it to go back, but I don’t think it will go any higher.”
But their concerns over the pandemic remain.
Antonio Burns says: “That’s when it sprouts. It gets comfortable. It gets cold and stuff splatters. I don’t think there’s a problem with closure, but time will tell.”
Last year’s sales were up slightly from 2021, but 2020 remains their strongest year for sales, the couple said. The pandemic increased her 2020 earnings by about 25% compared to her 2019. This was because customers were more health conscious and looking for ways to boost their immune systems. According to Syntyche Barnes, today’s customer base is made up of people looking to implement more consistent and healthier lifestyle changes. Entrepreneurs predict sales growth in 2023.
Syntyche Barnes said: “It helps spread brand awareness.”
The couple hopes to one day franchise the business, and the pandemic continues to teach them valuable lessons.
“Life is unpredictable,” said Antonio Burns. “You can think you know something. Things like the pandemic show that nothing is promised. Nothing is guaranteed and things can change in the blink of an eye.” Yes, try to do as much as you can while you have time.”
Syntyche Barnes said, “Don’t be afraid to try things, take calculated risks, and if you feel that something else will work, if what you’re doing doesn’t work. I am not afraid to challenge the
Francine Knowles is a freelance columnist for Daily Southtown.