Brevard Businesses Celebrate Longevity, Legacy
New businesses and baby birds have something in common — they both share a slim chance of survival.
More than 60% of baby birds don’t make it out of the nest. Fledgling businesses don’t fare much better, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which notes that 20% of new businesses fail the first year. By the end of the second year, 30% no longer exist, and in five years’ time, the number goes up to 65%.
Those businesses that defy the odds have long-standing impact on the community with their legacies. Here are some local businesses celebrating milestones of longevity (one at 50 years!) and who attribute their success to steadfastness, relationships and loving what they do.
****** 50 years ******
Silhouette Hair Design
At 84, Darlyne McGee still loves coming to work every day at Silhouette Hair Design, the salon she has operated for half a century.
“The biggest secret for success is loving what you do,” said McGee, whose salon has served generations of women and men.
Locations have changed, but the salon, now on Highland Avenue in the Eau Gallie Arts District of Melbourne, continues to thrive. McGee has seen beauty trends come, go and return, and through it all has remained steadfast in her commitment to making her clients look and feel fabulous.
Named this year’s Female Small Business Owner of the Year at weVenture’s Women who Rock awards, McGee has always met challenges head on.
“It takes stamina to succeed and you can’t pay attention to the naysayers,” she said. “Staying in business takes passion, diligence and perseverance… and a lot of prayer.”
Several generations of hair stylists have benefitted from McGee’s guidance and mentoring, and more will, since McGee has no plans to stop.
“I’ll keep on making people beautiful until the Good Lord calls me,” she said.
****** 40 years ******
Kitty Hatton grew up dancing in Miami. When she moved to Brevard in 1982, kids in tow, Hatton could not find a store that sold dancewear. So she opened one — Melbourne Dancewear was born 40 years ago.
‘It was a real leap of faith,” Hatton said.
That pirouette of faith was a smart move.
“It’s paid my mortgage and helped me raise two kids,” she said.
Hatton’s store on an unassuming strip mall on U.S. 1 is beloved by dancers of multiple generations and even outside the area.
COVID-19 proved extremely challenging, but with the help of Florida Tech’s weVenture center for women entrepreneurs, plus her friend Sara Balda at Dance Art Center, Hatton prevailed.
She supports the community through the store’s Heart and Soul scholarships for local dancers and makes it a point to be part of all dance performances in town.
She considered retirement, but thought better.
“I am not ready yet,” she declared.
Fifth Avenue Art Gallery
A testament to longevity in a field where failure rate is stratospheric, Fifth Avenue Art Gallery was formed by 11 artists as a co-op in 1974.
“They worked together to structure the group with a set of guidelines to address all aspects of the gallery,” said gallery member Renee Decator. “Those by-laws are still being used today, and over the last 49 years, have only been adjusted slightly to address current-day issues and business practices.”
Gallery charter member Nancy Crawford attributes the gallery’s success to choosing members who would enrich the gallery with both their artwork and their willingness to share in the duties.
The gallery also owns its building in the Eau Gallie Arts District, a project that member Ellen Pavlakos’ husband, Andrew, designed and oversaw.
“This enabled the group to control the expenses to the gallery and to present their artwork in a modern, professional and beautiful space,” Decator said.
Blinds of All Kinds
A set of blinds brought both romance and business to Dana and Don Gray. Dana was the nanny at a Miami home that needed new blinds. Don showed up to install them. From that chance meeting, the Grays nurtured both a family and Blinds of All Kinds, a business that this year celebrated its 40th anniversary of dressing up Brevard windows and doors.
The company marked the milestone in style with the unveiling of its remodeled U.S. 1 showroom in Rockledge. Daughter Tiffany Gillett assumed the day-to-day operations of the company in 2018, giving the Grays some well-deserved leisure time.
“My parents worked very long hours for many years,” Tiffany Gillett said.
According to her, the company’s success is built upon a culture that values customers and employees alike.
“If your customers and your employees aren’t happy, you don’t have a business,” Gillett said.
A go-to for window treatments, Blinds of All Kinds is more than blinds, also offering shades, shutters, and draperies to both residential and commercial customers.
Recessions and COVID-19 have been challenging, but the Grays surmounted them by caring for their employees. For six weeks during the pandemic, the company kept its 30 employees on the payroll, a move that paid off after the pent-up itch for home remodeling in the community had to be scratched.
The staff has repaid the company with allegiance.
“About a third of our staff has been here 10 years or more,” Gillett said.
Blinds of All Kinds also is a proud supporter of nonprofit groups like the Rotary Club, that strengthen the community.
Gillett hopes her 18-month-old daughter and 8-year-old son one day will become the third generation of a family business that started over blinds.
****** 33 years ******
Restaurants are particularly difficult to keep afloat. Sixty percent of eateries perish their first year and five years later, 80 percent of them are history.
Alex Litras, owner of Café Margaux, makes running an upscale restaurant seem effortless. Guests and their families have dined at Café Margaux for the 33 years it has been in operation.
“It’s fun to see a group with three generations at the table, where the sons and daughters that were little kids coming here years ago are now parents themselves,” Litras said.
Such devotion from customers has to be earned.
“There’s an expectation of maintaining certain dishes on the menu, but the guests may not realize that even these favorites are continually being improved,” Litras said. “We’re always experimenting and testing new emulsions, aromatics, textures and flavors. We never want to rest on our laurels and be stagnant. Exceeding the guest’s expectations on each visit should be the aspiration.”
Litras knows his restaurant is only as good as his staff and has surrounded himself with the best, both front of house and in the kitchen.
“In the dining room, that requires servers who truly care about the guest’s experience and who possess the skills to tailor their service to each guest,” he said.
“We only attract those servers who truly eat, sleep, and breathe fine dining. They are career servers. This is their profession. I believe any one of our servers would be capable of managing a restaurant themselves, but they are treated well and appreciated here, so they would rather continue to do what they love at Café Margaux.”
In the kitchen, Litras counts on the talents of highly talented and loyal chefs.
“Chef Erol (executive chef Erol Tugrul) has reigned there for almost 30 years, and has a seemingly limitless passion for innovation, and Chef Juan Gomez is equally talented and humble and has been with us for 18 years,” Litras said.
While the pandemic was challenging, Litras found the aftermath of diminishing availability of interesting products almost as difficult.
“We had many different suppliers for specialty items before — wild game, exotic cheeses, vegetables, and herbs,” he said. “The pandemic caused many companies to shrink their offerings, making it more difficult for us to get the more fascinating ingredients. We still find them, but it’s a bit more complicated.”
Keeping the menu and the atmosphere fresh is another must-do, Litras said. The restaurant underwent a major remodel pre-pandemic and Litras just unveiled The Penthouse, a private dining salon upstairs.
“Know what you’re signing up for ahead of time, and then embrace what will be the variety of your life,” Litras tells fledgling restaurateurs.
“Your days will be filled with the unexpected. Learn to love that uncertainty of what you’ll be doing tomorrow, and which hats you will have to put on. If you view that as an ever-changing exciting adventure, you’ll love it and you’ll make it!”
****** 30 years ******
Yellow Dog Café
Stuart Borton feels blessed for the dedicated staff that have helped Yellow Dog Café reach 30 years in business.
“We’ve had chefs with us for 10 years or more and servers for 16 or 17 years,” Borton said. “We have some really competent staff. We treat them well, but we also have a lot of rules and the staff is appreciative of them.”
In a business where high staff turnover is a fact of life, the longevity of staff at Yellow Dog Café is outstanding.
A restaurant that seats 300 is not easy to keep full, but Borton and his wife, Nancy, have managed to keep Yellow Dog Café busy for decades with customers eager for the upscale comfort food that is the restaurant’s hallmark.
“We try to stay in our lane,” Borton said.
Local charities know the Bortons are good friends to the community. Bread is donated daily to a food pantry, and organizations like Promise in Brevard and Zonta Club have often enjoyed the couple’s support. In fact, Yellow Dog Café has been such a stalwart presence at Zonta’s annual Chocolate Festival fundraiser that the club established the Yellow Dog Scholarship to help a young woman interested in pursuing the culinary arts as a career.
Although the Bortons love dogs, they cannot keep one because of allergies, but that didn’t stop Nancy from purchasing a bloodhound for the Sheriff’s Office.
“The community supports us, so it is only right that we support them,” she said.
Brevard Music Group
The music business is cutthroat, particularly for independent impresarios, but Roland Guilarte managed to evolve Record Hut, which he opened in 1985 in Rockledge as a place to hang out and listen to music, into Brevard Music Group, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Brevard Music Group has attracted some of the biggest names in jazz to Brevard to perform at venues like the King Center, Hilton Melbourne Rialto, Lou’s Blues and the Henegar Center.
While Guilarte has stepped back from concert logistics, he continues focusing on programming and marketing. The new faces at BMG will continue the business philosophy honed over three generations of small-businessmen in Guilarte’s family.
“First, treat your customers like your family and they’ll be loyal forever,” Guilarte said. “Second is the business relationships we’ve built both locally and nationally. These relationships enable us to continually bring top quality live national entertainment to a relatively small area like Brevard County. The last piece of our long-term success is the commitment and quality of the staff we’ve had over the years.
“Luck never hurts, either.”
A Cuban native, Guilarte first got acquainted with Brevard in 1976, the year he graduated from high school.
“I fell in love with the small-town feel,” said Guilarte, who moved here in 1985.
Guilarte thrives on challenges and refuses to allow cerebral palsy to stop him. The year COVID-19 hit, he had 14 concerts on the schedule.
“They were all canceled by the end of March of the same year,” he said.
Guilarte also believes in paying back to the community that has become his family. His Regalitos Foundation regularly schedules concerts that funnel proceeds to charities helping children and adults with physical and emotional disabilities.
He looks forward to more cruising aboard his live-aboard boat, but also will be focused on discovering rising stars of smooth and contemporary jazz and blues.