Three years ago, Jeff Kaufman and Jody Cutler opened their whole foods store with a $200,000 loan backed by the Small Business Administration, and lots of hope that Roots Market would grow in the community.
Today, the 11,000-square-foot store in Clarksville employs 40 - up from 25 when it opened - and the business has grown appreciably each year, so much so that the owners are hoping to open a second location in Montgomery or Baltimore county.
With three years in business, the grocery store has been named an Entrepreneurial Success by the Baltimore District office of the SBA, which will present the award during the Maryland Small Business Week Awards ceremony next month. The pair will join Eileen Levitt, president of the Columbia-based HR Team, which was named Women in Business Advocate of the Year. Jeanne Kimmich Roberts of Kimmich Software Systems Inc. in Columbia was a runner-up for the women in business advocate award, and Clarence Wooten, president of Wooten Ventures, was a runner-up for minority advocate of the year.
Cutler said she was surprised her fledgling company could compete.
"We thought it'd be a good internal exercise, you get clearer on your mission, redefine what you're all about," she said. "But we didn't expect to win."
Winners of this year's awards were chosen from among about 75 applicants who vied for recognition in 10 categories, according to Rachel W. Howard, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore District office. The awards give statewide recognition. Only Prince George's and Montgomery counties are excluded from the Baltimore District, she said.
Companies to be recognized at the 19th annual ceremony, scheduled from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. May 9 at Martin's West in Woodlawn, were nominated by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, Howard said.
Kaufman and Cutler's Roots Market, across the street from River Hill Village Center in Columbia, markets itself as a venue of "clean food," taking on community consciousness and an environmentally responsible role as well as that of a specialized food retailer.
"We're here to support organic farmers," Kaufman, the general manager, said.
Aside from the wide selection of organic foods - and all of its fruits and vegetables, including coffee beans, are - the store boasts a well-stocked cache of vitamins and supplements, and dozens of books that help support the lifestyle of a vegetarian. Many of its products, such as some of the breads and the produce, are from local farmers and bakers.
Its housewares section has products made from recycled materials, and its household products such as laundry detergent, soaps and cleaning products are free of chemicals and dyes.
A few times a year, the store holds food festivals, offering product samples and holding talks or demonstrations at the store. Although the store's revenue and profit have grown about 20 percent each year, according to Kaufman, the profit is reinvested in the store in the form of improvements and expansion. Plans for a second location call for a full-sized kitchen so the store can offer prepared foods.
"We'd like to ... offer people food that's cooked that they can pick up," Cutler said. "It's what we get told a lot [by customer requests], and we know it's our weakness."
For Eileen Levitt, it is her strength in networking that has earned her the Women in Business Advocate of the Year award.
The former president of the Howard County Business Women's Network said in her seven years running a human resources outsourcing service, she has given advice to other women professionals and helped connect them with other companies with whom they could do business.
"People call me all the time, and as long as they're not competing with me, I'll sit down with them and help them out," she said. "It just so happens that most of the people who come to me are women. I give them time, try to help them figure out who they are and who they want to be. I try my best ... to connect them with [other businesspeople] that I know are good."
While making connections for others does not always translate directly into more business for her firm, Levitt's company has become a source for other women business owners. She said about 60 percent of her clients are women-owned or women-controlled firms, and the percentage has been higher in the past.
"As a woman, when you start a business, people don't take you very seriously," she said. "They make assumptions it's a hobby, that your husband makes a lot of money. You get all kinds of interesting comments."
But as a veteran in the small business world, Levitt said she's starting to see more male clients, and even more men coming to her for advice.
"I guess seven years does something for you in business," she said.