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Friday, December 2, 2016

Growing Up Gold Star

BJ David with his wife, Michelle and children Mack and Ella, the inspirations for his business' name, Mella. FTM file
When he was a kid, BJ David remembers going into Gold Star chili to get his favorite -  chili cheese sandwiches which he called chili pups. Unlike other kids just visiting the well-known chili parlor, BJ was home.

His grandfather, Basheer Daoud David was one of the four co-founders of Gold Star Chili. In 1965, the Daouds, four immigrant brothers from Jordan followed their "great American dream" of owning a successful business. Taking on odd jobs while going to college, the brothers were able to put together $1200 combined with cash advances on vending machines to buy their first restaurant, Hamburger Heaven in Mt. Washington. Included with the restaurant was a recipe for Cincinnati-style chili. After experimenting with and reformulating that recipe, the brothers ditched the hamburgers and other menu items and settled on what has become one of Cincinnati’s favorite tastes, Gold Star.

The brothers, Dave, Frank, Charlie and Basheer ran the company for 25 years. And for the next 25, they hired CEOS who had outside experience. Gold Star was the first chili parlor to franchise.

The Daoud brothers, some of which later changed their family name to David, were the founders of Gold Star chili. Photo courtesy Cincinnati Enquirer
BJ says he used to beg his dad, the oldest of the 2nd generation of the Gold Star sons and founders, to go to work with him. His dad would have him clean the parking lots and wash dishes during lunch.

"I had to sit on a stool just to reach the sinks," BJ remembers. He also remembers going to his grandfather's office to see him and his brothers run what was a pretty little company at the time in the 70s and 80s as well as starring in one of Gold Star's very first television commercials alongside his brother and sister.

In the 8th grade, his dad gave BJ a weekend job in the Crescent Springs kitchen where BJ ran the kitchen and prepped all of food items each weekend.

"I'm sure some labor laws were broken because of the equipment I was using." BJ joked.

Raised in Villa Hills, BJ graduated from Dixie in 1993 and graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1997.

After college, he joined the family and began working again for his father, a Gold Star franchisee.

Eventually, BJ also became a franchisee and owned five stores while managing three others.

BJ sold his last Gold Star in 2007 and opened a Burrito Joes downtown that only lasted a year.

"As I sat at one of the tables after the last day of business, I looked at the person across the table who happened to be my ex-partner and said, 'I'm officially unemployed,'" BJ remembers.

So, at the end of 2008 the same year his grandfather passed, BJ decided to hang up his apron for good to start a window cleaning company.

BJ admits his Gold Star family and friends thought he was crazy for handing over the keys to a chili empire. However, he says the investment to open a restaurant had multiplied many times compared to when his father was opening stores.

"You almost have to already be wealthy to get involved with a franchise restaurant," BJ said.

BJ said the restaurant business is a tough one and a lot of work that includes covering shifts on the weekends until three in the morning, maintaining a positive cash flow and many other challenges.

"My father and I always enjoyed sharing stories of people who had really simple ideas who turned them into successful businesses. One of them was window cleaners. We had always used them in the restaurants, and we used to laugh at what their hourly rate appeared to be."

"With no job offers coming in and this window cleaning idea fresh in my mind, I decided to give it a try. I told a couple people, got hired to clean the windows at my mom's house, and I was in business. I had a sign made and put it in her yard. Of course, I went home and waited for the phone to begin ringing," he said.

Within a couple weeks, the phone rang. BJ had a couple commercial accounts, joined a referral networking organization called BNI, and hit the ground running.

Mella Services has grown into a very successful business that provides window cleaning crews, gutter, chandelier, exterior home and carpet cleaning; flooring sales and installation and more.

"I am tremendously proud to say my grandfather was one of the four co-founders of Gold Star," said BJ, "and today, I am sincerely proud of everyone who works at Mella and am even more proud of the reputation we have earned.  Having grown up in NKY, I don’t feel like I can be an anonymous business owner.  My reputation means everything to me."

A long way from the chili business, BJ still credits all of that experience to his success today with customer service and especially the ability to hire the right kind of person.

"That has definitely been a key to my success - hiring great people," BJ said.

Today, the original four families still own Gold Star. The 2nd generation has stepped in place for most of the founding fathers, and the company is now a franchise system.

BJ's relatives still own stores and work at the corporate office. Three years ago, BJ took over his dad's seat on the Gold Star Board of Directors and is the only 3rd generation family member involved today.

"I’m honored that my father trusted me enough to take his seat and represent our family.
The generation who were the first store operators, now retired, really blazed a path," he added.

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