(Photography by Don Kadair)
POSITION Member, manager and owner
COMPANY Everything Philly and Everything Philly Ice Express
WHAT THEY DO Bring an authentic taste of Philadelphia to the South
ADDRESS 3260 Highland Road, Suite 6
NEXT GOALS Consider opening a second full-service Everything Philly, and open up to 50 Everything Philly Ice Express locations between Florida and Texas
REVENUE $2.9 million projected for Everything Philly; $350,000 projected for each Philly Ice Express
AVOIDING MONOTONY EARLY
“In business, you better not be too static,” says Ameen Walker. He would know. As the owner of First Financial, a one-stop shop for business consulting, Walker has put together hundreds of businesses and consulted just as many or more. He’s also involved in 20 or so of his own—private investigations, music management, real estate, venture capital and so on. Take a quick run through his Philadelphia past and none of his present ventures comes as a surprise. One of six children, Walker saved enough money sweeping up for his locksmith father at 10 cents an hour to open an Amway franchise—by 7 years old. “I wanted to do something that was more fun, would get me out speaking to people and let me exercise some challenges as opposed to doing grunt work.” From 13 to 18, he focused on school and worked at the library. In college, he double majored, ran track and had 70-hour workweeks at a convenience store.
WORKING FOR REWARDS
Even while studying at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he worked full time at a bank and managed an IHOP. “I’ve always wanted a challenge and to do a lot of things.” His post-MBA challenge was in the Air Force as an intelligence officer. When his time was up, he moved to Baton Rouge and stayed with his sister, who had married a local. “I was trying to decide what I was going to do. I wanted to try something where I got rewarded for how well I do, the time I put in, the effort I put in and my abilities. When I did well at the bank they gave me a pen or a plaque, and what did that really mean to me?” So he sold cars at Woodfin Pontiac until they closed and then worked at All Star until 2007. By then, he had opened Walker Investigations and First Financial. “Everything else kind of grew from there.”
BRINGING HOME HERE
Walker’s homesickness grew, too. He and his wife flew back once a month or so to visit family. “But we’d eat,” he says of the trips to Philly. “It became more regular, and we just made the decision to go ahead and bring the food down here.” To do it, he took a diverse team of his employees to the City of Brotherly Love to taste cheesesteaks, pizza, water ice, hot dogs, pretzels, potato chips and snack cakes. He was surprised no one cared for the pretzels, and a bit redeemed by unanimous preference of the cheesesteak and pizza from Ardmore Pizza. “I grew up on Ardmore Pizza.” In his food pilgrimages, Walker even joked with the owners about bringing the pizza to Baton Rouge. Now it was real. “We arranged to buy the recipe for the steak meat, but they were very proud of the pizza recipe. To get that, I actually give them a monthly royalty as well.” Many of Everything Philly’s menu items are flown in, down to particulars like the pizza flour.
ADJUSTING ALONG THE WAY
Since the restaurant opened in April, Walker has only made one trip home. Blame it on the water ice. After selling 10,000 units in the first month, he realized he must start producing and stop shipping. “It wasn’t the plan, but with what we’re selling, $60,000 in machine costs will be recouped very, very quickly.” A warehouse for bulk cups and pizza boxes now has a walk-in freezer and backup generator. The lease is signed for the first Philly Ice Express near Southern University. If everything goes according to plan, it will open by the end of August—joined by five more within a year. But even Walker’s best-laid plans are flexible, and he is also focused on meeting the restaurant’s expansion needs. The too-small grill and frying areas will be redone for faster production. And he has had to adjust to localisms like customers who prefer more seasoning, hot sauce and extra cheese, which will no longer be free. The hours will change slightly, too. “You have to make decisions along the way and be good with your decisions.”