Welcome to “Founders TALX Preview,” where we chat with local leaders and industry experts who are being featured in our monthly TALX speaking series. Consider it a sample of what’s to come at these insightful events, which are free and open to the public. We’d love to see you there!
Kicking off our TALX series for the year is Amir Mostafavi, founder and CEO of South Block, a juice bar he launched in 2011 in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood (which sits—quite literally—on the south side of a city block, hence the name). Since then, he’s expanded South Block to 11 locations in the DC area and is on the brink of opening a twelfth (nbd).
In Amir’s upcoming TALX, he’ll discuss why he opened a juice bar, how South Block’s culture has evolved over the last decade, and how “if you want people to care about your dream, put them in your dream!” Plus, what’s on the horizon for 2022.
Below, Amir shares how a chance encounter with ALX Community co-founder Scott Shaw led to a waterfall of events that would forever impact the way he runs his business—starting with an invitation to open South Block’s eighth location in ALX Community’s first, Founders Hall, in 2018.
I was first introduced to Scott Shaw when he was planning the Founders Hall buildout, and was looking for some food concepts to put in there. He came to my Falls Church location and tried his first acai bowl. I remember him saying he’d been in the food service business for a long time and had never tried anything like it before. He liked it and wanted to have it in Founders Hall. I was really honored by his reaction.
I already had a strong belief in company culture, but seeing ALX Community come together, and South Block opening at the same time, we shared a lot of the same values, so I think we fed off of that. It really helped me become a better CEO and leader for the company—just learning from Scott and the way he would conduct business, sitting in on all the construction meetings for Founders Hall, seeing that process. As a matter of fact, I still use the same architect and contractor who built out Old Town, who I formed a relationship with and has built all of our stores since then. The core for my team was really kind of born out of that ALX location.
The community there is so amazing. I always tell people when we first opened there that with everyone kind of being new to ALX Community, it was such a supportive group of people. And still is. There’s a lot of inspiration to draw from, and everyone supports each other.
A lot of things that have connected with me as a business owner are the things that I think are going to motivate people based on what motivated me. I believe that if I don’t instill the same opportunities to achieve the things that I wanted to achieve, then why would anyone want to stay? Why would they continue to be motivated by working here?
We started flexible PTO this year because I want to reward people. Like look, you have ownership of your store. If you can get your team trained and your store running, and you feel like you can take off and go to the Caribbean, and your store’s in good shape, cool.
One thing I learned is that to keep people motivated, you have to keep giving them opportunities for growth. Even when you become a general manager, you’re not done. You can still grow and achieve new levels in your career and get rewarded by higher compensation, profit-sharing, flex PTO.
But we stress hard work, too. You have to work hard. You have to make sure everything’s in place, because that’s what I had to do. But once I was able to do that, I had some more flexibility and freedom. I don’t want to tie people to a set number of days. If you’re expected to act like a business owner, and an owner of your location, then I want to treat you like one.
When South Block started, we were offering no benefits, because we couldn’t afford them at that size of the company. We started offering healthcare at the end of 2018, the same year Old Town opened. This year we started offering one hundred percent healthcare coverage. We also just launched a 401k.
In the time since opening at ALX, we really have evolved. I really credit and think of that location in Old Town as the catalyst for what gave us the foundation to grow and take things to the next level.
Please join us Wednesday, February 23 from 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
at our Atrium location (second floor) for Amir’s Founders TALX.
The event is free and open to the public. You can register here.
For those who are not able to attend in person, tune in to our Facebook page for a live streaming!