A couple of stepbrothers who turned a $500 loan from Mom into a multimillion-dollar food service company are among this year's winners of the annual Small Business Week Awards presented by the Los Angeles district office of the Small Business Administration.
Partners Stephen Brody and Anthony Roberts, founders of Southland Bagel Co. in Carson, which specializes in breakfast items for the school food service market, were named 1998 Small Business Persons of the Year. The two top the list of local entrepreneurs honored by the SBA for their business achievements and community service.
Brody and Roberts started Southland Bagel in 1983, when both were college students. Roberts said they simply "wanted to get some practical business experience" by making and selling frozen "pizza bagels"--sliced bagels topped with tomato sauce and cheese--they developed while working part time at Brody's father's bagel shop in Sherman Oaks.
With the help of a loan from Roberts' mother (who later married Brody's dad), the fledgling entrepreneurs began marketing their product to owners of catering trucks.
Their big break came when they got a foot in the door of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Roberts recalled slicing the first order of 24,000 pizza bagels by hand because the men couldn't afford $1,500 for a slicer.
"We decided to make that our first capital investment while we still had all our fingers," said Roberts, 36.
Southland Bagel posted 1997 revenue of $4.8 million. The company employs 60 people and sells its products in 14 states. While school food service remains their major market, the stepbrothers have added a line of frozen pizzas and are looking to expand to other markets.
They've also paid Roberts' mother back the $500.
Other regional SBA winners are:
* Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Michael Hernandez, 25, president of American Headwear Inc. in Santa Fe Springs. The custom sports cap and embroidery manufacturer posted 1997 sales of $3.2 million and employs 115 people.
* Exporters of the Year: John Schoolland and John Stead, president and vice president of Omega Technologies in Camarillo, which supplies tooling products to a number of international aircraft manufacturers and airlines.
* Entrepreneurial Success Award: Tadako Newman, founder of N&N; Travel and Tours Inc. The Redondo Beach firm has $21 million in sales and is a major supplier in the government travel industry.
These and other awards will be presented at the SBA's 17th annual Small Business Week Awards luncheon, sponsored in part by the Los Angeles Times. The luncheon will be held June 5 at the Hotel Intercontinental in downtown Los Angeles.