Minority Owned Businesses Succeed Together in Grand Rapids

By Chucky Blackmore on July 30th, 2016 / Comments

Many successful local minority-owned businesses are thriving together in Grand Rapids. We came across three Grand Rapids-based small businesses who are creating their own success stories and often creating more opportunity for other entrepreneurs along the way: Armentality Movement Arts Center, led by Laura Armenta; Divani, managed by Molly Kopen; and Choice Business Services, owned and operated by Debra Bates.

Each one of these businesses is unique, with women owners who share a passion for entrepreneurship.  

Dancing Diversitydance

When it first opened in 1998, Armentality Studio sought to combine together movement disciplines such as yoga, fitness, and martial arts. In 2011, the business saw a name change when owner Laura Armenta wanted a title that reflected all aspects of her studio, replacing the old name with Armentality Movement Arts Center.  Armenta’s business currently holds classes for yoga, dance, fitness, and martial arts, as well as workshops on health and wellness.  

“I used to teach classes all around town and people knew me from different sources,” said Armenta. “I figured it was better to have a home where I could have freedom of creativity, rather than driving all over town and beyond.”

She also wanted to create an environment where freedom of expression could flourish as well as provide the diversity that seemed to be missing in West Michigan.  

As a Mexican-born dancer, choreographer, and all-around fitness expert, Armenta recalled challenges when first starting her business.

I felt I was constantly treated as an outcast [who] had to constantly prove my professional, talent, and performance skills,” she mentioned.  

Armenta saw these challenges as a means to strengthen herself as a business owner.  Her determination allowed her to single-handedly fund her business back in 1998, with very little loans.  She proudly provides advice to other minority business owners seeking lifelong success, and she also supports the increasing number of female business owners within the community.

“I think the best is to learn to become not only bilingual but also bicultural,” noted Armenta. “I would go further to say we should learn to be multicultural.”  

Armentality’s diverse blend of yoga, dance, and martial arts, as well as its emphasis on meeting individual needs, proves to be an enriching environment for everyone. She also offered advice for other entrepreneurs. 

 “Being a woman entrepreneur requires efficient leadership. Women going into self-employment should have mental power and stamina, never los[ing] a sense of compassion or abandon oneself,” she said.

Raising the Bar – Divanidivani

In 2014, after 12 years of providing high-quality services to Grand Rapids, Bar Divani was put on the market to be sold.  On July 1, 2014, Molly Kopen bought the business with a vision of creating something different while keeping the former establishment’s namesake alive. Kopen changed the name to Divani, creating a trendy food and events space in Grand Rapids.

“When you now walk into Divani, you are welcomed with the same enthusiasm as you are our family coming into our home,” said Kopen.

Upon entering, guests are greeted by hosts and seated in an intimate and comfortable place, with calm music that provides a sultry beat. The food is not only locally sourced, but it is prepared by a chef who visits each customer’s table to talk about the inspiration behind each menu item.  Divani is also equipped with a space for reserved events called Gallery Divani.  This space is as equally captivating and luxurious as the restaurant portion, providing lofted ceilings and brick walls to achieve a look most desired by customers.  

Kopen’s knack for hospitality is nothing new.  She has been working in the field for 23 years, servicing customers in nightclubs, fine dining, and corporate establishments, and has special goals for her business. 

“My goals for Divani are to grow the business organically by continually providing amazing products with exceptional service, take good care of my team, and maybe pass it on to a few of them some day,” explained Kopen.

Kopen expressed many words of wisdom about being a female business owner.  Similar to Armenta, challenging moments for her are opportunities for success. She focuses her energy on solving problems, and using her strengths. 

“I don’t spend time thinking about challenges in any other way than I will find a resolution and move forward,” said Kopen. “My advice to anyone wanting to pursue anything in life is just go do it…focus on your strengths…don’t be afraid to admit your weaknesses, [and] build a strong team of people around who are innately good at things you are not.”  

Divani celebrated its two-year anniversary on July 1.  

Choice Business Services choice

Choice Business Services, ran by Debra Bates, has also found it’s success in Grand Rapids. As the name denotes, Choice provides an array of flexible space and support for local businesses.  According to Bates, Choice “provide[s] affordable professional flexible business support and office/meeting space to those in needs of services.”  Types of services include renting and leasing meeting spaces, notary services, video conferencing, and much more.   

Debra Bates, who began the Choice venture in 1994, felt compelled to start a business that acted as a hub or meeting center for other local businesses.  At the time, she was working with a few independent business owners who needed administrative input from time to time.

“So they shared me,” said Bates.  “And it grew from there.”

To get the business off the ground, Bates needed financial assistance at first.  After taking out a small business administration loan, she utilized the help of Grand Rapids-based business mentoring nonprofit SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives).  Bates also sought out help from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, which is one of SCORE’s partnerships.  These financial and mentoring supports propelled Bates to a point where she finally felt comfortable as a new business owner.  

Bates expressed the importance of utilizing resources, and being a part of a network. She suggested other entrepreneurs check out the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB), which looks to spread economic empowerment throughout black businesses and the black community in general. Bates supports the GRABB initiative as their directory of black businesses continues to grow.  

Armentality Movement Arts Center, Divani, and Choice Business Services are all living, breathing examples of successful minority businesses that are continually shaping the workforce in Grand Rapids.  The owners behind these businesses, Laura Armenta, Molly Kopen, and Debra Bates, share their own success stories that further demonstrate the need for gender and racial equality in the business world.  

About the Author

Chucky Blackmore

Chucky Blackmore

Chucky Blackmore is a fifth-year studying English and Education, with a minor in ESL at Aquinas College. Chucky is also a Resident Assistant and plays lead guitar in Grand Rapids based band Velcrofibs.