Raised in a family filled with entrepreneurs, Janea Boyles followed in their footsteps.
But she did so unintentionally. The proprietor of The Mercantile food and wine market in Atlanta says owning her own business was never the path she set out on.
“This was not the plan I made,” she says. “Sometimes your destiny finds you or sometimes you know what it is. Mine had to find me.”
It wasn’t until Boyles started talking about her family legacy that she realized the connection. And the more she talked, the more she discovered what brought that connection full circle: Coca-Cola.
Runs in the Family
As a third-generation entrepreneur raised in rural northwest Georgia, Boyles grew up learning the value of hard work and the tricks of the small business trade. Her father owned a plumbing and electrical supply business for more than 30 years, and had a Coke machine in his store. Her grandfather ran a successful fruit stand selling Coca-Cola on the side of an old dirt road.
Boyles says working alongside her grandparents is her fondest memory. Her grandfather, Walt, had a strong relationship with a Coca-Cola salesman who worked at a nearby bottling plant. From 1953 to 1979, the Coke salesman provided her grandfather with coolers and signs, even putting his name on one that read “Walt’s Fruit Stand.” She vividly remembers the days the cases would arrive, filled with bubbly goodness.
Walt sold bottles of Coca-Cola to passers-by for a nickel apiece. But the most loyal customers didn’t have to shell out any coins.
He'd also hide extra bottles at the bottom of the ice box for Boyles and her brother.
“It was such a treat, and definitely my most special memory growing up,” she recalls, beaming.
A Picture Worth More Than a Thousand Words
The stand no longer exists, but her memories live on in a compelling picture. “It’s my prized possession in life,” she says.
In the image, Boyles as a baby is tightly secured in her grandparent’s arms. Walt’s Fruit Stand acts as the backdrop, displaying the signature Coca-Cola logo. She says the photo, which now hangs proudly in The Mercantile, depicts her life journey.
“I was never expected to take over my father’s business. And starting my own was never part of the discussion.” But, she assures, “I guess it was just meant to be.”
Open For Business
Before starting her own business, Boyles worked a variety of jobs. She tried her hand as a playwright and gave the 9-to-5 career route a shot. She worked just about every job in the restaurant industry—except for one—owner. That all changed with a little push from her longtime friend and business partner, Samantha Enzmann. Both were living in Oregon, working in the restaurant business at the time.
“I was standing there washing dishes, and I had this moment where I thought ‘Gosh, you know what, I can I do this’,” says Boyles, recalling the 2005 conversation. She went home that day and suggested to Enzmann that they open their own shop. With no hesitation, her friend replied: “Let’s do this.”
The Mercantile opened for business in 2008. The duo decided to return to their roots in Georgia and open shop in a quaint neighborhood just outside downtown Atlanta. Enzmann works as the head chef while Boyles manages all the other facets of running a store.
The Mercantile specializes in preparing fresh food daily. Dishes are made from scratch and available to order in individual portions or family sizes.
“I'm so proud of what we do here,” exclaims Boyles. “We provide the option for families to come in and take home a meal that’s not fast food, not junk food, and that is not loaded with preservatives.”
The Mercantile also offers an array of wines, a variety of local and organic goods, and genuine hospitality. Boyles says she wants her customers to feel at home when they come in. She also wants them to enjoy what they buy in the comfort of their own home by promoting family time and peace of mind lost in the city’s hustle and bustle.
The Coca-Cola Connection
People were perplexed by their business at first, says Boyles. And their timing wasn’t perfect. Opening in the midst of the recession, the two struggled getting the store off the ground.
But failure was not an option. Boyles had a legacy to carry on—a legacy of risk taking and hard work.
Since The Mercantile’s grand opening five years ago, Boyles has consistently worked an average of 12 hours a day, six days a week, only taking a day off every few weeks. The hours may be grueling, but she's optimistic her hard work will pay off.
And so far it has. The Mercantile celebrated their break-even point this year. Boyles says she models much of her business after an Atlanta staple.
“Coca-Cola’s culture is clearly defined, and that is exactly what we are striving to do here,” she explains. Going back to the picture she adores so much, Boyles says, “What I have always found fascinating about Coca-Cola is the way that they strive to build connections with people.”
It’s an idea that has been engrained in her mind since day one at Walt’s Fruit Stand. As a small business owner, Boyles says she truly identifies with the brand’s motto, ‘Open Happiness.”
That’s why she follows her entrepreneurial elders by selling Coca-Cola. The Mercantile’s objective is to bring joy and comfort to each customer.
“For me…” says Boyles, “owner-to-guest connection is the majority of what we do here. We are here for our neighbors.”
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