Not only do the Tomball and Magnolia areas serve as an incubator for small business, but a wave of new business owners have successfully launched storefronts over the last few years after starting out in nontraditional ways—from their homes, at one of the local farmers markets or as catering services.
Community Impact Newspaper has reported more than 245 small businesses opening in the Tomball and Magnolia areas since 2015, although a number of these businesses have closed, relocated or changed ownership in that time.
“It is still a part of the American dream to own your own business, to be involved and give back to the community,” said Miguel Lopez, executive director of the Lone Star College Small Business Development Center.
With festival season and summer vacations approaching, small-business owners said they believe the activities also bring more visitors to shop and eat.
“[Tourism] has been really good for my business,” said Cindy Vincik, owner of Whistle Stop Tea Room and Express in Tomball for more than 20 years. “It brings a lot of public view.”
One of the most visible incubators for small businesses are the local farmers markets: Tomball Farmers Market, Farmer’s Market on Tamina and The Woodlands Farmers Market at Grogan’s Mill.
Since 2015, Tomball businesses, such as Jane & John Dough Bakery, Tejas Chocolate+Barbecue, Pain Train Salsa, Caroline’s Kitchen and BZ Honey, have expanded from Tomball Farmers Market vendors to brick-and-mortar shops. Additionally, Wholly Crepe!, located on Main Street, opened in May 2015 after owners Mila and Bill Hendrix began serving Russian cuisine at The Woodlands Farmers Market at Grogan’s Mill.
Similarly, businesses in Magnolia, such as The British Depot and Victory Pie Co., grew from the Farmer’s Market on Tamina last year to The Culinary Courtyard on Tamina Road.
“I started in the farmers market in June 2017, [and] by late August, it was apparent that I needed a storefront,” The British Depot owner Sarah McGowan said.
Although a number of businesses got their start at the farmers markets, small-business owners have also launched storefronts in Tomball and Magnolia from home-based businesses.
Owner Christin Shumway of Manna Bread from Heaven opened her bakery in the Northpointe area of Tomball in November. The former stay-at-home mother of six children said she started selling fresh bread from her porch in fall 2015 after her family fell on hard times. Within 18 months, her customer base grew to more than 500 individuals.
“I believe [God] gave me the first experience on my porch so that I will know I have a good product, and people will pay money for it,” she said.
Additionally, Robin Marshall, owner of the Toffee Cellar on Tamina Road, said she began her business in her home, but launched a storefront after moving to Texas in 2013. As laws allowing home-based businesses vary by state, she said she needed to find a commercial kitchen if her business was going to work in Texas. Previously, she sold toffee gift bags from her home for about five years.
“I was so afraid to make this commitment and take this leap,” Marshall said. “[Every day], I would have rent hanging over my head.”
With such a large financial risk for startups, the owners of Che Gaucho and Mustard Seed Kitchen—two Tomball businesses with catering roots—said there is a benefit to starting small.
“We want[ed] to test the response from the community,” Che Gaucho co-owner Diego Copa said. “Tomball has a foodie community open to trying new cuisines and promoting it.”
Finding a supportive community
While small businesses face a number of challenges in building a customer base, they are often supported by the Tomball and Magnolia communities.
Diego said he expects the Tomball festival season will bring more visibility to his Argentine-inspired restaurant, which opened in April 2017.
“The festivals are established and attract out-of-town people into the area,” he said. “The traffic going through Main Street helps increase foot traffic.”
Che Gaucho co-owner Alicia Copa said she was surprised by the support of other local business owners.
“Everyone helps everyone [in Tomball],” she said. “But I didn’t expect it on the business level. We were surprised people were so encouraging and want[ed] to make sure we succeed.”
Brandy Beyer, vice president of operations at the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce, said the area provides a tight-knit business community.
“Tomball is very old-fashioned,” Beyer said. “[Business owners] like to do business with people that they know.”
Co-owner Caroline Cobell of Caroline’s Kitchen, located on Main Street, said it is a combination of a strong network and the community’s support that helps businesses succeed.
The tamale shop features about 10 hot sauce and salsa vendors and sources brisket from Tejas Chocolate+Barbecue.
“I do not use anything but local ingredients and local sauces,” Cobell said. “The things I carry in here [are] from small businesses like myself. I believe in order to do good for yourself, you have to do good for others.”
Magnolia business owners said they believe business expansions and additions will draw more customers.
“I am not even a year into my business, and I am already opening into a bigger space,” McGowan said. “This area is so up-and-coming that people are getting used to coming out of The Woodlands and into this area.”
McGowan said she plans to relocate to a bigger lot in The Culinary Courtyard in May and partner with Helene Brown, another small-business owner, to open a British fish-and-chips restaurant called The Chipper, which will launch in The Culinary Courtyard a few weeks later.
This summer, Marshall said she plans to add a studio to Toffee Cellar to host baking classes.
Additionally, Bricks and Brews, a pizzeria, is slated to open in early fall.
“It is another reason for people to meander over here, off the beaten path [in Magnolia],” Marshall said.
Resources from cities, chambers
In addition to peer support, chambers of commerce are responsible for helping develop businesses through advocacy, community involvement opportunities, educational workshops and marketing visibility, said Sandy Barton, president of the Greater Magnolia Parkway Chamber of Commerce.
“We are here to help businesses decide that Magnolia is a great place to live, work and play,” she said. “Once those businesses are here, as they need to grow in the community, we provide those opportunities to them.”
As mobility projects continue in Tomball and Magnolia, such as the overpass on FM 1488 at FM 149 and the extension of Hwy. 249 through Montgomery County, Barton said there are many opportunities for businesses to launch and relocate to the area.
Business owners can access resources through the local chambers of commerce, councils and centers that specialize in helping entrepreneurs start, grow and maintain their businesses. In addition to chambers, local resources include grant programs from the Tomball Economic Development Corporation, and networking and mentoring services from the Lone Star SBDC and the national organization SCORE.
“Helping out the businesses that are here and making sure they stay and are successful in Tomball is one of the most important things chambers or economic development councils do,” Beyer said.