Family stories from Cinema Drive

Customers wait in line at Mega Hot Chicken on Cinema Drive in Valencia. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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Mom-and-pop shops have always seemed to have a welcome home in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“Family-owned businesses have always been a part of the Santa Clarita economic landscape, and if you go back in time, there are many family-owned businesses that go back generations,” said Catherine Grooms, director of the Small Business Development Center hosted at COC.

And while we might be in the age of the big-box store and the massive internet retailer, local family-owned storefronts still are increasing in the SCV, while second- and third-generation business ventures are also thriving.

“You have some people that reside in Santa Clarita that are getting close to transitioning to retirement,” said Grooms, adding that these people start building their own businesses while working as an extra source of income, and once they retire, make their business their full-time job.

Sometimes, she said, a family member can leave the Santa Clarita Valley, learn new skills or attributes, and oftentimes return to improve upon a business — and help it grow. There’s also always a new generation of entrepreneurs in the SCV, opening franchises and their own businesses with that family feel.

One example, Mega Hot Chicken, opened earlier this month on Cinema Drive, run by the Meguerditchian brothers.

Growing up in Santa Clarita with a background in restaurant ownership (Their family owned The Tea Gardens for a decade, and now owns two Eat Real Cafes in Valencia and Newhall.), Mike and Alex Meguerditchian are using what they know about cooking and their experience in the restaurant business to serve their hometown.

“We took a trip to Nashville and fell in love with spicy chicken, and noticed a lot of people in California like it, too,” said Alex. He and his brother then spent the next 10 months to a year in order to find what they believe is the perfect fried chicken recipe that they could then form a business around here in their hometown. “I’m fried chicken-ed out,” Alex added.

Mega Hot Chicken features a combination of a dry rub and a wet sauce with varying degrees of spiciness. Cory Rubin/The Signal

And two weeks ago on Cinema Drive, down the block from their mom’s former business and only a couple miles from where they both graduated from high school, the Meguerditchians opened their spicy chicken shop. And they said the location, and the feelings they have for the community, is what makes their food so special.

“It keeps the quality and the overall sense of community alive,” said Alex. “I’m just sick of eating fast food or the big brand names. We want mom-and-pop shops to go a long way.”

Meguerditchian said the fact that he and his brother work the grill, the recipes and the menu every day, helps bring in customers and improves their business with opportunities that aren’t always there in a major market. Alex added that the first part of their business’ name, “Mega,” comes from the fact that will growing up, their Saugus neighborhood friends could not pronounce the brothers’ last name, and therefore just simply called them the “Megas.”

“I hate leaving Santa Clarita, and I don’t want that Los Angeles vibe,” said Alex. “I want that ‘small-town feel’ … I’ve had neighbors come in that have been my neighbors for years.”

But probably the most important aspect that leads to the spicy chicken — a dry rubbed/wet sauce combination coating served as either stand alone tenders or on a brioche bun with coleslaw, pickles and fries on the side — is that it was made by a family.

“Sure, he’s my brother, I love him, and there’s that brotherly instinct and you want to kill him — but he’s also a great mentor and partner,” said Alex. “It’s family-owned and it’s run by a family from out here.”

Grooms said that Santa Clarita family businesses can either enlist the help of those who have garnered experience in an industry and returned home to run it as partners, or can also be interested in having a generational tradition; something that can be handed down from family member to family member through the years.

“Yes, the new family-owned businesses are increasing in the Santa Clarita Valley,” said Grooms. She went on to say that many businesses are formed with the children of the founders, with their children in mind, as the successor to the business.

“The important thing is that they’re then able to continue that business with another generation of the family,” she said.

One such business that has already woven in the parents as founders and their children as regular attendees to their daily operations is Run, a treadmill studio also located on Cinema Drive.

Run founders and husband-and-wife duo, Dany and Amanda Csiszar, met at La Mesa Jr. High School and have been together ever since. They said the journey to opening up Run required the help of their community and Santa Clarita family. And now that they have opened up and seen success in their membership numbers, they’re all about giving back to those who have supported them their whole lives.

“I’ve been personal training for about eight years, and we couldn’t find anything to open up …  and Run was our idea for a niche,” said Dany. “We enjoyed running, fitness and health, and I was driving home on the freeway one day and thought, ‘Why is no one doing this?’”

Amanda said that the journey to Run had begun after the two had had their first child, Robbi, seven years ago.

“I had gained a lot of weight during my first pregnancy,” Amanda said, adding that she had ridden horses her whole life, and after the pregnancy she and her husband decided to do more fitness related activities. “It kind of spiraled into doing this race and that race, training for this and for that … and I became our family lifestyle.”

“Our members are our family,” said Dany. “People enjoy each other, it’s never ‘clique-y,’ and there’s never, ‘Oh those are the cool kids and this is the other side.’ Everyone knows each other, they hang out and we almost have to kick them out between classes.”

And above all, for the business owners who created a gym that is the only treadmill studio in Santa Clarita that offers this type of running classes, hiit classes[1]  with kettlebells, sandbags and body weight and a strength training program, they hope what they’re doing becomes an example for their children.

“Our big thing is showing our kids that we could do it,” said Dany, with Robbi sitting next to him as she comes into the gym with her parents when she’s on summer break. “Being younger parents, that we could put 100% of our energy and effort in, we’re up from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., that we can work our butts off everyday.”

There’s also a family-run company on Cinema Drive that’s part of a family name woven in the fabric of the Santa Clarita Valley’s history, which is now on its second generation of management.

Reena Newhall, a former professional dancer, opened A Chorus Line in the late 1970s, after the dance teachers she was working with at the time complained about having to go to Hollywood to buy dance shoes.

Recently featured in the Sunday Signal for her community contributions, Reena Newhall’s business is now run by her daughters, Beth and Jana, who also enjoy working in the community they grew up around.

“It’s actually an honor to be given a business that has such longevity and a high expectation,” said Beth Culhane, sales manager for A Chorus Line. “Really, sometimes, it feels hard to fill those shoes.”

And there’s also a familiarity and fondness that comes with taking the reins of a family business that she loves, she added.

“That working knowledge of the product and really living in the community,” she said, “seeing my customers at the mall, at the market, at school — it’s actually really cool.”

One of the recurring themes for successful family businesses, whether it’s outfits, a workout or a meal, Grooms said, is to do what these families did: learn about your market.

If you have an idea for starting a business, there is no harm in testing out the concept, but it’s important that you do your homework before investing a lot of time and money, Grooms said. “You want to make sure that the market is how you thought it is.”

For more information about Run Treadmill Studio, check out their website at runtreadmillstudio.com or visit them at 23300 Cinema Drive, Suite No. 104.

For more information about the Small Business Development Center at COC, visit their wesbite at cocsbdc.org.

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