The Chattanooga Area Urban League recognized two graduates of its business training programs who have gone on to build growing businesses now recognized for their success in the culinary and real estate communities.
Chatt Taste Food Tours, launched by veteran entrepreneur Briana Garza, won the Urban League honor as the New Business of the Year.
Magnolia Development, which former TVA manager Marcus Jones started five years ago, received the Business of the Year award.
The businesses were honored during the Urban League's eighth annual Entrepreneur Power Luncheon at the Westin hotel Thursday, and each business was awarded $5,000 to further its growth.
Chattanooga Urban League President Candy Johnson praised Garza for her "hard work, resilience and aptitude for taking on new challenges to launch and grow a new business in the Chattanooga area."
Garza, who previously owned some short-term vacation rental properties, launched Chatt Taste Food Tours in 2020, and the business has been recognized by both USA Today and the National Urban League, Johnson said.
The Chattanooga business also won the pitch contest in the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union's Idea Leap competition in 2021, winning the top prize of $21,000.
"I attribute our success to the spirit of audacity — the audacity to launch in a male-dominated industry, the audacity to ask for help and the audacity to create one of the U.S.'s top 10 culinary experiences," Garza said after she received the award during Thursday's luncheon. "We couldn't do it without the support of our 22 restaurant partners, the Community Foundation and the Urban League."
Garza has gained business connections and advice from Urban League programs and assistance and funding from the Community Foundation and the credit union, she said. She promised even more improvements in the future.
"Get ready Chattanooga, because Chatt Taste has a whole lot of audacity left," she said.
Jones' Magnolia Developments also benefited from the Urban League's NextLevel program, a business development program offered by the Urban League's Entrepreneur Center in partnership with Tennessee Valley Authority, Interise and Tennessee Urban League Affiliates.
Jones started Magnolia Development as a luxury housing development firm in 2017, becoming one of the few Black subdivision developers in the Chattanooga area. Previously, Jones was a principal project manager in TVA's nuclear power program and IT for eight years after working previously as a project manager for the nuclear energy firm Areva.
In a speech to the Urban League supporters gathered in recognition of National Black Business Month in August, Jones credited the NextLevel program for helping him grow his business in new markets beyond the luxury homes he originally focused on.
"NextLevel helped me to realize I was thinking too small, and they gave me the tools and the traits I needed so we're looking now at creating generational wealth," he said. "I want to create opportunities for my kids so they don't have to work for somebody else but they can build their own businesses."
Johnson said the Chattanooga Urban League is working to help more minorities and women start and grow their own businesses and wealth with an array of programs, including the recent addition of a new Center for Economic and Black Business Success. The center aims to provide a culturally responsive ecosystem of support for minority-owned businesses to accelerate growth and to expand networks, access and knowledge for sustained business success, Johnson said.
— Compiled by Dave Flessner