CSU graduates instrumental in the economic revitalization of Uptown Columbus
By Candace Morrow
Photos by Suhyoon Cho
Illustrations by Joseph Melancon
The economic development state of Columbus’ business district spelled disarray more than 30 years ago.
And at the time local entrepreneurs had had enough.
“In 1983, this place was in bad shape,” said Richard Bishop, ’93, president and CEO of nonprofit economic redevelopment organization Uptown Columbus. “Prominent businessman Jim Blanchard sat on a committee to improve conditions because business owners were tired of being down. They wanted to be up.”
Hence, the branding strategy behind Uptown Columbus formed, and the process to resuscitate Columbus’ stagnate economic engine established.
Uptown and revitalization organization Columbus Business Improvement District partnered to pave the way for long-standing and new companies to thrive in the heart of the city’s commercial and governmental sectors.
Columbus State University alumni started taking advantage of Uptown’s entrepreneurship opportunities as well.
“Today, we have a unique combination of Columbus State University graduates and local business owners who contribute to this cool lifestyle created here in Uptown,” Bishop said. “Any day of the week you can see residents biking, dining, shopping and taking in the views from our popular Chattahoochee RiverWalk. CSU has been critical in our growth in the past 15 years.”
The most recent development occurs between Broad and 2nd Avenue where the following CSU graduates have designed their businesses into places of Uptown pleasure to experience.
Jason McKenzie | Ride on Bikes
Marketing alumnus Jason McKenzie, ’09, literally lives by the motto and would debate he probably owns the best bike shop in the world to do so.
“I’ve been riding bikes since age 5,” said McKenzie, 32, owner of Ride on Bikes. “I never thought a hobby would become a lucrative profession. What I love about my job, though, is that I believe in the product, which impacts lives through fitness.”
The Albany, Georgia, native owns and operates the million-dollar bike garage business with the help of a professional team to fit, sell, service and offer local rentals to casual to competitive riders.
McKenzie attributes CSU courses like “Contemporary Issues” and public speaking to collaborating effectively with a talented team and becoming a successful business owner in Uptown Columbus.
“That particular course really connected me to the outside world of successful business professionals — many of whom I still keep in contact with,” he said. “The best thing I learned from CSU was to surround yourself with a good team so everyone elevates.”
McKenzie travels the country to various bike shows to ensure his team remains on the cutting edge of industry developments.
“Jason allows us to do what we love to do,” said JoAnne Cogle, a fit specialist who has worked with McKenzie since he became the official owner of the business in 2009. “He’s more like family and our family leader.”
The shop’s specialty service is bike customization to a cyclist’s physique and needs. A bike’s price tag range: $100 to $14,000.
“I have bikes for 5 year olds to electric bikes for the handicap,” McKenzie said. “I believe electric bikes are the future for cycling, too.”
If new to the area, the easiest way to get involved in Uptown action is during Ride on Bikes’ Tuesday community bike rides, which attracts more than 100 riders.
And to cool down afterward, the shop features a healthy selection of refreshments through partner business Ride on Smoothie & Juice Bar.
“Partnering with like minds is key,” said McKenzie. “Tim and his sister Kristi were the perfect match for providing our customers a fun experience in this area.”
McKenzie also launched Key2WallStreet.com November 2015 with his mother and business partner Beth McKenzie. The duo provides option trading seminars, focusing on engaging trades, key indicators, chart analysis, trade strategies and portfolio enhancement.
“My mom is a rock star,” said McKenzie. “I definitely get a lot of my go-getter attitude from her.”
Erin Widick | The Posh Peach
One week Erin Widick,’14, earned a degree in business marketing; the next week she opened for retail business.
“I literally opened The Posh Peach a week after graduating from CSU,” said Widick, who transformed the once wig shop off Broad into a swanky, bricked boutique for women. “My sister, Leah, and I had a business plan, and we were determined to carry it out.”
The 28-year- old clothing storeowner’s style: trendy with plenty of Southern sophistication.
“I’m always attending fashion shows and trade centers like AmericasMart in Atlanta to see what’s fashionable so my clientele walks away feeling fabulous after each visit,” the chic Columbus native said.
While working on her undergraduate degree at CSU, Widick and her sister had already gained sales traction with The Posh Peach as an online clothing site.
“What probably benefited me the most at CSU was understanding how to use social media in marketing,” she said. “My store requires a lot of visuals to push the products. I do everything from taking photos of our new arrivals to posting reminders about markdowns.”
As Widick prepared for graduation, she knew working behind a desk was not an option. However, shopping for in-vogue threads to garland the modern Southern Belle was.
“Leah and I worked the online store for about a year with good results,” Widick said. “From there, we started working on the design for the store front. The hardest part was strategizing about funding.”
Adorned in rural-meets- runway décor, the barn loft boutique features women tops, bottoms, dresses, shoes and accessories with farmstead flair.
“New is our kid clothing for girls,” said Widick, “and we want women to know we cater to a all sizes — small to 3X. No matter a woman’s body type, we’re stocked with the cutest selections for casual to formal occasions.”
The alumna has gained much business success with the boutique’s comfy, country character and modish apparel, too.
“I’m a shopaholic,” Widick said. “To be able to buy and sell the best styles out today for fashion-forward women of Columbus is right up my alley.”
Grif Morpeth | Country’s on Broad
Country’s on Broad is Uptown’s barbecue juke joint where the Southern-style chopped pork reigns cuisine supreme.
One of three locations in the Columbus area, the ’50s-designed diner has been serving the popular Deep South dish since 1987.
Another reason why guests keep coming back: CSU alumnus Grif Morpeth. His customer service — Georgia boy genuine.
“We opened the franchise in 1975 and have stayed open because we take the time to
give our customers real food,” said the 52-year- old Columbus native. “We buy from local farms, and 95 percent of the food we make is from scratch.”
The mouthwatering aroma of Southern-fried selections like barbecue chicken, Texas beef brisket and cue stew triggers taste buds instantaneously to the once 1930s Greyhound bus station location.
“I grew up in the kitchen,” said Morpeth, who will hold a casual conversation with diners in between serving plates, busting tables and teaching staff. “To stay out of trouble, my momma had me peeling potatoes at age 11, and I’ve been in the restaurant industry ever since.”
Co-owner to the franchise, Morpeth has dedicated 30-plus years to the family business. To stay abreast of industry technology, Morpeth earned a bachelor’s degree from CSU during 1994 in computer information management.
“I’m the default geek of the family,” he said. “We use computers daily for our online accounting system and point of sales registers. Whatever needs to get done, I will do it. That’s how I was raised.”
At the time of Morpeth’s collegiate career, the university was still named Columbus College.
“I remember things on campus were shifting,” said Morpeth, “but CSU has always been big on writing and research, which I still apply today. I’m constantly researching ways to keep our menu interesting and keeping up with trade journals and industry trends.”
From mopping floors to overseeing staff and food quality, Morpeth is a hands-on businessman. His advice to CSU graduates in pursuit of restaurant ownership:
“Learn all parts of the business if possible,” he said, “and never miss an opportunity to advance in something you love to do.”
Miles Greathouse | Maltitude Craft Beer Marketplace
Miles Greathouse, ’10, refuses to compromise on good grub and well-crafted beer.
The CSU marketing alumnus and co-founder of Maltitude Craft Beer Marketplace would travel to Atlanta just to experience quality establishments of the two.
“I’m just a guy who loves great beer and food,” said Greathouse, “but locally we didn’t have many of the craft beer brands I enjoyed. Two of my best friends, Garrett Lawrence and Robert Battle, and I started brainstorming. We ended up creating something that appeals to us and didn’t exist here in Columbus. We were our own target audience.”
Dubbed the “Guardian of Craft Beer Culture,” Maltitude opened August 2013 and currently offers nearly 500 different beer brands to Uptown clientele.
“It’s safe to say we’re exceeding our projections for Maltitude,” the 28-year- old businessman said. “We concentrate a lot on offering customers craft beer from Georgia breweries like Three Taverns in Decatur; Orpheus Brewing in Atlanta; and Omaha Brewing Co. in Omaha, as well as great beer from around the country. We have world-class beer coming out of our state, and a lot of people don’t realize that.”
Greathouse guzzled down his CSU marketing and design knowledge to develop the craft beer brand.
Along with the daily operations of Maltitude, Greathouse is the growler genius behind Maltitude’s promotional designs.
“I handle design of our glassware, site and T-shirts,” he said. “I won ‘Marketing Student of the Year’ at Columbus State, so that experience helped with this business.”
During May of this year, the trio also opened new craft beer bar Nonic Bar & Kitchen in Uptown.
“This beer-centric bar complements Maltitude,” said Greathouse. “It’s got that gastropub style but with an eclectic menu. Our signature dish is the donut burger — a house blend beef patty served on a golden donut with bacon and a poached egg. And our taps are constantly rotating, so there are always new beers to try.”
Although Greathouse does not see a franchise future, he does anticipate opportunities to share his business sense with CSU graduates.
“We’re all about creating cool experiences,” Greathouse said. “Next, I want to figure out innovative ways to help others get started in business ownership.”