Mom and Pop Businesses that Made It Big

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Fred DeLuca Subway Shop
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Everyone remembers that restaurant in their hometown -- the family-run joint where the food was mouth-watering and the proprietors were on a first-name basis with all their regulars. Well, today is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, a day to celebrate small, family-run businesses like that, and the hard work and perseverance it takes to make them great.

But as we take a moment to recall those one-of-a-kind endeavors -- the independent bookstores, the B&B's, the diners -- it's also worth noting that some of America's most popular brands started off as humble mom-and-pop shops.

Here are just a few:

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Mom and Pop's Businesses that Made it Big
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Mom and Pop Businesses that Made It Big
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were childhood friends who couldn't figure out what to do after college (in Ben's case, after dropping out), and decided to go into business together. With little experience as entrepreneurs, they split the $5 cost of taking a correspondence class from Penn State University in ice cream-making, then renovated an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont, into an ice cream parlor, where they created and sold the chunk-filled, swirl-laden ice cream flavors they themselves had always craved. That first venture failed to turn a profit, but their second try took off, and today, their many distinctive flavors are available worldwide.
The original Whole Foods WFM was an ordinary neighborhood grocery store in Austin, Texas -- the brainchild of John Mackey, who along with his girlfriend, Rene Lawson, and two other local businessmen. In 1981, a year after they opened their supermarket dedicated to natural foods, a flash flood destroyed the store. But members of the local community came together to rebuild it, and 10 years later Whole Foods Market went public. Today, there are more than 330 Whole Foods Markets.
The next time you luxuriously inhale the scent of your Yankee Candle, enjoy this fun fact: The scented candle that launched it all in 1969 was handcrafted out of melted crayons. Seventeen-year-old Mike Kittredge was too broke to buy his mother a Christmas present, so he made her one. Some neighbors were impressed, and asked if he would make any for sale: He did so, used the proceeds to purchase wax in bulk to make more candles, and, with help from a couple of high school friends, founded the company that would eventually be taken private in 2007 in a $1.6 billion deal.
In 1891, William Wrigley Jr.'s gave away free gum to attract customers to his general store in Chicago. But he soon realized that the gum was more popular than necessities like soap and baking powder, and took the opportunity to start producing his own. His biggest challenge was to break the then-prevalent stereotype that only women chewed gum. He started to market his product to the younger people, and then during the 1893 depression, created two brands that people still enjoy today: Wrigley's Spearmint and Juicy Fruit. He later mortgaged everything he owned to fund an advertising campaign that got the whole nation chewing.
Long before Mattel (MAT) created the iconic Barbie doll, it was a company of three people making picture frames in Southern California garage. But it was the doll furniture they made out of their scrap wood that started gaining them popularity, and eventually led them to change their focus to toy production. Uke-A-Doodle, a toy ukulele, was the company's first hit. The company went on to produce toys for the popular "Mickey Mouse Club," before creating the toy that changed girlhood: Barbie.

"Pete's Subway", originally known as "Pete’s Super Submarines," was one ambitious student's attempt to fund his college expenses. Fred DeLuca originally intended to use the business to support him through medical school, but his passions changed as his venture kept growing and he never did go to med school.

DeLuca partnered with Dr. Peter Buck to open that first sandwich shop in Bridgeport, Conn. After DeLuca graduated from the University of Bridgeport and decided not to continue his education, he and Buck set a goal of opening 32 subway stores within 10 years. They eventually realized that they would have to franchise their humble restaurant in order to reach that goal. Today, their enterprise serves sandwiches across the globe.

Correction: Clarifications to this slide were made to more accurately describe the early history of the Subway chain.

Back in 1984, Burt Shavitz was living in an 8-by-8 turkey coop on a homestead with 30 bee hives, a flock of chickens and a pony. He made money by selling the honey, but he didn't have any particular use for the excess beeswax, so he stored it away in a honey house, assuming he'd need it someday. Roxanne Quimby volunteered with the bees, and began using the beeswax to make candles, which became a hit at local fairs and eventually caught the eye of a boutique in New York City. They expanded their small business by turning an old bowling alley into their factory, and hired some employees. Later, they experimented with other uses for honey and beeswax, eventually landing on the personal care products that made Burt's Bees the popular brand it is today. However, the company no longer makes candles. (It's also no longer independent: Clorox (CLX) bought them out in 2007.)
Anita Roddick was raised by a frugal mother who had experienced the hardships of World War II. She had also travelled the world, learning various homemade beauty rituals. So when she wanted to make a livelihood for herself, she combined the two experiences to create a "green" business in England. Her brand struck a chord in the 1970s, when Europe was becoming more environmentally-friendly, and now her stores with their trademark green decor are famous worldwide. But few know that the green paint color was chosen to hide the mold on the walls of Roddick's humble first establishment.
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