Local entrepreneur, Wandu Gizaw, arrived to Tallahassee from Ethiopia in 1995 looking for more opportunity. He was denied a job at Publix because he could not speak English at the time of his arrival. After pleading with the manager, he was finally given an opportunity to be a bag boy:
“I just kept telling him that if he gave me the opportunity, I could do good work. After three months I proved I could do the job and I was promoted from bag boy to stock man.”
After 18 months at Publix, Gizaw received his first management position as an assistant manager at Amoco Sing. Gizaw spent two years at Amoco before being promoted to a store manager. This position would briefly send him outside of Tallahassee. He was transferred to Orlando; it was there that his management skills began to grow.
“I spent most of my time there training different managers in the area of merchandise.”
Soon Gizaw found himself operating as the area manager of the company.
In 2003, Gizaw returned to Tallahassee with the goal of owning his own business. After securing a loan from a friend, he opened his first store, Spur Gas Station on 2259 W. Tennessee St.:
“I was able to pay back my friend in three months. After that I set my goals on expanding,” he said.
In his first year of operation he purchased four other gas stations in the surrounding areas.
“I was able to grow by relying on community support. I care about my customers even when they are not at my store. This helped me to build relationships and learn more about the market,” Gizaw said.
This sentiment is echoed by many of his customers:
“He has a way of making you feel special, like he really cares about you and what you are trying to do. I’ve come here at times and not had any money and he still let me get gas, its little things like that that make him special. He’s not just a business owner,” says a local college student that stops by the Spur daily.
Gizaw credits his success to his consistency and willingness to do any task given to him by his superiors. He has now been able to put time in supporting ventures of his friends and customers. One example is 514-BEER, a delivery service that delivers beer and other items 24hours a day:
“I know most accidents happen to students while drinking and driving. I sell beer every day and I didn’t ever want the guilt of one of my customers hurting themselves,” said Gizaw. “Most of them are college students, good kids just trying to have a good time-the delivery service stops them from having to drive intoxicated and has allowed me to employ some college students that have been able to make money running the service.”
In addition to smaller projects like the delivery service, Gizaw has been teaching kids about entrepreneurship:
“I want to share what I learned coming from Africa with young kids. Teach them about keeping their credit good; show them that you don’t have to have money to start a business,” Gizaw said. “Cutting grass, washing cars anything that the community will benefit from is the foundation for a successful business. One of my customers lost his job from Home Depot-I shared with him that people had a need for a mobile food service in Tallahassee, I helped him get his licenses and he was able to create income for himself, he has recently hired two additional people and is opening opportunities for others.”
Up next for Gizaw is H20 Restaurant and Lounge that will be located on the corner of Tennessee and White Dr. He is excited about the new venture, and is confident that it will be a success. He has been able to apply the teachings that he has learned in retail to the business. It has also been an opportunity to learn about new things as he did when first arriving here from Africa.
“I look forward to the club opening, it has been a lot of work but I am proud of where it is at right now.”
Contact Robert Mayberry at email@example.com