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This Family of Tropical Smoothie Cafe Franchisees Is Using Their Business to Build Community

Toya Evans and her daughters aren't just running a franchise business. They're strengthening their family, their community, and the fortune of future franchisees.

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This story appears in the March 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

After a successful corporate career, Toya Evans wanted to take control of her professional life. So in 2016, along with her two daughters, Lauren Williamson and Chanel Grant, Evans opened up a Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Prince George's County, Maryland. Since then, the trio has expanded their portfolio to include three additional Tropical Smoothie locations (with one more in development) and two Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spas. As they work together to build on their success, they're also focused on spreading the wealth — lifting up their own community as well as would-be franchisees across the country.

L Nicole Photography
Evans (center) is building businesses with daughters Chanel Grant (left) and Lauren Williamson.

Why did you decide to go into business with your daughters?

I had been running a race pretty hard in the corporate world. Responsibility always seemed to be increasing, but it was more of a "hurry up and wait" story when it came to promotion opportunities. One day my daughter said to me, "We can barely get hold of you — we call and you hit the auto-decline button." So we decided to build something together instead.

How did you land on Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Hand & Stone as brands to invest in?

I did some research on growth markets. We considered senior care, drug-testing franchises, really the gamut. We ultimately settled on the health and wellness space — my daughter Chanel was originally going to study naturopathic medicine, so it felt like a fit and an area where we could grow.

Related: 5 Keys to Successfully Leading a Family Business

You've been very specific about where you open these businesses. Why?

We wanted to be in an underserved area. Prince George's County is predominantly African American, and what I saw growing up here — and even now, as an adult — is that we took our money outside the county when looking for goods and services because they weren't present here. We want to change that narrative.

Has your expansion strategy changed since you began?

We opened four new branches during COVID — two new Tropical Smoothies and two Hand & Stone locations. We have expanded to traditional and nontraditional locations in the Washington, D.C., market. Traditional means they're accessible to anybody; nontraditional means you can't get to our locations unless you're given access. Our next two locations will be at Walter Reed hospital and the Pentagon.

The Washington area was basically sold out for street-side locations. So, our expansion strategy has been to go nontraditional. Walking through the Pentagon — it's a mini city. They only get 30 minutes for lunch, and getting out of the building is really difficult. So, they have a lot of food brands there.

Evans, Williamson, and Grant (from left) want their businesses to benefit their local roots.

Early in the pandemic, when business was especially slow, you and your daughters created an online course to help others become franchisees. How is that going?

It's called "So You Want to Buy a Franchise," and people from all over the country have purchased the coursework. We're asked the same questions over and over again, so we put all that in modules for them to go back and look at anytime. And we have an online chat feature. In March, we did a live master class, and people in various stages of buying a franchise had access to ask us questions.

Related: Why This Family Is Betting Their Future on Franchising

You went into franchising to build something together with your family. What has surprised you in that respect?

The other day, we were doing an article for a magazine, and my kids were listening to the interview on speaker. My grandson is nine, and my daughter texted me in the middle of it to say he was about to cry. He heard me talk about having something for my grandchildren. Now he sits up in bed learning about franchises. We told him to come back to us with his recommendations about what brands we should add to the portfolio. The fact that he's nine and he's interested, that's wonderful.

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