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  • Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Davis consumers ready to celebrate return of Common Grounds with cups o’ joe

Published: Thursday, Sep. 26, 2013 - 12:07 am
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 26, 2013 - 7:36 am

Davis consumers and politicians flexed their muscles and persuaded the landlord to restore the Common Grounds coffee shop to the Oakshade Town Center. Owners Son Chong and Michelle Kim reopened their business Wednesday.

They had planned to start selling their coffees, teas and other treats on Tuesday, but they had to make some adjustments to pass inspections. Chong and Kim were forced to move out of their shop back in April because the landlord, Florida-based Regency Centers, wanted to bring in a Starbucks.

“They wanted a bigger corporation,” Kim told me. “They said Starbucks was offering more money, and they told us to get out. … The state representative lives near here and she came over and said, ‘Let me talk to the CEO of the business center,’ which is my landlord, and she got involved big time, and the city got involved big time. The city said, ‘We don’t want Starbucks coming in here. We’d rather support small businesses.’ This big corporation, they don’t know anything about Davis. Davis is all about small businesses”

The couple’s attorney told them they had no legal recourse, but the court of public opinion held sway after politicians mobilized and about 1,000 Davis residents signed petitions to keep Common Grounds in the shopping center at the corner of Cowell Boulevard and Pole Line Road. Kim and Chong also own a second Common Grounds at 729 Main St. in Woodland.

Kim and Chong acquired Common Grounds from its original owner when they moved back to California from Michigan in 2006. Chong grew up in the Sacramento region; Kim, in Orange County. They wanted to raise their two kids near family.

Kim said Common Grounds survived some tough years when other small businesses around them shut down. Because the landlord wouldn’t renew their lease, they lost income for five months, and now they must fund the build-out of a new space. The landlord, she said, will cover only about 10 percent of costs.

It’s go, go, go for this firm

If you know a high school graduate who can really take the heat, direct them to Traffic Management Inc.

The company puts up temporary traffic control barriers to safeguard road crews and utility workers or to manage crowds at public events, and its business has been growing at an annual pace of about 40 percent to 50 percent since 2009.

Based in Signal Hill, Traffic Management employs 330 employees in California and Michigan, and most of its positions do not require a college degree. Employees design traffic control plans, set up traffic barriers, serve as traffic controllers, shepherd traffic plans through government agencies, produce site-specific signs and sell equipment, among other things.

Entry-level traffic controllers, who work out in the elements, receive compensation packages of $60,000 or more with salary, retirement, and other benefits. The company recently doubled the space it had at its Sacramento office, opening a new office at McClellan Business Park. About 50 people work there now, but owners Chris and Jonathan Spano expect that number to grow to at least 75 by this time next year.

“Over the years, we have grown not only in the size of the company and our geographical footprint, but we have also added more things like retail products we carry – paint and vests and things like that,” explained chief executive Chris Spano, the elder of the two brothers. “As the traffic control marketplace has kind of evolved over the last few years, there have been some companies that have gone out of business and opportunities that have presented themselves to us to expand more in the retail market.”

The Spanos launched Traffic Management with their father back in 1994 when Chris was just out of high school and Jonathan was 16. Their dad left to start another business, and the brothers took over the business. Last year, it grossed roughly $27 million.

Dropped into ‘Shark Tank’

Local entrepreneur and inventor Chris Johnson will swim in the “Shark Tank” on ABC-TV, as he pitches his Rapid Ramen microwaveable cooker to the hit show’s judges at 9 p.m. Oct. 4.

“When I first submitted my information,” the 34-year-old Johnson said. “I got a ‘Thanks but no thanks, we’re not interested at this time,’ but I didn’t give up there. I continued to have success with Rapid Ramen. I submitted another video and they were interested, and so I had to go through this entire long process, but ultimately I was selected, and it was amazing.”

The square cookers, which retail for about $7 or more, are shaped to fit ramen blocks and have handles that remain cool to the touch. The noodles cook faster than on the stovetop. They are sold nationwide at all Safeway stores, Raley’s, Albertsons and HEB, and they also are available at and

Johnson spoke to me by phone from Providence, R.I., where he was meeting with the head buyer at CVS to discuss carrying the product. Last week, he was in Bentonville, Ark., to discuss a 2014 store rollout with Wal-Mart executives.

Confidentiality agreements prohibit him from discussing what happened on the show, he said. He filmed the episode back in June. Although he knew the date for filming, he didn’t learn the time until the last minute.

“That morning,” he said, “I rehearsed my pitch at least a hundred times in front of the mirror.”

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

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