Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Houndstooth House: South Dakota Small Business of the Year with U.S. Bank


During National Small Business Week, four clients of U.S. Bank had a special reason for celebration. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) honored them by naming them Businesspeople of the Year. These exceptional individuals were recognized for their outstanding contributions as entrepreneurs and small business owners, not only in building thriving businesses but also for positively impacting their communities.
The recognition ceremony for the national, state, and territory award winners takes place in Washington, D.C. as part of the National Small Business Week festivities.
One of the distinguished awardees is Abdirahman Kahin, the proprietor of Afro Deli & Grill in St. Paul, Minnesota. His remarkable achievements as a small businessperson earned him the prestigious title of National Small Businessperson of the Year by the SBA. In May, he had the honor of meeting with esteemed personalities, including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman during his visit to Washington, D.C. This experience serves as a testament to his exceptional efforts and accomplishments in the small business realm.
“It shows just how important small businesses are for the economy of this country,” said Kahin, whose Afro Deli & Grill fast-casual restaurant serves fresh African cuisine.
Having immigrated to the U.S. in 1996, Kahin shared that his journey was fueled by a dream and a strong ambition to expand his business, which required significant sacrifices over the years.
In 2011, Kahin realized his vision by opening the first Afro Deli & Grill. Fast forward to the present day, and he now successfully operates four brick-and-mortar locations. Additionally, he extends his reach by offering grab-and-go products at over a dozen other spots throughout the Twin Cities area. With a team of more than 70 employees, Kahin's business has grown substantially.
Beyond business success, Kahin's commitment to his community is admirable. He collaborates with organizations like Meals on Wheels and Kitchen Collision to provide home-delivered meals to vulnerable members of the community, showcasing his dedication to making a positive impact beyond the business realm.
“In the beginning, my challenge was how to convince non-Africans to eat African food,” said Kahin. “It was new ground for most Minnesotans. They didn’t know what to expect. I am thankful to those who trusted me and tried my food for the first time.”
When asked about his relationship with U.S. Bank, Kahin expressed that the bank and his business are like neighbors, with the bankers always being helpful. He had nothing but praise for the partnership he shares with U.S. Bank.
Taveesak "Dang" Chanthasuthisombut, the owner of Dang Thai Cuisine and Mr. Dee Sushi Bar located in Hailey, Idaho, was honored with the title of Idaho Small Businessperson of the Year. Benjamin Mitchum, the SBA business development officer for U.S. Bank, nominated him for the prestigious recognition.
According to Mitchum, Dang exemplifies the pursuit of dreams and the determination to achieve personal and professional goals. As a first-generation immigrant from Thailand who came to the United States in 2000, Dang had a vision for his new life, which included owning his own restaurant within five years of arriving in the country. His deep-rooted food culture has enriched the dining experience for his customers, making every meal special.
Throughout the pandemic, Dang demonstrated admirable support for his employees, earning praise from Mitchum for his dedication and resilience.
Despite his remarkable accomplishments, Dang was surprised to receive the nomination, humbly stating that he simply does his job and strives to contribute to his community and the people of Hailey. Nevertheless, he expressed immense happiness at the recognition.
Regarding his experience as a U.S. Bank customer, Dang had nothing but positive words to share. He felt that the bank treated him like family, with everyone being genuinely friendly and always ready to help find solutions to his inquiries.
Kenny Blakeslee, a former United States Navy avionics technician, co-founded Apex Site Solutions, which was recently honored as the Veteran-Owned Small Business of the Year by the SBA Sacramento District Office. Alongside his wife and business partner, Brooke Blakeslee, they established their wireless telecommunications services company in Elk Grove, California, and have successfully expanded it to employ over 100 people.
Apex Site Solutions caters to the diverse needs of carriers, tower owners, building owners, and public safety radio users, offering wireless solutions such as tower construction, coverage testing, network troubleshooting, and enhancements to cellular and two-way radio coverage inside buildings.
Central to their business philosophy is a people-first approach, providing on-the-job training and career development opportunities to empower their employees for success. Additionally, they actively engage in community-focused initiatives, including their involvement in a local nonprofit dedicated to preventing human trafficking. After a concerning incident of child trafficking in their close-knit community, the Blakeslees joined forces with the 3Strands Global Foundation to develop vital initiatives and offer free training and certification courses to combat human trafficking through prevention education and reintegration programs.
Each year, Apex Site Solutions hosts a fundraiser to support the nonprofit's mission and programs, further demonstrating their commitment to social impact and community betterment.
Louis Lane, a U.S. Bank SBA business development officer, nominated Kenny Blakeslee for the esteemed recognition, highlighting his passion and commitment in building a business that fosters meaningful employment and successful careers within the Sacramento area. To celebrate this achievement and Blakeslee's exceptional efforts, Brooke Blakeslee and seven other U.S. Bank colleagues participated in a special recognition event during the Capital Region Small Business Week in Sacramento.
"We appreciate U.S. Bank for their scale and scope because it allows us to live our value of ‘better every day,’ Kenny Blakeslee said. “Having access to world-class banking products, infrastructure and experts for a business of our size has really helped us improve our financial processes and risk management."
Denise Cotter and Michelle Marino, the dynamic duo behind Houndstooth House, have been named South Dakota Small Business of the Year. Fate brought these two women, originally from neighboring regions in Kansas, together in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where they founded their flourishing interior design and retail store.
After having three kids each, Cotter and Marino decided to venture into entrepreneurship, driven by the desire to prioritize their families while continuing their professional pursuits. Over the past two decades, they have transformed Houndstooth House from an independent interior design firm into a remarkable establishment, now occupying an impressive 10,000-square-foot building with retail space and employing eight dedicated individuals.
Their success escalated rapidly, particularly in the last five years, when they secured the position of preferred designers for a significant four-story, multi-use development in downtown Sioux Falls. In addition to their involvement with other clients, they successfully managed the construction of 17 upscale condos worth $1 million each.
Recently, within the past six months, they unveiled their new retail space, indicating their dedication to further expanding this aspect of their business. With an eye toward the future, Cotter and Marino are committed to nurturing their retail arm and recruiting top-notch talent to support the continuous growth of their thriving enterprise.
Both Houndstooth House and their personal accounts are proudly held with U.S. Bank, highlighting the bank's support in their journey towards success.
“A couple of years ago, we told people we were the up-and-coming interior designers in Sioux Falls,” said Cotter. “I feel like we put it out into the universe and now look at where we are today.”