After spending 30 years as an executive in retail, Jacquie Fazekas decided it was time for a change.
Knowing she did not want to retire, she became a leadership and executive health coach while continuing her work as a motivational speaker and writer. Having been one herself, Jacquie had a desire to help the overworked, stressed and unhealthy executives she was spending time with.
“I knew if I could make a difference in the lives of these unhealthy executives not only would it help them with their problems, but also help the young people in their lives,” Jacquie said.
Canadian by birth, Jacquie has lived and traveled all over the world. Her first trip to Birmingham three years ago was to bring her son to school at UAB. She spent the weekend roaming the streets and visiting historic sites.
“It was a powerful weekend where I began to feel my pull to Birmingham,” Jacquie said. “Every time I came to visit it grew stronger until I could no longer dismiss it.”
Within two weeks of deciding to move, Jacquie got out of her lease in Philadelphia, found a place in Birmingham and moved. Jacquie dove in. She absorbed the faces and places of her new chosen home. She mapped out then explored health food stores and street markets across the city, talking to everyone.
“I kept thinking ‘Why did God move me to Birmingham, to such an unhealthy city?’ I had visions about a community center where I could pour into people and share my knowledge of health,” Jacquie said.
With only one store appearing in Five Points West, Jacquie almost skipped Health Foods West – but then inexplicably felt drawn to it. Walking in, she knew it was a special place.
Store manager Steven “Trooper” Cox greeted her at the door. Trooper, the grandson of the original owners, has been a longtime associate at the store.
“Trooper gave me a strange look and asked me why I had come to the store. As I began to explain he interrupted me and said, ‘No why are you really here?’ and I was shocked because I did not know,” Jacquie said.
Three hours later they had their answer.
Trooper shared with her that the store was closing and the family was shutting it down. He had been praying that someone would come along who was interested in keeping the store going – and he felt there was something significant about Jacquie’s visit. So did Jacquie.
“He’s freaking out, I’m freaking out, we are both just in shock,” Jacquie said.
That weekend Jacquie evaluated the area around the store and discovered the importance of the health food store remaining open.
“With a Burger King on every corner and Family Dollar, how is this community supposed to choose healthy options if they do not even have access?” Jacquie asked.
People she met encouraged Jacquie to contact REV Birmingham’s Business Growth team. REV’s team consulted with her on the fundamentals of real estate, her specific business plan and the process of acquisition to help ensure her vision.
“I probably sounded crazy going into this meeting with, ‘There is this store on the west side and I need everyone’s help to try and keep it open, oh and by the way I have only been here two weeks and do not even have an Alabama license,’” Jacquie said.
Jacquie made her official decision to take over the store on November 1, 2018. With more clarity than ever about why she had felt so drawn to Birmingham, she set about acquiring the Five Points West’s sole health food store and rebranding it to Bama Health Foods.
Jacquie’s fortuitous domino effect continued, as she found herself connecting with more people in Five Points West. On a visit to the business next door, Jacquie met the man who became her contractor – and he introduced her to a friend who built the website. A neighborhood tattoo artist designed the art for the windows with the store tag line “Nourishing lives, mind, body and soul.”
With the store being a family business for more than 70 years, Jacquie worried the change in ownership might feel strange to the community. She has spent hours in conversation with the entire family and relies on Trooper to help. While considering her title at the store, Jacquie said the name boss or owner felt too strong – so her nametag reads “Aunt Jacquie,” and her customers have embraced it.
“I have been adopted into the family and everyone accepts it. When customers ask, ‘Is this under new ownership?’ I tell them ‘no the family is still here,’” Jacquie said.
Jacquie is also pairing up with some of her new Birmingham friends to teach leadership workshops at the store. The first series, designed by well-known author and speaker John Maxwell, is about developing yourself as a business leader.
With these workshops, Jacquie is striving to give the community knowledge while pairing it with the access to health food she has made available in her store.
“When you tell a community to eat better and exercise, they are going to say, ‘where and how?’ So, who is going to be the solution for the where and the how? We are,” Jacquie said.