9TH AVENUE PLAZA: African-American entrepreneurs following dreams in business pursuits

Published 12:30 am Wednesday, May 26, 2021

You can find just about anything at 9th Avenue Plaza.

At the four-store shopping center located near the site of the old St. Mary’s Hospital, one can get designer clothing without having to leave the area, custom gifts and the supplies to make them, the kind of barbershop that makes lifelong customers, a tax preparer and the soul food southerners crave.

Not to mention, it is filled with friendly people, great conversation and the dreams of local entrepreneurs.

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“This is the first African-American center in Port Arthur, and we’ve all been in business going on a year now,” said Toryn Foreman, 43. “And it’s like a historical moment.”

Foreman and business partner Jim Bailey, 43, opened L and F Clothing and Retail July 18, 2020. It was quite a change from the refineries, where the two worked together for almost 20 years after first hiring in with Brock Group.

While working in industry, Bailey sold designer clothes from the trunk of his car. But it was when rapper and entrepreneur Master P spoke about taking the amount of money spent on other people’s designs and investing it in oneself that he rethought his track.

He designed his own shoe he called Lean-O Brand — “Lean” after his wife’s nickname for him. But a friend suggested he change it to a more market-friendly name.

And so Leneaux was born.

Bailey approached Foreman about opening a retail store.

“We were going to open up on 25th Street but it was a little small,” Foreman said. “We found this building here, and it was the perfect spot.”

Despite opening during a pandemic, the duo said business has been great.

“Even though we had to close for a month, it’s like we didn’t miss it,” Foreman said.

Along with Leneaux, the store carries a wide arrange of clothing and accessories from brands such as Nike, Jordan, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and more.

“We carry it all,” Foreman said.

But it didn’t stop there. Foreman reached out to long-time family friend Keesha Jones, who had her own business preparing taxes. But the Lincoln High School graduate could do more than crunch numbers.

In September, KeKe’s Chicken and Soul Food opened in the plaza. And along with it came chili, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, fish, pepper steak, cheeseburgers, chicken and pork chop sandwiches, chicken and waffles, wings and fried rice covered with shrimp.

“It was a vision I had,” Jones said. “Growing up I became very business-oriented, and I saw myself in the future doing things.”

She talked to her four kids, who assured her they could open a restaurant.

That’s when Foreman called about the Plaza.

“He said, ‘I know you like to cook, and I know you’re a business person. Is this something you’re interested in?’”

She had just moved and was unsure if she could start a new business.

“I just came and checked it out and was like, ‘I know we can do this. I know we can make a way.’”

On top of more than six months serving up lunch and dinner favorites, Jones is also celebrating a successful tax season.

“You never know what you can do until you do it,” she said. “If you focus truly and give it your all, you can’t help but blossom. If you keep on doing it, something great is gonna happen.”

That’s almost exactly how Erica Thibo came to open Prestige Custom Designs in the Plaza. She and the owner of Royalty Fresh Barbershop signed into the building at about the same time. And after doing some work to the shop, she opened last July.

She had been making vinyl t-shirts, cups, mugs and other items at home.

“It was just kind of like a hobby,” she said of the work she started in 2019. “I outgrew my washroom.”

The store is packed with custom designs on shirts, tumblers, mugs and other accessories. But she also does custom orders for people, such as bulk orders of graduation shirts.

And for those who are looking to start like Thibo did, she sells vinyl, shirts and other needed items.

“Business has been surprisingly well,” she said. “I’ve seen this section here for a while and it’s been a couple of different things. As you pass by, it’s kind of like, “’Oh, that’s a building. What do they have over there now?’ So we’ve all been here a year. The owner is putting us up a nice sign. Every company’s name will be on it.”