In the early 2000s, a young international student from Bangkok visited her sister at Virginia Tech and immediately saw the need for a Thai restaurant in the small town.
Aivey Charoensombut-amorn, an aspiring business entrepreneur, saw the potential to satisfy this need by opening her own business.
“I saw a lot of opportunity in this town, and I thought what I had could bring differences,” Charoensombut-amorn, owner of Next Door Bake Shop, said. “I took a shot and the worst scenario for me back then was just to go home.”
Prior to opening Next Door Bake Shop, Charoensombut-amorn, along with family, opened Café de Bangkok in downtown Blacksburg in 2007.
After owning a business for a year, Charoensombut-amorn decided to travel five hours north to Washington, D.C. to work for Sephora.
“I wanted to learn the operations and have a mentor,” Charoensombut-amorn said. “The best way to be more efficient, I was thinking, was to go work for someone and gain knowledge through that.”
Once Charoensombut-amorn felt more experienced in the world of opening and running a business, she returned to Blacksburg. Four months later, Next Door Bake Shop was open to customers.
As an incredibly creative and innovative person, Charoensombut-amorn knew her shop should include personality, originality and color to be successful and different from what she describes as the typical, quiet coffee shop.
“I make sure I am branding myself through me,” Charoensombut-amorn said. “It’s such a small town so you have to make sure you know what you have and brand it. You have to believe what you sell.”
The months leading up to the opening were busy including finding a landlord, receiving licenses and passing health requirements, to name a few.
Contemplating the next step in her new business, Charoensombut-amorn’s was graciously approached by students from Tech’s Pamplin School of Business who assisted in marketing through the shop’s website and Twitter.
Next Door Bake Shop is only entering its third year, but Charoensombut-amorn already has plans to open a third restaurant, Social House.
“I think of [Social House] not as a small business,” Charoensombut-amorn said. “I know what people I need to hire, and I’m going to make sure I’m up there so when they need it, I can be there to help and guide them.”
Interestingly enough, Charoensombut-amorn was not entirely sure if she could own and operate Social House since it is a large project with an even bigger time commitment.
She was unsure about a third business until the day she was standing in front of the potential Social House.
“I couldn’t let go. I was like ‘Fine, I’ll give up my three years doing this,’” Charoensombut-amorn said.
The idea of Social House began with Blacksburg native Daniel Riley, who was introduced to Charoensombut-amorn through a mutual friend.
Riley did not consider Charoensombut-amorn at first since she already owned two businesses. But with encouragement from their friend, Riley reconsidered.
“The process has been challenging and never better since the addition of Aivey,” Riley said. “She’s the project.”
To many, it may sound exhausting owning or assisting three businesses; however, Charoensombut-amorn admits the end results make it worthwhile.
While people could potentially get frustrated or burned out, the best remedy is to ask for help as soon as it’s needed, she said.
“Daniel has a lot of credit into it,” Charoensombut-amorn said. “Without him, it wouldn’t complete this way. The house has cost so much more to become a restaurant, but I hope that what I do would make it worthwhile.”
Charoensombut-amorn is fortunate to have motivation from her family, friends, kids and certainly her customers. Most of the customers have even become her friends and some, her best friends.
“Aivey is a go-getter, funky,” Caitlin Belcher, manager and employee of Next Door Bake Shop for three years, said. “She’s always doing 50,000 things at once, and she never forgets about anything.
“She is really outgoing and cares about her customers and employees.”
Most of all Charoensombut-amorn still finds the small town fascinating, particularly praising the people.
While she recognizes she could pack her bags at any moment and open a business somewhere else, Blacksburg shapes who she is today.
“To own your own business my advice is you have to go with what you believe in,” Charoensombut-amorn said. “Everyone has strength in you and if you think that can make a difference, it will always be successful.”