STARTING OVER SERIES: Highlighting entrepreneurs who clawed through the recession

8:42 AM, May 13, 2011   |    comments
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STARTING OVER: Appliance Factory Outlet

If you grew up in Colorado, you have likely heard of a store called Appliance Factory Outlet. It has been around for a quarter of a century, which is a big accomplishment when it comes to small businesses.

"Business has been good," Appliance Factory Chief Executive Officer Chuck Ewing said.

Ewing is a fourth generation Coloradan. His multi-million dollar business has been helping families find affordable appliances for 25 years. But if you ask him, becoming a profitable salesman was never part of Ewing's master plan.

"I just stumbled into the appliance business really," Ewing said. "I started selling appliances because I wanted to support my music career."

In 1985 Ewing wanted to become a rock star. But he needed money to support his dream.

"I remember asking my dad if I could start selling used music equipment," Ewing said. "And my Dad said 'Son, go for it'".

But, at the time, the economy nose dived, and Ewing found himself in the middle of a deep recession.

"You know they were selling condos for $30,000, it was really similar to today," Ewing said.

That is when Ewing decided to ditch the music dreams and begin hunting down old dishwashers, stoves and appliances.

"People called, and they had money." Ewing laughed. "When I used to sell old microphones and mixers, people called, but they never had any money."

In 1986, Ewing banked on a business designed specifically for bargain shoppers. He called it Appliance Factory Outlet. Since then, he has opened 10 stores across the state with his biggest warehouse located in Westminster.

The company is approaching the $50-million mark and is still going strong. Ewing has survived two recessions and says he owes it all to his customers and his Appliance Factory team.

"That's what it's really about, hard work and taking chances." Ewing said.

STARTING OVER: Mile High Mountaineering

The combination of a good friend, beautiful weather and an endless selection of mountain trails puts backpacking on the minds of many Coloradans. But for Jeff Popp, it was inspiration to start a business.

Popp graduated from CU Boulder with a political science degree and a job cleaning windows. Despite his lack in business experience, Popp decided to found Mile High Mountaineering.

"For the first year-and-a-half, that was the hardest part, because all of it was self funded," said Popp. "I didn't take any money from a bank. It was just me spending everything I had."

Popp and his business partner, Casey Lorenzen, have been selling packs, accessories and T-shirts for about a month now. The two sacrifice their time, energy, and money in hopes that the business will one day take off.

"Really when I started this it was to create a life I could enjoy," Popp said. "I just want to create a good, solid business that I'm proud of."

Mile High Mountaineering gear can be found in specialty stores around Colorado, and theyre beginning to sell their products out of state as well. More information about Mile High Mountaineering can be found at


Do you need a little caffeine to get your wheels turning in the morning? Teri Meehan, the owner of the Wash Perk coffee shop can relate.

We didn't really have a good local coffee shop here in West Wash Park, said Meehan.

Three years ago, Meehan opened her shop without a plan or any prior business experience.

It was really a spontaneous, intuitive thing, explained Meehan. In a matter of 5 days I made the decision to do it.

Even though she started her business at the beginning of the recession, it continued to grow every year. This success inspired her to expand.

Instead of opening another shop, she opened up cycle. The newest addition to Wash Perk is actually a coffee bike, complete with a running sink and a display case.

I think that this is just one more extension of being creative in delivering commerce and connecting it with sustainable practices, said Meehan.

The colorful Wash Perk coffee cart can be easily spotted in Wash Park, only three blocks from the original shop.


If you like sandwiches you have probably noticed one of the newest sub shops to move to town. It is called Which Wich, and it is catching on quickly in the Mile High City.

"We have fun with the customers we give them a superior product," Which Wich franchise owner Jeff Gordan said.

Customers can create more than a million combinations of sandwiches at Which Wich on Colorado Boulevard and Evans Avenue. This sandwich shop was born during the recession by a man who knows all too well the importance of choosing your own path.

"I was laid off in 2006 from my job of 30 years," Gordan said.

Instead of finding another accounting job in corporate America, Gordan made a choice to be his own boss.

"I always wanted to do something for myself," Gordan said. "My kids were grown up, and it was time to make a change."

Gordan wanted something simple, cost effective and, most importantly, delicious.

"I found Which Wich," Gordan said. "It was a sandwich shop out of Dallas, Texas that had the popularity, and the price tag I felt comfortable with."

Gordan says his initial investment was about $100,000.

"To open a restaurant you probably need $350,000," Gordan said. " This franchised seemed much more affordable at about $100,000 cash, so that was my investment."

So in 2008, at the start of the country's worst recession, Gordan brought the sub shop to Denver and then brought in a partner."

"I'm having more fun now with sandwiches than I ever did as a lawyer," Jay Goldstein said.

Goldstein is a former attorney and now Which Wich's Chief Operating Officer for Denver. Together the two former corporate executives have opened seven sandwich shops across Denver with another set to open in the Denver Tech Center this summer.

"If you do what you love, then it doesn't feel like work." Goldstein said.

For more information on how to start your own business click on the following websites:
Denver Metro Small Business Development Center  
SBA - Small Business Administration  
The Denver Office of Economic Development: Business Assistance Center  
SCORE - Counselors to America's Small Business  
If you have an idea for our Starting Over series send an e-mail to or visit  

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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