Despite pandemic, local residents forge ahead with new businesses

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published January 9, 2021

 Brad and Francine Oppat, of Farmington Hills, started a new business in the midst of the pandemic.

Brad and Francine Oppat, of Farmington Hills, started a new business in the midst of the pandemic.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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WEST BLOOMFIELD/TROY — Last April, Farmington Hills resident Francine Oppat received a call with the kind of news many around the country have gotten since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After being employed for approximately 35 years by Beaumont Hospital, where she worked as an accountant, she was informed she had lost her job as part of the “massive” layoffs that were occurring around that time.

Her husband, Brad, was employed as the director of physical therapy for a physician’s group, which is a job he had for around 11 years.

Then Brad brought up the idea of starting their own business.

With Brad’s 20-plus years of experience as a physical therapist, Francine being for the idea and Beaumont being “generous” financially after she was let go, the couple decided to go for it and launched Sports Club Physical Therapy in November.

The Oppats lease space inside Sports Club of West Bloomfield.

A marketing company has helped get the word out about the business, which has made use of items such as masks and a face shield worn by Brad as safety precautions during the pandemic.

Francine’s unexpected job loss helped push the couple into beginning a new chapter of their lives.

“I didn’t see it coming, so it was a terrible surprise,” Francine said. “But it’s working out really well.”

His wife’s layoff is one of the things Brad said inspired him to want to start the business.

“Sometimes in life, it’s been my experience that (you) don’t always appreciate what you’re going through at the time, but as you look back, you can see some of the blessings in the midst of some of the trials,” Brad said. “Of course, most of us don’t like the trials, but in some of those trials, with time, you can see how, ‘that really did work out to be a good thing for us.’”

The business venture has also allowed Brad to work with Francine, who helps handle administrative duties.

“That’s a new thing and a new aspect of work life that has been fun,” he said. “We bring a different skill set and a different way of looking at things, and that’s a good thing.”

 

Kickboxing, anyone?
An unforeseen circumstance also led Troy residents Danielle Favret, Leasa Williams and John Clement to start a business in 2020.

Favret and Williams were members of a franchise called “I Love Kickboxing” in Troy, with Clement being employed there as a part-time trainer.

After learning that the owner, who is from Ohio, was having a difficult time managing the business and planned to close it, the three decided to buy it from him.

They bought the business in February and renamed it “Troy Kickboxing Outfit.”

Approximately a month after purchasing it, the pandemic hit, with the government forcing many businesses to shut down as a safety measure.

Troy Kickboxing Outfit was closed to the public in March and, with the exception of outdoor workouts during the summer, didn’t reopen until September.

“You’re just finding how to run the business in a normal environment, and then there was a lot of confusing circumstances,” Favret said. “We wanted to do what was best for everyone’s health but still provide the service to people. So it was confusing, and it was disappointing.”

Favret referred to it as a “strange year.”

“We had members who wanted us to stay open,” she said. “They desperately wanted to keep working out, and so we felt like we were disappointing people when we closed. But we also had people who were scared and didn’t (want to) come in. It was a tough time because you had a lot of people who had different reactions and responses.”

Like other businesses, in order to remain open, Troy Kickboxing Outfit has gotten some timely assistance.

“We have a wonderful landlord who’s been very kind to work with us, so that’s been (an) enormous help,” Favret said. “Without that, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Despite some challenging times in 2020, a new year has begun.

“The people who are coming, they love the gym,” Favret said. “We’re hopeful we’re (going to) turn the corner here in 2021 and grow the business again. That’s our goal.”

The owners have taken measures to help make Troy Kickboxing Outfit a safe environment, including via checking temperatures, cleaning bags, providing hand sanitizer and utilizing Sign Up Genius so people can see how many others are signed up to work out during a particular time frame.

The number of bags has also been decreased, which creates ample distance between members.

“When you come in, you’re standing at one bag,” Favret said. “You’re not sharing any equipment, and you put gloves on your hands.”

 

A taste of Italy
Approximately two weeks after opening a new restaurant in November, like other restaurant owners in Michigan, Troy resident Elisabetta Balzola had to halt in-person dining as a COVID safety precaution.

Balzola owns Cucina Lab Torino in Troy, and despite being limited to carry-out service, she said, “I think we are doing great.”

“If I can keep making my money with carry-out and save (a) life, I’m happy,” Balzola said. “I think if people like my food, they will come back.”

Balzola described Cucina as a small restaurant where patrons can “enjoy the taste of Italian food and culture.”

She and her family moved from Italy around five years ago, and Balzola said, “The idea to have my own place, my own oven, my own things, was my dream.”

She had money saved up to start the business, and for her, owning a restaurant beats working for somebody else.

“That’s easier for me,” Balzola said. “Sometimes, it’s easier to follow your dream, and also follow what you have in your mind, instead of trying to explain and make other people like what you’re thinking. … This is very fun, and very easy to do.”

 

‘No risk, no reward.’
Brad Oppat said owning a business has been a “great ride.”

“With no risk, no reward,” he said. “If everything was guaranteed in life, that would be kind (of) boring, even if it’s guaranteed success. I think with any risk, there’s both excitement and some nervousness. But that’s part of the fun; that’s part of the things that motivate you, trying to creative problem-solve, coming up with answers and solutions, and trying to do the best you can.”

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