Balancing academic studies with extracurricular activities, household chores and a part-time job is a juggling act that countless teenagers have learned to master for generations.
What’s not so common among these high school students, however, is the desire and drive to also start their own business.
Raymond Jackson III, a Whitehall High School student turning 17 years old next week, is one of the exceptions.
Jackson III, a member of Whitehall’s varsity football and basketball teams, on Friday opened the first retail location of his clothing company, Jack’N Apparel Co., at 513 Linden St. in downtown Allentown.
The teen was inspired by his father, Raymond Jackson Jr., who in 2016 transitioned from a 13-year career in financial services to operating his own construction company, RGJ ProBuilders.
“I turned 16 last year, and I knew it was time for me to get a job,” Jackson III recalls. “But instead of working a 9-to-5 job, I talked to my parents about maybe starting my own business. I saw how my dad started his own business and became an entrepreneur — working from the ground up — and I wanted to do something for myself as well.”
Jackson III decided to venture into the fashion arena as he enjoys following the latest clothing trends as well as creating his own unique looks.
For his initial logo, “Knave to King,” he provided Los Angeles-based artist Bart Cooper with general ideas along with a rough sketch of what he was envisioning, and Cooper brought the image to life. The result: a colorful twist on the jack of spades playing card, featuring a knave with a backwards baseball hat on the top and a king with a crown on the bottom.
“A knave is another word for jack, and it means a person who comes from bad circumstances,” Jackson III said. “I wanted to show that just because you come from bad doesn’t mean you can’t spin it around and become a king.”
With help from his father and mother, Jaqueia Jackson, the young entrepreneur launched Jack’N Apparel Co. as a mostly online business in summer 2020.
The clothing line, a play on the family’s last name, quickly became a hit in Whitehall, Allentown and other neighboring municipalities, with word of mouth helping to increase sales month after month.
Customers can currently shop men’s and women’s tops such as T-shirts, tank tops and hooded sweatshirts, with other apparel like sweatsuits, children’s clothing and socks set to debut in the next several months.
New original designs from Cooper will be featured in upcoming styles, and all clothing will continue to be manufactured by Lehigh Valley-based Indio Screen Printing.
“We’re proud of him for taking the initiative to actually want to do this,” Raymond Jackson Jr. said. “Having a job is great, but starting your own business is a whole different ball game. It’s actually a lot more work than a typical job, but it’s more liberating and rewarding.”
Jack’N Apparel Co., adjacent to the newly opened Slay Station Salon and Boutique, continues to also operate an online store, jackn-apparel-co.myshopify.com. Info: 484-347-3973; facebook.com/jacknapparel.
From clothing to cakes, Film Cakez Bakery, which opened July 17 at 1401 High St. in Bethlehem, is helping bring desserts to life through cake mapping.
The unique practice combines narratives, animations, photos and special effects that are projected onto plain multi-tiered cakes.
“It’s like when you’re at the movies and the film is projected onto the screen, except we’re projecting it onto a cake,” owner Summer Howard explained. “I create a storyboard through technology on a computer and then run it through a projector onto cakes, essentially bringing cakes to life. The customers choose whatever they want — fireworks, a slideshow of a couple, anything they want.”
Howard, who lives a few blocks away from the bakery in Bethlehem, has been passionate about baking since childhood, when she learned family recipes from her grandmother.
At Film Cakez, named after Howard’s nickname of “Cakez,” she’s offering pre-made baked goods as well custom creations.
For custom orders (3-5 days advance notice requested), Summer can make cakes in various sizes and shapes, including numbers and letters for special occasions. She also can do edible prints.
A rotating selection of muffin-size cupcakes are available daily, including popular flavors such as blueberry, coconut, double chocolate, pineapple glaze and sweet potato spice, along with other sweet treats such as brownies, scones, fruit parfaits, stackable cookies, peach cobbler casserole, chocolate raspberry-stuffed croissants, chocolate-covered pretzels and strawberries and dessert jars, including banana pudding and cookies ‘n’ cream.
Film Cakez, which features a small lounge area and a few counter seats, also offers breakfast items such as hash browns, pancakes and egg sandwiches, along with specialty drinks such as flavored teas, hot and iced coffee, fresh-squeezed lemonade, smoothies, milkshakes and made-on-site juices and sweet teas. Info: filmcakez.com.
Speaking of Bethlehem eats, The Smoking Crab & Seafood Co., specializing in Southern-style seafood platters, is planning to open a restaurant at a yet-to-be-determined Bethlehem location within the next few months, owner Jonathan Benjamin said. The fast-casual eatery would be the brand’s first Pennsylvania outpost.
“We have a franchise owner that is looking at buildings as we speak,” Benjamin said. “We’re looking to get it open by the end of the year.”
The business, which began as a mobile food operation about three years ago, opened its first brick-and-mortar location last month in Gonzales, Texas. The brand has also grown to include three food trucks, which serve customers in a multitude of cities.
The Smoking Crab specializes in crab and shrimp boiled entrees, each served with potatoes, sausage, corn-on-the-cob and an egg.
Other menu highlights include po’boy sandwiches such as fried oyster and fish and shrimp, salads like blackened salmon and chicken Caesar and specials such as seafood gumbo and seafood mac and cheese. Info: facebook.com/TheSmokingCrabSeafood.
A couple of area shopping centers have welcomed new tenants:
First, Cricket Wireless, offering wireless service with a nationwide 4G LTE network covering more than 324 million people, recently opened near the main entrance of the Palmer Park Mall in Palmer Township, according to a news release.
Cricket, with more than 4,300 company and authorized retail stores nationwide, offers plans starting at $30 a month with unlimited talk and text nationwide included on all plans. There are no annual contracts.
The company, a subsidiary of AT&T Inc., offers smartphones from Samsung, LG, Alcatel, Motorola and others.
Second, The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley in Upper Saucon Township this week welcomed the Lehigh Valley’s fourth European Wax Center in Suite 105 (next to Sweet & Sassy), according to a news release.
The chain, founded as a family business in 2004, has grown to more than 800 centers nationwide.
Customers enjoy body and face-waxing services along with skin-care products ranging from lotions and body washes to ingrown hair serums and tweezers.
The Promenade Shops’ new addition follows the recent debut of formalwear retailer La Femme Boutique in Suite 736 (next to Francesca’s) and pop-up tenant GO! Calendars, Toys, & Games in in Suite 300 (next to Athleta). It also precedes the opening of All Weather Selvedge Denim Co., specializing in denim jeans made from proprietary Japanese selvedge fabrics, which is expected to open later this summer in Suite 608 (former Journeys space).
I’ll finish with a couple of businesses that are changing their business models:
First, Licensed 2 Grill, which originated as a food truck in 2015 before opening its first brick-and-mortar location in Emmaus’ triangle in 2016, has closed its dining room at 332 Main St. due to constant supply chain problems, labor shortages and building issues.
The business, which bills itself as “not your average mom-and-pop burger and shake shop,” is continuing to offer catering and available for special events.
“The last 17 months have tested us all beyond what we ever could have imagined,” a recent post on the business’ Facebook page reads. “There is no doubt that COVID-19 has forever changed our world and how we operate.”
Co-owners Robert and Diane Johnson are looking to regroup over the next several months while continuing to handle catering orders and setting up stands at area events such as the Emmaus Farmers Market, Robert said.
The couple also recently sold Licensed 2 Grill’s original food truck and are aiming to have a new truck outfitted over the winter.
They hope to eventually nail down a new brick-and-mortar spot, but they aren’t sure of when that might be.
“If somebody wants to book an event at the location in Emmaus, we are entertaining those requests through the end of our lease, which is up in February or March,” Robert added. Info: 610-421-6161; [email protected].
Second, MR Doggy Style, which opened four years ago at 27 Main St. in Walnutport, on Wednesday will close its brick-and-mortar location as it transitions to a mobile operation, according to a post on the business’ Facebook page.
The operators, brothers Mike and Ricky Harring, plan to continue serving patrons by having MR Doggy Style’s food trailer set up in a “prime location” in the near future, according to the announcement. They also will have the business’ food truck available for events.
“The past year and a half has been a rough time for everyone, especially small businesses,” the post reads. “… This is not the end, this is a new beginning for us!”
MR Doggy Style, featuring Hippey’s meats, is known for its unique gourmet hot dogs, including a jalapeno cheddar stuffed dog and “BB-Mac” (barbecue sauce, mac and cheese and bacon).
Other menu highlights include burgers, cheesesteaks, tater tots, loaded fries, homemade chili and and specialty sandwiches such as kielbasi with kraut. Info: 610-224-3647.
Retail Watch, appearing every weekend, keeps track of retail and restaurant news in the Lehigh Valley. Contact Ryan Kneller at 610-820-6597 or [email protected].