For the first time in history, two Northern Kentucky business owners have been inducted into the Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.
The organization celebrates the legacy and achievements of the commonwealth’s most successful business figures. Past inductees include ‘Papa’ John Schnatter of Papa John’s, ‘Colonel’ Harland Sanders and John Y. Brown Jr. of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dollar General founder Cal Turner and coal magnate Joe Craft.
This year, Kona Ice and Travelin’ Tom’s Coffee founder Tony Lamb and Fabulous-Furs founder Donna Salyers are two of the four inductees in the Class of 2023. Lamb and Salyers will be joined alongside two Louisville-based entrepreneurs Alice Houston of HJI Supply Chain Solutions and Jimmy Kirchdorfer of ISCO Industries.
Both Lamb and Salyers will be honored at a reception at the Central Bank Center in downtown Lexington on Nov. 2. The event is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m.
LINK nky spoke with Lamb and Salyers to talk about what the nominations meant to them.
Before Kona Ice, Lamb was a vacuum cleaner salesman. Originally from the Lexington area, he settled down in the Florence suburbs to raise a family. That’s when Lamb’s kids first encountered a local ice cream van.
Lamb said the van in was pretty rough shape. His observation sparked a conversation with his wife about how the proprietor could improve their business. That experience birthed the idea of Kona Ice.
Founded in 2007, Kona Ice came from humble beginnings. Instead of ice cream, Lamb’s business would focus on shaved ice, which only required ice and flavored syrups. He modified a truck to serve his shaved ice concoctions. From there, Lamb would drive his truck to youth sports tournaments, fairs and other local events.
His business was a hit, picking up traction around Northern Kentucky and beyond. Lamb decided to franchise out his mobile shaved ice store to eager entrepreneurs across the United States.
Today, Kona Ice has over 1,400 shaved ice trucks on the road and is in nearly all 50 US States. Lamb said local support helped propel his business forward.
“We’re lucky Northern Kentucky really likes shaved ice,” Lamb said. “They backed us, supported us and we’ve been clean operators. The Northern Kentucky community embraced us.”
Kona Ice is one of the largest mobile food franchises in the country. They have a 30,000-square-foot, $3.5 million headquarters in Florence.
For Lamb, his career as an entrepreneur is one that manifested after years of luck, trial-and-error, and perseverance.
“I always knew that I wanted to be my own boss,” Lamb said. “This is something that is just really exciting.”
A native of Covington, Salyers’ grandmother taught her how to sew. It was a big part of her life growing up.
When she was only 13 years old, Salyers was hired to work at a soda fountain inside the Goldsmith Department Store at the corner of Madison and E. 7th St. Little did she know that she, along with her husband, Jim, would end up owning that same department store building later in their life.
Salyers honed her knowledge when the Cincinnati Enquirer hired her to be a sewing columnist in the 1970s. She used this role to learn everything there was to about the sewing business, effectively becoming a local expert on the subject.
Salyers first learned about faux fur through a Paul Harvey radio broadcast. The segment she heard was about bringing awareness to animal cruelty within in the fur industry. Horrified, Salyers set out to create cruelty-free faux fur coats.
She used these priors to launch Fabulous-Furs in 1989 out of her garage. From there, her business gained traction both locally and nationally. Her coats have been used in popular Hollywood shows such as “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Only Murders in the Building.”
Fabulous-Furs continued to grow, moving into the former Wadsworth Electric Building on 11th Street in Covington.
Throughout all the success, Salyers told LINK nky she couldn’t have done it without her husband.
“I couldn’t do this without my husband,” Salyers said. “There would be no Salyers Group or Fabulous-Furs without Jim.”
Both Donna and Jim have helped reenergize downtown Covington — turning former dilapidated buildings into attractive venues and businesses. Together, their commercial real state venture, The Salyers Group, has created thriving Covington businesses such as the Hotel Covington and Madison Event Center.
This spring, The Salyers Group unveiled their latest project: North by Hotel Covington. The project expanded Hotel Covington’s footprint up Madison Avenue adding a bar, ball room, more hotel rooms and multiple retail spaces. Now, Fabulous-Furs is in the process of moving into their new venue into North.
“I’ve had a career,” Salyers said. “What Jim and I have been able to do for Covington makes me really proud.”