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Gamble pays for textile designer

L.A.'s Small-Business Person of the Year bought the showroom she had been renting and hasn't looked back.

May 30, 2007|Cyndia Zwahlen | Special to The Times

Textile designer Janet S. Yonaty traded a $3,500 monthly rent payment for a $35,000 monthly mortgage outlay last year so she wouldn't lose her prime location across the street from the Pacific Design Center.

The financial gamble involved in buying the Melrose Avenue building that houses her showroom has apparently paid off for Janet Yonaty Inc., which supplies luxury fabrics and trims for five-star hotels and private homes -- even a palace in Saudi Arabia.

Company revenue is expected to pass $2 million this year, the owner said. And the business has remained profitable while broadening its client base.

"My husband and my accountant thought it was too big a risk, but I promised myself I would work hard enough to make the payment," Yonaty said. "I took the challenge, and, thank God, everything worked out."

Since opening her showroom four years ago, the native of Iran has expanded her business to include six employees, she said. Among them is her daughter, who handles the company finances.

Her husband, who owned an antique Oriental rug business before joining his wife's firm, manages operations.

Yonaty's European antique-style trims and fabrics are represented in nine showrooms nationwide, including another one she owns in Las Vegas geared to the high-end hotel market there. Her line will soon be carried in two more showrooms in Dallas and San Francisco.

"I am constantly traveling, constantly making presentations, constantly creating and constantly saying, 'I wish the days were longer,' " Yonaty said.

The results she has achieved will be recognized today when she receives the Small-Business Person of the Year award from the Los Angeles district office of the Small Business Administration during a lunch ceremony at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, co-hosted by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

The SBA cited Yonaty for her "ability to stay the course against difficult odds of succeeding," as well as for "the dramatic growth of both her business revenue and company net worth."

The Los Angeles SBA office, which covers a three-county region with more residents than most states, also will recognize other local small-business owners and those who work to promote their success.

Yonaty was nominated for her award by City National Bank, which handled the SBA-guaranteed loan she used to pay for the building.

"In a few short years, she's built a very successful business in a very competitive industry," said Tony Fahr, senior vice president and manager of government lending at the bank. "We are just very impressed with her focus and passion with delivering a perfect product to her clients."

The businesswoman has two tenants, whose rent covers about one-third of her mortgage payment, she said.

She tapped family savings to cover a portion of the higher payment for the first three months, and then was able to pay her entire share from the business' cash flow.

Buying the 7,000-square-foot building allowed her to increase space for back-shop operations by about 45%. She was able to give up warehouse space she'd rented in the area and move inventory in-house as well as open new cutting and sample rooms.

"We were really cramped; now I have everything at my fingertips," she said.

The bigger space has made it easier for her to explore new elements for the more modern lines she is working on that will include materials such as bamboo, wood, seashells and Plexiglas.

Yonaty also is trying to use crystal and other traditional materials in new ways. For the Crystal Dragon restaurant in the new Wynn Resort hotel in China's booming gambling city of Macao, she turned octagonal crystals on their sides, persuaded workers to drill holes through the middles and then stacked them on cords for an unusual and striking look.

Yonaty attributed her company's progress to her passion for detail and her focus on service and relationships.

"I think there are too many computers and too many answering machines and very little human touch" in today's business world, Yonaty said. "When my client needs something, I am there. That ensures the first person they think about is me when they are writing their specs. I don't say, 'I'll send you a few samples.' "

The SBA's Los Angeles office will also recognize restaurateur Juan Ramirez with the Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Business of the Year award.

Ramirez bought his first eatery, a hamburger stand in South Gate, in 1984. He sold the stand in 1986 and bought the tiny but popular seafood restaurant El Rinconcito del Mar on East 1st Street.

He eventually bought the empty lot next door for $175,000 and five years ago used an SBA loan to open a 5,000-square-foot restaurant there.

"My dream was to have my own place where I couldn't be kicked out or lose my lease," said Ramirez, who started his career as a dishwasher at the Hungry Tiger restaurant chain. He left 14 years later as head chef of the Westchester restaurant.

El Rinconcito includes a full-service bakery specializing in wedding cakes and Mexican breads and pastries.

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