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Apr 29, 2024

May 2024 Special Advertorial Section: MOMPreneurs

Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

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What mantra do you live by? Currently, it’s “I can do hard things.” - Jillian Atkinson

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Sally Zuniga: Tio’s Latin American Kitchen fiddlers Seafood Restaurant & Market, Sweetwater Steamer

Some mompreneurs set their sights on a singular objective, a particular vision, and stop at nothing until that one perfect goal has been achieved. Some mompreneurs see that one perfect goal as a good start. 

As the co-owner of Tio’s Latin American Kitchen with her husband. Lynden, Sally Zuniga had already created a sensational restaurant concept that has been embraced by the entire communities of Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. For most, adding another realm to the empire would be unthinkable, but Zuniga spread to Ridgeland, where she took over the historic Fiddler’s Seafood Market and Restaurant in January of last year.

“My inner circle is always asking me, ‘Isn’t it enough? Are you doing too much?’ But I guess I can’t pass up a great opportunity,” Zuniga. “I don’t think I ever will.”

To wit, this multi-hyphenate restaurateur recently added another business to her portfolio – and we mean recently. As the interview was conducted for this interview, she had just picked up the keys.

“It’s going to be called Sweetwater Steamer and it’s going to be Lowcountry Boil to-go,” Sally said. “We just feel like it’s a really good business model, and because of our buying power from our seafood places in Ridgeland, you’re going to be able to order online and we’ll be able to deliver on both quality and value.”

This latest venture, which will be in Orleans Plaza, will offer heat-and-eat buckets of fresh sausage, shrimp, corn and potatoes that let you deliver the fresh Lowcountry Boil experience at home. Locals can grab a bucket and skip the laborious prep process, letting them feed the whole crew easily. Visitors can get a taste of how locals eat by fixing their own take on an island classic. 

And they’ll even ship Lowcountry Boil around the world. 

“Our buying power from the seafood restaurants is really going to help us with the online side of the business,” Zuniga said. “My big rush is that visionary concept. I love creating and building something, and that’s what keeps me going.”

The concept behind Sweetwater Steamer started with her business partner, Patrick Coughlin, and his partner, Monika Bergman, who are collaborating with the Zunigas to bring this latest venture to life. 

“I’m really excited to be partnering with them,” Zuniga said. “This whole concept was Patrick’s idea, and we were in the perfect place to help make that a reality.”

And it’s another venture in an entrepreneurial empire willed into existence by a mother, wife, and business visionary who thrives on the pursuit of the next great idea. “I would never do these restaurants without knowing that Lynden was by my side. He puts up with my huge ideas, but he also helps drive them home,” Zuniga said. “We’ve made a really good partnership.”

As a partnership of love and entrepreneurship, it has helped propel one of the Lowcountry’s busiest mompreneurs.

Nikki Petitt, Seaglass Windowscapes

They say you can’t have it all. We’re not sure who “they” are who are saying these things, but we do know one thing about them. None of them are Nikki Petitt.

“It’s important for moms to continue with their careers when they become moms,” Petitt said. “You don’t have to give up anything to be a mom. You can make it work.”

As a mompreneur raising a 4-month-old and a 9-year-old while running two businesses, she speaks from experience. Petitt and her husband have been owners of Savannah Blinds, Shutters and Shades for 12 years now, building their business since she was just 21. Their joint venture has proven wildly successful, spreading across the Coastal Empire with its focus on quality window treatments. But, a few years ago, Petitt decided she wanted more.

“I opened Seaglass Windowscapes in January 2023 because I wanted to create something on my own,” she said. “It’s going very well. We have a great showroom and we’re looking to build another in Okatie in the next couple of years.”

Offering custom blinds as well as window treatments, storm protection, awnings, and more, Seaglass Windowscapes has proven to be the perfect venue for Petitt’s entrepreneurial spirit. And as she prepares to open another showroom in Brunswick, it’s proving that a true mompreneur never stops.

“That’s why women are the best. We make it work,” Petitt said with a smile. “We’re in a new world now. … Keep doing what’s important to you.”

Alison Haynes, Monkee’s of Bluffton

Being an entrepreneur of any kind – let alone one who is also raising two children – takes a singular focus on the pursuit of a dream. It takes hard work and endless effort. And it takes a willingness to make things happen.

But what if you’re an entrepreneur who is raising two children? Then you’re going to need all of that, plus a little bit more. You’re going to need a team.

“I have an awesome team. I never could have made this possible without my ladies in the store,” said Alison Haynes, owner of the Bluffton branch of Monkee’s. A long-time fan and regular customer of the North Carolina-based boutique brand, Haynes decided to go into the Monkee’s business following an extensive career at her family’s HVAC company in Savannah.

When the company sold, her mompreneurial spirit kicked in. With the support of her husband, Alex, who owns Genesis Construction, she zeroed in quickly on Monkee’s, the brand founded by Dee Dee Shaw in 1995 that now totals 56 stores across the Southeast. 

“I knew I’d love to go into retail, and Monkee’s has a whole team to help on the business side,” Haynes said. “They really want to represent women and help them grow in the business.”

With the Monkee’s team above her and her own team around her, she has realized her dream of helping Bluffton’s women discover their own fashionable flair while being a mom. 

“My kids love coming to the store,” Haynes said. “My son loves moving boxes and tagging stuff. My daughter just likes to come shop.”

Angela Huser, Hillary Kenny, Jamie Franklin, Anchor Home Group

As these pages have proven, there are few forces on earth as formidable as a mother’s willpower. The maternal instinct, turned toward the world of business, can accomplish things that – all respect to businessmen – simply can’t be matched.

One mompreneur can move mountains. So, what do you suppose happens when three mothers pull together their collective willpower and apply it to pursuing a singular dream they all share? To find out, meet the team, Anchor Home Group at Keller Williams of the Lowcountry. 

“We all have an entrepreneurial spirit, and we really work well together,” said Angela Huser, one of the three real estate mavens in the company. Huser is a co-owner with Hillary Kenny and Jamie Franklin; they formed Anchor Home Group after finding each other in the real estate world. Each took her own path there. Huser began her real estate career 15 years ago, starting as a paralegal. After spending several years of running a small business, she attained her license five years ago and was off to the races. 

Kenny spent her early career in politics, working on Capitol Hill before relocating to the Lowcountry. As a second-generation Realtor, she knew immediately which path her career would take in her new home.

Franklin has seen first-hand the positive impact of homeownership through the eyes of several family members who are residential builders. Her love for design, real estate and helping people led her to obtain her real estate license after nearly 15 years in pediatric healthcare. 

The three women met at work and realized that their dynamic could propel all of them to their dreams. 

“Individually, we each bring different experiences that make us unique and successful. As a group, we love the collaboration and the teamwork, and we are each other’s biggest supporters,” Huser said. “We all have a similar vision which is focused on being active members in our community, while guiding people through their real estate transactions.”

That vision was a real estate group that combined their talents and their love for the Lowcountry, while serving the type of clients whose needs they know very well.

“A lot of our business comes from our roles as mothers,” Kenny said. “When we were deciding how we wanted our business to look, we wanted to base it around family and the things we love about helping others.”

One of those aspects has become crucially important over the past few years as the Lowcountry’s population has swelled.

“We’ve tried to focus on those who are relocating, because all of us relocated here at some point. We know the struggle of making that move with a family,” Kenny said. “We’re able to uniquely assist people who are moving to the area.”

As moms, they’ve built families. As mompreneurs, they’ve built a real estate team that stands by its values.

“We want to anchor people to their homes, community, and their dreams,” Huser said. “That’s ultimately what drives us.”

Keller Welch, Realtor at The Agency,  Partner at Posh Pooch Resort and Day Spa

Keller Welch grew up where the delta blues was born (Mississippi) and graduated with a business degree in marketing from the University of Mississippi. After college, she eventually migrated north to the Carolinas, met the love of her life, and settled in Bluffton. She fell in love with the Lowcountry long before moving here in 2011. 

The Lowcountry is where she got married, is raising her children, and where she has spent the past several years as a Realtor in the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton markets.  She is familiar with the unique communities and lifestyle that encompass the Lowcountry as well as the school systems located in each. 

“Being a mother and having children in the schools here, I understand the importance of neighborhoods and location for ease with those big decisions,” Keller said. “My experience includes working with many respected local custom home builders, first-time home buyers, new construction, retirees, land sales, resales, commercial properties, and investment properties. As your agent, I pride myself on honesty and making this a fun and straightforward experience for you. I am sold on the Lowcountry lifestyle and am grateful to get to call this piece of paradise home.”

Keller and her husband, Edward, a local luxury builder, were married in Bluffton in 2012. They have three children, Elin, Ward, and Laurel.

The couple has built three new homes in Bluffton and Hilton Head, have renovated on the island, and move locally every few years.

Their newest joint venture is a luxury dog boarding, daycare, grooming and pet resort called Posh Pooch Resort and Day Spa, located in Beaufort near Port Royal. The business is set to open this fall. 

In her spare time, Keller enjoys chasing her kids on the beach and escaping to the Bahamas every chance she can. 

She recently joined The Agency, A Global Marketing and Sales Organization, where she is the founder of Proper Properties Group, and leads a luxury real estate team within the Agency.

Dr. Theresa Roman, Balanced Wellness

What makes all the women you’re reading about here inspiring is not just the way they have built their businesses and their careers, but that they have done so while dedicating themselves to the daunting career that is motherhood. 

As a mother – both biological and adoptive – of three children and as a seasoned psychologist, Dr. Theresa Roman knows how difficult both roles can be. She built her practice at Balanced Wellness to help women navigate the often fraught challenge of being a mom.

“Reproductive/perinatal mental health is an area of psychology that focuses on fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum mental health issues,” Roman said. “We evaluate and treat a wide range of psychological issues – and our practice does offer therapy for children, teens, and dads as a part of our wrap-around services to care for the entire family.”

Opening her practice in 2017 while pregnant with her son, and having been through the gauntlet that is the adoption process, she was inspired to tailor Balanced Wellness toward addressing the mental challenges of the reproductive journey.

“In the field that I work in, I find it fitting that some of the same struggles I am experiencing as a mom and business owner, many of my clients are going through,” Roman said. “It is almost like a peer-to-peer relationship, but with the years of clinical experience I have, I can provide professional interventions to help with those struggles.”

Seven years in, Balanced Wellness now spans four states with a staff of 30, with a brick and mortar in Bluffton that allows Dr. Roman to find her own balance.

“I do have an incredible leadership team that supports me if I am unavailable due to family commitments,” she said. “My kids also hold me accountable to putting my work down and playing with them when I am home.”

Angelina Carper, RCH Construction

Anyone who says that construction is a man’s job has probably never met Angelina Carper. Or her family.

“My aunt was an operator and my other aunt was a foreman,” said Carper, president of RCH Construction. “I started working construction when I was 14 years old, first as a laborer on the job site, then an operator, foreman, and then project manager, working my way up the ranks. I went to the school of hard knocks.”

Graduating high school in 2007, just in time for the implosion of the construction industry, Carper kept her career rolling in the industry by moving up to the corporate realm. “I did my time, as I call it, in project management with corporate companies just to learn how to be a business owner,” she said. “As much as I loved being in the field, I knew if I wanted to own my own business, I’d have to learn everything.”

As luck would have it, 18 years into her construction career an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself. Hugh Hobus, founder of RCH Construction, was looking to sell his stake in the business he’d been building since 1999. Carper’s experience in all aspects of the industry made her a perfect fit, even if the timing of it left something to be desired.

“I was five months pregnant when we met Hugh, and I was giving birth during the acquisition,” she said. “I was studying for my licensing exam through the entire third trimester.”

In fact, when it came time to take that exam, required by the state of South Carolina despite her already having 18 years of experience, motherhood added its own level of difficulty. 

“They called me to Columbia and I had to go before the board with my attorney and witnesses. On the way there, I had to pull over to breastfeed my son,” Carper said. “I ended up being late when my name was called because of that.”

She passed, naturally. But the experience is a testament to the determination required of a mom to build a business of her own. It’s more work, but the rewards of building both a career and a family are bountiful.

“That transition period was a lot of work, but it was great to have the flexibility to go home and see my son,” Carper said. “Being a mom and a business owner, it’s hard to leave your baby. I didn’t think it would be that hard. But being in charge, you can control your schedule so I don’t have to miss a soccer game or a recital. It’s absolutely worth it, but it’s work.”

The work is worth the return not just as a mom, it’s worth it as a construction pro who fell in love with the job when she was just a teenager. As Carper said, “My happy place is being able to stop in and see my son during the day, managing job sites, and working with clients to design their dream house.”

Jillian Atkinson, Moonlit Lullaby

What’s the one thing you want your children to remember about you? Honestly, it’s so hard to bring it down to just one thing. I hope they remember the amount of love, compassion, and kindness I pour into them every day … and I hope this influences them to have these qualities as well. I hope they remember the gentle wake-ups in the mornings filled with cuddles and sweet words to start their day. I hope they remember all the small things that add up to the big.

Who has been your greatest inspiration? My mom and dad. They have worked so very hard for their family. My dad was a police officer and my mom a teacher, both careers that do not get nearly enough in return for all they do. They provided my brothers and me such beautiful childhoods filled with the best memories. They have been there through it all, good and bad, and continue to be there whenever needed. When it comes to Moonlit Lullaby, just one walk around the store and you will see my father’s love in all  the work done around the store and my mother’s love in the hard work she pours into it every day.

How do you balance your work/home life, or is there even such a thing? It’s a constant juggle, where sometimes I feel like I’m not truly succeeding at either. I try my absolute best not to let work consume my home life. I make sure to be present when I’m with my kids, and designate time to be working on things for the shop. I usually wait to check emails and make orders after their bedtime.

When you have free time, what is your favorite thing to do? I’m pretty simple when it comes to what I like to do in my free time. When kid free, I love reading, watching cheesy TV, and getting together with my girlfriends for a good meal! When with the kiddos, I love to do arts and crafts with them, slime or Play-doh, or hang out in our backyard together and watch them play in the sun. I set up some snacks and drinks on the back porch and they could spend all day out there!

What mantra do you live by? Currently, it’s “I can do hard things.” I have had a lot of personal struggles this past year and am going through a big life change, so this is something I have had to remind myself time and time again. I am capable of doing hard things. I had a baby the week my business opened in Old Town. My business made it through COVID. We have been understaffed, underpaid, and a small fish in a big pond … and made it through it all. I know I can keep making it through all these hard things and more, especially with my amazing team at Moonlit and my support from family and friends.

Amber Morgan, Real Estate Agent

Amber Morgan, originally from Ohio, moved to Hilton Head in 2016, seeking a flexible career that balanced her role as a mother of five with her passion for real estate. In Hilton Head Island’s vibrant market, Morgan quickly became known for her dedication to her clients.

When listing properties, Morgan ensures each home looks its best, managing everything from staging to professional photography. Her focus and attention to detail sets her listings apart. When assisting buyers, Morgan’s patience is unmatched. She values matching her clients to their new dream homes while earning their trust and gratitude.

Armed with determination and a hefty dose of caffeine, Morgan navigates the chaos of entrepreneurship with finesse. From client negotiations to track meet sidelines, she is there, balancing professionalism and parenthood. 

As a role model for her daughters, Morgan instills the values of hard work and dedication in them.

With her coffee in hand and a smile on her face, Morgan remains an inspiring example of a mompreneur who goes above and beyond for her clients while balancing career and family life. 

Lana Johnson, Panache Boutique

There are family businesses, and then there’s Panache Boutique, the chic women’s clothing shop recently opened in Old Town Bluffton. This vibrant boutique doesn’t represent just Lana Johnson’s dream. It’s a dream she shares with her daughter Josie.

“We really are best friends and we get along really well,” Johnson said. “And she loves this as much as I do.”

The Old Town Bluffton location is the second for the Johnson family, with the first being in Bay City, Michigan. “We started vacationing down south and fell in love with Old Town Bluffton,” Johnson said. “My kids are getting older, so we wanted to make the move before they all settled down somewhere.”

With her youngest a sophomore at May River High School and her oldest joining the Bluffton Township First District, they’ve settled nicely into the Lowcountry. The new location gave Josie a chance to put her own fingerprints on the family business, having learned the ropes from her mom over the past six years at Panache’s first location. “I knew that she wanted to do it and I wanted to create something we could do together,” Johnson said. “We definitely thought of her when we started. It’s such a blessing to be doing this with her.”

Together, Lana and Josie Johnson are bringing their generational flair for fashion to the Lowcountry, adding a colorful feather to our cap and a new chapter in their family legacy.

Leah Baker, Once Upon A Child (coming soon!)

How has being a mom helped you to be a better businesswoman? Being a mom has been a crash course in multitasking! It has also taught me that effective communication and patience is vital, as is surrounding yourself with a support system to lean on when you need help – it takes a village! All these skills are likely to prove useful to being a successful mompreneur!

Where locally do you like to take the kids for a fun time and get their energy out? We love exploring our local area! One of our favorite activities is visiting Dubois Playground with the wooden shrimp boat, and the Pirate Ship at Celebration Park. We also can’t get enough of crabbing and fishing, taking advantage of the beautiful coastal environment. And of course, trips to the beach are always a hit. When looking for indoor activities, we often frequent The Sandbox.

Favorite place for your family to vacation? One of the biggest perks of living in Bluffton is having Hilton Head Island right across the bridge. We’re incredibly fortunate to have easy access to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and making frequent day trips is a wonderful part of our routine. While we love exploring our local surroundings, we also value our family vacations. We make it a point to visit family in the Bay Area of California whenever we can.

Tell us a bit about your business and what you do every day. I’m knee-deep in the chaos of getting my Once Upon A Child store up and running. My days are full of pre-opening, not-so-glamourous tasks, and a lot of paperwork. At the moment, my biggest focus is channeling my inner HGTV guru, and envisioning the perfect setup that shouts “come on in and find some treasures!” Once the store opens, we’d love to buy your gently used kids’ clothing and gear – a convenient and profitable way to recycle what your little ones have outgrown. And come to the store to shop a wonderful selection of top brands at up to 70% off regular retail prices – there will always be something exciting in store!

Lauren Dembeck, M2M Brands &  Brims on the Bluff

How has being a mom helped you to be a better businesswoman?  When you become a mother, you need to master multitasking and patience skills, which are also crucial in the business world. Moms are always “on” from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. They run errands, manage household tasks, and pick up and drop off kids at school and sports practices. Being a mom is a full-time job, and it’s the most rewarding title and experience I have ever had. As an entrepreneur, I am blessed to be able to spend quality time with my sweet daughter, Piper, who is 4 years old. Being a mother makes me aspire to be a positive role model and lead by example as a hard-working and loving woman who can successfully balance both her professional and personal life. 

Where locally do you like to take their kids for a fun time and to get their energy out?  My husband Joey, Piper, and I – and our dog, Coconut – are dedicated to experiencing the best that life has to offer. We frequently visit Shrimp Boat Park and the Farmer’s Market on Thursdays and attend the many festivals that Bluffton has to offer. We also cherish our time on the water, where we can take in the stunning beauty of the Lowcountry’s marshes and feel connected and grateful to call this home. 

Tell us a bit about your business and what you do every day. My work is a true reflection of my passion and creativity. I’ve always been in the hospitality and creation industry, and I love seeing my ideas come to life. As a versatile entrepreneur, I am always on the go, juggling multiple roles and responsibilities. Fortunately, I have two businesses that keep me inspired, productive and fulfilled every day. One is M2M Brands (Mountain to Marshes), a company that specializes in designing and delivering exceptional experiences for both local and corporate guests. We take pride in our ability to bring our clients’ unique visions to life, and to create unforgettable moments that will stay with them forever. At M2M Brands, we partner with luxury hotels and resorts to offer a wide range of corporate services, from team-building activities to executive retreats and everything in between. We also work with local businesses to provide bespoke gifting experiences that reflect their brand identity and values.

I wear many hats – no pun intended. As someone with diverse interests, I am always on the lookout for new opportunities to innovate and grow. That’s why I am excited to announce the launch of our new venture in early summer. Building on the success of M2M Brands, we will be opening Brims on the Bluff, a luxury hat boutique, which promises to offer unique and unforgettable experiences to boutique shoppers and private groups alike.


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