Father knows best

Men at work: Mike Phillips and Mike Phillips Jr.

Men at work: Mike Phillips and Mike Phillips Jr.

by Ann Brooke Raynal

photographs by Eve Kakassy Hobgood

“Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blue-black cold
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.”

So goes the first stanza of Those Winter Sundays, Robert Hayden’s ode to the unselfish and unsung work of fathers. As we get ready to celebrate Father’s Day, Walter pays homage to those dads and to the work of their hands, the businesses they have built from the ground up, and to the examples they have set for the children who follow in their footsteps.

Kickin’ it

Mike Phillips and son Mike Phillips Jr. are building quite an empire along South Street. A year ago, Mike Jr.’s Men at Work Kustom Kicks, which buys, sells, trades, restores, and designs shoes, opened down the street from his father’s thriving Men at Work Car Care Center and Men at Work Barber Shop. The new business is also booming.

“I pitched the idea to my Dad, who believed in me before I had any other believers,” says Mike Jr., who has inherited his father’s work ethic and gut instinct. “I’ve learned how to be a good leader and a good boss. My Dad always has a smile on his face.” Mike Jr.’s own effervescent grin is another happy inheritance. His father’s well-known cheer and booming, joyful voice have inspired loyalty and friendship among countless employees and customers.


Now that his son is in the game, too, South Street is a busy place. On Saturday mornings, Mike Jr.’s customers queue up long before the doors open. “What I have learned is that people will do anything for shoes,” Mike Jr. says. “We customize 10 pairs of shoes a day and sell 30 pairs.”

Mike Jr., 21, began customizing his own shoes two years ago, stripping off the factory paint and adding his own colors, fabrics, and motifs. Soon he was taking orders from friends who wanted to wear his designs. “Shoes are a status symbol,” he says. “And also a way to express yourself.”

Mike Jr.’s revamped kicks might be wrapped in UNC or Duke University logos, or feature the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One of his most popular styles is the “galaxy,” a black shoe with colorful painted constellations.

The young entrepreneur rarely customizes extremely high-end shoes. “People collect them; they want them to be pristine.” He points to a pair of Pumas on the rack. “Those are $3,000,” he mentions casually. “A shoe could sell for $10,000 if it’s rare. The price of the shoe is whatever the community agrees on.”

The store attracts a lot of teenage boys. “This is a safe place to buy, sell, and trade shoes,” he says, as opposed to street-corner trades arranged online. “Parents would rather see kids coming here.” His Dad would agree.

Talent to spare

Paul, Kenneth, and Patrick Hobgood

When Kenneth Hobgood changed the name of his firm after 25 years – from Kenneth Hobgood Architects to Hobgood Architects – he ushered in a new era and underlined just how much he values his relationship with his two sons, Paul and Patrick, who now work with him. “I’m frankly thrilled that they’re here with me. But it would never have worked,” he admits, “if they weren’t so talented.”

Working with Paul and Patrick has turned the onetime lone wolf into a believer in collaboration. “I realized that the work I was doing with Paul was so much better than the vision I had in my own head,” he says. He began working with Paul in 2008 and had taught him in a studio class at N.C. State. Paul’s abilities even then, he says, bowled him over.

Patrick joined his father and brother a year and a half ago after eight years in New York working for Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture, or OMA.

The sons call their father a “pure artist,” and their willingness to push the business development side of the firm has created space for Kenneth to focus on his craft. Hobgood Architects has taken on many more commercial projects with the sons on board, though the firm still takes on residential work. Kenneth says he enjoys the mix.

The firm recently completed a massive all-glass residence in Kuwait, but the three architects are equally excited by projects in booming Raleigh. “Getting in on the growth and doing it right – it’s exciting,” says Paul.

Their collaboration “made us better,” Kenneth says. “Paul and Patrick have different approaches, and that’s such a plus – it just magnifies our design capability. I adore my sons as much as I do my work,” he says, before adding a quick correction: “More.”

It’s a classic

LuBet, Gwynn ("Schooner"), and Karen Nowell

LuBet, Gwynn (“Schooner”), and Karen Nowell

Walk into Nowell’s Clothing on North Market Drive and you might think you’ve died and gone to preppy heaven. Tables are spread with brightly colored bow ties and button down shirts, T-shirts, and visors. Blazers and dress pants fill the back room. With brands like Peter Millar, Hickey Freeman, Vineyard Vines, and Southern Tide, Nowell’s prides itself on carrying everything a well-dressed Southerner needs for any occasion.

“We’ve been doing ‘classic’ since the very beginning. And ‘preppy’ for 50 years,” says LuBet Nowell, granddaughter of Arthur Nowell, who founded the business in 1921. From its beginnings on Fayetteville Street, during a long sojourn in Cameron Village, and in its current location in North Raleigh, Nowell’s has remained in the family and true to its purpose.

Siblings LuBet, Matt, and Gwynn “Schooner” Nowell have carried on the work of their father and grandfather, and have also made room for the next generation. Karen Nowell, Schooner’s daughter, who started working in the stock room at age 12, now assists her father and aunt with buying. She is also working on increasing Nowell’s online presence. How does she feel about working with so many family members? “It’s awesome,” she says. “You have to find your niche, but everybody gets along great.”

Matt Nowell actually tried to discourage the children from going into the family business, citing the long hours. “Especially at the holiday season when it’s seven days a week,” Matt says. But Karen loves the busy times: “The energy around here when everybody is holiday shopping is just contagious.”

Their 2002 move to North Raleigh is bringing in a whole new customer base. “Kids bring their parents in, and the parents get hooked,” says Schooner. Nowell’s has always attracted older men who want classic styles, but recently they have noticed that the store is bringing in a younger customer. We’re getting teenagers and 20-to-30-year-olds,” says Schooner. “They know what they want. And now they know where to find it.”

Perennially Logan’s

 Julie, Robert, Joshua, and Leslie Logan

Julie, Robert, Joshua, and Leslie Logan

“The gardening metaphor is so perfect for what we are trying to do at Logan’s,” says Leslie Logan of the business her grandfather Robert Logan began 50 years ago. “Being able to plant our rows in the sunshine, see where things need pruning or cutting back, planning and waiting patiently, identifying new areas for growth. And then realizing in the harvest just how much work from so many people has gone into it.”

Leslie and brother Joshua have recently assumed the management of Logan’s Trading Company from their parents, Julie and Robert Logan Jr. “I didn’t realize when I was growing up just how much I was learning from him,” says Joshua of his father. “I just thought I was having a happy childhood.”

Leslie oversees day-to-day operations and accounting, and Joshua works on longer-range planning. Both are proud to be continuing a successful family business, and they think they’ve found the key: “really good customer service, and integration with the larger community.”

The anchor of Seaboard Station, Logan’s is community-oriented and family-friendly. It has always remained closed on Sundays. “People need that time to focus on life beyond work. And it’s reliable downtime for everybody,” Joshua says. Logan’s work to ease hunger and provide agricultural education with projects like Plant a Row for the Hungry, Pilot Farm, and House of Joy speaks to the family’s commitment to a wider mission.

In keeping with its focus on the community, Logan’s will celebrate its 50th anniversary June 20 with a free party for the public, including food and music.

Big shoes

Andrew, Sammy, and Cliffton Mobley

Andrew, Sammy, and Cliffton Mobley

Generations of Raleigh children have taken their first steps in white Stride Rite walkers from Mobley’s shoes. The children’s shoe store has been a Raleigh tradition since Sam and Rachel Mobley opened it in 1950, and it’s carried on today by son Sammy and grandsons Andrew and Cliffton Mobley.

Sammy was put in charge of the North Hills store as a young man, and says he always appreciated the trust his father placed in him. “I had free rein to do as I saw fit,” he says. It’s a freedom he has tried to give to his own sons, who work with him at the Stonehenge Market store. “My sons are great at spotting new trends,” Sammy says. “I only question them when they’re wrong.”

“He lets us make our mistakes,” Cliffton agrees.

“He’s always teaching us in ways we can’t see, without telling us that’s what he’s doing,” Andrew says. “I’ve learned how to be patient. You have to have an easygoing relaxed personality when you are constantly with customers.”

Some things about retail haven’t changed, though. The hours are long, and free time on the weekends is hard to come by. “We try to accommodate each other and look out for each other,” says Cliffton. But all three men understand the necessity of good customer service. “I think I taught my sons what my father taught me: The business doesn’t run itself. You have to be in the store. You have to be present for customers to get to know you and trust you.”