By Matthew Liedke, Franchise Times, Oct 30, 2023
Nidhi Mehta began her college career with the intent to become a veterinarian. Inspired by her father’s own entrepreneurial journey, however, she quickly changed course to business.
After graduating, Mehta became the youngest Celebree School franchisee at 23, with her first location expected to open this winter. Being her own boss as an owner-operator is the same path her dad took when the family moved to Maryland from India in 1990.
Mehta’s dad had a business background when he arrived in the states, but had to build capital before opening a company of his own. For the first few years, he worked in retail as a manager before opening a video rental store.
“We then had a motel which later became a hotel, and eventually a gas station and a liquor store,” Mehta said. “Then, most recently, we became franchisees with Tropical Smoothie Cafe.”
Though she grew up in and around businesses operated by her family, Mehta started college at Virginia Tech in an animal science program to be a veterinarian.
“I was better at business, which is when I decided I wanted to transfer to Towson University and go for business administration with a concentration in project management,” Mehta said. “That is what I did my last two years, since I took business classes at Virginia Tech as well.”
While she graduated in 2021, getting an internship proved difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She got some hands-on experience, though, when she was given the opportunity to take on a manager role at her family’s Tropical Smoothie Cafe.
“My dad was more on the development side with Tropical Smoothie and not the day-to-day,” Mehta said. “He had been looking for a manager but it was difficult to find one. Since I didn’t have a job lined up, I saw the best route was to come home.”
During her time back home, Mehta said she realized she was always interested in working with kids and in education, previously working as a tutor and a camp counselor. With that in mind, she decided to bring it together with her business degree.
“Celebree was brought to my attention by a family friend,” Mehta said. “After initial conversations I had with them, I went into the meeting day with a feeling of genuine care. Celebree’s team was really all about encouragement. They made me feel like they were behind me 110 percent, and it took away some anxiety from being a young franchisee. They saw something in me that I hadn’t even seen in myself at the time.”
Young entrepreneurs aren’t entirely new to the Celebree School brand. Founder and CEO Richie Huffman opened the first unit in 1994 when he was 26, and opened another two years later. He called Mehta’s entry in the franchise system “super exciting.”
“I told her I have to give my crown over to her because she beat me by three years,” Huffman said. “I see a lot of myself in her. She has amazing parents that are entrepreneurial with other businesses and she has grown up in that world, the same way I grew up seeing my mom and dad chase their dream with their own businesses.”
In 2016, Celebree began franchising and today, the brand has 26 corporate locations and 45 schools owned by franchisees. Mehta is opening one school in Exton, Pennsylvania, a city near Philadelphia.
The location will continue filling in a strong coastal presence, with units stretching from Massachusetts down through Florida. Huffman said there’s high enough demand to bring units to existing and new markets.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we’ve learned how important childhood education is, as well as the social and emotional needs of children,” Huffman said. “It’s one of the reasons we’re seeing that spike in demand. Some parents can work from home now, but they’re still choosing to enroll their children at Celebree because of the importance of that education.”
Mehta said helping the community have access to more early childhood education has given her a sense of purpose behind her entrepreneurial ambitions.
“I think my generation is committed to bringing change and embracing social responsibility,” Mehta said. “To do that, you have to figure out what your selling point is. For me, it’s having genuine care. I want everyone to be happy, feel heard and valued. That is a driving force for me, and I’ve had great mentors and a support system that I hope plays into not only my success, but the community’s success as well.”
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