matt and nikki holbert make juggling multiple charelston-area businesses look easy
Nikki and Matt Holbert’s communities thrived during their 1970s childhoods—Elkview, north of Charleston, for her, and Clendenin, a little farther north, for him. But when Interstate 79 was completed in the late ’70s and then the Elk Refinery closed in 1982, things declined.
The two met in high school, then reconnected 20 years later to become partners in both life and business—serial entrepreneurs who bring a can-do attitude to their knack for enterprise.
First was the tanFASTiq tanning salon they started in 2010 and grew to stores in Cross Lanes, Elkview, St. Albans, and Teays Valley. They’re nonchalant about their inexperienced leap into business. “Nikki’s daughter, it was sort of her idea, and we just went with it,” Matt Holbert shrugs and smiles.
Conditions were changing—Planet Fitness was coming, with tanning as an inexpensive add-on to membership. So they opened Bricks & Barrels steakhouse in Charleston in 2015— again with no experience. “We knew what good food and good service look like, and we felt confident enough that we could work with others to achieve it,” he says. Bricks & Barrels found good success in time for them to close the salons in 2017.
But is one business really enough? In 2019, a friend who’d started Axes & Ales axe-throwing bar and the adjacent Lucky Dill deli had to leave the state, so they took them off his hands, adding taps and staff and quickly increasing revenues.
Now the Holberts are turning their talents homeward, in a stately downtown Clendenin bank building they bought after the flood of 2016. They had no plans for it at the time, but now the cyclists, kayakers, and others who are drawn to the new Elk River Trail have
made the way forward clear: Airbnb rentals upstairs will be followed this summer by Clendenin Brewing Co. on the ground floor.
What has given you two confidence in business?
Matt Holbert We’ve always been of the mindset that we don’t work the businesses exclusively—we find others to complement us and fill in where we’re weak. We’ve found the right people. Nikki can talk to somebody one time, and she really knows if they’ll be good. That’s been a major reason for our success.
What’s your secret for success as both a couple and business partners?
Nikki Holbert For me, it’s actually easier being partners with my husband because, if one of us has an idea the other one doesn’t like, we can figure out a compromise—where it would be hard for me with a partner because sometimes I’d have to compromise on things I don’t want to. Also, I can overrule him. (They laugh.) I can’t do that with somebody else.
MH There’s a lot of truth to that. We’re both stubborn, and we’re not great at influencing other people. This way, we don’t have that encumbrance.
How did your businesses get through COVID-19?
MH All three of our business closed in March 2020 and re-opened around the middle of May. In Axes & Ales, we have five courts, and we basically only opened three, every other one. For Bricks & Barrels, the “barrels” the tables are inside give us an opportunity to keep people isolated. We were very fortunate that we have a large space and that we’d made those barrels.
What are your hopes for Clendenin?
NH People who grew up there want the area to come back to what it used to be, so people from our generation are buying buildings—everything is very inexpensive—and they’re all hoping to revitalise it. I think that it’s going to come back to a place where there are coffee shops, and there’s already a bakery, a Mexican restaurant, and a mom and pop restaurant. The hopes of the people who are buying buildings are something like a “little Fayetteville”—antique shops, restaurants, things to do outdoors. We all know it’s going to be a multi- year process.