Dennis West, a Thomsonian who has managed music groups, written plays, owned businesses, and scaled up the ladder of a restaurant chain, said he has always be an entrepreneur.
Growing up in what he called the projects, West said he learned a lot.
Around the age of 12, West started a grass cutting business.
“I figured I needed money,” he said.
So, he rounded up a few other kids to handle yards in the area. The customers would pay him $2 and he would dole out 50 cents to the other kids. West said his family supported him in his ventures.
“They just let me do whatever I wanted to do,” he said.
One of the things that West wanted to do was take karate lessons. West begin learning karate at 13. Two of his older cousins had brought him to a class at the Queens of Angels Catholic Church, and West got interested. However, West said his mom could not afford the classes. The instructor gave West an offer, if he brought someone to a class, he could get a lesson free. West started teaching classes at the church once he earned his green belt. In current day, he is a eighth degree black belt.
“I never paid for a lesson,” he said.
At 14-years-old, West began to work at McDonalds in Thomson. He would stay with the company for the next 31 years, working all the way up to the director of operations. Even after starting a job, West still found more ways to live as an entrepreneur.
West graduated from Thomson High School in 1977. He had gotten his first black belt in 1976. And on April 16 of 1977, West opened his first karate studio. This, he said, came after he stopped being able to teach in the church building.
“The Queen of Angels said they didn’t want me to use their building anymore,” he said. “So, I opened my own business.”
At the height of his karate studio business days, he owned eight studios, and operated karate studios for 10 years. One location was even on Main Street in Thomson for a time. West gave the business up to someone else when he retired from competing in karate in 1984.
Four years later, West would also say goodbye to another industry. West started managing musical acts in his youth. The first group he managed was called Sequence Eight out of Augusta. The group was made of eight members who did R&B covers. His girlfriend at the time introduced him to them.
They wanted him to get them on the American Legion 576 Post since he was from Thomson. The post was known to bring in musical talent at the time, West said. To get the group in, West called the person booking talent for the post. Luckily, an act had cancelled, and the coordinator needed another group. The coordinator asked West if the group was any good. He talked the group up.
“I said they’re real good and had never heard them,” West said.
Still, West got the group in after bringing the coordinator a tape of the group to listen to.
“We had the whole door locked,” West said.
West was in the music business until 1998. He managed 10 groups in that time, but also did promotion and acted in other roles of the business. With management, he started in secular music before moving to gospel acts. West had switched the genres looking for better environments. However, he said, he found bad behavior in both.
An Atlanta transfer at McDonalds gave West an opportunity to end his music management days. He moved to Atlanta in 1983.
“When I moved, it was kind of a departure,” he said.
Since then, West has found another avenue for his creativity--theater. West has written 10 plays and will have performed four, including his upcoming play, That Girl Can Sing. West’s plays fall into the gospel stage play category, but he calls them redemption plays because there’s always a chance for someone to redeem themselves in his shows. In one of his plays, West has even written about his own experience. In his play, Reach for The Moon, West told his coming-of-age story in Thomson. In his plays, West said he has a lot of first time actors. He added that he tends to work their personalities into the characters of the play.
His current play will debut in Augusta’s Kroc Center on June 22 at 2 p.m. and then have another show at 7 p.m. It will tour different cities, one of them being Decatur, Georgia. West wrote the play four years ago, and said that those that know his work will know they will walk away with an experience once they see the play. This is the third time he is trying to have the play performed. The show features a tale involving the music industry. It will feature eight actors, five from Augusta, one from Thomson, one from Atlanta, and one from Warrenton.
In the entrepreneurship journey, West said he didn’t have a mentor.
“Everything I did was by the seat of my pants,” he said. “There was no body I could touch that could tell me if that was a good idea or a bad idea, don’t try this or don’t try that.”
So, West said he tried everything. At times, he said that would mean he would end up redoing things. In the best cases though, he said it made people think he was brilliant. He learned things in his experiences.
“Being an entrepreneur, you’re going to fail more times than you succeed,” he said. “The measurement tool of that is when something comes out good, then you get to Xerox that and do it over and over again.”