It’s February — the month of love — so once again we’re highlighting Charlotte couple-preneurs. Our sponsor played no role in our editorial process.
Couple: Drs. Robert Young and Lorette Polite-Young
How long in relationship? College sweethearts, married since 2001
How long in business together? Young and Polite Children’s Dentistry, since 2007; Melanin Parks, since 2021
Things were going well at the top of 2020 for Dr. Robert Young and his wife, Dr. Lorette Polite-Young. The couple successfully ran four offices of their dental practice, Young and Polite Children’s Dentistry, with their staff seeing 200 to 300 patients a day. They expanded their Mint Hill office last February because of the growth.
Black Business Matters
Then, the coronavirus pandemic arrived in North Carolina.
The Youngs shut down their offices in March following Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order. Robert reopened in April for dental emergencies, where he saw about five kids a day. Meanwhile, Lorette became a stay-at-home mom to their four children, ages 11 to 16. They also shifted into caregivers for Robert’s parents.
Lorette says the sudden change traumatized her.
“I wasn’t prepared for that, mentally,” she said. “I’m wheeling and dealing in the office, and now I’m a stay-at-home mom. It was a wild awakening for me.”
Spring turned to summer with the Youngs shuffling between a laundry list of responsibilities. They decided it was time to unplug and make time for their family and each other.
What happened next not only would draw the family closer; it also would give birth to a new business venture for husband and wife.
By chance, one of Robert’s fraternity brothers had purchased an RV to travel cross-country with his family. The idea inspired Robert. He and Lorette started researching RVs online and visited a local showroom to see them in person.
“With an RV, you need to see the floorplan,” he explained. “What do you like? What’s going to be suitable for your family?”
They found an older guy selling his American Coach RV in pretty good condition. The American Eagle model was luxurious: heated floors, leather sleeper sofas, a private bedroom and a washer and dryer. The expandability feature opened more space for the full kitchen and bathroom. The kids insisted their parents add WiFi access.
The family was sold. They drove it into the driveway of their Fort Mill home on July 2.
“We call it ‘The Beast,’ like the motorcade that carries the president,” Robert laughed.
By July 4, they were on the road for the first trip in their “Covid cocoon,” a three-week vacation out west. Stops included Nashville, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha, Nebraska; Casper, Wyoming; Yellowstone National Park; Montana; Utah and Colorado.
It was a new adventure for the Young’s children, who love nature and the outdoors.
The family grew closer out on the road. Robert would cook pancakes in the morning. Lorette would put together dinner — maybe a pot roast — in the evening.
They spent hours talking. Ryan, the oldest son, had learned to trade stocks during the pandemic, so he’d share his interests about the market. Instead of Xbox and PlayStation, they played board games, like Monopoly, and card games, like UNO.
“It’s been a blessing because I’m re-learning my children and my husband,” Lorette said.
Traveling on the road had awakened something in them. She wanted other families, particularly Black families, to experience a similar bonding. That’s how the seed was planted for Melanin Parks.
Ryan noticed how they would be the only Black family at campgrounds in the evening. He felt that more families would give the RV life a try if they knew where to go and what to do.
Through Melanin Parks, the Youngs curate outdoor touring and travel experiences that blend Black history and culture. RVs are not required to participate.
In December, they tested the idea with a Covid-friendly event at a farm in the Carolina country owned by Lorette’s uncle. The feedback was good, so Lorette and Robert tried another event.
Over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, they invited 15 families on a road trip to Warthen RV Park, a Black-owned campground in Warthen, Georgia. Another component of Melanin Parks is supporting Black-owned businesses.
“We didn’t ask anybody for money. We just said, ‘Come on an adventure with us,’” Lorette recalled. “It was amazing.”
Done with market research, the couple was ready to launch their venture to the masses. Melanin Parks went live on Feb. 1. Their next event is a socially distanced candlelight picnic dinner on Feb. 13 at Par Ring Farms in Rock Hill. Couples can rent a glamping tent to stay overnight.
During the week, Robert is back in the office. But when Friday comes, he hops in the RV. It’s his relaxing time.
At the end of the day, Robert says, it’s about creating a legacy for their children, whether it’s following in the footsteps of the family dental business or making memories in RVs.
Do you know other Charlotte-based couples who run a business together? Tell us more in this five-question survey.