If you saw the September issue of Active Life Magazine, you may have recognized the familiar face behind Houseworks. Our very own Ed Cheikh was the cover story. Here it is below incase you missed it:
These days, a mention of Gary, Indiana, usually brings to mind one of three things: the birthplace of the Jackson Five, urban blight and racial tension, or a bygone hub of steel manufacturing. (It also brings to mind a much-to-catchy song from The Music Man.) But for Ed Cheikh, owner of Houseworks (4905 E. 82nd St., Indianapolis), childhood memories of Gary during the 1950s and 1960s paint a positively different picture. It was a time when the city was buzzing with prosperous steel mills and a diversity of population that worked together to keep the mills and the community humming. “Growing up, I was introduced to so many diverse ideas, languages and foods, all right on my street,” he says. “On my block alone, the smells from the Greeks cooking, and the Serbians and the Polish food— It was a nice upbringing.”
He recalls having his hair cut by an Italian barber and buying food from an abutting Jewish grocer. “It was a time when people sat on their porches,” he goes on. “Mills were paying well, and the families stuck together.” And yes, Ed worked at the steel mills for a time as young man. But he assures me, as much of a romantic picture as it would frame, that he did not grow up thinking he would own a furniture store. Instead, the story of Houseworks is one of a successful business venture begun by two international businessmen who just happened to appreciate quality, modern designs— and which Ed had the navy to develop into the thriving, customer-centered furniture business that Houseworks is today.
Upon graduation from college, Ed Cheikh wasted no time in building his international career, founding a company that did business in the Middle East. “That first business didn’t end up doing too well,” Ed tells me. Around that same time, however, the United States government initiated a program to connect business people with overseas sales experience with American manufacturers doing international trade. As a Senior Trade Director of Indiana Export, a non-profit founded as part of his initiative, Ed worked successfully with a number of Indiana manufacturers in there international business efforts. After federal funding ran out, however, Ed explains that he and his supervisor, John Babbitt, decided to strike out on their own. “We became partners and picked up the companies we’d been working with” Ed says.
Meanwhile, on the home front, Ed married his wife, Cindy— and here’s where the Houseworks tory starts to take shape. What’s one of the first things on a couple’s list once vows are exchanged and there’s a roof over two newly wedded heads? Furniture, of course. “I moved to Indianapolis from Chicago, and we were looking for futnirue in a more cosmopolitan style,” Ed says. “There was very little in terms of modern-style furniture back here in 1982.”
After making some purchases up in Chicago and hauling them back home, Ed and his business partner John, who was from the East Coast, had the thought to open a modern furniture store right here in Indianapolis. “There seemed to be a void,” Ed says, “and we thought people would line up, like to water in a desert.” Boy, were they wrong. “Back then, most people walked in and said, ‘What is this stuff?’ It’s like we’d dropped from Mars.” Indianapolis in the early 1980s just wasn’t ready for the modern furniture scene. Not surprisingly, Houseworks, which began in 1985 as a side business to the manufacturing consulting business Ed and John still had, didn’t start off well. Ed explains that on its own, Houseworks would have bankrupted itself—it was the other company keeping it afloat.
A decision had to be made, and when his wife became pregnant, Ed figured that the extensive travel that came with his international business needed to come to an end—for his family’s sake. That’s when Ed decided to sell off his portion of the consulting business to his partner and give everything he had to the Houseworks enterprise.
A NEW DAY FOR HOUSEWORKS
With a baby on the way, Ed dedicated the lion’s share of his time and energy to the furniture store’s success. “Little by little, with the help of my team, we figured it all out,” he says. “When you’re on the ground and you want it to succeed, you listen to your customers, and you figure out what’s possible and what’s not. You correct problems immediately. It’s no longer an absentee ownership scenario.”
Houseworks made a series of moves that carried them to successfully larger showrooms. In those early years, they operated out of a small Broad Ripple space. “The trucks would unload sofas on College Ave. and take them down to our basement warehouse,” Ed recalls.
From Broad Ripple, Houseworks moved to the Clearwater Shoppes on 82nd Street, followed later by a move to their longtime location at 82nd and Allisonville. This spring, Houseworks settled into an even larger space, more suitable to the store’s lush,modern showrooms, and offering friendlier parking for Houseworks’ clients, just a little farther west at 4905 E 82nd. To stay competitive in this fastpaced world of convenience and online everything, Ed and his staff strive to bring perennially fresh, innovative offerings to customers.
“You can never completely relax when you’re concerned with bringing people through the door,” he says. At the same time, the staff works hard to ensure that everything coming in those doors fits with the store’s current looks. I asked Ed if he had any thoughts on a certain highly successful, international modern furniture store opening in Fishers this fall. “If anything, having them in town will introduce more of Indianapolis to the beauty and versatility of the modern look,” Ed tells me. “What we offer at Houseworks is a personalization and service that we give based on customer relationships. Our employees have been with us a long time—some as long as 25 years— and they know our customers well.” With a staff of only 11 employees, Ed says the company operates like a family—something that’s unusual for a retail business, he adds.
STRIKING A BALANCE
Even after 32 years, Ed says there’s still never a typical day on the job. “As CFO, I do the marketing,” he explains, “but if no one else is around and there’s a truck to unload, I run over to the warehouse and start unloading… it’s just not an 8 to 5 endeavor.” So if that’s the case, where does life balance enter into the picture for Ed? Once again, it’s his devotion to family that saves the day. Well, his devotion to family—and food. “My wife and daughter and I can all cook, so when we get together, it’s really centered around that,” he says. “We’re definitely foodies.” I learned the hungry way—get Ed to talking about his family’s culinary adventures, and your taste buds will hold you hostage to keep listening. “Last week my daughter and her fiancé came over for dinner,” he starts. “I took heirloom tomatoes, infused sweet corn with garlic and lemon, and in the same water infused the salmon… added some arugula and red onion, along with zaatar—a Middle Eastern spice— and served that up for dinner.” Mouth. Watering.
In this high-velocity world of instant gratification we’re living in, the importance that Ed places on spending time around the dinner table with family shines some light on his philosophy of happiness. He tells me of his 82-year old cousin who does spin classes and climbs mountains—and skis. “He’s the epitome of a body in motion stays in motion,” Ed says, incredulously. And while he hasn’t had much time to go sailing these days—a pastime he picked up in his previous life of international business—he still makes time each morning for 20 minutes of meditation. “When I’m having a happy day, nothing’s happened,” he says. “I can stop and smell the roses. That’s happiness.”
So the next time you find yourself in the neighborhood, stop in to see Ed and the staff at Houseworks. Take your time to smell the proverbial roses. And don’t hesitate to hit up Ed for some kitchen advice—or thoughts on this great merry-go-round we call life.