The Banks-Harold Family Puts Passion Back in Business with the Opening of Connect & Sip Cafe

A family of entrepreneurs serves up a master class on the power of the pivot and how creativity and perseverance can foster community

One particular corner of Alexandria will be all abuzz come fall. The Banks-Harold family is adding another business to their roster following PIES Fitness Yoga and Daydreamers Oasis. Aptly named Connect & Sip Cafe, the location at 1320 Prince Street will serve as a place to come together over a cup of joe after some sun salutations at the family’s yoga studio next door.  

Marsha Banks-Harold and her husband Jeff Banks-Harold were inspired to create a cafe where locals can enjoy coffee, tea, and treats while catching up on the community happenings. The couple met at Virginia Tech as engineering students and raised four children while growing their businesses.

In 2008, Marsha began her entrepreneurial adventure when she left her agency job. Her next bout of inspiration came unexpectedly.

“I met a yoga teacher and from there, my life changed. When I came back home I wanted to open a yoga studio because I felt this level of peace that I had never experienced before.”  

Recognizing a gap in the market, Marsha founded the only accredited yoga therapy program in Northern Virginia. “For me, being a black woman and also plus size, I found those spaces were not inclusive enough.”

PIES Fitness Holistic Yoga Therapy School offers classes for people of all levels and “walks of life.” A flagship beginner’s class playfully named “My Body Don’t Bend That Way” encourages its participants to honor one’s body, no matter what shape you’re in.

“I wanted to create my own form of yoga that’s less intimidating, more welcoming and inclusive. That’s what makes us different.” As an active member in the International Association of Yoga Therapist (IAYT), a member of the Alexandria Wellness Group, Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA), and Yoga Alliance (YA), Marsha continuously makes room for more yoga mats in her studio.

PIES Fitness opened its doors to individuals impacted by emotional trauma, those with special needs or conditions, and customers recovering from injuries or joint replacements. “I wanted to open a space where everyone could come.”  

Following in his parent’s footsteps, son Gabriel Banks-Harold opened Daydreamers Oasis in September of last year. The Cannabidiol (CBD) and wellness supplements business is on a mission to help customers “find peace in every moment.” Located above PIES Fitness, Daydreamers Oasis has an eclectic inventory to address a range of needs including anxiety, chronic pain, inflammation, nausea, insomnia, and epilepsy.

“The two businesses–CBD and yoga–really complement each other,” says Gabriel. The new cafe will also feature CBD-infused baked goods in collaboration with [TKBUD & BAKERY], a partnership that bloomed after meeting at the Old Town North Farmer’s Market. “The city has just been a great place to continue to grow and connect with other folks who are like-minded and want to continue to create a space that is inclusive for everyone,” says Gabriel.  

The city provides inspiration for community building in more ways than one for the native Alexandrians. “Being in Alexandria, one block from Freedom House, we realized that the land that we’re on now is where the hospital for enslaved Americans was during the Civil War,” says Marsha.

Pushing for a more inclusive neighborhood, not just a more-inclusive yoga practice, is an ongoing goal for the Banks-Harold family. Ensuring opportunities for businesses and individuals of all backgrounds has been a constant for the family. “We invited our community, our neighbors in, and we had a meditative circle. We don’t want anyone to feel unwelcome.”  

For those looking to start a business in the city, the Banks-Harold family offers their own advice. They worked with the Alexandria Economic Department Partnership (AEDP), and said it was comforting to have everything they needed to get started at their fingertips.

“AEDP really helped to give us the knowledge and a real estate agent. We were able to get a lender and to purchase these two buildings to have a permanent home for our clients,” says Marsha, who had to move PIES from the West End to its permanent home in Old Town.

“Something that looks like a failure, I call it interrupted success. So just use that interruption to change your direction. Being able to own these buildings is definitely an example of what that means.”   

Come fall, stop by for a coffee and freshly baked goods, some infused with CBD oil for a stress-free morning. Until then, it’s business as usual for the Banks-Harold family.  

Images courtesy of @piesfitnessyoga