The Jewel Fits for Chuck Cooper

Our Mississippi April May 2015ourMississippi Magazine
April / May 2015
Online version of  this article here.

Chuck Cooper’s jewelry career began with candy.

While most ten-year-olds are reading comic books or collecting baseball cards, the owner of Van Atkins Jewelry in New Albany was operating a successful candy business out of his family’s department store.

“There wasn’t a candy store anywhere around back then,” recalls Cooper. “I bought candy bars from a wholesaler and took them back to our store. People from other businesses would come in to the store and buy candy from me. I made about $100 a month by doing that.”

The Van Atkins name is one that is very familiar in Holly Springs, Oxford, and the surrounding areas. Cooper’s family opened the first Van Atkins department store in Mississippi 1959. The original Van Atkins store in Walnut Ridge, AR, had already been in operation for 10 years. In addition to selling candy, Cooper worked in the men’s clothing department throughout his childhood and well into college.

It was obvious, even from a young age, that Cooper had an eye for opportunity. In 1980, during his freshman year of college, he made a decision that would forever shape his future. He took some of his candy profits and essentially started the store’s jewelry department with $1200 worth of gold chains. Once the chains sold, Cooper took the profits and purchased more.

“We had a huge old cash register in the store back then,” Cooper says. “The bottom drawer in the register was mine. Whenever someone sold a gold chain, they put the money in the bottom drawer.”

At one point, Cooper thought he might go into the medical field. He even majored in pre-med at Ole Miss. But shortly after selling his first diamond, he realized where his true calling lay. He frequently sold jewelry to Ole Miss faculty and staff, even helped a few fellow students pick out diamonds for engagement rings. As soon as he graduated college in 1985, he established an official jewelry department within the Van Atkins store.

For five years, Van Atkins’s inventory consisted mostly of moderately priced jewelry. That is, until Cooper had a chance meeting with a wholesaler that specialized in estate jewelry. He presented Cooper with an ornate platinum ring and suggested Cooper add the ring to his collection.

Reveals Cooper, “I was very hesitant. It was beautiful, but it was more expensive than anything else we sold. I didn’t think anyone would buy it. But the guy told me, ‘Give it a try. If it doesn’t sell, I’ll buy it back.”

The ring did sell ¾ quickly. Seeing yet another opportunity to expand his business, he invested in more antique jewelry. Most of the estate jewelry Cooper purchases today is between 50 and100 years old. Sometimes the jewelry is in need of repair, but Cooper is passionate about refurbishing each item and returning it to the show stopping piece of jewelry it once was.

“Antique jewelry is a lot like an old house,” he says. “Sure, it’s cheaper to build a new house. But once you restore an old house, there is nothing like it. They don’t make jewelry like that anymore and there are people out there that appreciate that.”

Today, Van-Atkins has evolved from department store to solely jewelry. It is known across the South as one of top estate jewelers, with clients coming in from as far away as Nashville. Van Atkins has even seen their share of celebrity clients, but as a true business professional, Cooper says he doesn’t give out any names.

Family still remains the cornerstone of the business. Cooper’s wife Rhonda, in addition to three of the couple’s four sons and their daughter-in-law all work at the store. Two of the Cooper’s sons, Van and Ray, both have degrees in gemology from Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad, CA. Van is currently studying jewelry design at GIA, while Ray is a skilled hand engraver.

In November 2014, Van Atkins moved from its home since 2001 ¾ the former Bank of New Albany building ¾ to a completely renovated location that used to house a hardware store in its heyday. According to Cooper, the new store provides three times the space, but still possesses the charm that they are known for.

As for the future, Cooper says he is going on focus on, “making this the best jewelry store in Mississippi. Our selection is what makes us competitive, even with bigger jewelry stores like in Memphis. But it’s our great employees that have made us so successful. They really care about the people who come in to our store and know how important the buying process is.”

Advertisements

Best Face Forward

Beauty 2015 SupplementMississippi Magazine
BEAUTY Supplement
Spring 2015

During the height of mid-winter, when the weather outside is truly at its most frightful, our natural instinct is to bundle up, cover up, and hibernate until spring once again comes gently knocking at our door. However, when the time comes to emerge from hiding, our skin doesn’t look quite as lovely as the flowers blooming in the garden.

There are numerous options available to prepare yourself for spring. After battling chapped, dry skin all winter long, a facial might be just the ticket to greet spring head on. Facials have come a long way from a mud mask and a couple cucumber slices. New treatments are being created everyday that can now clarify, remove toxins, smooth fine lines, improve texture – the list goes on. With all the options available, what are some of the most effective treatments?

Hollywood has pushed both oxygen facials and HydraFacials™ to the forefront of today’s beauty buzz. If you have never had one, or contemplating getting one, you may be wondering what all the hype is about. Unlike a normal facial, which is geared towards providing a relaxing experience in addition to cleansing the skin, these cosmetic facials are performed to achieve a specific goal utilizing products that provide a much more dramatic result than a normal facial.

If fine lines and wrinkles are your main concern, it may be worth giving an oxygen facial a try. True its name, oxygen facials use a stream of pure pressurized oxygen to push nutrients deep into the skin.

“We use oxygen in a different way, but oxygen is actually not the star of the show. It’s hyaluronic acid,” explains Deirdre Burke, director of sales at Intraceuticals, the company that that first introduced the technique and continues to lead in the oxygen facial market. “Hyaluronic acid is a lubricant that occurs naturally within the body. As we age, stress, pollution, and lifestyle factors deplete the amount of hyaluronic acid in our body. We apply different weights of hyaluronic acid directly onto the skin. The oxygen is used as a method of application. Once applied, it’s like a huge drink of water for the skin.”

The facial is completely customizable to provide each person with the most effective treatment. An aesthetician will start by asking a series of questions in order to evaluate the skin. Once the problem areas and objectives are determined, the skin is then cleaned and prepped. The aesthetician uses a small wand called an airbrush to deliver bursts of pressurized oxygen onto the skin. One can also elect to have a customized combination of serums containing anti-aging ingredients, vitamins, and moisturizers applied. The bursts of oxygen help push the serums into the skin at a deeper level than simply applying them topically.

How is this beneficial? First, many ingredients found in over-the-counter anti-aging creams contain molecules too large to effectively penetrate the skin and create a dramatic difference. The serums apply these exact same ingredients at a lower molecular weight. When combined with increased pressure, they are better able to penetrate the skin and increase their effectiveness.

During the procedure, which can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes, most people describe the sensation similar to a mini pressure washer applying cool air to the face. The results have been compared to that of Botox, only not as dramatic — smoother, more supple skin and an improvement in fine lines and wrinkles.

“People notice the results immediately,” adds Burke. “They notice a minimization in fine lines and wrinkles, a freshness around the eye area, lips look more plump, facial contours are enhanced. It provides the best version of yourself.”

HydraFacials™ are targeted towards individuals that desire a deep cleansing. The procedure uses a combination of microdermabrasion, chemical peel, automated extractions, and a final application of antioxidants to resurface and renew the skin. The entire procedure is conducted using the 4-in-1 Vortex Technology™ tool.

“We are a multi-benefit treatment,” says Ellen Markus, director of marketing for Edge Systems LLC, the developer of the HydraFacial™. “That’s what sets us apart from other facials on the market. The vortex tool provides greater control during application, which allows you to achieve the maximum benefit.”

The HydraFacial™ procedure is effective on most skin types, including ethnic, dry, or oily. First, skin is prepped by cleansing and exfoliating to open the pores. A light chemical peel is then applied to loosen impurities. Once the peel is removed, the vortex suction tool – which acts just like a mini vacuum for the face – extracts dead skin and bacteria from the pores. Finally, antioxidants are applied via the vortex infusion tool.

Says Markus, “The gentle suction during the extraction process opens pores, allowing the skin to be more receptive when the serum is applied during the last step. The serum contains a mixture of antioxidents, peptides, and hyaluronic acid.”

As with oxygen facials, HydraFacials™ offer a wide variety of serums that can be combined to provide a completely customized facial experience. Depending on the skin type and needs of the patient, HydraFacials™ can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, clear congested pores, treat hyper-pigmentation, promote cell renewal, and treat acne-prone skin. Some people with sensitive skin may experience mild discomfort during the chemical peel application, but typically the entire procedure is relatively pain free. Results usually last 5-7 days.

“We don’t just focus on short-term aesthetics. We really strive to restore skin to a healthy state, which is key to long-term skin health. Once your skin is healthy, you will find that you don’t need as much maintenance down the road when you get older.”

Most aestheticians recommend either of these treatments monthly to receive the maximum benefit and see sustained results. However, if monthly facials aren’t in your budget, they are a great option when prepping for a special occasion.

It’s time to break free from the winter doldrums and embrace spring head on. By treating yourself to one of these cutting-edge facials, your outward appearance is sure to match the season.

Debra McGee: Thinking of Others is Key to Success

Our Mississippi Winter 2014ourMississippi
Winter 2014
View article here.

When Debra McGee, senior vice president and director of minority business development at BankPlus, is asked about the key to her successful career in banking, she humbly replies, “It’s not all about me.”

“Doing things for others, that is what’s important,” she goes on to say. “It’s the little things that make our communities and our state a better place.”

It’s that philosophy that drew McGee to BankPlus almost 15 years ago. Born and raised in the Palmer’s Creek community of Hattiesburg, McGee attended Petal High School and later received a degree in Business Administration from William Carey. After college, she intended to follow some friends out to Texas to get a job in the oil industry, but looking back she says she realizes God had other plans.

McGee’s first job after college was as a teller with Citizen’s Bank in Hattiesburg, now Trustmark. Through hard work and determination, she continued to grow with Citizen’s, eventually transferring to a branch in Jackson. After an impressive 18 year career, McGee was approached by BankPlus to manage their Adkins Boulevard branch, which was being constructed. At the time, McGee says BankPlus was still a small institution diligently expanding into other markets.

“BankPlus had that small, community bank feel,” she explains. “They were all about providing customer service, no matter what walk of life you came from. It is a great place to work. They believe in giving back and making a difference. It’s like a breath of fresh air in that we are not just a name.”

Shortly after becoming manager of the Adkins location, Nissan North American announced they were building an assembly plant in Canton. McGee was asked to work with the management team at Nissan to establish BankPlus as its bank of choice. She eventually formed long-standing friendships with members of Nissan’s management team, which lead to McGee’s appointment as Nissan project manager. Her key role – establish a full-service BankPlus branch within the plant.

Says McGee, “It was different than what I was used to because we had never opened a branch inside a manufacturing facility.  I had to oversee building the bank, hiring staff, and making sure the branch was able to service all the plant’s employees.”

The venture turned out to be a success. Later, BankPlus approached McGee about working with Jackson State University to establish the same type of relationship she had forged with Nissan. Together, BankPlus and JSU have developed a unified alliance that brought banking services to the campus in addition to a $1 million endowment to the School of Business to establish an accounting professorship. At the bank’s Dalton Street branch, located adjacent from the University, McGee oversees small business development for individuals and minorities in addition to financial literacy classes and mentoring for students.

In addition to business development, McGee is responsible for bringing new banking products to the market for BankPlus customers. She is particularly passionate about finding ways to teach people how to help themselves and become more financially savvy. One program McGee helped to establish is the CreditPlus program, which teaches participants how to make wise financial decisions through seminars and products that assist with establishing good savings habits and effective credit management.

“I really enjoy my job,” McGee adds. “I am a people person and I like taking part in providing resources that allow people to help themselves.”

St. Jude, How Does Your Garden Grow?

eat.drink.MISSEDM August 2014ISSIPPI
August / September 2014

If hindsight is 20/20, it would appear all roads led Chef Miles McMath to St. Jude. McMath grew up in the Goodsprings community of Alabama, in what he describes as a “little, tiny, small town outside of Jasper.” He enjoyed a childhood that today would seem foreign to many younger generations. Before supermarkets could be found on just about every street corner, friends and families gathered together in kitchens or on front porches to shell peas or hull corn. Home gardens and canning fruits and vegetables were the norm rather than a novelty.

“I have memories of eating poke sallet in the spring and canning everything. Everyone had storm shelters that were filled with canned goods that we grew and canned ourselves,” McMath recalls. “We hunted rabbit, deer, squirrel, and turtle. But when fast food came in the 80’s, everything changed. People stopped doing those things. Maybe I was destined to become a chef. As you get older, you start to look for ways to get those memories back.”

McMath attended Sullivan College in Louisville, KY, before launching his culinary career under Chef John Castro at Hasenour’s Restaurant in Louisville. He left Louisville to accept the position of chef de cuisine at the Grand Casino in Gulfport, working his way to corporate research and development for all seven establishments owned by Grand Casino, Inc.

Eventually, McMath found his way to Hernando where he opened Timbeaux’s, his first of three restaurants in the area. He currently lives in a small community in Hernando where he says many of his neighbors share his love of home grown food. McMath and his family maintain a full garden and at one point raised their own pigs on the property.

Anyone who works in the restaurant indsutry can attest that the hours are long and they don’t fit into the traditional 8-5 workday. By 2008, McMath was married with children and wasn’t keen on spending nights away from his family. He was just about to sign a contract for another job when a friend told him about a huge $16 million cafeteria renovation at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. The Kay Kafe, which was funded by Sterling Jewelers Inc., parent company of Kay Jewelers and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry, was designed to accommodate up to 1,000 diners. It features numerous food stations, each featuring a different food variety. In addition to McMath, the hospital employs four certified executive chefs, each with different backgrounds who are able to bring different cooking techniques and experiences to the kitchen.

Upon accepting the job as Director of Culinary operations for St. Jude, McMath knew, “a beautiful place like that had to have good food.” That’s when the idea was “planted” in McMath’s head to draw from his childhood experiences in rural Alabama and establish a garden on the St. Jude campus.

Through the help of employees and volunteers, the garden slowly began to grow. An unused adjacent lot owned by the hospital was reallocated for the space. What started as a small herb garden has now grown into almost sixty raised beds that contain everything from vegetables to herbs, in addition to a greenhouse and hoop houses for growing lettuce and tomatoes year round. The garden is tended by volunteers, many of whom are hospital employees.

Everything harvested from the garden is used in the 2,500 meals the Kay Kafe puts out each day.  Not only does the garden save donor dollars, but the nutritional value is unsurpassed. Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutrients shortly after they are picked. Everything harvested from the St. Jude garden is typically used within 12 hours. Those added nutrients can go a long way when it comes to the health of a sick child.

McMath has even taken his unique approach to the “farm-to-table” movement one step further. What they are not able to produce on the grounds, they source from farmers within 150 miles of the hospital. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but farm-raised meat.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had, but it’s not really even a job to me,” McMath admits. “St. Jude has allowed me to bring everything together – all these experiences I’ve had. It’s my way of giving back.”

McMath’s contributions haven’t gone unnoticed. Earlier this year he was invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York City. An invitation to cook at the James Beard House is highly coveted and has been extended to other noteworthy chefs such Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jacques Pépin, and Charlie Trotter. Currently, McMath is the only documented chef from an institution to have been extended this honor.

Says McMath, “It’s hard not to get excited about this program. We’re just people taking care of these children. They deserve the best.”

From Chief to Chef: Home cook Dave Bowman never fails to impress family and friends

EDM June 2014eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
June / July 2014

When Alana Bowman nominated her father to be eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI’s first home cook feature, she said, “He should have his own restaurant. Seriously, this man can cook!”

However, Dave Bowman of Pelahatchie says that growing up, the occasional pan of cornbread was the extent of his cooking experience. The father of two daughters, he started cooking after he got married out of necessity. Bowman, who enjoyed a 30 year career with the Air National Guard, and his wife at the time both worked long hours. Often he arrived home first and found himself with two hungry girls on his hands.

“I started out just throwing something together for the kids to eat for dinner,” he says. “But soon I discovered that it was relaxing. Cooking gave me an outlet to relax and forget about the stress at work.”

He knew he had arrived as a cook when his wife wasn’t feeling well and asked him to make a pecan pie for her to take to work.

“I had never made a pie. My wife tells me, ‘You just follow the recipe.’ So I did and it turned out great! That’s when I realized I can make something other than French fries and cornbread. I can do this.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today, Bowman has quite a collection of recipes he keeps tucked away in a large three ring binder titled, “The Chief’s Recipes.” The title refers to Bowman’s title of Chief Master Sergeant, the rank he held before retiring from the guard 11 years ago. Now with five grandchildren ranging in age from twenty to nine years old, he cooks out of enjoyment for his family and friends instead of out of necessity. Bowman spends much of his time honing his cooking skills and trying new techniques, like making his own jams and jellies. He is also an avid gardener, growing numerous herbs and vegetables on his land in Pelahatchie, located just a few miles from where he grew up.  What he doesn’t eat right away, he cans so he can continue to enjoy his harvest when fresh fruits and vegetables are no longer in season.

Bowman enjoys preparing Cajun and Creole dishes such as jambalaya and gumbo in addition to traditional home cooking like meatloaf and fresh baked bread. He also cooks a lot of Italian food and says, “If my kitchen doesn’t smell like garlic and oregano, I’ve failed.” Lately, he has been experimenting with Mexican flavors, using fresh onions, tomatoes, and cilantro from his garden to prepare salsas and enchiladas.

Other family favorites include shrimp and pasta, sausage stuffed pork loin, cheesecake, and the recipe that started it all – coconut pecan pie. Bowman even makes his own seasoning blend, a mixture of herbs and spices he calls Dave’s Stuff.

On the other hand, Bowman says if you ask his grandchildren – who all love their Papaw’s cooking – what his best dish is, they’ll tell you he makes the best pancakes.

 

Photo captions

Grilled okra: Bowman grows much of his own produce, including okra that he likes to skewer, season with olive oil and his own herb blend, and throw on the grill.

Pork loin and okra: One of Bowman’s signature dishes is his grilled pork loin stuffed with sausage.

Roasted potatoes and cole slaw: These yummy roasted potatoes and homemade cole slaw are seasoned with herbs from Bowman’s own garden.

Apple pie: Bowman didn’t think he was a true cook until he learned to make his own pie crust. From the looks of this beautiful apple pie, we would say he nailed it.

Recipes

Dave’s Stuff

  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons basil
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container.   Use liberally on pork or other meats before bar-b-que or roasting.

Canned String Beans

“My children’s great-grandmother, Florence Allen, taught this canning process to me.  She raised a family during the great depression and never wasted any food.  I’ll always think of “Mimmie” every time I can string beans!”

  • 1 Gallon String Beans
  • 3 TBsp Salt (Plain)
  • 1/2 Cup White Vinegar
  • Water
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar

Prepare beans using a large dishpan or similar pan.

Add sugar, vinegar, and salt.  Cover with water.  Bring to boil and cook until all beans change color.

Tap down jar lids and place in boiling water.  Keep lids hot.

Wash jars and scald with boiling water.  Place upside down on a clean white towel until ready to use.

Pack beans (while boiling) in jars and fill with liquid.  Screw on lids tight as possible and set aside.  They will pop when sealed.  Store in the pantry until ready to use.  They will keep for 2 to 3 years.

The Anatomy of a Southern-style Crawfish Boil

EDM June 2014

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
June / July 2014

For many Southerners, the arrival of spring is not signified by warmer temperatures or buds on the trees. It’s a heaping, steaming pile of crawfish spread out across a newspaper, the shells that tell-tale fire engine red hue and still dripping with crab boil.

After the long, dreary months of winter finally come to an end, what better way to celebrate spring than with a crawfish boil surrounded by 100 or so of your closest friends? It’s a time honored tradition that Mississippians have enjoyed for generations. The table manners your mother spent so much time coaching you on as a child don’t apply here. Seating is optional, but several rolls of paper towels nearby are required. Most people belly up to the table and begin pinching tails. If you’re a tried and true boiled crawfish aficionado, you’ll likely suck the head before casting the empty carcass aside and reaching for another.

For almost 15 years, the home of Edward and Cleta Ellington of Jackson has been the setting of such an event. It began in 1998 as a way for the Ellington children, who all attended college out-of-state, to get together with friends during Easter break.  Fifteen years later, it would grow into a neighborhood block party attended by nearly 200 people. Two traditions have always remained the same: crawfish are always served and it’s always held on the Saturday before Easter.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Holy Saturday,” Cleta Ellington calls it.

“All of us who raised children in our neighborhood were very close,” she goes on to explain. “The kids always considered everybody’s house their own. It became a wonderful opportunity for all the kids to come with their parents and visit.”

Ellington describes the boil as multi-generational. Her children, who are now in their 30’s, have children of their own. A crowd that was once predominantly college kids and young professionals has morphed to encomapss young families. Two years ago the Ellingtons passed the torch on to the next generation, handing the responsibility over to Barry and Mary Margaret White.

As with most crawfish boils, there is no set agenda. Word of mouth dictates that the food is usually ready by three o’clock and if you want crawfish, you’d better get there early. Turn onto the White’s street located in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood, and it’s apparent there is a shindig going on. Cars begin to line the street on either side and people are seen carrying everything from coolers full of beer to babies and strollers.

Friendly conversation mixes with the sound of a propane flame as a huge stainless steel pot full of water and spices comes to a boil for the next batch. The ratio of water and spices is important. You want them spicy and if they’re not, someone will let you know. There the clinking of a lid as the designated “cook” checks the pot and stirs its contents with a large paddle to see if the crawfish are “done.” Periodically, two men will hoist a cooler towards the large folding table set up in the middle of the White’s driveway and dump a load of cooked crawfish, corn on the cob, and red potatoes in the middle of the table. Hungry party-goers step up to eat and if you want a spot at the table, be prepared to push a few folks out of the way.

If for some reason crawfish just aren’t your thing, there are chicken wings, grilled boudin sausage, and an entire spread of chips, dips, appetizers, and snacks. One thing is for sure, you won’t go hungry at a crawfish boil.

As the crawfish begins to wind down, there’s talk of oysters being driven in from New Orleans. Red potatoes and corn give way to saltines and hot sauce as a few lucky volunteers are tasked with donning gloves, wielding knives, and shucking the oysters, which are snapped up just as quickly as they can lay one down.

If it rains on crawfish boil day, most people will find a way for the party to go on. “Last year on Easter, the weather was terrible,” says Mary Margaret White, as she recalls their first year hosting the Holy Saturday boil. “It rained, but people still came. Everyone just huddled under the carport.”

Even though Ellington and her husband aren’t hosting Holy Saturday anymore, she looks back on those years fondly. “I feel so lucky that we’ve gotten to do it and were able to keep it up. I’ll never forget looking out across my yard one year and seeing mamas sitting on quilts with their babies and bigger kids chasing each other across the yard.”

Shape Up and Have Fun!

MS Mag March April 2014

Mississippi Magazine
March / April 2014 Beauty Supplement

Mississippi native Kajal Desai combines aerobics with Bollywood to create one of the fastest growing workouts in America

Move over Zumba, there are a couple of new girls in town.

Eight years ago, fate would change the life of Kajal Desai forever. A small town Mississippi girl raised in Ellisville, Desai was living and working in Washington D.C. as a consultant for the U.S. government.  However, her real passion lay in the Indian folk dances her mother taught her as a child.

While Desai was born and raised in the United States, her parents hail from Gujarat, India. As a way to help her stay close to her family’s heritage, Desai’s mother taught her the traditional folk dances from her village. Desai perfected her moves by watching Bollywood movies, which is the largest film producer in India and one of the largest film producers in the world.

By the time Desai was an adult, she already had a deep-seated love for dance and a desire to do something more with that passion. It was then that mutual friends suggest she meet Priya Pandya. Over a cup of tea in 2005, the two women realized they had the same vision and decided to launch a business venture that would combine their love of dance with fitness.

The pair started offering a dance class once a week to residents of the DC area and doing local performances on the side. By 2007, their following had nearly doubled in size and Desai and Pandya decided it was time to take the plunge. They quit their day jobs and devoted themselves full time to the new company they named Doonya, after the Hindi word for “world.” After that, the craze seemed to take on a life of its own spreading from DC into New York City.

Exactly what is it about Doonya that makes it so popular? For starters, it involves a lot of high energy aerobic movement that gets the heart pumping and the muscles moving. Then there is the music. The beats are infectious, invigorating, and after a few minutes, your body wants to move. It’s that perfect combination that keeps a person motivated, even during the most intense parts of the workout, and coming back for more.

“The music and the movements might seem foreign at first, but it’s about letting go of your inhibitions and having fun,” Desai says.

Over the last eight years, Doonya has managed to garner a huge amount of publicity. The workout has been features in such notable publications such as Cosmopolitan, Shape, Elle, and The Huffington Post. The women have also appeared on Dr. Oz, Kathie Lee and Hoda, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

After all that success, where do you go next? Desai and Pandya wanted to make Doonya accessible to more people and knew a DVD would be on the horizon. However, they wanted it to be more than just a dance video, they wanted it to have some credentials behind it. Desai earned certification as a group fitness instructor with the American Council on Exercise, while Pandya became a certified yoga instructor. As plans for the DVD began to take shape, both women devoted a lot of time researching the fitness aspects of the workout and developed dance moves to incorporate it. The attention to detail paid off. Within the first week of launching in February 2013, the DVD made it into the top 10 fitness videos list on Amazon.com.

Desai and Pandya continue to bring their workout to more people. Currently, they are setting up new classes at fitness centers across the U.S. and are even working with Weight Watchers to make the workout accessible to online members. However, despite all the success, Desai hasn’t forgotten that she’s a Mississippi girl at heart. Frequently during her visits home, she will offer a few classes at fitness centers across the state.

“We are really bringing to life the spirit of Bollywood,” Desai adds. “In one hour, you might start out feeling a little silly, but you’ll also start to feel a little sexy and you will smile a lot. That’s what health and happiness is really all about.”