Interview with Business Owner and Midtown Council President Melinda Bone

By Cameron Beltran

Business owner and President of the Chattanooga Chamber's Midtown Council Melinda Bone is an energetic woman who radiates confidence and determination while still being warm and welcoming. She’s the kind of person who listens to you wholeheartedly — no matter who you are.

An East Tennessee native, Bone was born and raised in Dandridge and came to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to study physical therapy and exercise physiology. For over five years she’s mentored fifth-graders at Woodmore Elementary. As a strong advocate for youth, she organized a screening of The Hate U Give for over 300 students in the Chattanooga area when the film was first released. She owns Chicken-W-Bones as well as Edible Arrangements of Chattanooga.

Trend: How did you go from practicing physical therapy to being a business owner?

Melinda Bone: I was providing home health care and I couldn’t completely be mommy while still being successful as a therapist. I thought, ‘What else can I do?’ My husband has been an entrepreneur his entire life. I thought to myself, ‘I can cut fruit and still be mommy!’ There wasn’t an Edible Arrangements here in Tennessee so we branded the Southeastern states and 15 years later here we are.

Trend: How and why did you get involved with the McClellan Foundation’s Family Dinner Week?

Bone: I make a point to sit down every night with my family for dinner. Family dinner has been a place, ever since my children were little, for them to have a voice at the table. Talking to us about their day and about their lives enables them to build confidence and to feel comfortable communicating to others as well as keeping us abreast of things happening in their world.

When the opportunity to contribute to Family Dinner Week presented itself, I immediately thought, ‘everybody needs to have family dinner.’ It’s where we all come together sharing our emotional anxieties, our woes and our love. For us to be able to share with the McClellan Foundation in feeding homeless families, pulling them back together, at least letting them having some sense of normalcy in having dinner with their family. It's a blessing and an honor for us to be able to do that.

Trend: You’ve been a Troop Leader for Girl Scouts for over 25 years?

Bone: I’ve been a Girl Scout my entire life. My church, Olivet Baptist Church, didn’t have a troop. We had tons of girls. We had a Boy Scout troop, but no Girl Scout troop. Right after graduating from UTC, I was able to collect and organize everything with the help of some fabulous ladies from our church and we mentored hundreds of girls. And now the girls that were in my Daisy Troop are all grown and have careers, families and babies of their own.

Trend: What has motivated you throughout your life and career?

Bone: As a young child, I grew up in East Tennessee, and my parents and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles instilled in me the value of hard work, dedication and being true to yourself. Be true to your word. Do what you say you’re going to do. Treat people the way you want to be treated. If you make it to the next level pull somebody up with you. You’re only great because of the person’s shoulders you’re standing on. That’s always been the fuel for my fire and I try to instill that in my children to make sure they stay humble and show love to everyone around them.

Trend: Besides Family Dinner, are there other contributions you make to the community?

Bone: We stay involved with the school system. Right now, we’re showing our support for the Midtown schools and teachers by partnering with them for school supplies. We also partner with the Brown Middle School Athletic Department, Chattanooga Urban League and Olivet Baptist Church.

Trend: Are there social issues within the community you feel passionate about?

Bone: The most pressing one now is we want to make sure our society is one of equity, diversity and inclusion. If we hold true to that commandment, ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself,’ then all of that can be eradicated. We teach our children by example. It’s not what we say; it’s what we do. That is a big topic of concern in my world. So, the topic today is equity, diversity and inclusion.

Trend: What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?

Bone: I am still having challenges! When I ran for office in District 9, there had not been an African-American female to run in that District 9 seat, ever. On the campaign trail, that meant a lot of heated discussions. That was hard to hear, to read and see. But I had to stay grounded because of my Girl Scouts and especially, because of my daughter, Melaina. They needed to see me walk my talk.

And people ask me, ‘Melinda, are you going to run again?’ I don’t know if they’re ready for me yet. That’s a big pill for me to swallow - to put myself out there again. I’m on the side of the road holding a sign and profanity is yelled out a window. I’m meeting and greeting people in a rural area and profanity is used. I have to prepare for possible negativity and hate. That is the challenge I’m dealing with right now. I do know I have a duty and an obligation to serve our community.

Trend: What advice do you have for minority women aspiring to be successful business owners?

Bone:  If you can dream it, you can achieve it. Communicate well with others. Always be open for change. Be an owner. Be a giver. Be respectful. Be accountable. Be honorable. Always be your best self.