Downtown Fort Worth loses a coffee shop but gains a language school

Downtown Fort Worth lost one of its two independent coffee places when Market on the 8 closed its doors Jan. 4 at 901 Throckmorton St., site of the former Barber's Book Store.

Then the storefront reopened with the same owners, Marie Francis and Driss Siyas, as the Palm Language Center, offering classes in Italian, French, Arabic and Spanish. They may add German and Chinese, depending on demand. The espresso machine remains, but it's unplugged.

"It became too difficult for both of our schedules," said Francis, a full-time City Hall employee, explaining why she and Siyas closed the sandwich and coffee shop. "We didn't want to hire a manager. It wouldn't have worked."

But a language school was not a new idea for them.

"It's something we always wanted to do," said Francis, who is Italian-born. "The space was already set up as a deli, but our passion had always been teaching."

"To be honest, it was our dream," said Siyas, who was born in Morocco and taught French in Germany before coming to Fort Worth. He has also been giving private lessons to doctors who want to improve their French or pick up Arabic.

Francis and Siyas think they've found the right market niche and location along with the right skill set. They picked up 10 students fairly quickly and hope to expand by offering class hours to suit. Another 10 are waiting to start on the next session, although Francis said it would be easy for newcomers to catch up this term.

"We're much more flexible," she said. "We can accommodate people on weekends, early morning -- we will even arrange a makeup class at no charge." For more information, go to, or e-mail:

Meanwhile, the Four Star Coffee Bar a block away at 3324 W Seventh St. has begun serving java from beans freshly roasted on Magnolia Avenue by Avoca.

New downtown site for PlainsCapital Bank

PlainsCapital Bank will move into new downtown digs this summer when it joins The Capital Grille in the remodeled ground floor of the Oncor Building at Seventh and Houston streets.

Steve Hambrick, chairman of the bank's Fort Worth region, said last week that his group has outgrown its 5,600-square-foot space at 777 Taylor St. in the Fort Worth Club building.

"We decided to look for an expanded footprint downtown. The Oncor Building offered more space and more visible signage," Hambrick said. PlainsCapital's new location provides about 9,000 square feet for the 14 employees in the downtown branch, he said.

He hopes to move in by July.

It's the bank's second significant Tarrant County move this year. In January, it brought in four new bankers from Southwest Securities' Arlington operation.

They are working out of PlainsCapital's Camp Bowie Boulevard branch, but "our plan is to look in south Arlington/Mansfield and expand there," Hambrick said.

'Speed learning' for small-business owners

We have speed dating, but have you heard of "speed learning?"

Small-business owners are invited to join Fort Worth for Women, or FOWO, at the organization's first "Speed Learning" event from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Reata Restaurant, 310 Houston St. in downtown Fort Worth.

Nine experts will be on hand to offer advice in the fast-paced event. Attendees can visit with all table speakers for approximately seven minutes at each table, with a goal of learning highlights of each industry while making personal connections for future discussion.

Participating are three news media representatives, three financial experts and three industry experts.

Advance registration costs $5 at Space is limited to 45 attendees.

If space is available, on-site registration is $10 per person. Complimentary appetizers and valet parking are offered.

FOWO is a business network to help serve local women retail owners.

Northwestern Mutual is recruiting reps and interns

Northwestern Mutual is recruiting 86 financial representatives and 85 financial representative interns to its North Texas operations this year.

The company already has 236 financial representatives and financial representative interns in the DFW area.

The financial reps are independent contractors.

Northwestern Mutual expects that more than half of its new representatives to be people switching careers, said spokeswoman Lisa Roe. "We're seeing an uptick in professionals who are looking for new opportunities to grow in their professional lives," she said.

Northwestern Mutual has offices in Dallas, Fort Worth, Addison, Allen, Frisco and Irving.

"There is strong demand for holistic financial plans that remain relevant in all conditions," Roe said. "There have been times in history where people are focused on accumulating wealth, and other times when the economy contracts and people are concerned with protecting their assets. Now, we are in a time when people recognize the value of both."

Workforce Solutions gets Labor Department grant

Workforce Solutions for North Central Texas and its training partners won a $4.9 million Labor Department grant for education, training and job placement help in information technology and professional, scientific, and technical services.

The grant is the second round of funding under the H-1B Technical Skills Training Grant Competition, which Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced last week.

The Labor Department gave a total of $183 million to 43 public-private partnerships in 28 states in the second round.

In the first round in October, the department awarded more than $159 million to 36 entities. The grants are funded with fees paid by employers to bring foreign workers into the United States under the H-1B visa program.

"We've got millions of people who've been looking for work for more than half a year," Solis told reporters in a news conference.

She asserted that employers can find much skilled labor in the United States in fields such as manufacturing, healthcare and technology, rather than seeking it abroad.

"Those workers aren't abroad," she said. "They're right here in America."

Workforce Solutions' training partners in the program include IBM, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, Labinal, Business Control Systems and North Central Texas College.

Cost of healthcare worries many planning retirement

Area Merrill Lynch clients are most concerned about the rising cost of healthcare, and the vast majority plan to work during retirement, according to the firm's Affluent Insights Survey.

Among their biggest concerns, 76 percent cited rising healthcare costs, 65 percent said they hadn't estimated healthcare costs in retirement, 55 percent were concerned with being able to afford the retirement lifestyle they want, and 53 percent were concerned with outliving their assets.

On retirement, 79 percent said they planned to work part time or full time in retirement, and only 18 percent defined retirement as "never working again."

Staff writer Jim Fuquay contributed to this report.