While touring Fort Worth’s Magnolia Street on a recent afternoon, Susan Miller Gruppi pulls her spotless black Yukon GMC into the Avoca Coffee parking lot, takes a bite of her granola bar and points out the mural on the side of a building that she and her twin sister, Jessica Miller Worman, own. It’s a 16-foot-high African-American woman with the words “Follow Your Dreams” written in her hair.
“Attorneys used to own this space. It was painted tan,” says Jessica from her spot in the back seat. Then Jessica and Susan bought it and worked their aesthetic magic. They coated the building in a chic gunmetal gray shade — a hue often associated with designers like Donna Karan and Giorgio Armani (not surprisingly, Susan had once dreamed of going into the fashion business). The vibrant image completed the structure’s transformation.
“It’s not ugly if you paint it, put a mural on it, and give it some soul,” Susan explains.
This isn’t the sisters’ first success. Since they opened their commercial real estate business, M2G (short for Miller Second Generation) behind the M&O Burger joint in west Fort Worth two years ago, they’ve acquired $40 million of fixer-upper properties, almost all of them in Fort Worth, transforming them into some of the most sought-after structures in the city.
Their first deal was a warehouse in the Cultural District, which they bought for $3.7 million and sold for $5.9 million. They bought the drab shopping center on Camp Bowie Boulevard called “Szechuan Center” by locals, painted it smoky and light gray with red accents, added a mural (a Janis Joplin-esque woman’s face with the words “Dream On Dreamer” written on her hat) and renamed it “The Crossing at Camp Bowie.”
More recently, they purchased a strip of warehouses across from their office on Carroll Street and splashed it with Easter-egg shades of baby blue, plum, yellow and green. Someday it will be part of the twins’ grand vision, a multi-use center that could span 44 acres with restaurants and a market, non-chain retail, shared office space, and maybe a craft beer place — someplace like Deep Ellum or the Bishop Arts District in Dallas.
Theirs is called The Foundry District. That there was never a workshop here for casting metal doesn’t matter. They decided on the name because of the idea that locally crafted goods and services will be created here.
One of The Foundry’s first tenants was Leslie Harding Distler, a longtime Fort Worth stylist and designer, who opened her retail and design shop Feathers earlier this year. She told Indulge when the store opened that the new Foundry District perfectly fit Feathers’ tagline of “rugged, tomboy, sexy.” Other early Foundry tenants include Cowtown Marathon, CitySurf and The Lathery, a recently opened men’s grooming supply store from the owners of Fort Worth Barber Shop.
And, yes, there’s a mural at The Foundry. “Don’t Quit Your Daydream” was created by the same artist who painted the other two murals in the “Dreamer” series, Katie Murray.
“We are storytellers,” says Jessica. “We think consumers want that. They want to feel like something isn’t brand new.”
The sisters, who will turn 31 this month, grew up in Longview, the youngest of five siblings (they have three older brothers). Their parents bought, fixed up and sold property — shopping centers, ranches, apartment complexes — and real estate always drove the discussion around the family dinner table.
“Mom was the visionary,” says Jessica. “She’d find a shopping center and say, ‘What can we do with this to make it pretty?’”
By the time they were 10, the sisters were jotting down telephone numbers of “For Sale” signs in front of houses so they could go home and call and ask how many bedrooms and how many bathrooms they had. “Every business decision our parents made was a family decision,” says Jessica. “We grew up being entrepreneurs. Risk doesn’t bother us. We like success.”
The sisters graduated from TCU in 2008, both with degrees in finance and real estate, and learned much of their marketing savvy and creative approach while working at Trademark Property Company under Terry Montesi. Although today they share responsibilities with no set guidelines for who does what, each has strengths in different areas.
“Susan’s best at finance, development, and very black and white things, whereas I’m good at leasing, marketing, strategy and big-picture things,” says Jessica. “We look at things with two different lenses. Susan, do you think that would be true?” Her sister nods in agreement as she turns the wheel to the right, so we can loop around and look at another property.
On the corner of South Main and Leuda, the sisters show off a recently acquired 17,500-square-foot building, its brick and metal siding still clad in a ho-hum beige. But a makeover is imminent, and over the next 18 months, the sisters will work their makeover magic to turn it into a bustling retail/restaurant/creative office space.
“We’re talking to a vegan restaurant out of Denton,” says Jessica.
Susan turns east, toward Interstate 35W, to show me their latest acquisition, the O.B. Macaroni Pasta Factory building at the corner of East Vickery Boulevard and South Freeway. They’ve shortened it to “O.B. Mac” in their marketing materials. (O.B. stands for “Our Best.”) Originally built around 1860 as a stagecoach hotel, it’s one of the oldest buildings in Fort Worth. Today, it’s empty, but the sisters see grand possibilities for its 42,000 square feet. A wine bar and tap room. A brewery. An event space, a coffee roasting company, and a local leather maker who makes and sells bags. Plus branding opportunities on the four white silos on top.
Because it was also for sale, they bought the building across the street. There’s nothing special about it. It looks like a box. But they recognized right away that it would be a good investment.
“A lot of is it gut,” says Susan, now turning back toward their offices on the other side of town. “A lot of it is storytelling. This is right next to the oldest pasta factory in the United States.
“There’s so many properties that people could buy, but everyone falls in love with a story.”
Ellise Pierce is a North Texas freelance writer.