LL Cool J loves Gina Rivera’s story. The founder of Phenix Salon Suites grew up sweeping hair at her father’s salon and has been a professional stylist since 1991, renting chairs from other salon owners before opening her own business.
“I love the fact that she started out as a stylist first,” said LL Cool J, the two-time Grammy Award winner who with business partner and friend Kevin Davis owns 80 Phenix locations. “I felt like it was the right fit for what I wanted to do. Putting people in a position to be their own boss. People need more of that. The world needs more of that.”
Rivera opened the first Phenix, which rents salon suites to stylists, estheticians and other beauty professionals, in 2007 and today the brand has more than 330 locations across 33 states. “I wanted to bring the salon professional at the center,” Rivera told Franchise Times in 2019. “It’s about them. When you see them in their suite and they have their own business I want them to know they’re a part of it.”
A rapper, producer and actor—he’s getting ready to start production on the 14th season of “NCIS: Los Angeles,” in which he plays Special Agent Sam Hanna—LL Cool J invested in Davis’ franchise operations several years ago after Davis “set up a little lunch” with Rivera and her husband, Jason, and the group toured some locations in Orange County, California. The pair are now the largest franchisees in the system.
Born James Todd Smith in Queens, LL Cool J adapted his stage name, short for Ladies Love Cool James, in the ‘80s as he broke into the hip-hip scene with “I Need a Beat.” He went on to release 13 studio albums with hits including “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Doin’ It” and “Loungin’.” He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.
The 54-year-old entertainer continues to expand his business portfolio, and last year raised $8 million in a Series A funding round for Rock the Bells, which he founded in 2018 as a content and e-commerce brand dedicated to classic hip-hop. Before getting involved in a project, he said he asks himself, “where do you add value?”
When considering Phenix Salon Suites, his thought process was “Does it make sense that I’m involved? Is it real? And for me, it’s real,” he said. “I like the overall narrative and mission of the company. It’s about building something from the heart and from the spirit.”
Davis, who was the second owner to sign with Phenix after it launched franchising in 2010, said he and LL Cool J, who he calls “Todd,” have been friends since they were about 20 years old. “He’s a strong partner, he’s not a silent partner by any means,” said Davis. “We’re looking at P&Ls together, lease negotiations … he’s very intense, very involved.
“And he’s involved financially. Some people, they just want to market, market, market. He’s not like that. He’s a big investor.”
LL Cool J does put his celebrity power behind Phenix, he said, posting on social media and attending salon openings, but “it’s less about a bunch of posing and trying to position myself as an entrepreneur.” He was excited to bring the first Phenix to Queens, opening a location on Archer Avenue, and will open the brand’s first location in Compton, California.
“We’re trying to focus on urban areas in California,” noted Davis, who is also a multi-unit franchisee of Workout Anytime and Epic Wings.
“I felt like, the Black community deserves this opportunity as well,” said LL Cool J. “I want to bring opportunity wherever I go.”