The folks in the Panhandle of Texas like to say that the only thing between them and the North Pole is a barbed wire fence.
That’s funny … and also true. And it’s one reason Joel and Christi Bolz are in Fort Worth.
They were raised in Pampa on the Texas High Plains, and like a number of others in that part of the state, they were married early. In their case, three times – all to each other. More on that later.
He’s 38 and she’s 37. They have four children ages 5 to 15.
Joel earned an associate’s degree from Amarillo College and was a draftsman in the oil industry for more than 10 years.
Christi graduated from Amarillo College as well with a registered nurse degree and worked as a critical care nurse in both pediatric settings and adult settings at Northwest Texas Healthcare System in Amarillo, a 495-bed acute care facility and medical center founded in 1924.
Then came Feb. 16, 2007.
Bolz was working at the Valero McKee Refinery in Sunray, Texas, north of Amarillo, when a propane fire seriously injured three people and forced the refinery to shut down.
“We had 20 days of freezing temperature and then when it finally thawed out, it created the problem that led to the explosion,” Bolz said.
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board determined that the freeze-related failure of high-pressure piping at a control station cracked an inlet pipe elbow. When the ice melted on the day of the incident, it released 4,500 pounds of liquid propane that ignited and caused the explosion.
That led to a decision to leave the Panhandle for the Fort Worth area and a decision for him to go back to school at the University of North Texas in the construction and engineering program.
“When I got close to finishing my degree, I got a job with Woodcrest Capital in their construction division,” he said. Christi worked at hospitals in the area, including Children's in Dallas and several Medical City Hospitals, including the hospital in Arlington.
Bolz worked for Woodcrest for three years and another general contractor for another year before the couple decided to open their own construction firm – Domeo Construction.
They picked the name, which means to build up or to edify in Greek, as a statement of intent.
“The Apostle Paul used it in many of his writings to the churches when he instructed believers to build either buildings or to build up or edify the community,” Christi said.
“We wanted to make sure that we were creating a business that was ethical and transparent, and also that we could give back to the community or make the community better in some way through what we were doing,” she said. “So that's really the reason why we chose the name Domeo.”
As part of that thrust, they have started a nonprofit called Arcadia North Texas, designed to fill a gap in the continuum of care for young women 11 to 17 years old coming out of sex-trafficking in Texas. There are limited beds in Texas for long-term care for these young survivors, Christi said.
“These girls are going right back into foster care or juvenile detention,” she said. “Our vision is to build a long-term residential community right outside of DFW for these girls once they're recovered,” Christi said.
(See: Arcadia North Texas on Page 17.)
Domeo officially became a business in January 2014.
The first year, the Bolzes billed $120,000. The next year it was $1.2 million, then $2.7 million and then $6 million. This year could be $15 million.
And they do it in somewhat of a niche.
Domeo does mostly tenant finish-out, refurbishing, renovation and some small ground-up construction.
As the Fort Worth construction market heated up, other construction companies grew to the point that they are doing only large projects, Joel said.
“It left a gap in this project range and size that no one was there to fill, and that's what we're pushing into,” he said. “And that's what people know us for. They can't call those companies to come do a 5,000-square-foot restaurant finish-out.”
That’s been a highly successful niche for the company, so much so that their operations have spread to Houston, where Domeo has done four restaurants and is planning to start an operation there.
“You have to stay in one lane and become really good in that lane,” Christi said.
Expansion and construction wasn’t really the plan at the start. Joel was going to work from home and be a one-man shop.
When they started Domeo, Christi told him no construction.
“I'd been a construction wife and there were many nights that he wouldn't be at the dinner table because he was putting out fires and doing site visits. So, I told him no construction, only design,” she said.
But things change.
People he had done business with or had built connections and relationships with kept asking him to do tenant finish-outs, Christi said.
“He did one, and then we started breaking into construction. I said, ‘OK,’ ” Christi said.
One turned into four and before they knew it, they needed an office. In those early years, they were the only staff members, and then there were two more in the second year and 15 now.
“So essentially, I learned the construction business pretty quickly and helped project manage and superintend projects and do the books for the business,” Christi said.
They are proud of the way they run their business and are insistent that construction does not have to mean loss of free and family time.
“I get phone calls once or twice, maybe five times a month, of people trying to jump ship because they hear about what we're doing in construction,” Joel said. “It's so out of the normal of a typical general contractor that they get to have family time, and they get to have their weekends off. But we still work hard and we get our projects done.”
Christi said she’s been in that family where Joel was working until 8 or 9 p.m. almost every evening.
“And if there was a call, he had to leave, regardless of what was going on, because if something was happening at one of his sites, he needed to go,” she said.
They tell new employees they want them to have a healthy work-family balance.
“We want them to pour into their families,” Christi said.
“The culture we've created is a team atmosphere, and when you have that many people who believe in this vision and mission, you can get a lot of things done if everybody has your back,” Joel said.
“And that's what’s allowed our people to leave on time because they know that we have a team that surrounds each other, that if someone needs help, we're going to come immediately. And so, you don't have to work construction till 8 or 9, if you do everything right from 8 to 5,” he said.
When people join Domeo from a bigger construction firm, they have to adjust to a different culture.
Robert Spann, the company’s director of pre-construction, tells them that it takes new employees some time to learn that they don’t have to know – or act like they know – everything.
“He said it usually takes anywhere from one to two months for them to realize that at Domeo you don't have to have that ego. It's a good thing if you're asking the right questions, and we're not expecting you to know everything,” Christi said. “That's what he says he absolutely loves about it; it's just not an ego-driven construction company.”
Domeo was a written set of core values. Two of the central ones, Christi says, is that she wants everyone, including the owner and the owner’s daughter, to be able to walk onto a work site and not be offended by the way people are talking or acting. And she wants everybody to be honored and valued.
“I tell all of our guys that everybody has the same amount of value, regardless if they're the person cleaning the toilets or the owner of that site, they have the same amount of value. And that's how we treat everyone,” she said.
In addition to providing great products, the Bolzes want to provide an experience and develop relationships.
“We want to reduce anxiety for our clients, whether they are first-time entrepreneurs, developers or business owners,” she said, citing two and soon to be a third and fourth Chicken Salad Chick restaurant in and around Fort Worth.
“We do most of them in Texas now,” Christi said. They did the first Chicken Salad Chick in Texas for John and Meggie Schissler (J&M Hospitality LLC) and the stress is great when someone is launching a new venture.
“I tell my guys all the time that we have to be good Sherpas. We have to lead these people. That relieves their anxiety, because when you're starting a business, they need to be worrying about marketing, about staff, and we just take care of the construction piece,” Joel said. “If we do that the best possible way we can, they don't have to worry about that, and they can worry about these other things.”
The result – perhaps really the process – is lots of transparency through daily job reports that include multiple pictures that the clients see so they are a part of the daily process.
“Camp Bow Wow's a franchise out of Denver, and after we did our first project for them, they basically took our model and made it a requirement for their general contractors,” Joel said, “because it's so informative, they didn't have to fly down here once a month or twice a month, they just got to stay in Denver, look at their computer screen, and know exactly what's going on.”
He says he probably owes an apology to a lot of general contractors.
Their own personal story plays out in their dreams and passions and how they work together to run their business.
In small-town Texas, many people get out of high school and are married by the time they are 20 years old.
Christi and Joel knew each other in high school but became sweethearts and married in Amarillo when they attended college there. She was 20. Joel was 22.
“We got married super early, had a kid super early. Neither one of us had really grown up at all. We were not adults by any means,” Joel said. “We became adults because we had a kid at 20 years old. But there's not a whole lot of life lessons you've gone through when you're that young and getting married.”
So, a simple question about when they married provokes an extended response.
The answer is 2003, and two and a half years later, Christi divorced him.
“And then he fought for me. We got remarried. Then we moved down here and he was going back to school. I was doing leadership in nursing. Worked my way up in nursing doing team lead and then management staff, both at some of the Medical Cities and Children's in Dallas. Then I divorced him again,” she said. “And he again fought for me and we got married again. That was in 2011, the last time we got married.”
“The third time’s the charm. Have you heard that?” Joel said.
Christi says she had a pretty rough childhood, growing up in an abusive household.
“So when I married him, even though he was never abusive, if anything became difficult in marriage like it always does, I would run,” she said. “Instead of staying and working things out, I ran. He knew that there was a cycle. He was destined to break this cycle. And so he did.”
Joel is modest about his role and doesn’t take a lot of credit for what he did because he says he wasn’t perfect either.
He says he could see what was happening because he knew her childhood story.
“It was complete hell both times because we had kids too. We could talk for an hour about the pain but also the beauty in that pain and what God allowed us to do through that,” Joel said.
It was a growing, learning and bonding experience.
“We would have never been able to work together like we do day in and day out, 10, 15 years ago. But we have learned so much and we have grown so much,” Christi said. “Honestly, growing up I didn't really know what unconditional love was. I knew that existed but I didn't know that I was worthy of it. So that's what he showed me.”
In the rear view mirror, she thinks it’s a beautiful story and wouldn’t change it. It made them stronger, and much, much wiser, they say.
Joel adds this: “There's not a situation that could arise that's as hard or as painful as that was. So I can take on business and then at the end of the day it's nothing compared to that.”
A dream becoming reality
Christi Bolz remembers thinking that when her husband, Joel, went back to school to get his construction engineering she hoped that “one day we get to be generous enough to build home for abused girls.”
Together they own Domeo Construction of Fort Worth, a general contractor specializing in renovations, finish-outs and some limited ground-up construction.
“We didn't talk about it again after that for years,” she says, “but in 2014 Joel was asked to go to India to design an orphanage.”
He had only flown four times before so the 19 to 20 hour flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to India was daunting.
“My dad never flew. We drove everywhere. We had the same vacation for 18 years in a row,” Joel said. “So, the longest flight I'd been on was four hours. Then I flew there.”
Christi says he fell in love with the culture.
He was doing the design for Spark Worldwide, a 501(c)(3) based in Burleson, Texas, and run by Troy and Leanna Brewer. Among other missions, Spark operates orphanages around the world.
Joel Bolz designed an orphanage in Vizag – Visakhapatnam – in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, located on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
The design was presented at a Spark Worldwide gala as a shelter for 200 girls who have been rescued out of sex trafficking or to keep them out of sex trafficking and off the streets, Christi said.
“I was like, ‘Oh, that's it. That's what we talked about years ago when I had this idea, this home for abused girls,’ ” she said.
That led to research into sex trafficking in India specifically and a trip to India with two women from Spark Worldwide.
“As I was researching, God kept bringing back my focus to what was happening here and the sex industry here and commercial exploitation of children specifically,” Christi said.
She started looking for gaps in the continuum of care and learned that long term residential treatment for juveniles was a major gap.
“We only had a limited number of beds in Texas that were specialized. These girls are going right back into foster care or juvenile detention,” she said.
And that’s where Arcadia was birthed.
“We want to stop that cycle,” said Christi. “Survivors of child sex trafficking need a safe place of restoration where they can heal and learn to flourish. Our vision is to construct a long-term residential community in DFW that helps female child survivors recover from exploitation, obtain an education, receive medical care and build a future."
The Bolzes are raising awareness of Arcadia’s mission and fundraising for the purchase of land and other assets needed to build the state-licensed facility. As they work to educate the community, the couple emphasizes the need for everyone to take action.
“Sex trafficking does happen here in North Texas, in our schools and in our communities. We all need to work together and fight back from every angle,” said Christi.
The goal is to create a long-term residential community right in North Texas for girls 11 to 17.
Joel Bolz sees a shift in the way people are doing business.
“Many young entrepreneurs are finding a purpose. What's your purpose? What do you want to do with the things that you create? And so, with Domeo, it was always that we're going to do good things with whatever we're given,” he said. “In the past you become successful and then you give. I think it's kind of flipped a little bit.”
Domeo can’t fund the entire project, so they’ll be looking for private donations.
What they are really looking for is a community that will wrap itself around these young survivors.
“It will take our entire community to bring long term healing,” Christi says.
Joel says his generation understands that government can’t do it all.
“They can't do everything that needs to happen for our society, so people have to step in with private funds to do the things that the government can't do or wants to do,” Joel said. “We have enough money in Texas to build a hundred of these facilities, but they're not being built. And so, we have to step in to do that.”
– Paul K. Harral