Las Vegas businesswoman helps extend her family’s local legacy

Sunshine Ray and her husband Johnny Church pose in their restaurant Johnny C’s diner, 8175 Arville St.,Thursday, April 15, 2021. Church runs the diner and Ray runs Atlas Plumbing with help from her brother. Ray’s father Bob Ray started the plumbing business in 1990.

Growing up in Las Vegas, Sunshine Ray watched as her father ran their small, family-owned plumbing business from home.

Bob Ray was constantly on the move from one job to the next — often with help from his young children.

“He would take us with him, and I would be bringing him a wrench or something like that,” Sunshine Ray said.

For as much fun as it was going on calls, Sunshine Ray never envisioned the family business as her future career. Yet, as fate would have it, she’s the co-owner of Atlas Plumbing with her brother, Rod Ray.

And that’s not the only business Sunshine Ray, 45, is involved with. She’s also part owner of a diner in southwest Las Vegas with her husband.

“It’s OK to fail,” Ray said. “You have to be willing to take that risk. For me, it was a gnawing feeling when I was working for someone else. I know I wanted more, and I knew I could do more.”

That mentality is how Atlas recently expanded its offerings to provide full-service bathroom renovations. It partnered with Illinois-based BCI Acrylic, which produces tubs, showers and other bathroom-centric products. Atlas can get the job done in a few days, when many remodels take weeks.

Ray said that branch of the business has been so busy during the pandemic that Atlas—which has about a dozen employees—is primed to move to a more spacious building later this year.

“There’s a big craze now with one- or two-day bathroom remodels, it’s just bonkers,” Sunshine Ray said. “With people sitting around at home so much during the pandemic, they started looking at different projects they wanted to get done.”

After graduating from Rancho High School, Ray earned a business marketing degree from UNLV before becoming a real estate broker.

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, however, business started to dry up, so she turned full-time to the hospitality industry.

It was at the old AJ’s Steakhouse, inside what is now the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, that Ray met her husband, local chef Johnny Church.

She was a bartender and he the head chef at the restaurant.

“At the time, I thought all chefs were crazy,” she said with a laugh. “He came to the bar one night after work, and we started talking. We were friends for a while. That was 13 years ago now, and we’ve had a great time together. I married well.”

Church, 45, worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Charlie Palmer at RM Seafood, Aureole and Eiffel Tower Restaurant, among others, over the years. He also worked as a corporate executive chef for Golden Entertainment.

Church last year opened his own spot, Johnny C’s diner. There’s plenty of crossover.

Ray will help at the restaurant, often on catering orders, and Church has been asked to dig a ditch or two for Atlas. “It’s happened before,” Church said. “I’m a blue-collar guy, so I don’t mind.”

They push each other to accomplish their goals in the business world. Ray, in fact, credits her husband with pushing her to become an owner of her father’s business.

“I knew she was unhappy as a bartender and that she wanted more,” Church said. “Financially, she was able to take a step back and I picked up some of that slack.”

Though Ray was familiar with Atlas, she started a few years ago to dive into the inner workings of the company, specializing on the business and marketing side while her brother ran the day-to-day plumbing calls. She became part-owner in 2018.

When Church’s corporate job was eliminated in 2018, he leaned on Ray for financial and emotional support as he readied to open Johnny C’s.

“He had come to me with some other ideas (before Johnny C’s), but I wasn’t high on them,” Ray said. “When he told me about this one, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It was right. When you come into Johnny C’s, there’s just a good feeling. People tell us that all the time.”

Business

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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