By Alexander Deedy Independent Record, Helena, Mont.
As a high school student in Helena, Shalon Hastings dreamed of owning and operating a coffee shop.
It wasn't until nearly two decades later, after successfully running Taco Del Sol in Helena and purchasing The Hub coffee shop in 2013 that her dream was realized.
On Wednesday, Hastings was selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Montana's Small Business Person of the Year for a medium-sized business with 11-50 employees.
"I wanted to cry. I was really happy, just overwhelmed," Hastings said.
Crystal Baker, with the Montana regional office of the SBA, said nominations are accepted through November and December.
The SBA judged nominees on the growth of their business, growth of employees, response to adversity and the ability to stay in business through difficult stretches.
Baker said Hastings stood out as someone who was "really involved in her community as well as being a really strong business owner."
First Interstate Bank commercial lender Tom McGree has worked with Hastings for the last couple of years and nominated her for the award.
"She's got that personality where she knows what it takes to be successful and she's not willing to give up on things," McGree said.
From a banking standpoint, he said, that persistent personality and track record of success is exactly what a lender is looking for.
Part of her success is knowing the industries she's dug into. But she also has a good handle of what it takes to make a successful business, McGree added.
Plus, she's just a good person to work with and is always trying to build up those around her, he said.
After graduating from high school in 1993, Hastings went on to major in business at the University of Montana. During her years there she "geeked out" on business and ate up any information she could.
While managing the Taco Del Sol in Missoula, Hastings said she would see customers from Helena come through the store and knew there was a potential market in Montana's capital city.
Helenans didn't have many opportunities for casual dining in the early 2000s, so after a couple years of managing the Missoula store, Hastings moved back to Helena and opened a Taco Del Sol in mid-April 2004.
Through years of operating the taco and burrito shop she learned to stockpile during the warm summer and fall to make it through lean times during the biting winter and spring when people are more likely to stay in. She managed the shop with care, ensuring all her employees rolled their burritos just right so that customers could get rely on the same dining experience each time.
One downside to operating the Taco Del Sol was her constrained menu. Interested in ethnic cuisine, Hastings perfected recipes of her own but had no where to try them. She longed to open a gourmet market and when the opportunity to buy The Hub presented itself, she seized it.
"My goal was to kind of slowly seep a market into the coffee shop, but then the coffee shop just kind of took off," she said.
The coffee shop did give her an outlet to sell some of her recipes, and customers now enjoy her custom specialty sandwiches and grab-'n-go salads. But the self-described serial entrepreneur still has dreams of opening a gourmet market and said she is now searching for a third-business venture to launch.
"I love doing business, I just see so many untapped opportunities for Helena," she said.
Hastings builds up those around her on her way to her own dreams because she recognizes the benefits of a strong business community. She offers advice to anyone who asks, but said she always adds the disclaimer that she's no expert.
Hastings offers the same advice each time, based on what she thinks has made her own businesses successful: consistency is key.
She also credits those who support her, like her manager at Taco Del Sol and her educators at the business school.
Hastings has reached a goal she's held for a long time, and she has no plans of stopping there because business is her passion.
"I eat drink and sleep entrepreneur business," she said.