By Nancy Molnar The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jeanne Keenan, a former entrepreneur and now small business adviser, recommends working with five experts before opening: a lawyer, insurance agent, banker, and accountant and a mentor/adviser. And don't even think about starting without insurance, she said.
The standard joke goes like this: How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business? Start with a large fortune and open a restaurant.
A small group of people hoping to beat the odds gathered Wednesday morning in the Tolloty Technology Incubator to hear the advice of former restaurateur, now business adviser, Jeanne Keenan, about starting a coffee shop, food truck, restaurant, bakery or catering service.
Among them was Renee McClelland, who plans to open Missions Cafe in the Galleria of Salons at 123 W. Third St., Dover. Her passion to help struggling people elsewhere grew from mission trips to Haiti and Flint, Mich., with First Christian Church of New Philadelphia.
"Everything I do in the cafe will benefit someone else," she said.
McClelland will buy coffee directly from Haitian farmers, so they get more money than from selling to middlemen. She plans to buy from the Black Rifle Coffee Co., owned and operated by veterans of the U.S. armed forces. There will be tea from the Rakkasan Tea Co., which promotes peace and development by selling tea grown in post-conflict countries. She also wants to use food from local producers.
Seated beside McClelland were Nathan and Erin Landis, who want to take her custom baking company, Tic Tac Dough, to a store front. She's been making specialized cookies and cakes at the couple's Dover home.
Her last order was for cookies made to look like a narwhal, a medium-sized toothed whale that possesses a large "tusk." You don't find those on grocery-store shelves.
Keenan, who owned and operated Serenity Tea House in Coshocton from 2003 to 2008, urged her audience to give their prospective customers that "Wow" moment, as when they see the unique cake that delights their guests.
Keenan is now a small business adviser at the Ohio Small Business Development Centers at Columbus State Community College. Her presentation here was sponsored by the Small Business Development Center of Kent State University at Tuscarawas.
She shared lessons from her consulting work and experience as the owner and operator of her tea room.
Practicality was the underlying theme of many of her observations.
Keenan recalled having to sell the large stand mixer she bought brand-new when she thought her tea room would be able to make its own bread, which was ultimately judged too labor-intensive.
She also recounted having invested in extensive improvements to a rented building. She left behind chandeliers, air conditioning and hardwood floors when she closed the business. She paid for the remodeling upfront because she wanted the quaint, historical setting offered by the 19th Century structure.
"Don't spend a whole ton of money," she told the entrepreneurs. "Start small."
Food trucks are hot, hot, hot, she said. She recommended that food trucks and trailers have short menus posted above the heads of people who might be waiting in line.
"Less is best for a food truck," Keenan said.
Keenan did recommend working with five experts before opening: a lawyer, insurance agent, banker, and accountant and a mentor/adviser. And don't even think about starting without insurance, she said.
She told her audience to keep tabs on revenue and expenses. Food suppliers can offer helpful information about pricing. Local Small Business Development Centers can offer help in finding financing.
Food service accounts for 14 percent of all U.S. Small Business Administration loans, according to Mark Hansel, a staffer at the agency's Cleveland office.
"There's a lot of ways to get money: family, friends and fools," Keenan said. "I had to go to a bank."
Tuscarawas County commissioners approved a $3,000 contribution to the Small Business Development Center on Wednesday.
According to Steve Schillig, director of the SBDC, the $3,000 generates $10,000 in funding from the Small Business Administration. SBDC services include counseling and 30 different workshops.
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