The food and restaurant business can be a rewarding venture but getting the right financing and willing to undergo adversity are the keys to success, a group of entrepreneurs said on Sept. 18.
Ivan Miller, founder of The Orange Cow, Furard Tate, owner of the Inspire Hospitality Group and co-founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week, Angela Chester-Johnson, owner of Plum Good LLC, and Philip Sambol, executive director of Oasis Community Partners, served as panelists for “Food For Thought,” sponsored by the D.C. Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
The event took place at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center in Ward 8 and its audience consisted of people who wanted to open food business east of the Anacostia River.
Dionne Bussey-Reeder, who owned the Cheers at the Big Chair in Anacostia until March because the landlord didn’t renew the lease, served as the moderator and offered her own advice on operating a food establishment.
“When I owned Cheers, I did the branding of it well but I did not implement the five ‘Ps’ of business,” Bussey-Reeder said. “Those ‘Ps’ are prior planning prevents poor performance. We had great ideas with good intentions but sometimes in business that’s not enough. The restaurant business is hard and it requires having the right labor force and financing.”
Tate said he got into food service “so I can feed my community.”
“I love making money but I also love making an impact in my community,” he said.
Tate said it takes a $1 million investment to open a restaurant in the District.
“And that is before looking at infrastructure, the furniture and the lights,” he said. “When it comes to financing, I say use other people’s money and look into the programs that the District government offers. Plus, don’t be afraid to look at sharing resources with others.”
Miller’s The Orange Cow consists of a food truck, catering business and a stand at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Congress Heights that serves ice cream and frozen treats. He said when he started his business, he did have a plan but it didn’t exist on paper totally.
“I just went for it — ready, set and fire,” he said. “I have been in the business for 11 years and I am still fighting.”
Despite the hurdles, Miller said “entrepreneurship is the most rewarding and the hardest thing you will ever do.”
Chester-Johnson said her business evolved from offering spices at farmer’s markets to selling food.
“It is good to have the spices whether they are herbs and teas but I found out later that in order to make money, you have to feed people,” she said. “When I discovered that, I decided to get into catering.”
Sambol’s organization has ties to Good Food Markets, a small grocer that will open in Ward 8 in the coming months. Sambol said future entrepreneurs should have knowledge of the pricing of their product.
“It is important to know what you are charging your customer,” he said. “The price of a product can influence how much profit that you have to operate your business.”
The event had an earlier panel that explained to the attendees how best to interact with the various government agencies in order to get their businesses started.
Dr. Ernest Chrappah, director of the DCRA, expressed satisfaction with the event.
“We are trying to get information out to the community,” Chrappah said. “I was pleased with the turnout and we will be doing more of these in the city.”