Category: Access to Capital

Brewki’s Barkhaus

Bar plus dogs equals success for Brewski’s Barkhaus

Significant funding from private investors.

https://brewskisbarkhaus.com/

Alex Benbassat and Justin LeGore took an idea for a dog bar, that started when they were roommates at Virginia Tech, and turned it into a reality during a pandemic in October 2020. They succeeded with careful planning, hard work, and help from the Alexandria SBDC.

“We visited a dog bar in Charlotte, North Carolina, while we were at Tech,” Justin explains. “The idea sort of stuck with us.”

Justin, who majored in business management with a concentration in entrepreneurship, and Alex, who holds an architecture degree, connected again after graduation. “I was seeking a business partner,” Justin says. “Alex was working on his thesis for an architecture program, which, incidentally, was for a dog bar. It worked out.”

First and most important was gauging interest for a dog bar business in the Alexandria area. Alex and Justin contacted the Alexandria SBDC for help with planning a festival incorporating people, dogs, breweries, and live music. “One of my professors at Tech had told me about the SBDC,” Justin explains. “We started working with Business Advisor Jack Parker, and he helped us write our business plan and make the necessary connections for the festival — which, in turn, locked in our investors.”

“We organized the Old Town Beer and Dog Festival with 30 vendors,” Justin relates. “It was wildly successful.” With an attendance of 3,000 to 4,000 people and 400 dogs, the two entrepreneurs knew they were on the right track.

With investors onboard, Alex and Justin went to work establishing Brewski’s Barkhaus. Using his architectural skills, Alex put together a floor plan for Barkhaus in a former hamburger restaurant. “We did a facelift and remodeling and added a dog park outside,” Justin explains. “Then we had to apply for a variance to allow dogs inside a restaurant.”

In setting up their new business, Alex and Justin again took advantage of the SBDC’s connections. “The SBDC helped us align our finances in appropriate ways by connecting us with accountants and attorneys,” Justin says. “In a way, Jack was like a father. We knew we could call him at any point if we had questions — and we did that a lot.”

While the pandemic-forced downsizing on many businesses, Barkhaus actually expanded. “We made it through the COVID winter and did well enough in the spring of 2021 to double our outdoor area,” Justin states. “The SBDC was a huge help to us in planning our festival, which is what brought in the investors to get us started. If it hadn’t been for the SBDC connections, I doubt if we could have made it all happen.”

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American Shakespeare Center

The SBDC stages grant success for the American Shakespeare Center

Received a SVOG grant for $1,017,656 with supplemental funding eligibility for $698,590.

https://americanshakespearecenter.com/

The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton has a dual mission: theatre and education. When the COVID pandemic threatened that mission, the ASC turned to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

“We had been in contact with the SBDC off and on over the last 11 years,” ASC Interim Controller Amy Wratchford says. Contact with the SBDC switched from “off and on” to “on” when Congress approved the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) in December 2020. The SVOG included over $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues such as live venue operators, theatrical productions, and museum operators.

Sara Levinson, an SBDC business analyst, reached out to see if she could help. “Sara was very proactive,” Amy reports. “She told us the SBDC partnered with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and asked if we wanted help applying for the SVOG.” The ASCs answered with a resounding, “Yes, please!”

Like the rest of the state, ASC shut down in mid-March 2020. “We had four shows running on stage and three shows on the road,” Amy recalls. “Fortunately, we had volunteer filmmakers, who filmed the shows for us. We were able to give our audiences a little joy with these films at a very low price.”

ASC’s Education Department also leapt into action. “Our education department realized that suddenly every parent was a homeschool parent, so they managed to get workshops up and running virtually,” Amy continues. “The education work we were doing was so successful that we had to pull back some of our staff.”

While the ASC received two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program Loans (PPP) for $421,000 and $359,000 respectively, obtaining the SVOG grant was crucial for continued operation. “When we applied for the SVOG, there was a lot of conflicting and vague information,” Amy relates. “The SBDC helped us navigate the details.”

Subsequently, the ASC received a SVOG for $1,017,656. “We’re also eligible for supplemental funding of $698,590,” Amy adds.

The next step for the ASC was to get in-person productions up and running again. “We were incredibly lucky that Dr. Allison Baroco, head of infectious diseases at our local hospital, is an ASC fan,” Amy relates. “She did a walk-through and helped us figure out how to make productions safe and possible.”

Since reopening, the ASC has held approximately 80 performances. “We’ve had roughly 10,000 people come through,” Amy adds. “We have not had one case of COVID in our staff, acting company, or volunteers.”

Would the ASC consider an encore performance with the SBDC?

“Without a doubt, we would recommend the SBDC,” Amy concluded. “COVID brought us to the SBDC, but now that we know about the services they offer, we’re excited about working with them in the future.”

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Monday’s Child

Monday’s Child continues Old Town success with the SBDC

Received $85,000 in loans and a line of credit, plus a PPP loan and grants for $17,000.

https://mondayschildclassics.com/

Old Town Alexandria, noted for cobblestone streets and a tavern where George Washington once slept, is a place that appreciates old-fashioned, personal service. It follows that Monday’s Child, a children’s clothing store that provides just that, has been successful in Old Town.

Store owner Maura Burchette reports that sales were, in fact, great in March 2020. Before the month was out, the COVID pandemic would change that dynamic.

“We went from full steam ahead to shut down,” Maura says.

Maura purchased the store two years before. With only a month to prepare for an opening date of October 1, 2018, Maura reached out to the Alexandria SBDC. “Jack Parker, a business advisor there, told me to write a business plan and come see him, but I put it off for nine months,” Maura recalls. “After I caught my breath a little, I contacted Jack again.”

Maura found Jack waiting with a checklist. “He told me a business owner wears 12 different hats — and I was wearing about two,” she recalls. “But Jack had a plan to show me the rest.”

The first step was writing a business plan. “Writing the plan was very helpful,” Maura notes. “The SBDC tells you like they see it — Jack would say, ‘your strength isn’t here, but here’s the right person to help you.’ The SBDC connects you to the right people to help your business.” It also helped her obtain $85,000 in loans and a line of credit.

During the pandemic, another big help was information on federal assistance and grants. “The SBDC worked very hard to educate us on all the opportunities,” Maura notes. “With help from the SBDC, we got PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] and grants totaling about $17,000 — help that really made a difference.”

The pandemic, Maura adds, did have silver linings. “COVID pushed us to improve our web site,” she says. “We’re much more efficient now.”

By March 2021, the tide began to turn. “People were ready to shop again,” Maura says. “Right now, I’m on track to do double what the previous owner did in her best year. While other businesses were closing during COVID, we, in fact, expanded.”

Maura decided to lease a small shop next door for a first communion/baptismal gown space. “It’s been a big hit,” Maura says.

The SBDC also falls into the “big hit” category for Maura. “Having the right guidance makes all the difference,” she concludes. “The SBDC’s help is indispensable to me — and, even more amazing, it’s offered for free.”

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My Car Service

Driving forward in a pandemic

$954,000 loan; expanded from five employees to 18

https://www.mycarcorporation.com/

When businesses around the country were scrambling to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Tariq Alam and COO Tahid Alam of My Car Service had other plans.

“The owner of the commercial property for our business was planning to sell, and we knew we needed to buy it,” Tariq says. “We had been building My Car Service for five years, and we didn’t want to see all of our hard work disappear, in case a new owner wanted something different for the property. But in order to buy it, we needed guidance on how to put together a good company portfolio to submit to the lenders and the bank.”

Tariq’s first shot at pitching his company’s ambitious business plan — in the midst of a global pandemic in the spring of 2020, no less — didn’t take off. The bank and lenders didn’t bite, but Tariq and Tahid were undeterred. As longtime entrepreneurs and business partners — and brothers — they were confident in what they had built. They simply needed somebody to help them craft a pitch that would get others just as excited as they were.

Through the US Small Business Administration (SBA), they connected with the University of Mary Washington SBDC in Fredericksburg, and received the push they needed from Center Director Susan Ball and her team.

“We reached out to three different places, but the SBDC, especially Susan and the team she works with, showed us the path forward,” Tariq explains. “They helped me put together a business plan and an effective way to present it to the lenders. Right away, the reaction was very different. [The lenders] were wowed with the plan and our mission, and they really believed in us,” Tariq continues.

Tariq says that this shift made a critical difference for their business. “The funds became available, and we were able to purchase the property along with a construction loan and equipment loans. That has really helped propel us into the future,” Tariq explains.

The revamped proposal netted My Car Service a $954,000 loan that included not only funds to purchase the property, but also loans to expand their business. They have since added an eight-bay car-service center and grown their workforce from five employees to 18. “Our business grew about 300%,” Tariq says. “It helped us create a full-service dealership, as opposed to just reselling cars.”

Now, thanks to their own market awareness and preparation heading into the pandemic — and an assist from the SBDC — Tariq and Tahid have been able to make headway on the next phase of My Car Service’s expansion, which will include a franchise.

“One thing that was great to see was how much the SBA and the SBDC care about small businesses and how much they support them,” Tahid says. “Their level of concern is awesome. They’re advocates. I can’t thank the SBA and the SBDC enough. They’re making our dreams come true.”

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Virginia Aquarium

A lifeline to grant funding for the Virginia Aquarium

Received a $4.5 million Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG). 

https://www.virginiaaquarium.com/Pages/default.aspx

Since 1986, the Virginia Aquarium has offered a uniquely personal view of the marine environment. In 2020, when COVID challenged the aquarium’s mission, Director Cynthia Spanoulis wisely turned to the Hampton Roads SBDC for help.

Cynthia, who holds a master’s degree in public administration, started her career in economic development. It was her work for the Department of Economic Development that led her to the SBDC. “That’s where I met Jim Carroll, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC,” Cynthia relates.

When the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant for entertainment, museum, and theater venues was announced, Cynthia called the SBDC. “We’re a government entity and that made the process of applying more complicated,” she relates. “For example, they asked for a tax return, but the city of Virginia Beach doesn’t have one. Another challenge was to document payroll. What documents could I print from the city’s payroll system? I had a whole list of questions.”

The SBDC provided clarification on all of those questions. “Jim helped me with the nuances in language in the grant application,” Cynthia says. “We lost significant revenue due to COVID, so the SBDC’s help in applying for that grant was especially valuable.”

The aquarium received a grant for $4.5 million in July 2021, which presented an accounting problem. “July was the start of a new fiscal year, and I had to figure out which expenses to report in which fiscal year,” Cynthia adds. “Jim walked me through the accounting with that as well.”

Cynthia views the SBDC as the lifeline that connected the aquarium with much-needed grant funding to continue operations and implement COVID-related changes. “COVID did have a few shining lights,” Cynthia says. “With COVID, our educational programs all went virtual, so now we’re able to get programs into more school systems across the state. That’s always been a goal of mine.”

With the end of the pandemic not yet in sight, the aquarium plans to maintain its relationship with the SBDC. “I recently found out about another federal grant for entities that provide STEM education,” Cynthia says. “I plan to reach out to the SBDC about that as well.”

Cynthia enthusiastically recommends the SBDC. “If SBDC doesn’t have the information you’re looking for, they’ll find someone who does,” she concludes. “Whether you’re starting a new business or applying for a grant, SBDC’s advice and one-on-one assistance is invaluable.”

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L’Auberge Provençale

Clark County inn survives the pandemic

Secured $231,000 in grants and other income.

Forty years ago, Alain and Celeste Borel used ingenuity and hard work to convert a “broken down Virginia farmhouse” into a first-class French country inn. That ingenuity, along with support from the Lord Fairfax SBDC, helped the Clark County innkeepers survive a pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit, our inn shut down like everybody else,” Celeste says. About that time, Celeste received a call from Lord Fairfax SBDC Center Director Christine Kriz. “The SBDC had grant money to help small businesses with marketing and advertising,” Celeste recalls. “Christine contacted me to see if she could help. We accepted her offer and worked with the SBDC on several marketing projects.” The marketing strategy included a video and flyers. “We used flyers to get the word out,” Celeste explains. “Yes, we’re open, and we’re COVID safe!”

The innkeepers literally turned the tables to reassure guests. “We put tables from the restaurant in guest rooms so people would feel safe while enjoying our amenities,” Celeste relates. “We also put tables in the grass, on the terrace, and on the porch. We changed up the way we did things to make people feel comfortable.”

Pandemic challenges, Celeste notes, were reminiscent of the obstacles the couple faced 40 years ago, when they purchased what was then known as Mt. Airy. “There were ‘groundhog condominiums’ all over the place when we bought it,” she says, referring to the vast underground networks the vermin had created over the years. “Basically, the whole property was in need of loving care.” Undeterred by the many renovation challenges, the couple transformed Mt. Airy into an intimate, 11-room inn with dining space, featuring three- and five-course meals. The result was, as one reviewer described it, “a true French countryside experience right here in America.”

The many challenges and final success of Mt. Airy helped remind Alain and Celeste that all was not lost. Yet, closing the inn because of the pandemic was still difficult for them. Fortunately, that shutdown was short-lived. “We closed in March, but by June we were doing very well,” Celeste says. “Advertising a COVID-safe experience in the country brought guests back. We’re very appreciative of the SBDC’s help.”

In addition to marketing assistance, the SBDC offered tutorials on applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other government assistance. “The SBDC kept us informed on how to weave our way through all the US Small Business Administration requirements,” Celeste notes.

Celeste continues to value her SBDC connections. “The SBDC knows people, and if you need a project done, they will connect you,” she says. “I think that’s very valuable.”

That value was apparent in the inn’s year-end financial report. “By the end of the COVID year in 2020, we recovered more than we made the previous year,” Celeste concludes. “The SBDC definitely helped make that happen.”

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Fredericksburg Food Co-op

Food for all: Community food co-op finds funding

Obtained $4.3 in million in loans — $1.4 million from an SBA 7(a) loan and the remainder from the community.

https://fredericksburgfood.coop/

When you ask Rich LaRochelle, a founding member of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op, to explain what lies at the heart of the 10,000-square-foot food market located in the center of Fredericksburg, his answer is simple: the community.

“We are not a chain,” Rich explains. “We are owned by people. A co-op is a business with a social purpose,” he continues. “Because we are a consumer-owned co-op, our members have a say in everything we do, including what we sell.”

When the Fredericksburg Food Co-op opened its doors, it had been a vision a long time in the making. One of the key players in that vision was Rich, an adjunct professor of Cooperative Business at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). He knew right away that making the food co-op a reality would be a collaborative effort.

Rich and other key stakeholders sought the insight and guidance of the UMW SBDC team to judge market readiness for a local food co-op and grocery store. Rich partnered with consultant Susan Ball to craft and perfect a business plan for the budding idea. “Susan was always very responsive,” Rich says. “She provided a template for us to use as well as training on our business plan and market data, particularly on the grocery industry in our area.”

This business plan was key to helping the co-op secure a $1.4 million SBA 7(a) loan, putting their dreams of a community-based food exchange well within reach.

The rest of the $4.3 million were raised by two incredible loan campaigns within the community itself.  “I think the amount raised from the community shows the commitment to the co-op, and we are grateful for that,” Rich says.

Since opening its doors, the Fredericksburg Food Co-op has enjoyed strong support from members and non-members, and seeks to purchase as much of its inventory from local producers as possible. The co-op also boasts an atmosphere that creates “a gathering place for people and ideas to come together,” as Rich describes it.

While the co-op continues to gain new members each day, Rich is grateful that they still have the resources of the UMW SBDC at their side. “We value the partnership with the SBDC for our business planning and development. Susan is definitely someone we would still use as a resource today.”

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Captain Groovy’s Grill & Raw Bar

Staying afloat during the pandemic

Secured over $1 million in COVID-related SBA loans and grants

Home

Less than a mile from the harbor, Captain Groovy’s Grill & Raw Bar has been serving fresh, local seafood to residents and tourists in the Norfolk area since 2007. Captain Groovy’s is named after Owner Sandy White’s late first husband, who passed away in 2000. Sandy is the majority owner while her husband David Watts, a trained chef, runs the kitchen.

Boasting a menu that Sandy says appeals to everyone — with burgers, sandwiches, specialty cocktails, and a rotating “blackboard” menu in addition to all manner of maritime munchies — Captain Groovy’s has enjoyed a consistent run of success since its first year of opening. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, not even Captain Groovy’s was spared its effects.

“We shut the restaurant down,” Sandy says. “We laid everybody off. We had to figure it out.”

Compounding those unforeseen financial hardships was what Sandy classifies as an uncharacteristically slow 2019 that dug into the restaurant’s “rainy day” account. With their reserves depleted and business grounded for the foreseeable future, Sandy turned to the Hampton Roads SBDC for guidance, both financial and operational.

“We put a lot of effort into [our recovery],” Sandy says. “I took every webinar that [the SBDC] and our local SCORE group put out there — anything I could find that I thought would help. I signed up for everything so I could learn how to do it and do it correctly.”

Over the next few weeks, Sandy and David leaned on guidance provided by SBDC consultants like Mike Austin to plot a course that would keep Captain Groovy’s afloat. To keep customers coming in the door, the restaurant operated on a to-go basis and also established a general store, selling local fare and gifts. They received more than $1 million in COVID-related loans and grants, the majority of which went to rehiring employees.

“I honestly don’t know if we would still be here if not for the [Paycheck Protection Program] loans and the help we got,” Sandy adds.

Now with mask and social distancing mandates lifted in the Commonwealth, Captain Groovy’s is operating at near full capacity five days a week and serving plenty of chatty locals and tourists.

“Customers are coming out. They want to be out,” Sandy says. “The big topic of conversation is their shots — I got mine, did you get yours, how did you react? We’re doing well. We’re proceeding cautiously, but we’re doing well.”

And while Captain Groovy’s may not be full steam ahead quite yet, Sandy says she is happy to put the worst of the pandemic in her wake.

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SPARC Research

Aerospace firm takes off with the SBDC’s help

SPARC received a $5.5 million SBA and bank loan.

https://sparcresearch.com/

When the company Dr. Patrick Hewitt worked for relocated outside of Virginia, Patrick didn’t want to leave the “for lovers” Commonwealth. He decided to stay behind and start his own business, and SPARC Research, formed in 2017, was the result.

Four years later, Patrick’s aerospace engineering firm is literally taking off in Fauquier County. “We’re excited to have a leader in advanced missile and rocket propulsion development like SPARC Research in our commonwealth,” Governor Ralph Northam commented in a May 2021 press release.

It’s obvious that Patrick knows the rocket propulsion business well. “I had the advantage of being involved in the industry for 34 years at my previous company,” he notes.

SPARC Research started operations in 2018 in a leased office in Warrenton. “We outgrew that office last year,” Patrick says. Currently, SPARC Research is operating in a temporary location, awaiting the construction of a 20,000-square-foot office and manufacturing facility in Fauquier County. “We’re designing 10,000 square feet as an open manufacturing space,” Patrick explains. “The other half of the building, with 50 offices, will be engineering.”

Securing a $5.5 million loan from the US Small Business Administration and The Fauquier Bank for the project was also a major undertaking. That’s when Patrick turned to the Lord Fairfax SBDC for assistance.

“I had drafted a business plan, but I’m an engineer,” he says. “The plan I put together was not something a banker would appreciate. Cort Maddox, business advisor at the Loudoun SBDC, helped put it together in a more accounting-type form,” Patrick adds.

Once the business loan was secured, the SBDC advised Patrick on advantageous ways to work with state and county agencies. “The county offers incentives for permits and fees,” Patrick continues. “The SBDC helped us maximize those incentives. Christine Kriz, Center Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC, was the consistent thread in this.”

Patrick continues to appreciate the assistance received from the SBDC. “The SBDC helped us make sure we had everything in place when we approached the SBA for our loan,” he says. “The SBDC also provided advice on how to work with state and local governments to get our project off the ground and make it successful,” says Patrick.

Patrick is already looking to the future. “We have a strong intern program in place,” Patrick says. “What I see for the future is mentoring — bringing up the next generation in propulsion.” Also, in that future, Patrick sees the SBDC.

“I have a good grasp of my own industry but welcome help on the business side,” Patrick admits. “The SBDC has been extremely responsive — I would absolutely recommend them.”

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Riverbound Trout Farms

Riverbound Trout Farms has hooked success

Received a $500,000 line of credit and a $69,000 grant.

www.riverboundtroutfarms.com

Jake Musick likes to compare running a successful business to fishing. The owner of Riverbound Trout Farms in Lebanon understands that both knowledge and experience are needed for success. “I’ve been in the fish-growing industry for quite a few years now,” Jake says.

Jake wanted to bring more local farmers into the aquaculture industry. His plan was to build and operate a fish processing facility in Russell County. He called on Margie Douglass, director of the Southwest Virginia SBDC, to help him apply for a $500,000 loan from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). “I needed an in-depth business plan,” he explains. “The SBDC gave me pointers on how to write one, and Margie helped me put the finished product together.”

The SBDC also connected Jake with the research department at George Mason University (GMU). “They did a marketing survey that I was able to include in my business plan,” he adds. “That was very helpful.”

The SBDC’s knowledge and experience produced results. “With the SBDC’s help, I was approved for a line of credit for $500,000 for the processing plant and to expand the current farm,” Jake says happily. “We’ve purchased property but postponed construction for now due to the spiraling cost of building materials.” Additionally, during the pandemic, Jake received a $69,000 grant through the Farm Service Industry. “It didn’t cover losses, but it sure did help,” he recalls.

Despite COVID, Jake continues to be optimistic about the fish processing project, as well as the future of aquaculture. “Our goal is to offer inspiration for young people to take a look at aquaculture as a viable occupation,” he says. “The big push is to bring as many other growers into the process as we can.”

Jake actively promotes the SBDC to other farmers in the area, happy to share what he’s learned. “I’ve been talking to a lot of farmers about the SBDC,” he says. “I tell them to go and benefit from what’s there. Over the last several years, our business at Riverbound Trout Farms has grown considerably,” he concludes. “Our involvement with the SBDC helped facilitate that growth.”

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