Corner Kitchen Realizes Small Town Dream

CK

Laurie Allen always said she’d marry a chef. Four years ago she did and in the process realized another dream when she and husband Sam opened their own restaurant in Blackstone.

“Sam grew up in Blackstone, and I’m from Vermont,” she says. “We’ve been in the restaurant business for years, but Sam’s dream was to have his own restaurant.”

Trained in French cuisine, Sam acquired his culinary skills at the New England Culinary Institute. “We were co-owners of a restaurant in Chapel Hill with two other gentlemen when we heard about the Blackstone restaurant for sale,” Allen says. The Allens decided to buy it for two reasons—to be near family and to own their own business. “We’d lived in cities for 15 years, so it’s really nice to be in a small town,” Allen adds. “We love it!”

Allen admits that making the change from an urban to a small-town business model did take some adjustments. “Blackstone and Chapel Hill are very different places,” she says.

The first step was to rename some of their menu choices. “It was a challenge at first to try new things here,” she says with a smile. “A classic French name can be hard for the servers to pronounce, so a lot of times we just change the names on the menu. If it sounds too ‘hoity-toity,’ nobody wants it. We didn’t want that kind of feeling.”

To help the couple get off to a good start, Sam’s mother recommended a visit with the Longwood SBDC in South Boston. “We ended up chatting with SBDC Business Analyst Gary Shanaberger, who gave us a lot of information,” Allen says. “The business part of a company is something a lot of people don’t know. The SBDC’s program was a huge help to us.”

Shanaberger helped the new business owners develop their business plan. “That’s the most difficult part,” Allen says. Although the Allens did not take out a loan, the business plan the SBDC helped them create still proved helpful. “It showed us what we needed to look for as far as numbers go and what we were projecting,” she says.

The Corner Kitchen, which has eight to ten employees, has seen a significant increase in business since opening in June 2015, especially on Saturday nights. “This year we had a steady stream of customers during the Christmas parade and a packed house after,” Allen says. “Last year, not so much.”

The Allens credit their success to experience and the assistance provided by the SBDC. “Opening your own restaurant can be a scary prospect; to have help from the SBDC was amazing,” Allen concludes. “We’ve been welcomed by the community— that’s very exciting for us.”

Virginia SBDC