Photo credit: Keith Claytor of TimeFrozen Photography
Tori Brown admits that it takes a lot of time, hard work, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking to get a business off the ground; and that’s before you get to the stage of growth that her business, Breakfast Belle, is experiencing. She also says that getting the right funding is essential. “At a certain point, you realize that you can’t grow without it,” she says. Here’s how a Connecticut Small Business Boost loan is helping her reach her goals.
A passion for cooking becomes a successful side business
Shef Brown’s love of cooking comes from years spent in her family’s kitchen, learning from her late grandmother (Sarah Jefferson-Brown) and mother in their hometown of Santee, SC. And, yes, the spelling of “Shef” is intentional, highlighting “SHE” to represent women in the food industry.
Years later, she wanted to bring Southern cooking to her home base in Connecticut.
Her friends and family encouraged her and a partner to bring their cooking to a wider audience, but with a full-time job and motherhood, Shef Brown didn’t want the financial and management responsibilities that come with owning a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Instead, they made a proposal to a restaurant owner to let them share the space. She agreed, and Breakfast Belles began serving breakfasts and lunches several days a week.
When her business partner moved on, Shef Brown experienced her first major business pivot, focusing on catering and building a clientele that included Fortune 500® companies and Yale University. She says, “It was then that the business went from Breakfast Belles to Breakfast Belle.”
Finding new opportunities
Shef Brown credits her mentors and Teresa Dozier, the owner of the restaurant that she had shared early on,for helping her envision what the business could be.
“She encouraged me to sell my specialty hot sauce and fish-fry coating because she saw firsthand how much people loved them,” Shef Brown explains. “I sold my first bottle of hot sauce in 2018.”
Then, the pandemic hit. With local restaurants closed for several months and catering clients working from home, Shef Brown decided on another game-changing pivot.
“I met with my advisors, Terri and Anne, at the Women’s Business Development Council,” Shef Brown explains. “Because of the pandemic, people were eating at home and my mentors helped me see that because I already had packaged products that people loved, I could create a sustainable line of business if I pivoted my energy and resources to building through online cooking classes and ecommerce.”
Leveraging social media for rapid growth
Her mentors’ advice meshed with her love of cooking and sharing experiences with others and the next phase of Breakfast Belle’s growth took off. Shef Brown focused on growing online sales, especially her best-sellers, Breakfast Belle Hot Sauce and Bamma Fish Fry coating mix.
“I marketed heavily through social media, using Instagram and Facebook to present cooking videos and contacting about 160 influencers. Several of them posted videos using Breakfast Belle Hot Sauce and Bamma Fish Fry and that’s when things really took off,” she explains. “Revenue for product sales increased by 800% between 2020 and 2021 and we’re still experiencing strong growth.”
The challenge now is scaling up the business, which was also a key motivation for securing a small business loan.
Learning that it takes money to grow
“Right now, it’s just me and another employee, both wearing a lot of hats. To grow, I need employees, we need more space and I need to contract with a copacker who can scale up production, so that my products can be sold in grocery stores and specialty shops. And that takes money,” Shef Brown admits.
She learned about the CT Boost program, and then Pursuit, from Christine Sullivan at reSET and applied for a loan. “The reSET program helped me get my business plan and financials updated, but even though I was prepared and the application process wasn’t difficult, I had this fear going into the process that it would be daunting,” Shef Brown explains.
She didn’t need to be worried, though: Pursuit understood the potential for her business and Shef Brown was quickly approved for the program. She received funds in hand in mid-October 2022.
“Working with Pursuit has been a terrific experience – the application was straightforward. Getting approved with great terms is now my reality,” she says. “And because of the program, I’ll have access to experts who can help me learn more about financial management, marketing and more, which I look forward to.”
Pursuit is here to support small business success
“We’re taught that it’s not smart to borrow money and that we have to bootstrap our businesses, but that’s a stigma that really needs to be dissolved because, at a certain point, you simply can’t grow without help. Do your research and you begin to see that the right loan will propel you forward: With a solid plan and great terms, you know you can pay it back,” Shef Brown says.
With more than 15 loan options for small businesses in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Pursuit helps entrepreneurs like you get the funding you need to grow and thrive. Contact us today to learn how we can help you find the funding that fits your needs.