In 2015, Dominique Shields was a full-time kindergarten teacher when she tried her hand at a summertime side hustle selling home-cooked foods — a gig that quickly evolved into a year-round side business as a caterer. Before long, she needed more space to grow and today, Pretty Girls Cook is a destination for people who love homestyle cooking with the extra-special touches that are hallmarks of Dominique’s style.
Learn about Dominique’s experiences and how Pursuit helped her secure an SBA Microloan to leverage opportunities to grow, despite the pandemic’s challenges.
A catering side hustle becomes a full-fledged restaurant business
Dominique needed a larger commercial kitchen to fill orders as demand for her catered foods grew and in 2017, she secured a restaurant space. With that, she also decided to dedicate herself full-time to Pretty Girls Cook as the sole owner and head chef for her business.
Even still, she says, “I really only imagined that my friends and family would come here to hang out while I prepped for catering clients. I didn’t imagine the space turning into a full-fledged restaurant. Word about Pretty Girls Cook just kept spreading, though, and it did so much better than I expected. Soon, I had a menu and a staff, and it was real!”
Dominique describes Pretty Girls Cook as, “A place with a great vibe. It’s very women-empowered, from the ownership through the interior theme and when I develop dishes, I always think about what my friends would love to eat. But that doesn’t mean it’s just for women – it’s just infused with that positive energy. It’s casual, the music’s great and, of course, we aim to serve food that people love. We make a lot of standard favorites, but we give them our own special twist, like our salmon with confetti rice, our Island Gal burger, and lobster loaded fries.”
Challenges and silver linings, including an SBA Microloan
Pretty Girls Cook started as a predominantly dine-in restaurant. A pivot during the pandemic meant a shift to predominantly takeout, which it remains even with limited seating available, and to be sure, her customers leave happy, not hungry.
To meet demand and leverage takeout opportunities, Dominique needed to upgrade her technology, purchase new equipment and outfit Pretty Girls Cook to be compliant with pandemic-related requirements for restaurant businesses. She turned to Pursuit for an SBA Microloan of $10,000 to meet her goals. This was her first experience seeking funding for her business.
“I learned about Pursuit from a friend, Marcus [Knuckles], who works in finance and has introduced a lot of local small business owners to Pursuit. I checked it out and it was great,” says Dominique. “The application was easy and what really impressed me is that our loan officer from Pursuit came here a couple of times, had dinner and lunch with us, and got to know me and understand my business and my vision. I really appreciated that. And just about three days after I was approved, we had the funds we needed to move forward.”
She received her funding in spring 2021 and it’s already having a big impact. “We upgraded our online ordering system, which was huge because getting food to go is a really important option for our customers. The big difference is that this also made it easy to integrate a lot of food-delivery apps,” she explains.
Along with obtaining an SBA Microloan, Pursuit offered additional services to help Dominique manage and grow her business. “Through Pursuit, we have the opportunity to get help with marketing and website development, which I plan to take advantage of as soon as we get a little further through the pandemic-related challenges,” she says. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Instead, I’m aiming for slow and steady growth so that we always provide an experience that exceeds people’s expectations.”
Looking ahead, planning for growth
Dominique says that down the line, she’d like to add a second location but for now, she’s just looking to get things fully back in place where she is, including rehiring staff. “We were excited to get back to business as soon as we could reopen and today, the biggest challenge is staffing. We had about 17 people on before the pandemic and now we’re at about eight. We’re hiring, we’re always looking for people, but they’re just not coming back yet,” she explains.
Still, she says, there are lessons that she’s learned that have helped her, too. One example she cites is a change in the restaurant’s hours. “At first it was because there was a curfew in place but since that was lifted, we’ve come to realize that we don’t need to be open as late. We’re still working really hard, but this change alone has made it a little easier.”
Pursuit can help you, too
Whether your small business is just getting off the ground, coming through the pandemic, or ready to expand, we have loan options that can help you, too. Contact us today and learn more.