Restaurateur Constantine Stavropoulos would be a good candidate to be the poster boy of SBA. Before starting Tryst in Adams Morgan in 1998, he did his homework at the small business development center at SBA’s old headquarters on Vermont Avenue. There he picked out materials on entrepreneurship, financing and how to write a business plan. Using a 7(a) loan he opened a coffeehouse/bar/lounge/restaurant. The business was so successfully, he launched The Diner (24/7 diner/bar) in Adams Morgan in 2001, Open City in 2005, Tryst at The Phillips in the spring of 2012 and The Coupe in the fall. For his latest venture, he made sure that his SBA loans included the air rights to the ground floor space in the building that houses his restaurant. The Coupe in Columbia Heights is open 'round the clock, every day.
“I am the No. 1 fan of the SBA 504 loan, which provides financing for major fixed assets such as equipment or real estate," he said. “I didn’t have to tie my personal assets to this loan.” In addition, he got a 7(a) loan for additional inventory and equipment.
“People love great food and adore coffee," he explained. "My goal is to be the best coffeehouse. Starbucks may have introduced people to the terms espressos and cappuccinos but we show them what they should really taste like."
"I would like to educate people about coffee and encourage others to open their own coffeehouses. The market for people who appreciated good coffee was small 15 years ago. As more people become coffee connoisseurs, the better the local coffee gets,” he said. The coffee, often made by award-winning baristas, is served with signature animal crackers.
Each of his restaurants has a unique name corresponding to the location. "The Coupe is a fun coffeehouse, bar and restaurant," he said. “It’s a play on words. For example, a chicken coop is something that holds everyone together. Coupe is also the name of the flat champagne glass and a French dessert plate. The Coupe is that third place where people can come relax and enjoy the place. You can use it as your own space to meet others or be by yourself. When we opened Tryst, people poured in. The Internet changed everyone’s working patterns and stretched the day to 24/7.”
What’s next for him? He employs more than 400 workers at his restaurants but is always looking for good workers. Because he can’t find the skilled labor he needs for his restaurants, he’s thinking of creating a training school to teach workers how to be line cooks and servers.
The Coupe’s Executive Chef Rob Theriot and restaurant owner Constantine Stavropoulos at the Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C., restaurant.
SunTrust Bank's Deric Mims helped structure the loan for True Communications. True Comm President Stephen Libonate accepts the big check from Mims and SBA's Antonio Doss, District Director (Acting).
True Communications, a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), recently received a $4.288 million dollar SBA loan from SunTrust Bank. Based in Dulles, Va., the firm's customers include Verizon, AT&T, Veterans Affairs, the IRS, and the FAA. True Comm is a certified partner with Cisco, NEC, Hewlett Packard, Sprint and T-Mobile. The company is an integrator of leading edge IP based Voice, Video and Data technologies specializing in the design and delivery of both wired and wireless technologies including Voice over Internet Protocol, Wireless Data delivery, Tele-Medicine and Energy Automation.
With a desire to hire about 180 new employees and to buy equipment, True Communications needed working capital to facilitate company growth. They considered a conventional $1 million Line of Credit to replace the current factoring resource. Although the company had a competent and experienced management team and strong cash flow, because they lacked sufficient collateral, they had a hard time getting the capital they needed. True Comm saw the SBA solution as an attractive alternative to the Private Equity Market. SunTrust provided $3.5 million in permanent working capital plus another half million to pay off two notes from a private equity source. At the check presentation, Stephen Libonate the President of True Communications Inc., said “The financial resource provided with this working capital allows True Comm to compete and expand in the ever growing technology market place.” SunTrust's Adam Winder, Commercial Relationship Manager assisted with the loan, which was structured with a 9-month interest-only period to allow the company to draw down funds as needed. Once the interest-only period expires the outstanding balance will be repaid over 7 years. This structure would not have been possible in a conventional loan. The fact that the majority of the collateral is outside of the SunTrust footprint added to the challenges. All said, the SBA loan will enable the company to reach the growth goals it has set for itself while creating much needed jobs.
Ethel Taylor didn’t own a dog before she started the Doggie Washerette. “God gave me the vision to figure this all out,” Taylor said of her first stab at small business.
In the early spring of 2011 with the fully completed vision in her mind, Taylor got help from the DC Women’s Business Center, which is funded through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. At the Center, she navigated the startup path, learned to “trim the fat” from her business plan, and prepared solidly for her opening day through projections and strategic planning. Despite being a first-time entrepreneur during a recession, Taylor finished the 7-week course in August of 2011 and opened her business that same month.
“My experience with the DC Women’s Business Center has been extraordinary,” she said. “The support has been outstanding. The information has been enlightening. The encouragement has been far beyond anything I could have imagined, especially with the presence of the members who attended the grand opening of the business. The staff of the DCWBC has truly embraced the vision of the Center, and exemplified as much by their personal commitment in helping me walk through a very challenging process to attain my goals. The hands-on support has made a tremendous difference in my getting to this point.”
“I will be forever grateful to my Councilmember Muriel Bowser for introducing me the DCWBC,” said Taylor. The shop is located on Georgia Avenue in the northwest quadrant of Washington, DC, bordering Silver Spring, MD. Though she didn’t need outside financing due to her frugal saving, she recognized that her business would run smoother if she prepared accurate cash flow projections.
The Doggie Washerette features two self-serve dog wash machines, which Taylor said cost about $18,000 each. They have various settings for different size dogs, and a dryer that Taylor said simulates hanging one’s head out the window—a favorite pastime of most dog breeds. Customers have full use of the facility that includes grooming tables, clippers, cologne, and a single wash with shampoo and conditioner all for $20.
Her marketing efforts enabled her to attract a large crowd for her grand opening. People could now see how she visualized her business―a bright and clean space where pet owners could bathe and groom their dogs. Her pricing schedule ensures that even on slow days that her variable costs are covered, so her next challenge is more marketing, and she’s moving along quickly with a Facebook page where customers can post comments.
She has been featured in many local newspapers, and is receiving 95 percent positive feedback from her social media outlets. She is also forming partnerships with other entrepreneurs in her field, such as Tabitha’s Pet Taxi, a DC van service that is animal-friendly, and MamiBears Pet Care.
As the business grows and changes, so has Taylor. She now has her grooming license and is available to give your pet a haircut. Taylor credits her success so far to the DC Women’s Business Center and SBA. “Even after opening the business, they have remained available to assist me,” she said.