There are many trite but true expressions about dealing with adverse situations—“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” “A diamond was once a lump of coal that was put under pressure,” and “Necessity is the mother of invention,” are a few that spring to mind. Many famous people have quotes on adversity—you can find web sites devoted to these quotes. Gloria Carter-Hicks of Hicks-Carter-Hicks, LLC, (H-C-H) exemplifies the best of these expressions. Driven, passionate, dedicated, and honorable could all be used to describe the owner, CEO, and president of this management consulting firm. She started her own business in 1999 when the company for which she was working transferred her job function to Chicago. St. Louis was home and she wanted to stay so she made her lemonade from that lemon. At that point, she had 16 years of experience in business—sales, operations, and human resources experience in retail, food service, financial services, and she even worked in city government. Carter-Hicks grew up with parents who owned a small grocery store, so she learned how to be a small business owner from them. If Carter-Hicks doesn’t know an industry or job herself, she knows someone who does.
While her firm offers services in training, management consulting, executive coaching, and surveying employees, she has a special affinity and love for diversity management and inclusion training. In her “free time” she serves on the Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee and board of the St. Louis Minority Supplier Development Council, is on the St. Louis Workforce Development Board, and does volunteer work coaching minority and women-owned small business enterprises. As a female, minority, small business owner, she understands how perceptions can hurt or help a business. She coaches business owners on overcoming negative perceptions—especially those relating to small businesses or minority businesses. For example, some feel small businesses would not have the resources to complete a contract or job, and are hesitant to award contract business. She shows business owners how to capitalize on strategic partnerships and the multiplicative force of these partnerships. Hicks-Carter-Hicks is currently licensed to work in Missouri, Ohio and Maryland, with a long-term goal of opening an office in Maryland.
Carter-Hicks feels diversity is good for businesses and knowing how to work with diverse employees and clients will benefit business bottom lines. We live in a diverse society and we all bring different experiences and viewpoints which can enhance business profitability. Diverse work forces can create a synergy which engenders ideas and solutions that might not otherwise be forthcoming. She feels the opportunity for fairness and to be included is crucial and that businesses should “appreciate, respect, leverage, and value diversity.”
Customer service is H-C-H’s greatest strength according to Carter-Hicks. She will “do the unimaginable to make customers happy” and her goal is “customer satisfaction as opposed to customer service.” She works extremely long hours including the occasional all-nighter, but she doesn’t feel like it’s work. She loves her business, loves her clients, and loves what she does. She also inherited a strong work ethic from her parents so she expects to work for what she wants.
While Carter-Hicks advises other companies she’s also had help along the way. She knew many of the business basics—she understood numbers, politics, and the game of business and had learned about costing, markets, profits, overhead, sales per square foot, and other concepts those new to business might not know, she also knew there were areas where she needed help. As a small business owner, you need more than passion and a dream. You need to be able to pay yourself and others. You need to be able to pay your bills. You need to follow all applicable laws and regulations. She attended SCORE start-up classes prior to opening her business. She attended SBA’s Owner/Manager Boot Camp in 2005. She is State of Missouri certified as a Woman Business Owner and is currently in SBA’s 8(a) government contracting program. (She still uses the basic model of a business plan that she received in the 8(a) program.) She attended the e200 Emerging Leaders program in 2011, which she found especially invaluable for the connections she formed with other small business owners in the area. She also took out an SBAExpress Loan in 2004 for $44,000 which has since been paid in full. She feels it is “more important to work on your business than to work in your business.” This is a principle many new to small business ownership may lose sight of or never grasp without guidance. Working smart is more important than working hard—especially if working hard takes you in the wrong direction.
This strategy works for Carter-Hicks. She and her firm have been profiled in St. Louis Small Business Monthly and the St. Louis American. She has clients who write rave reviews—clients like the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Greater Cincinnati Water Works, MOHELA, Westfield Insurance and others. She has also received numerous awards. Most importantly, she continues to garner new clients—many by referral. Her emphasis on customer service insures she tailors her services to client needs, which ultimately is more cost effective. She can customize surveys, focus groups, training, coaching, and consulting services. This saves money and employee time. She can even help a client turn those challenges that they encounter into genuine opportunities. So not only does Carter-Hicks embody those trite but true expressions about turning adversities into advantages, she helps her clients do exactly that, too.
H-C-H is located at Two CityPlace Drive, Suite 200, St. Louis, MO, 63141, and can be contacted at http://www.h-c-h.com/ or 314-260-7587. SBA’s St. Louis District Office is located at 1222 Spruce Street, Suite 10.103, St. Louis, MO, 63103, and more information can be obtained at www.sba.gov/mo/stlouis or by calling 314-539-6600. SCORE can be reached by contacting your local SBA office or at http://www.score.org/.
How on earth does a classically trained pianist from South Korea become a world class chef in Columbia, Missouri? Jina Yoo’s story is as interesting as her food. As a child, Jina showed incredible talent as a musician. From the age of six, her career path was laid out for her, and it had nothing to do with cooking—she wasn’t even allowed in the kitchen for fear she would cut or burn her fingers and reduce her practice time. At the age of six Jina practiced three hours a day and that expanded to eleven hours a day as a teen. Jina was extremely talented and hard-working, but she was never passionate about music. She graduated with a major in pipe organ and was accepted into graduate school at Indiana University. At a recital where she made several errors, she had an epiphany that her future was not in music. She told her professor she was leaving music. Her professor wished her luck and didn’t seem overly upset, which surprised Jina.
Fast forward a few years to a young homemaker and mother in Columbia, Missouri. Jina didn’t have a green card. She cooked as a volunteer for the local Korean church, serving up to 150 people at a time and loving it. Her friends and family urged her to open a restaurant. After eight years of dreaming, Jina consulted Virginia Wilson at the Small Business & Technology Development Center. (SBTDC) in Columbia and wrote her first business plan. She took out an SBA guaranteed 504 loan for $312,500 and along with $100,000 of her own money, opened Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro in July 2007. She gained an immediate following and she now employs 13 full and part time workers in her restaurant, and is still seeking advice from Virginia and the SBTDC.
Jina’s path hasn’t been without obstacles. When she started the restaurant, her English was so poor that her employees couldn’t understand her. She left her husband in 2009 and only had $300 in her business account; she had no personal bank account. She spent half of that on a few essentials at Walmart—a shower curtain liner and shower rod, a towel, shampoo, sheets (no blanket), and a cheap pillow. She once caught her chef outside smoking pot with her high school employees and fired them on the spot half an hour into the evening service. Another time her chef walked out with all of her employees and she ran the restaurant—cooking and serving—for the entire weekend. He expected her to beg him to come back but she never gave him that satisfaction. The economic downturn has hurt her business as it has most restaurants—hers is an upscale restaurant and people have less disposable income for eating out. The catering side of her restaurant helped keep it afloat during these difficult times, along with her faithful patrons.
Jina runs her business according to a few simple rules. First, she pays her food and liquor vendors. She purchases her ingredients then creates her dishes so she can buy more. Second, she pays her employees “on time”. The prevailing wage in Columbia isn’t that high, and she knows it’s not a lot of money, but her employees are counting on that money to pay their bills. A couple of times she despaired that the checks might bounce. Once she even borrowed money from her cousin in Las Vegas to make payroll. Third, she never owes sales tax. Her counselor, Ms. Wilson, made sure that she understood from the beginning “that never was her money,” so she remits it right away. Fourth, she pays her SBA guaranteed loan on time—she couldn’t have opened her restaurant without the loan and is deeply appreciative. Finally, she works hard—14 to 16 hours most days. Her labor costs stay lower because she can jump in and do any job in the restaurant, lending a hand wherever needed. She keeps extra shoes and a chef’s jacket in her office. She does not open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday, but she opens back up in the evening. She likes to go peruse the cookbooks and magazines at Barnes and Noble for inspiration on weekends; it’s her way of relaxing and refreshing herself.
Jina epitomizes the American dream. She demonstrates that hard work, dedication, and perseverance can still yield remarkable results even during tough economic times. She credits much of her success to her grandmother who told her to love what she does and success will follow. Her grandmother also told her not to be stagnant like a pond but to flow like a river. Sometimes she’d be stretched thin, but eventually she’d meet up with the ever-changing ocean. (That same wise grandmother faked an illness a while back to get Jina to take a break and come visit her in Korea.)
Jina is highly competitive, at least in part because of her musical training. She has always thrived instead of merely surviving, and refuses to accept failure. She’s a creative perfectionist, energetic, and easily bored—she cooks off-menu items on Sundays and caters to diet restrictions with advance notice (she needs time to purchase special ingredients). She teaches her chefs to impress themselves instead of trying to impress her—she feels that makes them more creative and better chefs. She loves her restaurant, her employees, and her customers. Her customers have been her moral support as she’s operated her restaurant so far away from her family and her native country. Jina cares for her employees and tries to hire and retain employees who love what they do. While she was never trained as a chef herself, Jina has encouraged two of her workers to attend chef training. Jina considers her office manager indispensable at keeping things on track, since she freely admits she’s a creator, not an organizer. She’s just as happy to leave that side of the job to someone better suited to it. Jina is very self-aware of her strengths and weaknesses and very open about the difficulties she has encountered.
She is active in the Rotary Club—she joined at the suggestion of a customer. She donates to the annual auction the highly coveted “Dinner Party at Jina’s” for six as well as hosting fundraisers at the restaurant with part of the proceeds going to charity.
So, how exactly does a classically trained musician become a successful chef and restaurant owner? She sees the two as closely aligned. Jina views cooking as being similar to creating a song or symphony. The main ingredient is the melody or theme. The other ingredients are harmonious additions to the main ingredient—they should never overpower the theme, but should make it even more beautiful by supporting the main themed ingredient. It seems to be working. She was recently one of 22 businesses featured in the Missouri SBTDC/MO PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Centers) Client Showcase. Jina is also invited to participate in the first Master Chef Korea competition on Korean television. She heard there were over 5,000 applicants for the show and she’s one of 100 finalists. Jina is looking into opening a restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri within the next year, too. While she’s nervous and excited about both endeavors, she also has a lot of confidence. Whenever she travels she tries new restaurants and she’s never tasted anything similar to what she serves at her restaurant—more of a Korean fusion than traditional Korean food. She likes to pull in flavors from other cuisines such as rosemary and cumin to augment the traditional Korean ingredients.
If you’re in Columbia, Missouri visit Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro at 2200 Forum Boulevard, Suite 109, Columbia, MO, 65203. You’ll see Shrimp Bad Hair Day, Burning Lips Endamame, Gorilla in the Kitchen, and Wanna Share, along with more traditionally titled dishes on the menu. You can also call 573-446-5462 or visit the web site at http://www.jinayoos.com/ for more information. (Be prepared to salivate at the delicious and beautiful food displayed—Jina can’t escape being an artist even though the medium has changed!)
Almost every red-blooded female in the United States and much of the male population is passionate about chocolate. We love it, crave it, covet it, hoard it, nibble it, gobble it, and dream about it. We describe ourselves as chocoholics. Chocolate is one of the decadent guilty pleasures in life. Perhaps it eases our collective consciences a little to know that scientists now say there are health benefits to dark chocolate.
There is probably no one in the United States, however, as passionate about chocolate as Alan Patric McClure, who owns Patric Chocolate. He and his employees make craft chocolate in Columbia, Missouri.
Patric’s chocolates are artisan creations in the true sense. He imports the cocoa beans, roasts them, and creates chocolate from the finest raw ingredients. When McClure founded the company in 2006 there were no true craft chocolatiers in the U.S. He has filled that niche. His stated goal is to “work as hard as possible to make the best chocolate imaginable and expose the most Americans to it”.
His enthusiasm and love for his craft, as well as that of his four full-time and one intermittent employee, comes through in the excellence of his chocolate and the recognition it is receiving. Patric Chocolate won the National Good Food Award in 2011 and 2012, and has been featured or mentioned in magazines, including Forbes, Feast, and Food & Wine; as well as newspapers like The Kansas City Star, the LA Times, The New Yorker Online, and the Dallas Observer, among others.
As is the case with many small business owners, McClure came into the business world in a roundabout way. He was always interested in food and cooking—the first book he bought himself was a Mexican cookbook. He loved to experiment with recipes and ingredients and cooking was always a hobby. He worked at restaurants in high school and college as many people do and then spent a year in France during college where he says he developed a finer appreciation for food.
Patric said his degree in Religious Studies was good for developing research skills, but not so great for finding a job. Making chocolate became his hobby and he decided to look into making chocolate for a living. In March of 2006, with the help of Virginia Wilson of the Small Business Technology & Development Center (SBTDC) and a SCORE counselor, McClure filed the paperwork for Patric Chocolate. It took almost a year before he produced his first batch of commercial chocolate.
McClure says his business plan was the most critical thing in opening a successful business and that he learned it should constantly evolve and state reasonable goals. When he started the process, he says he was “naïve.” He didn’t have the tools he needed to run a business—no business experience, no knowledge of how to price, and he knew nothing about sales. He’d never really managed people. He didn’t even know where to buy cocoa beans or where to find the equipment he needed. As with many first time entrepreneurs, he had underestimated the amount of money it would take to open his business.
Along with help from the SBTDC and SCORE, McClure also took out an SBA Express Loan in 2009 and a 7(a) Guaranteed Loan in 2011. He credits The Bank of Missouri and the local business community with providing him good advice and support.
When asked about the process he uses to come up with his decadent creations, McClure said it is a collaborative process. He and his employees meet to discuss what chocolate bars they’ll make in the coming year. Everyone comes prepared with ten combinations that sound good to them. They read off the combinations and if anyone doesn’t like a combination, it’s crossed off the list. Only a handful of combinations sound delicious to everyone. Then they look at the feasibility of creating the flavors into a chocolate bar. They always like to consider some combinations that are not currently available on the market.
While McClure gives some direction, his company tends to operate by consensus, and his employees often know what he wants before he even asks. He says all of his employees need to understand the entire business. His salesperson understands how chocolate is made so she can better sell the product; the production staff knows about marketing and how the quality impacts sales. To be successful, he says, they must understand how interrelated their jobs really are.
When asked if Patric Chocolate will branch out into other chocolate products, McClure says they plan to start offering hot chocolate mixes in the future, and for next Valentine’s Day plan to offer chocolate covered truffles.
As for growth, Patric lets the market set expansion, while trying to acquire new sales and to venture into more markets. They forecast based upon previous sales so they can project when they will need to add new machinery or personnel.
McClure is passionate about his craft and active with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, Craft Chocolate Makers of America, and Slow Food USA, which helps educate children on where food actually comes from and the joys of eating food that is natural and unprocessed. He has raised money for Slow Food to go into local schools and talk about “real” food.
Patric’s sells to wholesalers, distributors, retailers, chefs, food and beverage manufacturers and also online to the public. In St. Louis, you can find Patric chocolates at Whole Foods and Local Harvest Grocery; in Columbia, at Clover’s Natural Market and Natural Grocers; and in Kansas City, at The Better Cheddar and Dean & DeLuca. Website purchases can be made at http://patric-chocolate.com/ or call 573-814-7520 or email email@example.com.
For more information about the SBA, contact your local SBA office or visit http://www.sba.gov/. The St. Louis District Office can be reached at 314-539-6600 or http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/2/3124. For more information about the Missouri SBTDC, visit http://www.missouribusiness.net/sbtdc/index.asp. To find a local SCORE counselor, visit http://www.score.org/ or contact your local SBA office.