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With a little help from SCORE, a great romantic partnership became a great business partnership.
Patrick Hickey was a trained chef. His wife, Erin Marqua was an experienced marketer. After they moved to Charleston in February 2010, Erin started working as a server at Gourmet Bay Catering in nearby Johns Island, with Patrick joining her there as a chef soon afterward.
By 2011, Gourmet Bay’s owner was looking for a buyer for the business in order to focus on another restaurant venture. Erin and Patrick were immediately interested. In fact, their dream was to someday run a small business together. Already, they had been exploring different start-up options in the food service industry. Now, they had an opportunity to skip the start-up stage and take over a business with a solid history in Charleston’s competitive restaurant and catering scene.
There was one major problem, however.
“We needed to have a lot of help because we’d never run a business or even purchased a house,” Erin says.
At Patrick’s parents’ suggestion, they visited the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber immediately referred them to the local SCORE chapter, which conveniently had its main office inside the Chamber. SCORE is an SBA resource partner that provides free and confidential small business counseling. Its all-volunteer staff consists mainly of retired business owners and executives who use their expertise to mentor both potential entrepreneurs and existing business owners. SCORE connected Erin and Patrick with counselor Greg Kopach, a former broker.
Greg helped Erin and Patrick understand the business’s current financials and learn the financial management skills necessary to running a small business. He worked with them over email, phone and in face-to-face sessions. At one point, Greg even worked with Erin and Patrick over dinner to help them with profit and loss statements.
“He helped us sift through all the paperwork and go over all the numbers,” Erin says.
In October 2011, Erin and Patrick closed on Gourmet Bay. Several months later, the new business owners met with Greg again for assistance with payroll taxes and accounting.
Once secure with the company’s financials, Erin and Patrick focused on growing Gourmet Bay’s business. Erin created a new Gourmet Bay website, taking the company from search engine limbo to the top of Google’s search results. She and Patrick also joined the Charleston Metro Chamber to make new connections and find new opportunities. In January, they hired their first employee, Nicole Garrand, an event planner with a sales background and previous experience in the wedding industry, a major Gourmet Bay market.
Less than a year after purchasing the business, Erin and Patrick have not only made Gourmet Bay uniquely their own, they’ve also taken the company to new heights. With employee Nicole on board, Gourmet Bay expanded its services to include event décor services. The company also recently purchased a portable kitchen, allowing it to cook anywhere, including at event venues lacking on-site kitchens.
Now, business is booming, and Gourmet Bay holds top reviews on sites like Wedding Wire and Urban Spoon. Still, Erin and Patrick know where to turn if they ever need assistance.
“If we have any questions, we’re going to go to SCORE first,” Erin says.