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Long Island Small Business Keeps Ducks in a Row
Blue Duck Bakery Café Partners with SBA to Scale Towards Success
NEW YORK, NY--- Although the Blue Duck Bakery Café opened its first location in Southampton 14 years ago, the small business journey of husband and wife business owners Keith and Nancy Kouris started much earlier. As successful small business owners, Keith and Nancy learned that by getting the right training, knowing what resources are available, and by never giving up, they could achieve their goal of becoming Long Island’s “Village Bakers” offering superior quality artisan breads.
Before Blue Duck Bakery opened, Keith and Nancy had their fair share of getting their feet wet in the bakery and deli business in Long Island. After successfully managing a Bellacicco Italian bread delivery route in the Hamptons as well as starting a family, Keith and Nancy opened a deli and grocery shop in the area with a unique catering to the Irish and Scottish community due to a resident baker who specialized in these cultural culinary treats who taught Keith the tricks of the trade.
When the lease on the deli was up, they decided to move their business to a new location, but after Hurricane Gloria, overwhelming challenges resulted in the closing of the store. Keith then went to work for King Kullen, a local supermarket that hired Keith into their bakery program. Here Keith would spend the next 15 years not only learning from incredibly experienced bakers, but also gaining managerial skills. During his own time, and dipping into his vacation allowance, Keith took the initiative to take additional baking classes and become certified as a Master Bread Baker and graduate of the French Culinary Institute’s International Bread Baking Program.
As the supermarket business was changing for bakeries which became more frozen-based, Keith and Nancy saw this as an opportunity to move forward with plans to open up a new store. They took courses in business and entrepreneurship while looking for a new store location, and it was through these courses that they made the connections that would lead them to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s resource partners and their future lenders.
“Initially we had heard a lot of negativity that the SBA wouldn’t fund start-ups,” said Keith. “But we never like to be told ‘no’ and saw this as a challenge where we discovered the exact opposite.”
Through working with their local Small Business Development Center, Keith and Nancy were able to refine their business plan and had an approval for a $150,000 business loan in less than two weeks after applying from lender Banco Popular. Blue Duck Bakery Café opened in the fall of 1999 in Southampton, and it wasn’t until they achieved really introducing what ‘artisan bread’ was, that their retail sales caught on and they were established as the village bakers.
At the end of 2006, business was booming and Keith and Nancy looked to expand their production capabilities. Due to the artisan craft, everything was made by hand to support making three to 4,000 loaves of bread each weekend, in addition to 1,500 pies between Thursdays and Sundays.
Reaching back out to the SBA and SBDC, with the help of the SBA 504 loan, they were able to build out a space and increase production in a new Southhold location and additionally create more jobs for the local community growing from less than 10 employees early on to nearly 50 today to help with retail, production, and delivery routes.
Blue Duck Bakery has since continued to expand and opened a new retail location at the end of 2012 with the help of a $50,000 loan from the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, an SBA partner. Next in their sights is to open another production facility that would add up to 25 more jobs within the next two years after opening, and continue to expand retail operations into small community locations.
“Keith and Nancy’s small business journey is such a great reflection of the challenges that small business owners and entrepreneurs face along the way,” said New York District Office Acting District Director Adalberto Quijada. “One of the biggest challenges is for businesses to be prepared when they scale their operations, and Keith and Nancy had the right resources and training to do just that.”
“The SBA has been very instrumental to us and has been there with us at every point of expansion, especially at the beginning when people told us this wasn’t possible,” said Keith.
When asked what advice Keith and Nancy would have for other entrepreneurs, they said, “You can’t be discouraged by nay-sayers who tell you it’s not possible, but you have to be diligent, do your homework, know your market, and have a good business plan, and it’s a lot less complicated of a process the more you love your business.”
Blue Duck Bakery Café is a family and woman-owned business enterprise, with Nancy as the president maintaining 52 percent ownership, and Keith as the vice-president maintaining 48 percent ownership. Blue Duck Bakery Café specializes in hand-made artisan breads, without preservatives, following traditions developed by European bakers.