Entrepreneurial Arc program on Nov. 13 to showcase successful niche restaurateurs
Owners of three local entrepreneurial businesses whose innovative startups in the fiercely competitive food service field are poised to survive and prosper will offer insights into strategies for success in a panel discussion on Monday, Nov. 13, at Western Connecticut State University.
“The Entrepreneurial Arc,” a WCSU series of programs showcasing local entrepreneurs, will present the forum featuring Jasson Arias, owner of the Danbury-based food truck business Rice and Beans; Anna Llanos and Andrea White, cofounders of Mothership Bakery & Café, with locations at 44 Old Ridgebury Rd. and 331 Main St. in Danbury; and Andrea Gartner, owner of Pour Me Coffee & Wine Café at 274 Main St. in Danbury
The forum will be at 6 p.m. in Room 218 of the Classroom Building on the university’s Westside campus, 43 Lake Ave. Extension in Danbury. Admission will be free and the public is invited to attend.
Co-sponsors for the event include the Center for Entrepreneurship, Research, Innovation and Creativity (E.R.I.C.@THEGARAGE), the Ancell School of Business and the Macricostas Entrepreneurial Endowment, all at WCSU; the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce; and the Danbury Hackerspace.
“We’ve heard that most new restaurants fail, so what does it take to succeed?” remarked Associate Professor of Management Dr. Pauline Assenza, coordinator of the Entrepreneurial Arc program. “Here are three businesses who are making their mark in the local food industry.”
Arias, who earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration at WCSU in 2011, drew from the culinary traditions of his parents’ native Guatemala, his Western education and his experience at Mezon Tapas Bar and Restaurant in Danbury to found his Rice and Beans food truck business in 2016. Serving weekly at sites in Danbury and Stamford as well as private parties and community events across Fairfield County, his signature yellow trailer specializes in white, brown or green rice served with black beans and tortilla chips as well as slow-cooked beef and chicken and roasted vegetable dishes. A portion of profits goes to his “Share Your Beans” charitable fund to help those in need.
“Developing his business to compete in the food truck market meant Jasson had to use what he learned in marketing — the importance of building a brand and then making sure he could stand out by promoting it successfully,” Assenza said. His primary promotional vehicles have been the extensive use of the Internet and social media tools including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In presenting a focused and limited menu, Assenza observed, “Jasson has avoided one of the mistakes many food service startups make” in attempting do too much, too soon. “By keeping it simple, Jasson can focus on food quality, make the choices clear to customers, and be really great at what he does. He can streamline operations and reduce costs as well.”
Llanos and White also began their Mothership Bakery & Café business in 2012 as a mobile food service housed in a vintage Airstream trailer, expanding to open a kitchen and cafeteria on Ridgebury Road as well as catering for the Belimo Americas headquarters in Danbury. The partnership of Llanos as baker and chef and White as business manager took their venture to the next level in 2016 when they opened Mothership on Main, serving breakfast and lunch weekdays, Thursday evening dinner and weekend brunch with varied offerings including baked goods, soups, sandwiches, savories, salads. smoothies and organic coffee and tea.
Directing meal preparation in a kitchen open to diners’ view, Llanos said she “is adamant that the food not have that institutional taste and should be as close to home cooking as possible.” Assenza remarked that all foods are “made from scratch with only what is needed for the day — when something runs out, it runs out, but customers are assured of freshness.” In the review accompanying Connecticut Magazine’s recognition of Mothership as 2017 “Best in Connecticut” in the bakery category, Erik Ofgang wrote, “Visiting the Mothership can be a little like visiting a few of your aunts around the holidays — there are a lot of friendly, smiling faces and everyone is trying to feed you delicious food.”
The Mothership partners will discuss the need for deliberate decisions on business strategy and growth that account not only for food choices, but also cash flow, staffing and customer service, and regulatory and health issues. “Mothership has pursued a very deliberate growth trajectory, which has paid off in customer loyalty as witnessed by the excited buzz around their expansion to Main Street,” Assenza noted.
Gartner played an important role in the downtown Danbury revitalization that has attracted Mothership and other restaurants to the area, promoting business and cultural activities in the area as executive director from 2007 to 2015 of CityCenter Danbury. After forming Gartner & Main in 2015 as a consulting firm specializing in community, business and economic development, she launched her own downtown food service venture this June with opening of the Pour Me Coffee & Wine Café. In a setting based on the traditional European café concept, Pour Me serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu ranging from breakfast burritos and salads to personal pizzas, vegan dishes and chicken, stead and seafood entrees, complemented by a tasting bar with wines and spirits.
Joining an active downtown Danbury restaurant scene that also features foods of many ethnic traditions, Gartner has expressed hope that her full-service neighborhood bistro will make a contribution to this vibrant mix. Pour Me seeks to support local suppliers by featuring items such as the organic beverage products made by Cross Culture Kombucha of Danbury and Sacred Grounds Coffee Roasters of Sherman.
Gartner’s panel presentation will cover her strategy for business development as well as her adaptation of food service operations in the restaurant’s first six months to respond to customer demand and cost issues while maintaining quality food offerings. “Andrea encourages everyone to join the community of urban enthusiasts behind the resurgence of Danbury’s downtown, hoping to make this the most appealing place for all to invest their time, money and talent,” Assenza said.