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RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Proprietors of new, local eateries share the step-by-step process they used to get their businesses off the ground

  • Owners of local eateries talk about the process of starting up, step by step.
  • Owners of local eateries talk about the process of starting up, step by step.
  • Owners of local eateries talk about the process of starting up, step by step.
  • Owners of local eateries talk about the process of starting up, step by step.
  • Owners of local eateries talk about the process of starting up, step by step.
  • Owners of local eateries talk about the process of starting up, step by step.
  • C'est La Vie closes for a month starting on Feb. through March.
  • C'est La Vie closes for a month starting on Feb. through March.
  • C'est La Vie closes for a month starting on Feb. through March.

Starting a new business is not easy. According to the Monadnock Small Business Journal, thirty percent of new businesses in New Hampshire fail within the first two years.And yet, businesses continue to open, and some of them stay that way. What’s the trick? What does it take to keep a business going?

Kim Sweney, co-owner of C’est la Vie – a French café in downtown Peterborough – and Maria Crowley, owner of Social Grove – a café in the 43 Grove Street building in Peterborough – each opened their restaurants recently. The Social Grove opened in October 2012, and C’est la Vie opened in July 2013. Both women said they were inspired by the love of cooking, although neither Sweney nor Crowley had ever run a restaurant before. Their businesses serve different foods and are in different locations, yet the lessons they have learned and the advice they have to give are remarkably similar.

Talk to people who know

Crowley’s advice to those considering starting their own eatery? Find someone who knows the business and ask them a lot of questions. “Be able to hear both the positive and negative critics,” she said. “In the end they are probably just being honest and it’s good for you to hear.”

Sweney recommends trying to “build a partnership” with customers, by asking for candid, spontaneous feedback constantly. At C’est la Vie, Sweney and her business partner Nathalie Tournier, are always asking customers to taste items and share their thoughts about the food. Sweney and Tournier also recommend talking openly with licensing organizations, state officials and food inspectors. “They held our hands through the whole process,” Sweney said. “They want you to succeed.”

Know that it takes time

Crowley said she was interested in starting her own business because had a one-year-old daughter and she wanted to have more free time to spend with her family. “I was working so much and my husband was working so much, we were doing that thing where you meet in the parking lot to hand off the kids on the way to your next job,” she said.

In some ways running Social Grove has given Crowley what she wanted – more time with her family – but in other ways it hasn’t. Crowley can now bring her daughter to work with her but she still finds herself working nights and weekends. “I’m here as much as I can be. It’s a constant for sure,” she said.

Sweney agrees. “I underestimated how much time it would take and how exhausted I would be,” said Sweney reflecting on what it takes to keep a burgeoning businesses going. “It’s time consuming and requires a lot of organization,” she added.

Make sure it’s what you love

Crowley admits that she naively thought running her own business would be easier than it turned out to be. But, she said, the hard work is offset by her love for what she does. “I enjoy it now as much as when I started and that’s really important,’ Crowley said.

Sweney said cooking at C’est la Vie is like cooking for her family. But it’s also a full-time job. “Be prepared to stand on your feet for 12 hours a day,” she said. “But if your heart’s in it go for it.”

C’est la Vie, “is our baby,” Sweney added, “We need to nurture it and take care of it.” And that, Sweney said, takes time.

Be flexible

Since opening Crowley has changed her business hours, added more gluten free options, stopped roasting her own meats in house, closed for a few days at a time to regroup and bought out her original partner, Nicole Bishop. The Social Grove used to open at 8:00 a.m., but Crowley explained very few people were coming in for breakfast, so she decided to stop opening early and serve until 5 p.m. instead.

Sweney said finding the right hours to be open was also one of the hardest parts of getting her business going. She said that learning to cook foods that are; “in season” took some getting used as well. And, learning to cook what the customers want has been of particular importance. “At first we weren’t going to make soups, but we made a few and over time people have really responded to them. Now we can’t stop making them,” she said. Sweney said she anticipated cooking crepes and fresh to-go meals, but has found that customers want her to make more bread items: croissants, baguettes and pastries. “That’s an area we’ve really expanded in, based on customer feedback,” she said.

“Just know you are going to make mistakes,” Sweney added and be willing to be flexible and adapt when you need to make changes.

Enjoy the ride

Some things you just can’t plan for, Crowley said. “You just don’t know what 25 pounds of carrots is going to look like until it’s right in front of you.” Part of keeping her business going has been accepting this, Crowley said. “It’s a process,” she said.

The business is more physically demanding than Sweney thought it would be – lifting boxes, chopping vegetables and moving groceries – are daily activities, that take some getting used to. But, Sweney doesn’t mind because she loves the experience of getting to know her customers and meeting new people. Some aspects of running a business have been a “steep learning curve,” said Sweney. But, she added, that has also been part of the fun.

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