Written by Samantha Erkkila, Entrepreneur Fund
Running a successful catering business doesn’t happen overnight. Yes, you need delicious food, but it’s more than that. You need a strong business plan, additional equipment and trusted partners to support you through the transition.
Superior Waffles, a popular restaurant in Superior, Wisconsin, recently expanded into catering. How did owners Cal and Natalie Harris do it? By leveraging their loyal customer base, continuing to build their business knowledge and trusting that their resource partners were there to help them through the process.
From an Idea to a Successful Business
A summer road trip to Yellowstone National Park following a layoff in 2020, sparked a sweet business idea.
“We always loved waffles. We used to make them on the weekend all the time,” said Cal. “And we thought, ‘Why can’t we have waffles all the time?’”
The couple started jotting down different recipes and toppings and when they came back from that trip they determined their first move towards entrepreneurship. That move was taking a First Steps to Starting a Food Business bootcamp with the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center at UW-Superior. In that class, Natalie learned what she needed to start a restaurant. From there both Natalie and Cal completed an entrepreneur training program facilitated by Andy Donahue, Center Director at Wisconsin SBDC at UW-Superior.
“That was an eight-week course designed to get them started with their business plan, financial projections, under understanding their market, legal ramifications, tax insurance, etc.” Donahue said. “So, really getting that well rounded entrepreneurship curriculum.”
Donahue said he worked with the Harris’ on developing their business about once a week from fall of 2020 to summer of 2021. It was during that time that he also connected the Harris’ to the Entrepreneur Fund.
“We brought the Entrepreneur Fund in as a resource partner to help them get their funding for the equipment that they needed, furniture, fixtures, and getting them ready to launch,” said Donahue.
And in July 2021 when all the business planning and flexible financing pieces were in place, Superior Waffles opened its doors on Tower Avenue in Superior.
“It’s just been a partnership between the Entrepreneur Fund, our office and Superior Waffles,” said Donahue. “They (the Harris’) know they have a resource partner team that’s able to help them forward to the next stages.”
Ironing Out Expansion into New Market
With a desire to continue to grow their business, the Harris’ were looking into other resources and programs to help them expand. They heard about the Entrepreneur Fund’s Stride program, which paired business advising and strategic planning with zero to low-interest loans or grants to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) owned businesses, and felt it was a great fit.
“I think the main thing I took away (from the Stride program) was just making us take a look at where we are at and where we want to go. And building up those 3-year, 5-year, 10-year plans,” said Cal. “The second thing would be we always wanted to do catering as our Phase Two, but we didn’t really know how, or have the push, or the finances to do that.”
Through the Stride program, the Harris’ were approved for an interest-free loan, a technology grant, and access to the EFund Expert Network. They used the funds to purchase necessary equipment to expand into catering. They purchased the “Waffle Mobile,” a van wrapped with advertising and a cheeky license plate, making them more official and efficient on catering jobs. They also purchased more waffle irons specifically for onsite events.
“Now we don’t have to juggle and burn ourselves, you know, trying to pack them up while the café is still open,” said Natalie.
Stride facilitator and EFund business advisor Stephanie Williams said Superior Waffles was one of the more successful and prominent businesses in the fall 2022 cohort.
“They were an awesome example to the other entrepreneurs in the cohort as to what is attainable,” Williams said.
Since expanding into catering earlier this year, Superior Waffles has catered weddings, funerals, baby showers, corporate events, going away parties and more.
“It’s been really fun being a part of those celebrations, and just serving those hot fresh waffles to the guests,” said Cal. “Everything is made on site and fresh. And you know, when we leave, we leave the aroma of our waffles.”
Local Support for All Stages of Growth
“Superior Waffles success is due to the determination of the Harris’ and their use of local resources for support,” said Williams. “We work alongside entrepreneurs and our partners to fill the gaps needed to achieve business growth.”
The Entrepreneur Fund and regional Small Business Development Centers have a strong track record of collaboration with a common goal of small business success.
“We have the ability to work together and really look at the greater good of what is going to be beneficial for a client or entrepreneur to get them going and to make them successful from day one,” said Donahue. “It’s all about collaborations and partnerships and it only builds the region to be more successful.”
No matter what stage of business, whether you are starting a new business, expanding into a new market, purchasing an existing business, or thinking about succession planning we can work alongside you and our network of resource partners, like local SBDCs, to help you through those business transitions and milestones. Contact us today to get started.