~ The Clean Plate ~

Business Owner:  Cat New
Business Name:   The Clean Plate
Location:   Black Mountain, NC

How did you hear about Slow Money NC?: Daniel Darby is a friend of mine who supplies me with his eggs (and chicken when he has it). When he found out I was transitioning from a food truck into a restaurant he told me about how he received help via Slow Money…and that my business model might fit your criteria for a loan.

Tell us your story. What is your business idea? Tell us your plan.
My name is Cat. I’m from Austin, Texas and have been in the local food biz since 2011 when I opened a farm to table food truck by partnering up with the folks at Thunderheart Bison. They provide the most humanely raised bison around. Please bare with me for their bio: They raise the bison on 50, 000 acres where they are free to roam on local native grasses. (they supplement during droughts) The bison are left to maintain their own familial hierarchies, which says a lot about the thought process behind their well being. When the harvest moon rises, Hugh Fitzsimmons herds them away to a screened off area and shoots them at the medulla oblongata with a 30 ought 6 rifle. They die instantly with one shot. They don’t even see it coming because he is hidden 70 feet away. They are then quartered on the ranch and taken to the processor for further butchering. Long story short: the most humane process I have ever come across. I felt lucky to have been able to partner with them.

We built a menu around the bison and utilized produce from 4 local urban farms in East Austin within 2 miles of the food truck. It was amazing. That was my start in the local food business, and my vision hasn’t changed all that much since.

Fast forward many years later, I am still in the food truck business…..but I live in Asheville now and I’m still using local foods…although I’m not quite as connected to my producers as I was in Texas. These people were literally my neighbors! Urban farms haven’t quite taken hold here yet…but they will eventually.

For the last 3 years in Asheville, I have been selling my Texas style of “clean comfort foods” wrapped up in a taco at the Asheville City Farmers Market and most recently out of my food truck for 6 months in Black Mountain. I found a breakfast and lunch niche, and nobody around is selling breakfast tacos, or pastured eggs in a quick and easy to order format. I feel that I’ve been lucky to be able to work days and avoid the “night time shuffle” bouncing from brewery to brewery hustling food to intoxicated patrons. I was able to do this because I shared a space with Oak and Grist, a killer grain to glass distillery that produces impeccable gin and whiskey, all by hand from start to finish. The owner, Will let me park my food truck there and utilize storage space in exchange for providing the staff food. Honestly, staff isn’t the right word: it was literally the owner and his sidekick for years, and they just recently hired a new helper to bring the total staff members to three! Their integrity throughout the entire distillation process is in alignment with mine and we made a great fit. Plus, I was in the same spot every day and my customers knew exactly where to find me.

About a month ago, one of my customers told me about a restaurant space just a mile east of my location that was up for lease….so just out of pure curiosity I went to check it out. It turned out that it was ACTUALLY AFFORDABLE, albeit it needed a massive amount of work. The building was not taken care of by the previous tenants, and the landlord, while being a nice person, seemed to take a very hands off, take it as you see it approach to her property. The restaurant is in a GREAT location, and I already have my following, so I decided to just apply and hope for the best.

It’s a good thing I did, because she approved my application. I’ve leased the space for 5 years, and I went into it knowing that it is going to take a massive amount of elbow grease to get this thing off the ground.

So, here I am, writing you guys because I need a little help.
I’ve got the vision, the customer base, the plan. But I don’t have a ton of money.  My rent is paid for the next 4 months, because I wanted to get that out of the way during the dead of winter and slow season for my truck. Now I have just under $5000 dollars left to install a vent hood system, a backflow prevention device, plumbing, and equipment purchases. Not to mention a massive amount of repair and maintenance work to do to the building. It is an undertaking, but I still feel as though I made the right decision.

I can piece this restaurant together very slowly with the revenue stream I have coming from my food truck, but it sure would be nice if I was able to secure a low interest loan to speed up this process.

There are some financial burdens that I wasn’t expecting on top of all this: the city has given me 90 days to install a very expensive backflow prevention device (even though the other restaurants never complied) and the rules have changed in the last 1.5 years for the vent hood and fire suppression systems that are doubling my previously estimated costs.

Once these things are taken care of, my plan is to open a little café that’s open for breakfast and lunch. I feel that the neighborhood folks will come in, chat, swap stories, and make my place a part of their day on the regular. This is an area where folks live, work, and eat in the same 2-3 mile radius and they seem to follow routine. There aren’t a ton of tourists, and I kind of like that. I enjoy knowing my customers. We take a genuine interest in each others well being, and its nice to see a familiar face. The tourists stick to the heart of downtown, and if they decide to come my way, its just a quick jaunt down a main road to get to my spot.

Please briefly describe your commitment to sustainable food systems in North Carolina.:  It is what I do and is all encompassing. I read a book 14 years ago that changed my life: Earth Democracy, by Vandana Shiva. As a long standing vegetarian, it completely changed my view points on the food systems and the politics of food, seed sovereignty, water rights, and corporate monopolies. It opened my eyes to the unjust world of trade, commoditization of land, animals, and human rights. In a nutshell, I learned about the power of the local economy, small scale farming, and the ability to change the world by starting right where you are and being the change you wish to create. I’ve done so ever since, and haven’t looked back. I do not wish to be a part of the corporate food systems, or their business. It is a taker economy, and it is not how I want to live or work.

My produce is 95 percent local and always seasonal. I use pastured meat and eggs from Darby Farms and Apple Brandy Beef. I cook with rice brand or peanut oil and stay far away from GMO’s. My bread is baked locally, and my tortillas are non gmo as well. I’m currently working with another baker here to use local heirloom grains to make an Appalachian tortilla that’s 100 percent local, but its a lot of trial and error, and to make it truly affordable we need a $10,000 tortilla machine, but that’s another story for another time.

I don’t just do local because its trendy, I do it because it is the only thing that makes sense to me. It’s the most respectful way to operate a business, albeit it’s not the most profitable, but I want to rest my head at night knowing I am supporting stewards of the land who take pride in the slow way of doing things.

What will your sales be? What do you anticipate your profits/your margins will look like? How will you make the money to pay this loan back?: Once I am open, I have projected my sales to be around 7-800 a day in the beginning, and more as I people spread the word. ( I currently sell 250-500 a day now in my food truck) I only need two people in the kitchen at a time and one counter person, as I will not have waiters at this establishment. I pay everyone a fair wage, $13-15 an hour depending on their skill level. That translates to around $15,000 a month in sales. My standard operating costs based on this projection will be estimated monthly at:
1. food cost at 20% = 3,000
2. labor cost = $2000
3. rent and utilities = $1600
4. taxes and unemployment, payroll, etc = $2000
5. miscellaneous repairs/maintenance = $500
Grand total of estimated monthly expenses = $9100/$15,000 is a 40% profit margin. I would budget half of that back into the business and the other half to repay loans as quickly as the business would allow me to do so. I would hope for a grace period of 4-6 months to get the business off the ground before starting the loan repayments.

Have you borrowed money before? How much did you borrow? From where? How long was the term? Is there a balance still due on that loan?: The only time I have borrowed money formally is with my student loans. I am still paying on those, and am in good standing, by all technical accounts.

How much do you need to borrow?
[This information is available by contacting Cat or Slow Money NC.]

Do you have people who would vouch for your credit worthiness? Who are they?:  I have some close friends that would vouch for my work ethic, and my ability to own and operate a business since 2011…but my credit is not great. I have a massive amount of medical debt due to chrohns disease. I had surgery in 2018 that changed my life, and I am in full remission, but my credit has taken a hit and I am trying to work on the medical debt that I have acquired. It is an undertaking. I was in the hospital for over a week, and they don’t always tell you what insurance covers and what they don’t. So I have a stack of bills that I accumulated and am working currently to commit to payment plans and try to get those back on track.

[Personal and professional references are available by contacting Cat or Slow Money NC.]

Tell us about your business background. Have you been in business before?:  I have been in business for myself since 2011 selling seasonal local foods in many different forms whether its through catering, booths at the farmers markets, or my food truck. I am not looking to get rich, I just want a sustainable business model that will allow me to setup for future growth and savings during winter months to keep the business stable and strong.

Are there other lenders involved in your project or business?: At the moment I am applying here and with Mountain Biz Works.

What is your timeline for this project? Would you like it to start in a month? 6 months? A year?: My timeline has already begun. I have already leased the building, so I’d like to get this going as fast as I can. But, as I said earlier, I can sit on this with the revenue from my food truck and slowly piece things together, but it isn’t ideal, especially with winter season upon me.

Is there anything else we forgot to ask you?:  I’m sure you will have many more questions for me, but I do hope you all do consider my project a worthy one. Thank you for your time, and for doing what you do. It’s pretty amazing.