Business Name: Under the Oak Farm, LLC
Owners: Blake & Megan Gotliffe
How did you hear about Slow Money NC?: Jennifer Sanford-Johnson, the main farmer that we source our produce from and close friend, told me about the program and how she was able to get a loan for her hoop houses through your program.
Tell us your story. Who are you? What is your business idea? Tell us your plan. Feel free to get into the details.: I, Blake Gotliffe, am the chef/farmer/owner of Under the Oak Farm, LLC. We have a sustainable catering, meal delivery, and artisan pickle business. My wife Megan and I both graduated culinary school from Wake Tech, Megan majored in pastry, and myself culinary arts.
I have always been passionate about local food, so when we were able to get some property, I started a garden in our back yard about 3 years ago, and expanded it every year. Then Under the Oak Farm was born. I started selling produce to a few restaurants in Raleigh, mainly to Standard Foods where I worked. Then I began making pickles both fermented and vinegar to preserve our harvest and started selling them at the Clayton Farmers market. We started doing farm dinners, where our guests enjoyed multi-course meals with wine pairings under the canopy of a beautiful oak tree where the farm got its name, just 20 ft from the garden. Our dishes were all inspired from what we grew, even the desserts. She made an unbelievable turnip custard for one of them. She was working at Herons at the Umstead Hotel and I was the butcher at Standard Foods at this time. These dinners gave us the confidence needed to realize we were ready to make our own way in the culinary world.
I left Standard just about a year ago now. I started wholesaling the pickles to a few markets and bars around town. Once the summer was over and cucumbers were no longer in season, sales dropped and I started looking for other revenue streams. I have an extensive catering background so I started doing private events. Also, using my skills as a butcher, I began making all of my own deli meats from whole hogs sourced from Mae Farms or Firsthand Foods. I developed a fantastic sandwich menu for our catering using our meats, and pickles, local cheeses and breads, and my wife’s sweets.
Needing a more weekly/steady income, I started doing some prepared meals for a few families. Filling a niche of local, sustainable meal delivery. That has grown to about 10 different families. Throughout all of this Megan was pregnant with our son, Landon. He was born in February. He has a genetic disorder that requires full time attention so Megan has not been able to go back to work and I have been working extremely hard to provide for the family. She is an award winning cake decorator and phenomenal pastry chef and has her own cake business that she does from home.
The goal has always been for us to have a restaurant, but finding investors is not easy nor is getting loans from banks. About 2 months ago, we were able to lease a restaurant space in downtown Smithfield, NC. It has a kitchen with a hood system and walk in, and I have outfitted it with the used equipment I have been buying over the past year. The dining room needs a lot of renovations and we could use some better, more reliable equipment. We are using the space as our production kitchen and have done a few pop up dinners there so far. We want to open a whole animal, hyper local restaurant there, starting with Thursday-Saturday dinner and add on days as demand grows. On Sunday, we cook off all of the unused product and make them into prepared meals to be delivered Monday evening, between that and our pickles, we will be a zero waste operation.
Please briefly describe your commitment to sustainable food systems in North Carolina.: Being a farmer myself, I understand the struggle and how much work it takes to grow food the right way. Sustainable sourcing has always been paramount to us. We are very proud to say that at least 85% of the ingredients we use are from NC. Some produce we get from just over the VA border, Carolina Gold rice from SC, and olive oil from Georgia. Citrus and some condiments that are not available locally are our only exceptions and there are not many at this point. I try to make my own condiments through my fermentation experiments. For instance, I love olives. They don’t grow around here, the Georgia olive farm won’t sell them, so I figured out a way to ferment green cherry tomatoes with certain spices and salt percentage to make them taste just like an olive! We have not been hired for some weddings and holiday parties because I refuse to do a big fruit display in April or December. I would rather pass on an event than source fruit from across the country. Some people think I am crazy, but as a chef, I have the opportunity to make a difference in our food system that others do not, and I will never budge from those ideals and dreams of a better system!!
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?: Currently our sales average $8000/month at a 25% profit.
I project as a restaurant, we could do $25 – $30k per month sales at the same 25% profit margin. We will be able to repay this loan through our restaurant profits.
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?: I have some student loans and we have a mortgage on our house.
Navient- 10,000 original, owe $4,681 10 year
Fed Loan- 7,750 original, owe $5,684 8 years
Chase Mortgage- $158,000 original, owe $144,486 30 year
Do you have people who would vouch for your credit worthiness? Who are they?: Yes. I am able to purchase products from many vendors on terms and make my payments on time. Firsthand Foods, Boxcarr Handmade Cheese, Chickadee Farms, Old Milburnie Farm, Eastern Carolina Organics to name a few.
Chase Mortgage, Fedloan servicing, Navient.
Tell us about your business background. Have you been in business before?: I have owned this business for just about a year now. This is my first business but am already turning a profit within the first year and have done so on my own with out outside investors.
Are there other lenders involved in your project or business?: Not as of now but we have 2 potential investors possibly interested in buying the building.
What is your timeline for this project? Would you like it to start in a month? 6 months? A year?: We would like to start on this project asap!
Is there anything else we forgot to ask you?: Please feel free to check out our website or our social media pages to get a feel of what we do. www.undertheoakfarm.com (@undertheoakfarm) and www.idocakesnc.com (@idocakesnc)