Solano SBDCFairfield, CA

"We invested our life’s savings – me and my two kids – our houses are on the line. We can’t give up. That’s a pretty big motivation. If it had been $50,000 at stake we might have given up, but I have two young kids at home. I’m a strong woman and you have to push on when you face adversity.You have to put your pedal to the medal and do what you have to do to survive."

Diane Long

The most important thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.
-Amelia Earhart

Starting your business venture at the forefront of a global pandemic might sound a lot like a recipe for failure, especially considering the devastating blow this year’s pandemic has had on tens of thousands of well-established restaurants across the country. This was not the case for the first-time restaurant owner, and optimist, Diane Long. Before a series of run-ins began with Murphy’s Law – including a vanishing contractor, Diane saw a business opportunity and decided to purchase a BurgerIM franchise.

In 2019, she reached out to the Solano SBDC for help acquiring a loan for $500,000. With her life savings on the line, the SBDC helped her to find a new contractor, and when the franchisor declared bankruptcy, leaving her stranded for training, menu, and standard operating procedures, the expertise of restaurant advisor, Louise Dawson came in swinging. 

“The SBDC were the only ones I could count on,” Diane emphasized,  “I had to pay my lawyer and everyone else, but I didn’t have to pay the SBDC.” 

Finally, she was ready to open in early March and then COVID19 happened, and this is where the story gets good.

You opened up your business just weeks into the pandemic. How did you keep your chin up?

We invested our life’s savings – me and my two kids – our houses are on the line. We can’t give up. That’s a pretty big motivation. If it had been $50,000 at stake we might have given up, but I have two young kids at home. I’m a strong woman and you have to push on when you face adversity.You have to put your pedal to the medal and do what you have to do to survive. We are not making a profit right now, but we are able to pay our bills.

What was it like opening a restaurant during COVID19?

We really didn’t know anything different because we hadn’t had any prior restaurant experience to compare to. For the first couple of weeks I was learning how to keep my employees and customers safe while also figuring out how to attract customers and how to do curbside well. We have been surprised at the heavy use of DoorDash. Customers were thankful to see our cooks with their masks on. We have had over 100 degree days and even with AC it’s hard on the cooks.

SBDC helped you navigate several problems that arose even before COVID19. How would you describe the support you received?

Every time something went wrong I was on the phone with SBDC. Louise Dawson from the Restaurant Program was always connecting me to someone who would at least give me a second opinion so I didn’t have to navigate my problems alone. I had problems with contractors, then with the franchise  – they took away a delicious chicken sandwich and through Louise I was able to connect with other chefs to recreate it. SBDC’s connections and experts educated me on beer and wine and what would pair well with my menu items. SBDC were the only ones I could count on. I had to pay my lawyer and everyone else, but I didn’t have to pay the SBDC.

You have received a lot of support from your community. How did you conjure that up?

In a small town it’s important to get to know your customers by the first name, and to change as you discover what they want — this helps to establish word of mouth and that’s the most credible. I have two examples: There are no wing places in town and we make good wings so we asked the community what wing sauces they wanted and we took the top four and made them. Also, after we opened we discovered that our little town has a high population of celiac’s disease and gluten free people. We found gluten free onion rings and bought a different fryer and a separate toaster and made a gluten free section in our kitchen – that has really paid off. The community has influenced the restaurant and feels a part of it.

What do you see as the future of your business/industry?

Right now we are day to day. There are too many unknowns. In six months, will we go back to square one with another outbreak? If we do, we are more prepared for that. But there’s no way to predict. I’m thinking we might be back to normal in two more years. If we can maintain until then, I’ll be super happy.

If you’re passing through Solano County, look for BurgerIM at 115 E Dorset Dr Suite E, Dixon

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Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA or HSU Sponsored Programs Foundation.