John Tan, left, and Johnson Tan stand inside Flo Eatery and Wine Bar, which is their most recent restaurant. They are expanding their business, Tan Bros. LLC, which now operates Ocean Zen, 5 Spice and Yum Yum Bowl.
Geared Up and Growing
Despite a recession that has many companies tightening the purse strings, there are area businesses that have found opportunity to expand.
Big Mommas Coffee House and Espresso Bar LLC, Dharma Day Spa and Salon, and Tan Bros. LLC – the umbrella company for restaurants Ocean Zen, 5 Spice and Yum Yum Bowl – are among local businesses achieving growth amid less-than-stellar economic conditions.
Big Mommas crossed the state line for the first time, opening a Fayetteville, Ark., location on April 23. Tan Bros. is preparing to open a fourth venue, Flo Eatery and Wine Bar, in late September.
And Dharma Day Spa purchased neighboring Oxygen Salon in June, adding full-service salon services to its offerings.
Though each business owner has taken a different approach to expansion, their methods may be applicable across the board.
Tan brothers add to holdings menu For John Tan, the ingredients to growth are products, service and atmosphere. Tan partnered with his brother, Johnson Tan, to open Ocean Zen and 5 Spice, and the two share a 50 percent interest in Yum Yum Bowl with cousin Mei Tan.
The brothers opened Ocean Zen in 2004 with about 55 full- and part-time employees. Now, their three eateries employ roughly 125 workers, and their latest venture, Flo, 2925 E. Battlefield Road, Ste. 105, will have up to 25 employees, John Tan said.
The brothers have signed a five-year lease on Flo’s 3,500-square-foot space and expect startup costs to be $380,000, he said, and they hope to post sales in the million-dollar range in the restaurant’s first full year of operation.
Diversification seems to be a key component to the brothers’ success. Each of their restaurants has a different focus and price point, from the upscale Ocean Zen with its Pacific Rim cuisine to the quick-service Pan-Asian Yum Yum Bowl. At Flo, there will be more focus on the bar, which will feature an Enomatic wine serving system.
“This is the more modern, tech-savvy product than the cuvenee,” John Tan said. “It keeps wines fresher and it has a software program to dispense six-, three- and one-ounce pours – or any number of ounces we want.”
While the Tans hope to cultivate a posh bar and lounge atmosphere at Flo, quality food will be a priority, he said, noting an emphasis will be on small plates, or tapas, and sushi. The menu will be limited to six or seven entrees, and cocktail-style seating can be raised to dining height during dinner and lowered afterward, he said.
Tan said he and his brother decided to open Flo because they’d always wanted a late-night venue. The eatery will fit with their relatively simple growth philosophy in which everyone is a potential customer.
“We don’t really have a specific clientele we’re looking for,” John Tan said. “That can limit your business, because you’re trying to cater to a certain type.”
Big Mommas crosses state lines At Big Mommas, the opportunity for expansion came just as owner Lyle Foster felt the coffee and espresso bar was picking up steam.
“They say it takes about three years for a small business to get its sea legs,” Foster said. “I feel like that now, the store on Commercial Street is gaining its rhythm and momentum and we’re slowly getting to the point where we can cover our expenses.”
Foster, who declined to disclose company revenues, opened the first Big Mommas, 217 E. Commercial St., in 2007 with four employees. And even as Foster continues to fine-tune the company’s core, he said the business has grown as much from being in the right place at the right time as it has from any set strategy.
In October 2008, a smaller-scale Big Mommas opened in Orchard Park Apartments, at 2601 N. Cresthaven Ave.
In April, a third Big Mommas opened in Fayetteville, bringing the company’s total employee count to 10.
“Fayetteville is similar to Springfield in that it’s a college market,” Foster said. “That brings together the different people … and the kind of energy that generates a coffee shop atmosphere.” While the flagship Big Mommas on Commercial Street will always have features its successors won’t – including event space, called the Backporch, and a theater troupe – Foster said the idea is to replicate the essence of Big Mommas in the other venues.
“The name Big Mommas dictates how we do what we do,” he said. “Big Momma may have 25 kids, but she knows that this one likes extra salt and this one wants it this way. Big Momma accommodates.”
Foster’s 10 employees are essential to his company’s ability to grow, and he said that because the Big Momma attitude extends to staff, he is able to maintain standards.
“You’d be surprised how many people come in and ask ‘Where’s Big Momma?’” he said. “I think every person we hire should have enough zing in their personality to answer to that, or at least have a laugh.” Dharma Day Spa adds salon Dharma Day Spa, 2902 S. Lone Pine Ave., got its start in 2007 when owner Barbara Taylor purchased and renamed Body Enhancement Clinic. At the time, the staff was made up of one hourly receptionist and one full-time and two part-time independent contractors for the spa.
Now, the business has enough work to support 18 independent contractors – eight for the spa and 10 for salon services. Taylor is in growth mode. In June, she secured a $65,000 loan, backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration through Bank of Bolivar to purchase Oxygen Salon next door for $60,000. The remainder of the funds were used for advertising and signage.
“We weren’t really in competition, and we recommended each other a lot,” Taylor said, noting Oxygen’s former owner, Paula Turley wanted to get away from running a business and continues to work at Dharma as a stylist.
“I didn’t want to see the salon go out of business because I was afraid it would sit there empty,” Taylor said.
Following the Oxygen purchase, Taylor renamed the business Dharma Day Spa and Salon, and the separate spaces were turned into one with a three-day remodeling job.
While she took advantage of the opportunity offered by a next-door business going on the market, Taylor pointed out that Oxygen also fit her salon background.
“It’s not like I just took on something I didn’t know anything about,” she said.
Taylor’s revenues from the salon side of the business come from booth rentals. Stylists pay a weekly station rental fee of $175 apiece, and with 10 stylists, that tallies up to $91,000 a year. Taylor said she expects service sales from the day spa side of the business to bring in $300,000 this year, up considerably from her first year in business, when she said she brought in less than $100,000.
To track the company’s progress compared to previous years, she uses a spreadsheet that dates back to the store’s opening.
“I know how much I made this week three years ago, and this week two years ago,” she said. “It helps when you’re having a bad week, you can look back and say, ‘Oh yeah, this was that week.”[[In-content Ad]]