We checked in on a few of the small businesses we followed during the pandemic. They have survived, and dare we say it, thrived because of the steps they took and pivots they made during the pandemic, sometimes painful, to get through it. These are just a few of the stories we told – see more at the end of this article – but we hope you find them helpful and inspirational.
Pilar Guzman Zavala, co-founder and CEO of Half Moon Empanadas, had hit a stride with her small business before the pandemic. Back then, she had expanded to more than a dozen locations – and employed about 100 people — in Miami-Dade County, but had to close nearly all of them in 2020 amid the crisis. She was left only with her locations on NE 79th Street in Miami’s MiMo District and in Miami International Airport.
Zavala knew the first positive step to take would be to look deeply at cash flow and question every expenditure, conserving every dollar possible. And she was willing to pivot, Zavala was able to survive, in part, by winning a Miami-Dade County contract to make meals for seniors. She also applied for and received forgivable PPP and other relief loans in order to pay her management staff through it all. She used the time to roll out a rebranding and expansion strategy last fall. “Our dream is to make Half Moon Empanadas a national brand, We feel strongly about Half Moon’s future, and we believe that COVID came to make us better and to advance our growth,” she said then.
Fast forward to today and things are looking up for Zavala and her team. Half Moon Empanadas opened a new location inside Jackson Memorial Hospital this Spring and this month she is celebrating the grand opening of her first Broward County location Pembroke Pines, at The Shops at Pembroke Gardens, where she opened alongside fellow female entrepreneur Misha Kuryla-Gomez of Misha’s Cupcakes. Sales have begun to take off at the usually busy Miami International Airport location again as flying is finally increasing, and conventions are beginning to return to the city, too – good news for the Miami Beach Convention Center location.
Stephanie Vitori, the owner of Cheeseburger Baby in South Beach and the national winner of the SBA’s Phoenix award, said that in addition to quickly pivoting to delivery/takeout at her restaurant, Cheeseburger Baby did what it needed to do to survive. That included making meals for Miami-Dade County Schools children during the pandemic. “We served turkey burgers , green beans and sweet potatos, that’s now what we do but we adjusted we adapted. You find ways to adapt, you don’t give up.”
To stay alive, forging partnerships were also key. Cheeseburger Baby served food at a bar that had a commercial kitchen and found places around the area to position its food trucks for delivery business. Vitori also said she leaned on fellow restaurant owners and others in her community for help and advice – and, yes, to share the pain because “we have to be that strong face for our employees.”
This month, Cheeseburger Baby announced it is expanding with a second bricks and mortar location; it also has three food trucks. The new location is inside Hard Rock Stadium, where Vitori translated a successful food truck partnership with the stadium into this new opportunity. “I’ve always been a go big or go home kind of person.”
The Overtown soul food pop-up restaurant Rosie’s, owned by Jamila Ross and Akino West, was a pandemic pivot.
In March of 2020, restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19 forced the couple to shutter their boutique Copper Door Bed & Breakfast, their dream business they opened in 2019. While closed they pivoted and opened a pop-up restaurant concept on the property and it was an instant hit. That has led them to open a permanent location nearby, at 1951 NW 7th Ave. They are also renovating an 1,800-square-foot house in Little River for a larger restaurant they hope to move into late next year.
“It has been bittersweet,” Ross said about having to close the B&B, in a Miami Herald interview. “But food and hospitality is what carried us. People loved it.”
The couple, partners in business and in life, received funding and resources from Miami Bayside Foundation, a nonprofit organization that mentors, holds training programs, and facilitates loans for small businesses in Miami’s underserved communities.
Sometimes, when one door closes, another opens. “We never let ourselves get down,” Ross said. “Always forward, always pushing.” Read more about the latest chapter of their story here.
READ MORE STORIES OF COVID RESILIENCY IN F&B ON GROWBIZ
- RECIPE FOR RESTAURANT SUCCESS: ADAPTABILITY, CREATIVITY, COMMUNITY
- GRIT, PIVOTS AND A RALLYING CRY: HOW MBF AND ITS SMALL BUSINESS CLIENTS NAVIGATE THIS CRISIS
- AGAINST THE ODDS, CHEESEBURGER BABY OWNER SAYS “I WILL FIND A WAY’
- IN THE HARDEST-HIT RESTAURANT INDUSTRY, SURVIVAL ISN’T OPEN AND SHUT
- KEYS TO A BREWERY’S SUCCESS: CREATIVITY, COMMUNITY AND A SOLID GROWTH PLAN
- A FIGHTER, HALF MOON EMPANADAS ROLLS OUT NEW BRANDING, STORE REOPENINGS AND EXPANSION STRATEGY
- COVID CRISIS SPURS COFFEE STARTUP TO REFOCUS ON CORE STRENGTHS AND COMMUNITY CONNECTION
Please send GrowBiz topic suggestions and feedback to GrowBiz@FIU.EDU.