Adam Rosenbalm's original reason for signing up his Kingsport, Tennessee-based catering and frozen foods business, Good Batch Mama, for the Restaurant Recovery Program offered by Proof Incubator in Chattanooga, was for networking and grant application purposes.
"I thought it was geared more towards restaurants, but I thought we might learn from their ability to get grants and I approached it as a way to get in front of industry professionals. Plus, [Proof co-founder] Mike Robinson has forgotten in his sleep more than I know."
When Rosenbalm opened the business three years ago, the focus was on catering with a side interest in frozen homemade meals. Then the pandemic hit.
"Catering more or less dropped to zero overnight," he said, "but frozen meals doubled, so net zero, in effect. It's an interesting inverse relationship and it had nothing to do with the foresight of the owners," he said with a laugh.
"We got lucky."
The Proof Incubator was co-founded by Robinson and Mia Littlejohn a few years ago after years of working with food industry people through business accelerator CO-LAB. Both are lifelong food and beverage professionals and the incubator focuses on "education, innovation, and acceleration for talented makers, restaurateurs, and small business owners."
The two worked with Josh Brown, senior small business specialist at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at Chattanooga State Community College to develop the plan.
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Visit proofincuberator.com to learn when the next classes will be offered, and to apply.
He said about 60 food and beverage-related businesses from across the state have been through the Restaurant Recovery Program in the past year. It was a concept they had been considering for years, but one that took on new meaning when the pandemic hit.
While each might have needs or issues unique to them, the concepts and practices offered in the program are fairly common to each. It is geared to not only restaurateurs, but just about anyone in the food and beverage industry.
"We give them resources they don't have and we really get under the hood and evaluate what they do and we give them the means to do that themselves," Robinson said.
There is no charge to the participants and the program is paid for through sponsorships and grants. Robinson said some money comes from big distribution companies, developers who have restaurants as tenants, chambers of commerce and local Urban Leagues.
Because Proof works with local communities to get funding, the current model is to offer the classes to businesses in those areas for each session, but that could change in the future.
Rosenbalm said the four-week program is a "very powerful" tool, providing him and co-owners Anna Catherine Blevins and Elizabeth Rosenbalm with tangible information on everything from staffing issues, finances and "getting a good handle on costs and handling goods and products."
The program includes some one-on-one instruction and some Zoom meetings with the other 19 teams in each class. If one of the other participants doesn't know the answer to a question, Rosenbalm said the program staff or guest experts do.
"I might say something like, 'Here's what I'm thinking,' and they would say, 'Yeah, that's a thing and here is what it is called.'"
Antonio Tate started his Party Bites Catering in Chattanooga almost three years ago and said this has been his best year. He calls the staff at Proof and the people he met through the program his team or board of directors.
"That's something I never had before."
He is opening a new space in Mission Chattanooga on East 12th Street and said Proof is helping walk him through that.
"They are people that will tell you the truth," he said.
"Every business question I have, I go through them first."
They've also helped with human resources regarding his staff of between four and 12 people, depending on demands, and crisis management issues.
"Plus, I was really worried about the time involved to do this. I have a day job, but they do it on a Zoom call for an hour. It started on time and they had great guests every Thursday.
Both he and Rosenbalm said the program emphasizes having a solid business plan with good financial analysis to go with it and a plan for moving forward.
"I was at a stage where I needed that," Tate said. "They are really big on knowing your strengths and weaknesses."
Rosenbalm said, "It's about understanding more clearly what needs to be done and the next steps for doing it."
Contact Barry Courter at 423-757-6354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.