As part of her family tradition, Lillie learned to cook as a child. Lessons from her grandmother and mother led to the opening of her start-up restaurant, "Soul Heaven Café". After conducting customer research, Lillie leased a building in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama, that’s surrounded by multiple businesses where soul food has little competition other than a couple of nearby fast food restaurants.
Besides her knowledge of cooking from scratch from her family, Lillie worked for a major Italian chain restaurant that sent her to culinary school. She also managed multiple restaurants. She says corporate always wants what’s best for it rather than the customer. “What I have learned from managing other businesses is you have to jump through hoops. It’s not about the customer, it’s about the dollar,” she says. Lillie plans to do just the opposite with her restaurant. She is starting out small to ensure she can properly cater to customers’ needs. When she opens in the middle of July, her restaurant will be the only one in her area offering made-from-scratch breakfast before 11 a.m.
Since her business is a start-up, Lillie is the only employee. The restaurant is modeled after a take-out establishment, but can comfortably sit 15 hungry customers. She says Soul Heaven Café will create four new jobs when it kicks off, but, for the time being, she’ll receive help from family when needed. Lillie’s menu will consist of a variety of dishes, including chef salad, chicken salad, grilled or fried chicken sandwiches, fish sandwiches, vegetables, fruits, wings, and homemade cakes and puddings. She will also offer daily specials and party platters.
To get started, Lillie needed more kitchen equipment. But knowing she might not qualify for a loan, she purchased cooking equipment progressively until she inquired about a loan. Lillie says she did a quick Google search for loans in her area and came across Accion Texas Inc. However, she didn’t follow through with an application until the Alabama Women in Business organization encouraged her. The Accion loan will help her business flourish, as she is able to purchase equipment and offer more menu choices, she says. Without the loan, it would have taken Lillie longer to open. “I would like to thank Accion for believing in my dreams and helping me achieve my dreams.” She is currently in the process of obtaining the domain name for her future website, but has a Facebook page for now: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Soul-Heaven-Cafe/203786046407460.
LiftFund. (www.liftfund.com) is an award-winning nonprofit organization (previously known as Accion Texas) with a mission to provide credit and loans to small and start-up businesses that have limited or no access to credit from commercial sources. Established in 1994 in San Antonio, LiftFund has helped Texas and Louisiana entrepreneurs strengthen their businesses, stabilize and increase their incomes, create employment, and contribute to the economic revitalization of their communities. Learn more at www.liftfund.com.