Ingredients for Success

For more than a decade, restaurateurs Joshua Suggs and Coretta King have kept a vigilant eye on the operating budget and overall finances of Delta’s in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The duo’s upscale bar and restaurant brings a Southern-style cuisine and flair to the professional crowd of the central New Jersey college town that’s home to Rutgers University. Their financial tenacity and business acumen has enabled them to make a bold move: In the spring of 2011, they will open a second restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A common mistake many small businesses make is commingling their personal and business expenses, which can be a prime target for IRS scrutiny in audits. But Suggs and King are  keeping business expenses and personal expenses separate, and have managed budget, credit, and tax obligations so well that revenues for Delta’s will top $2.2 million–about the same as 2009 figures despite a sour economy.  Before Suggs, 39, and King, 38, opened the restaurant in December 1999 they made sure that they had little to no debt and were living within their means.

Suggs says he has mostly been thrifty. While he was a student at Rutgers, he worked a part-time job and often looked for the best bargains on items such as books and appliances. King was also conservative when it came to spending early in her life. Even now, “many of our employees drive better cars than we do,” she adds. As it turned out, the duo’s wise spending habits led to establishing the business.

The two were engaged at the time and later married, but are now divorced.  Despite the split in their personal lives, the duo remained committed to a 50/50 business partnership. “Neither one of us had any formal training in how to effectively run and operate a small business,” Suggs says. “The original business plan we submitted to the bank for the SBA loan was only four pages long.” But what they did have was a solid financial track record with minimal consumer debt which made it easier for

them to  secure a 20% down payment ($180,000) and obtain a loan for the balance ($720,000) from the Small Business Administration (SBA) through Valley National Bank, a subsidiary of Valley National Bancorp.

Despite the lack of entrepreneurial training, Suggs and King were adamant about creating a budget and sticking to it. After they divorced, Suggs saved money by moving in with his family in Highland Park, New Jersey–a short distance from the restaurant. Currently, he has three personal credit cards with the highest credit limit being just $1,000. He seldom uses the cards. In the years leading up to Suggs’s foray into entrepreneurship, he saved money religiously, earned extra cash from part-time jobs, and looked for creative ways to buy things inexpensively.

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