Homespun Foods: Jessica Reisman, Beacon’s Main Street and DIA, NY
In searching out places to eat, looking for the genuine, the unique and the next can sometimes substitute for taste. Homespun Foods, a New American café serving breakfast and lunch in homey digs in Beacon and in the modern cavern that is DIA, satisfies on all counts. The traditional homestyle ethos of chef/entrepreneur/owner Jessica Reisman is spread over a variety of regional, consistently tasty cuisines. On Main Street, Homespun Food teems with the vintage charm of exposed brick walls, tall china pitchers holding flatware, blackboard menus and vinyl dinettes. Local market finds set the stage for shared plates of gorgeous, fresh and generous tuna nicoise, tofu banh mi sandwiches mixing Vietnamese classics like carrot, cucumber and cilantro, chili chocolate cookies and chocolate-ganache covered cheesecake, washed down with New York beer or local hard cider.
A small business loan of $50,000 from Community Capital enabled Reisman to expand and grow her business to 22 employees and to a second location at DIA:Beacon, covering the cost of extra necessary equipment—like walk in refrigerators—and consolidating debt. “Community Capital really saved me—without the loan I could not have moved forward, and might have done worse. I was drowning, consistently stressed about cash flow.”
How did you get into the cafe business?
I ran a bakery and wholesale food business in Seattle for many years. When I moved to Beacon in 2000, I saw the need. At first I had in mind a specialty food store, and the tag along was the café. But the café took over fairly quickly. Beacon was pretty boarded up until DIA opened, and artists started moving up from New York, and then young families. I make everything from scratch. And it’s an eclectic menu. It’s a sandwich and salad shop really, but everything has a creative touch and is very fresh. In the beginning, it was very different than anything that’s around here. Now there’s new blood in town, and lots of new shops that complement ours. In the early days, we were very community-focused, and still are, supporting Green Teens, working with local high school students teaching them baking and gardening as part of the Cornell Cooperative program.
How did your business evolve, and how did Community Capital help?
The kitchen is very small. We started with just two butane burners. Then we graduated to a four-burner stove. We took over a shop across the road just to use for our catering business. As the business develops, you try new things and see what works and what doesn’t. DIA decided to outsource their café and wanted a local entity to take it over. Community Capital really saved me… I had a small business chronically underfunded, and in past years when there wasn’t enough cash flow I covered payroll or didn’t take a salary for long periods of time. To take on DIA, I needed a much bigger business. My espresso machine finally broke down after seven years. I needed a second and larger big walk-in refrigerator to keep produce and eggs and cool food. I needed a new slicer. I needed to hire. I owed huge amounts to American Express as I financed business expenses using the credit card. I borrowed $50,000 from Community Capital to let me expand to DIA, hire, and purchase the equipment I needed and consolidate debt. Having a loan isn’t a debt I mind because it’s the difference between 18% or more in interest and about 8%. I had gone to banks, and banks have an unfortunate relationship with restaurateurs. They wouldn’t consider me for a loan, despite having a longstanding local restaurant. Now I meet my bills. And I am able to keep my business growing successfully.
What’s the best advice you got along the way?
If you’re married, your spouse has to be 100% supportive of your business. The food business is all consuming. Your spouse better not be averse to mopping the occasional floor.
What did you wish you knew?
More information on how to set up a business as a co-op, so employees can have a stake in it. Are there models that can be explored that are for profit? I could have used help in structuring relationships with employees financially. I’m a self-learner. My art form is creating a community environment. But it’s taken me years to learn to be organized, disciplined and to get a system for employee raises, job reviews, and how to set that up.
If I’m drowning in catering, I might as well start swimming by getting organized and planning for growth. I can barely keep step with it. I used to open at nights for dinner, but felt we were maxed out as a café. So I just do breakfast and lunch now, and focus on catering, renting out the garden and restaurant. We have a lot of rehearsal dinners and wedding brunches. I’m also working on a succession plan. We have a general manager we are trying to incorporate into both the Main Street and DIA:Beacon commissary locations, and continue to develop a stable staff allowing me more time to focus on bookwork and menu ideas. I want to be able to move from making sandwiches at noon during the lunch time rush to spending my time creatively.
www.homespunfoods.com, 232 Main Street and at DIA:Beacon, NY 12508, 845.831.5096