“To grow as a business owner I need to know not only food but how to fully operate a professional establishment. Community Capital provides awesome support for its clients. I received two technical assistance grants that gave me training for a new point of sale system, and Quickbooks. I also listen in on their business webinars.”
Owner, Brandon Walker
Support Provided: Business loan, technical assistance and two education scholarships
Impact: Minority owned business, 3 full time and 4 part time jobs created
The Back Story
Reflecting on his childhood, Chef Brandon Walker recalls, “my happiest memories take place in the kitchen with my mom and grandma.” In fact, Essie’s is named after Walker’s maternal Grandmother — a Virginian born woman whose southern cooking left an indelible impression on him. His paternal grandmother also exposed him to great Jamaican food so it’s no surprise that Chef Walker has developed a unique cooking style that he coins “Progressive American Comfort Food” that combines American South and Caribbean themes with his traditional French culinary training.
Essie’s Restaurant, a chic, bistro style eatery, is located in the historic Mt. Carmel (aka “Little Italy”) section of Poughkeepsie, steps away from the scenic walkway over the Hudson. Originally a Brooklyn boy, Walker moved to the Hudson Valley 17 years ago to attend the Culinary Institute of America. Over the years he built an impressive resume working at some of NYC’s most elite spots and ultimately returned to the Hudson Valley in 2014 with his wife (and business partner) LaTrevette with a laser focus: to become restauranteurs. “We rooted ourselves here because we loved the proximity to farms, breweries and all the local food related businesses. The region also possesses a wonderful artisan culture that encourages creativity.”
Walker’s plan has been strategic and intentional. For starters, he established a catering business targeting private and corporate clients. He also hosted POP-UP events throughout the region to obtain feedback on menu items, generate buzz in the local market and develop his brand. Concurrently, Walker participated in various professional development programs to hone his business skills. This is how he met Fernando Ahumada, Senior Vice President of Lending at Community Capital who had presented an “Access to Capital” workshop at a Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce event. One year later, Walker reached out to Simone, seeking a loan to complete renovations, purchase equipment and fund start-up expenses for Essie’s. Simone recalls “Brandon initially needed credit counseling. I met with him for six months and was impressed with his ability to implement our recommendations and get loan-ready. We developed a strong working relationship and in April 2016 Community Capital approved a $50,000 loan.”
Chef Walker considers himself “fiscally conservative,” and therefore, launched a 7 week “soft opening” for Essie’s. This allowed him to iron out staffing and logistical kinks. The official grand opening occurred on July 15th and outstanding reviews were immediately posted on Yelp and Trip Advisor sites. In discussing his near term goals, Walker asserts that consistency in all areas – food, service and décor, is his number one priority. The menu will change seasonally and he plans to purchase as much Hudson Valley product as possible to deliver the freshest ingredients while also supporting the local economy and community. In discussing the neighborhood, Walker believes that the Mt. Carmel area is ready for a comeback. He notes “there is a lot of development in the surrounding area including a luxury condominium complex underway. My hope it that Essie’s can emerge as an anchor establishment that delivers top notch hospitality and brings increased commerce to the area.”
14 Mt. Carmel Pl.