Long Island City, NY—It was 1:15 p.m. on a typical weekday and Sage General Store, a folksy 20-seat Long Island City eatery owned by restaurateur and caterer Leslie Nilsson-Pedace, was busy feeding its lunchtime crowd. Behind the long counter displaying luscious-looking homemade cupcakes and brownies, servers dished out to hungry patrons the day’s soups, sandwiches, pastas and fish specials. While some ordered take-out, other squeezed around the wooden tables and happily engaged in feasting and conversation.
But Ms. Nilsson-Pedace, a seasoned entrepreneur who has been in the restaurant and catering business for 14 years, admitted that business was not always so robust. In 2007 she had a major setback when she lost the contract of her thriving restaurant, Café St. Barts, to a multi-million-dollar conglomerate.
“It was a very successful, very high profile business,” said Ms. Nilsson-Pedace of the 250-seat restaurant, located on Park Avenue and 50th Street, which had a lucrative catering and wedding program. “I had to reinvent myself and basically start all over again.”
That meant refocusing on her back-up business—Sage American Kitchen—a tiny three-seat take-out shop in Long Island City that offered its patrons high-quality sandwiches, homemade soups and specials. With that, she closed the take-out shop and opened the Sage General Store across the street on Vernon Avenue. This new storefront restaurant not only allowed her to expand her operation from three seats to 20, but its basement space permitted her to expand her catering business.
“I always had the Long Island City shop, and a catering business,” she said. “But I realized that I had to expand the operation and raise some money, and to do that I needed some guidance.”
That guidance came in big servings from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, a partnership with LaGuardia Community College, which helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses, and, in turn, boost the local economy. Ms. Nilsson-Pedace enrolled in the intensive 100-hour program in the summer of 2011 and was provided with a “best-in-class” curriculum that covers accounting, marketing and selling, negotiating, hiring and the creation of a growth plan; business support services; and financial capital.
“After being in survival mode for the past three years, it became difficult knowing which next risks to take and which to avoid,” she said. “10,000 Small Businesses gave me exactly what I needed, which was a big boost of confidence, and the resources to go forward in a much smarter way.”
Over the din of the afternoon diners, she went on to say that one invaluable tool she walked away with was a growth plan, which every business owner must complete before graduating from the program. “It will be my guidepost for the next five years,” she said.
By developing a growth plan, Ms. Nilsson-Pedace said she realized that she had to concentrate on expanding her catering business since that was where she would generate the greatest profit and where her expertise lies.
And that is just what she is doing. With summer weddings and other special events scheduled she is building upon her reputation as being one of the major players on New York’s events and wedding planning scene. In addition, in July she fed the cast and crew of Food Network’s ‘Iron Chef America’.
And then there is the 3½-year-old Sage General Store, the friendly old-fashioned country store that serves traditional American regional food using locally and naturally-grown produce, meats and poultry.
That afternoon, there was a wide choice of soups, pastas, sandwiches and fish, along with the day’s blue-plate special–crispy fried chicken served with, what Ms. Nilsson-Pedace described as, “sort-of-famous” macaroni and cheese, which was featured in 2011 on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
With the restaurant and catering business both on track, Ms. Nilsson-Pedace said she has hired three additional people—one chef, an evening assistant manager and a catering manager—and is now in negotiations to expand her business. By September she will know if her business will be taking the next big leap.
“I wouldn’t have identified this opportunity if I hadn’t participated in the 10,000 Small Businesses program,” said Ms. Nilsson-Pedace. “The great thing about the program is that it forces you to focus and come up with a game plan that is a roadmap that you really want to follow to the end of the road.”
To learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative at LaGuardia Community College, please:
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About Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses:
Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an initiative to unlock the growth and job creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the United States through greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services. The program operates through a national network of public and private partner organizations including community colleges, business schools and Community Development Financial Institutions. The initiative is currently active in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, and will continue to expand to communities across the country. Community partners in New York City include The City of New York, LaGuardia Community College and Seedco Financial Services.
About LaGuardia Community College:
LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.