Cafe Rue Dix - Brooklyn, NY
The idea for Cafe Rue Dix was conceived when Hurricane Irene spoiled Nilea Alexander's and Lamine Diagne's vacation plans. Instead of spending Alexander’s 30th birthday in Paris, the couple spent the week at home thinking about their future.
"We had this time together and we said, 'What do we want to do?' We knew that L'Orange Bleue, the restaurant that my husband had been working at for 13 years, was getting ready to close. We had some money saved and we started thinking about the next big idea," Alexander said.
Frustrated that there was nowhere in their Prospect Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn to buy the French baguettes or specialty cheeses that they so enjoyed, they decided to fill the void with a niche restaurant. Diagne, a native of Senegal, had years of restaurant experience, but the couple did not have enough money to fund the business themselves. They also did not want to take on partners that likely would not share their enthusiasm.
A friend told Alexander about the resources he had accessed to open his coffee shop a year earlier. He pointed her to New York City's New Business Acceleration Team, The 504 Company and the Small Business Administration. NBAT helps individuals opening restaurant navigate more quickly through New York City's permitting process.
After six months of revisions, the business plan for Cafe Rue Dix, a French-Senegalese restaurant, was approved. The couple received a $200,000 loan through the SBA's Community Advantage loan program, which they used for furniture, fixtures and equipment, leasehold improvements and working capital.
The Community Advantage fund focuses on small businesses in underserved communities, with a goal of driving economic growth and creating jobs. The targeted program launched in early 2011. It provides 7(a) loans up to $250,000 for business acquisitions, leasehold improvements, equipment, working capital and financing debt.
Most of the loan was used to renovate the 1,650-square-foot leased property, as the two-story space - a former Spanish grocery store - required a complete rehab. Cafe Rue Dix opened in July 2013. Diagne is the general manager, while Alexander, a general manager for Urban Outfitters, assists with scheduling and ordering. The café employs 10 people and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Alexander says the Community Advantage loan not only provided her and her husband with a low-interest loan and a minimal equity contribution, but the people associated with it taught them about running an effective business. Alexander spent four months working on their business plan before it was accepted.
"They kept putting it back on me, which was good. When I finally submitted it, we got approval for the funding within a day," Alexander said.
As importantly, the couple appreciates the freedom to make their own decisions without having to bring in other investors. Business at the café is increasing steadily, and sales are growing.
"Overall, it's surreal. It hasn't really sunk in yet that we have this place,” Alexander said. “It's a lot of hard work. It's still year one and it's very, very new. But there are moments that are very, very gratifying."