Like so many restaurants impacted by the COVID-related shutdowns, Francesca’s in Troy survived with a little guidance from the SBDC, and some well-timed assistance from the PPP.
In 1996, Yanni Tempelis landed in the United States from Greece – Miami to be exact. When asked what prompted such a big move, Yanni laughed, “Of course it was for a woman!”
“I came to the States after my obligation in the Greek Army. I’d also spent time working in my major field of studies of Civil Engineering. Imagine my surprise when I quickly learned that what I could make in Greece as an Engineer was not quite as lucrative as I needed it to be here. I had commitments and responsibilities so I did what I had to do to make ends meet and that was what led me to working security on the side.”
It just so happens that one of Yanni’s first assignments was for executives of Bacardi Rum. They quickly spotted Yanni’s talent and told him enough of running security; they were putting him to work at the company in marketing!
Just a short four years later, Yanni became manager of his department but he still felt like he was missing out on an incredible opportunity. “Being around the restaurant and bar business as much as I was, I could see the amount of money they were making. The money was appealing but I also just loved that business.”
Yanni left Bacardi and soon opened his first restaurant in North Carolina. “That was a major learning experience – I made so many mistakes! But that’s how I’ve learned what to do, and more importantly, what not to do.”
In 2019, Yanni and his wife Denise opened their second restaurant in Troy, Alabama. When asked what contributed to his ability to do that when so many restaurants fail, his answer is carefully considered, “I think it’s a combination of years of marketing experience and my distinct palette training at Bacardi. Because of this, when I develop recipes, my palette can tell me what is missing or what needs to be amended.” People must love it as Yanni just won Troy’s Reader’s Choice award for Best Chef in 2020. And after the 2020 Yanni has had, he says that it couldn’t have come at a better time.
When Yanni and Denise opened their second restaurant in 2019 and then just a couple of months later remodeled their existing restaurant, their cash reserves were left mostly depleted. He wasn’t worried about building his reserve back up though as July through December of that year was the most successful he’d ever had.
But Yanni said he just felt something was not quite right when the New Year came around. “There were some rumblings about the Coronavirus even in January. We noticed a drop in sales then; but, of course, the worst was yet to come.”
On Wednesday, March 22nd, two large, long-time corporate clients – and friends – called Yanni with the news that they had to cancel events Yanni was counting on due to COVID-19. Eventually, ALL events that were scheduled through June suddenly disappeared and 40% of Yanni’s revenue earned from catering events disappeared as well.
“I’m trying to keep it together but I’m panicking! Then a friend recommended I talk with the Alabama SBDC at TROY. I talked to my advisor an hour and a half the first time I called her. She was also a small business owner and knew what a state of mind I was in. She has ended up advising me on every step and has even kept me ahead of the game giving me information as quickly as she learns it.”
With no cash reserves, Yanni knew he had to act fast. He began trying to collect on every outstanding invoice he had. The day the EIDL program opened up, he had his information ready and sat at his computer all day hitting refresh until the portal finally allowed him access. When he learned about PPP through his advisor, he was so relieved – until his bank told him they weren’t an SBA lender.
“I begin calling around to local banks but they wouldn’t touch me. They had to take care of their own clients, and I knew that, but it was still awful.”
Eventually, his bank hooked up with Lendio and the loan was made through a bank in New York. Yanni said he spent $150,000 in one week to get everyone paid up. “It was nothing short of a roller coaster.”
In the end, Yanni was able to keep all his employees and has since opened both restaurants for business. “You know, the funny thing is, this shut-down forced us to think of ways to still serve our customers. We’ve now added frozen meals for sale in the grocery store next door to our restaurant.”
Yanni is the face of courage, tenacity and hard work – and we couldn’t be prouder in playing just a small role in his comeback story.