How business planning and accounting support helped two military pilots start a profitable breakfast cafe in their community, despite the effects of Covid-19
It starts with a husband and wife - two former military pilots with a vision of opening up a restaurant beachside in their local community.
Blythe had been a server in her university days and, more recently, had taken up a job working at a local bakery while the kids were in high school. Aside from this, before setting up their cafe, Kurt and Blythe had very little experience of running a food business. Regardless, the couple were fueled by a shared love for cooking breakfast with their three boys and inspired by the many restaurants they’d eaten in around the world.
Their vision was Tidal Café, now a local go-to gathering spot for brunch, breakfast and lunch in beautiful Comox.
Here’s how we helped them make it happen.
Restaurants are famously tough, and Kurt and Blythe were worried their lack of business experience would set them back
The couple had a vision for a breakfast restaurant with a real commercial kitchen. In the summer of 2019, a space in a local building came up for sale and Kurt and Blythe were quick to consider whether they could take it.
Vision gives you the fire to follow your business dreams but can be risky without strategy. The building had the basic elements they needed to run a food business, and from her time at the bakery, Blythe had contacts with good suppliers. This felt like the right moment, but it was a fire sale situation. The couple were excited but stressed. They could seize their dream finally, but they were filled with uncertainty about what they would be taking on and how much the building's repairs might set them back. They knew they needed:
Help to assess the price
To know how much they would need to pay for renovations
To write a business plan, so they could make the right choices with confidence
Through a contact in their neighborhood, the couple were referred to Fabien.
The local spot
Right away, we were able to take them by the hand in terms of building a business plan
Our accountants walked through the space with Kurt & Blythe and had a great talk with them about their vision.
The first thing we did was carry out a worst case/best case scenario assessment. We put together an initial spreadsheet for a profit-loss statement. This meant we could add in their startup costs and make an educated guess at revenue.
This allowed Fabien to get a good idea about what the numbers should be. He was able to play with the numbers and look at scenarios like:
How much seating would they need in a month to break even?
If they serve X number of covers on a Thursday, what would their profit be?
If the cost of food increases to X%, what's the impact on the number of weekly seatings needed to break-even?
It might cause you anxiety to think you don’t know your numbers from the outset. You’re just getting started, right? How can you make predictions on data you don’t have yet?
This is why it’s so helpful to sit down with an expert in the early days. It doesn’t matter that your numbers are an estimate - we can help you set up your starting numbers and show you how your money will be affected by different scenarios and choices. This kind of planning is key to helping you make vital informed decisions for your operations from day one.
From September to their opening in November the couple were very excited to open, though they had a lot to do. They were spinning multiple plates, trying to get their name recognized while getting the place ready. A dual feeling of “we made it!” with the inevitable exhaustion that new business beginnings bring.
As your accountants there are some things we can’t do - plan out your menus, generate buzz for your brand. But there is plenty we can take off your plate with a new opening, allowing you to focus on those areas you went into business for in the first place. In these beginnings, we helped Kurt and Blythe set up fundamental systems, like their POS system and payroll process.
Having financial and operational planning in place gave the couple confidence their hard graft would be worth it, and most importantly allowed them to feel excitement among the tiredness.
Covid hit three months after Tidal Café’s soft opening, but the couple had the insight and tools they needed to navigate it
You all know the devastating effect Covid-19 had on businesses globally. It changed the lives of millions. Tidal Café was no exception to the upheaval caused by the pandemic, but despite being only three months into business, Kurt and Blythe were able to stay afloat.
When a crisis hits, usually the first ball to be dropped is receipt tracking. But they kept it up. This meant that we could give them the best up-to-date information on their financials as possible.
There is so much power in capturing your transactions. By recording your transactions consistently, you’re taking the first step towards better decision making and ultimately your ideal outcome. This is the only part of the process you can’t outsource to us, so having a good system set up will save you time, personally. You need to be doing this whether you have an accountant or not.
Kurt speaks of the lessons he learned working with Fabien through this time:
“We were cautiously hopeful. We didn’t have a ton of choices. We just had to do what we could do during Covid. We had to donate food we couldn’t use when we couldn’t open. Fabien helped us cross that off. The summer was insane –almost TOO busy. At each step we kept learning - okay, we need to make this or that better. Efficiency is a big deal for us now”
The couple didn’t qualify for a lot of the grants, because they hadn’t opened before 2019. You were supposed to be able to show a drop in your sales - but they couldn’t show that.
Instead, they pivoted to outside dining and take-out alternatives. We
were there to help them navigate their options.
They had to reconfigure their outside space. We helped them re-calculate their seating. Asking questions like:
Is it worth spending $X to Y number of new seating capacity?
How many covers at those new seats are needed to pay back the investment?
What is the best-case scenario if those new seats are at full capacity on a consistent basis?
They spent 5-10k on getting heaters - we helped them figure out whether it would be profitable or not and how to make sure it would be.
For Kurt, the partnership with Reach was valuable beyond just the numbers:
“If Fabien didn’t know, he looked it up and came back to us with the information, plus ideas. It was nice having someone in your corner to talk to”
Hard work and accounting support meant Tidal Cafe was profitable in 2021, despite the challenges a pandemic had presented
We’re incredibly proud to support Kurt and Blythe and see their success despite the odds against them. Starting a restaurant on the eve of Covid-19 is no small feat, especially when you’re not eligible for subsidies.
But three years on, they have a thriving profitable restaurant. They’re able to convert those profits into dividends for shareholders, and they’ve learned a ton about good bookkeeping practices. Kurt part-owns the business and isn’t so much on the floor. Blythe is a partner and takes a fair salary out of the business - and even after that salary the business is still profitable.
This is down to:
Asking for help with business planning early and feeling confident in their direction
Being consistent with collecting and tracking receipts - vital for good bookkeeping
Being in regular communication with their accountant, meaning they had back up for ideas and decisions from someone in their corner
“It feels like Fabien is part of our restaurant team. I wish I had time or needed to meet with him more. He’s great to spend time with. He’s nominated us through the chamber for best new business. He purchases gift cards for our staff from our restaurant” - Kurt