Sonya Suon started her career in food service as a restaurant server and has over 10 years of experience in the industry. After a career in the corporate world, she decided to return to her passion for feeding others by pursuing business ownership. Her vision was to start a food business serving mouth-watering and exciting Asian fusion street food, gathering the most popular tastes of various global cuisines into one place, served in a signature way… on soft, warm bao buns.
"Along with all the groundwork we had already put into our business plan, working with Karie provided us additional reassurance that we would be successful in our endeavor!"
Suon worked with Long Beach SBDC restaurant and retail advisor Karie Armstrong. Together, they developed a plan for the business. Armstrong also explained the loan and leasing process. In Suon's words, “Karie provided a wealth of information to help us better understand the ins and outs of starting a food business. She opened our eyes to things we hadn't previously considered. She also offered insights into more accurate cost estimating and ways to manage our cash flow.” Suon and a co-owner invested in the business and, with Karie’s help, received an SBA loan
Meanwhile, Suon participated in SBDC webinars on business finance literacy and choosing a legal structure with tax and finance advisor Lori Williams. Afterward, the client met with Williams for one-on-one guidance on how choosing an entity would impact her taxes. She also learned from Williams how to calculate her expected payroll taxes.
When people in Danny Quevedo’s North Long Beach neighborhood wanted to pick up a last-minute gift before a wedding or first communion, they had to travel as far as five or even ten miles. Other religious stores weren’t open on the weekends, prices were unrealistic, and the selection of Spanish-language items was limited.
Quevedo aimed to open a store selling gifts, devotionals, and religious articles to the local Catholic community. In mid-2022, he opened Tiendita San Juditas. He and his husband, Gregory Avila, want to be comfortable financially, but that’s not what ultimately motivated this venture. Instead, Quevedo studied at a seminary for three years and saw the shop as a natural place to provide spiritual support to his community.
"My advisor Lucia is an entrepreneur herself. She's taught me what she has learned from real-life experience running her own business."
Starting a brick-and-mortar business requires a lot of funding. In Quevedo’s online quest for startup money, he found El Centro SBDC. He was surprised and excited to find a program with Spanish-language support for him and his community.
Quevedo’s SBDC advisor, Lucia Miño, let him know about the California Dream Fund. The SBDC’s Los Angeles Region was one of the hosts for the statewide program. It included a series of interactive webinars on how to start a business, one-on-one support with writing a business plan, and consideration for a grant. Quevedo participated in the Spanish-language version of the training and worked with Miño to prepare the grant application.
Although Quevedo has many years of experience launching and managing businesses on behalf of others, he says he still finds the SBDC’s training and advice useful. “Starting my own business has not been the same as getting paid to start and run a business. I have experience with bookkeeping, but I’ve never done financial projections. I’ve never had to think about whether we had the money to make it happen. Putting the whole business plan together with my advisor put things in perspective.”
Quevedo’s funding application was successful, and Tiendita San Juditas won a $10,000 startup grant!
Apryl Stewart’s Skyview Concessions operates duty-free, specialty retail and dining concessions at two large California airports: LAX (Los Angeles) and SFO (San Francisco). The business is certified as an Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE).
Many industries are finally back to some level of normalcy after the disruptions and uncertainty of the pandemic. But the travel industry has been transformed. Airport foot traffic has changed. Instead of flying to a meeting, businesspeople are more likely to connect on a video call. Stewart is operating and growing her business in these challenging circumstances.
"I've been learning finances and strategy from the SBDC. I'm looking at my metrics in a smarter way. I'm more analytical now."
Stewart began working with her SBDC advisor, Keith Rogers, just a few months before the pandemic shutdown. He was already assisting her with applications for capital, and they pivoted to pursuing Covid relief funding. In 2021, after he helped her navigate through the pandemic and evaluate new opportunities, Stewart opened her first 100% owned and operated store at LAX. She has a direct lease with the airport, and unlike her joint ventures at the other airports, she doesn’t need to share her revenue from this store with an outside investor.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of the shutdown, Stewart attended her first SBDC webinars, seeking daily updates on COVID-19 relief funding. She was able to access two rounds of PPP funding, an EIDL increase, and the California Covid Relief Fund. But, isolated at home, she also found a place of community with other business owners and support from SBDC advisors in the online gatherings. She got hooked, and she’s been attending online workshops regularly ever since.
Stewart reports that participating in SBDC training has given her the skills to understand financial statements better. And it has given her a more strategic mindset toward her business.
Stewart reports, “We’re building back post-pandemic and developing and engaging to get repeat customers. I have one customer who stops in every time she comes through the airport. She’s building a collection of our pieces. That’s our goal.” The business rotates stock on the shelves every 6-8 weeks to encourage customers to return and explore their new offerings. They’ve put together collaborations with partners like Disney and Hello Kitty. The outcome? The store has raised its customer return rate.
Now, she is paying it forward to other women- and minority-owned businesses who want to win contracts in the aviation and aerospace industries, serving on the Airport Minority Advisory Council. She's also been visible in the media recently, appearing in Black Voice News and speaking to Axios, Los Angeles public radio station KPCC, and the California State Capitol press corps.
Stewart is enthusiastic about continuing to grow. She's constantly keeping tabs on economic trends around the world. The fortunes of national economies affect the customer mix at airports. Through her research and careful observations, she has concluded that her customer profile has changed. At LAX, Stewart plans to move her store to the international terminal to reach her target market. Plus, she’s keeping an eye out for opportunities to open additional stores while advancing in her role as an industry leader.
Through the twists and turns of the pandemic and beyond, she’s persevered. And with mentoring and training from the SBDC, Stewart has emerged as a more skilled executive.