Ryan German chosen as 2003 SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Ryan German
SCORE, Chapter 42, and the Wilmington Savings Fund Society are pleased to announce that our nominee, Ryan German, owner and manager of Caffé Gelato Restaurant, has been chosen for the 2003 SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Delaware District Office and the Delaware Economic Development Office (DED) will honor Ryan as one of Delaware’s outstanding small business owners and advocates at the Delaware Small Business Week Awards Dinner on May 5, 2003, at the Dover Downs Hotel.

Earl Norman, Ryan’s SCORE counselor says, “The way Ryan planned, started and is growing his profitable business is a model for restaurant owners of any age and experience.”

Ryan came to SCORE as he was finishing his last semester at the University of Delaware and after he had been turned down for a loan by eight banks. Although, at that time, his business plan needed a little polish, it had a level of comprehension and detail rare in any startup venture. While working his way through college, he had saved almost a third of the capital needed to get started. An investigation by SCORE determined that the banks had been turning him down primarily because of his FICO credit score. Ryan had not yet established the credit history that the model relies on. Through informal consultation by SCORE with the local SBA office, it was determined that Ryan needed to find a loan officer that would look past the FICO score and his 22 years: someone that would be willing to evaluate the person and the business plan. That is where Wilmington Savings Fund Society (WSFS) entered the picture. Through WSFS, German secured an SBA-guaranteed loan to finance Caffé Gelato.

During his college senior year, Ryan searched for the perfect restaurant location. When an old sandwich shop closed in the heart of the University business district, he thought he could make it fit his needs. Although it was in bad shape, Ryan and his family spent several months renovating most of it themselves, meeting regulatory standard and designing it to take advantage of operational and marketing innovations. The owner was so impressed with the planned renovations he agreed to waive the first three months rent. A traffic layout minimizes bussing and servers in the fashionable dining areas. It also allows Ryan to display, on the walls, painting and photographs from local artists that change the first Monday of every month. Since these are for sale, the artists bring in their own clientele for the show, who usually stop for dinner or at least a gelato.

Ryan’s layout also displays the enticing gelato in coolers where they can be seen from the street through a plate glass window, enticing student walking by to partake of this high margin product. The entrance is designed to allow gelato as a takeout option without disturbing diners. An attractive awning shelters European style sidewalk tables and makes the restaurant a landmark known throughout Delaware.

Although the university crowd is a major source of customers, Ryan did not want to depend totally on this seasonal clientele, with their limited budgets, for his success. With a full sized kitchen and a budget for a first class chef, he added gourmet lunch sandwiches and exquisite dinner entrees. German directed marketing to affluent adults who would appreciate a Mediterranean dining experience. He has developed a mailing list targeted to bring people in to not only to his art shows, but also to other events like his special wine dinners. For these occasions, he gets a winery or distributor to co-sponsor the event and provide hand picked wines, along with an educational lecture, to go with each course.

German’s marketing is already addressing the next generation of customers as he invites groups from local grade schools to come in to see how gelato is made. Other marketing innovations include advertising Sunday brunch in local Church Bulletins and selling electronic debit gift cards for food at Caffé Gelato at area retail outlets. Ryan has invited personnel and marketing representatives from local industry to sample his restaurant and it has become a major location for both corporate internal and customer meetings. Although he accepts reservations for groups, a waiting time for walk-ins on weekends averages an hour.

Ryan has 23 employees, with chefs chosen from the best in the region. Most of the rest are University of Delaware students. Ryan admits to as much as 100-hour workweeks.

Earl Norman and Susan Garson of WSFS both agree that their opportunity to work with, and help, a person like Ryan is the kind of thing that makes SCORE counseling and working in the financial industry personally satisfying.

Originally published 2003 at http://www.scoredelaware.org/counsel.htm, now archived at scoredelaware.org here.
Reprinted by permission