SBA Administrator: Small Businesses Form ‘Backbone’ of Alaska’s Communities
The organization provides tools entrepreneurs need to become small business owners
By Tasha Anderson
During her visit to Alaska on her nationwide Ignite Tour, SBA Administrator Linda McMahon visited several small businesses in Alaska including Wild Scoops, owned by Elissa Brown.
Photo by Tasha Anderson
One of Anchorage’s newest restaurants opened in late July at 1450 East Tudor Road: locally-owned Bread and Brew is a “modern day sandwich shop that specializes in grilled cheese,” the company states. Bread and Brew Managing Partner Craig McCarty says, “We’ve been a family of business owners and entrepreneurs for more than thirty years.”
Bread and Brew operates a rather unique business model. During the day the restaurant opens a garage door and lunch customers stand in line to place an order with the option of dining in or carrying out. “People are in a hurry for lunch; they want to get in and get out. We call it ‘the queue.’” But, at 4 p.m. the queue closes, and the ordering lane becomes a dinner service server station. “At night it slows down, we dim the lights, the music turns up a little more, our servers come out, and it’s a nice dining experience,” he says.
McCarty is unaware of any other Alaska restaurants with a similar practice. He says the decision to switch dining modes came after studying the market. “We are new to the restaurant business, so when we decided to get in we observed and did a case study on how restaurants function and who is successful.” Their research indicated that many restaurants found success providing lunch to a line of customers, rather than serving them. “We thought we could service more guests by doing that,” he says. In contrast, at dinner “people are off work—they want to relax and unwind, have a beer or glass of wine, and they want someone to wait on them.” Bread and Brew caters to both sets of expectations.
In addition to the change in service, menu options change after 4 p.m., with more dishes added including roasted goat or margarita flatbread, pulled pork tacos on flatbread, truffle fries, or a pretzel with cheese. Throughout the day Bread and Brew’s menu features soups and salads, imaginative grilled cheese and other sandwiches, and a selection of beer and wine. The original idea for the restaurant was a sandwich shop, and the owners anticipated their customers would appreciate local beer with their meal. What began as a plan for eight beers on tap grew to the restaurant offering more than twenty beer choices in addition to a variety of wines.
The restaurant is also uncommon in their cooking methods. Bread and Brew’s state-of-the-art kitchen doesn’t have any fryers or traditional cook tops. Instead the restaurant uses panini presses for many of their sandwiches and computerized Ovention Shuttle ovens for other menu items. “All of our food, for the most part, is baked,” McCarty says.
He continues that, since opening, “we’ve really created something, and people are enjoying the food and atmosphere, and we’re gaining a nice local following.”
Before opening, the owners needed to renovate the location that was constructed in 2004 by locally-owned general contractor H. Watt & Scott, founded in Anchorage in 1986. “They’re a fantastic contractor,” McCarty says. Renovations on the building began in December of 2016 and were completed in late May of this year under the direction Project Manager Tim Deland. “We were so impressed when they built the building in 2004, we did not hesitate to call them again,” McCarty says.
Whether designing the menu or deciding how to renovate the building, “we just wanted to create a nice product for the locals and support other local businesses, like the brewers and growers,” McCarty explains. “We’re really pleased with the results.”
Small businesses such as Bread and Brew are the building blocks of every economy and community, without exception. During her July 2017 visit to Alaska, US Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Linda McMahon explained, “Without small business our economy would not be growing. Two out of three net new jobs are from small businesses. There are 29 million small businesses in our country and more than 50 percent of the population is either employed in a small business or owns a small business.”
McMahon began her service as SBA Administrator in 2017 and is relatively new to the role; however, she has a long history with business and is a seasoned business executive. She said that in her role advocating for small businesses she will use her experience growing and building businesses to make sure SBA provides the tools that are most helpful to small businesses.
“[Small businesses] absolutely need access to capital,” first and foremost, she said. “You can’t start or grow without capital.” But capital isn’t everything, and she said many new small businesses owners don’t always know how to structure or market a business. To that end, SBA provides many tools to entrepreneurs and small business owners such as the Small Business Development Center (SBDC); in Alaska there are six SBDC offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Soldotna, and Wasilla. SBDC in Alaska also has three business partners that provide services to small business owners: BuyAlaska, which helps with free online marketing; the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which provides information on how to conduct business with government; and the Technology and Research Development Center, which provides information on grant opportunities, registering trademarks, patents, and copyrights.
McMahon visited Alaska as part of her Ignite Tour, a national outreach campaign to equip small businesses with tools and resources. She said, “I want to listen; I want to educate small businesses and the general public on what SBA has to offer, and I will advocate in Washington for small business—I want to drive those businesses to succeed and grow our economy.” While in Anchorage she visited several small businesses including 49th State Brewing Co., Kaladi Brothers Coffee, The Ulu Factory, Heather’s Choice meals, and Wild Scoops.
“They are incredibly enthusiastic,” McMahon said of Alaska’s small business owners. “They are innovative… Entrepreneurs globally are passionate about what they’re doing because they have to be; there must be some part of entrepreneur that means risk because you are taking risks and you have to not be afraid of failure. You find that in all entrepreneurs and I certainly have found that in the folks who started their business here in Alaska, from breweries to bake shops to ice cream shops to manufacturing companies. It’s incredible to see because it’s that vitality of a small business that not only is the backbone and the engine of our economy but the backbone of our community.”
While on her tour McMahon visited Wild Scoops, a purveyor of handcrafted ice cream in Alaska owned by Elissa Brown and Chris Pike. In July Wild Scoops had just finished outfitting their new test kitchen located at 636 East 15th Avenue, where the company manufactures all of their ice cream creations. Brown says it took approximately a year and a half to finish the space: “It started out as a shell and we had to bring in the equipment and freezers and everything specific to the ice cream business.”
At the time Wild Scoops had been operating for approximately two years and rented kitchen space to meet their ice cream-making needs. “It’s been really exciting to get our own kitchen space and our own little scoop shop, as well,” she says, referring to the Scoop Shop in downtown Anchorage that opened this summer and served up Alaska ice cream, freshly-made waffle cones, baked Alaska toppings, and Wild Scoops’ “famous” frozen nachos.
Every Thursday the test kitchen opens from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and anyone can sample whatever ice cream Wild Scoops has made up, “plus if we have any experiments we’ve been playing around with, they can sample those.” Customers can then buy ice cream by the pint.
Wild Scoops started out with just Brown, and as of July she had twenty employees; she says a small business “is hard to do alone—it’s all about people to help fill in your weak spots.” Brown says Wild Scoops secured an SBA loan which was incredibly helpful for the company’s growth: “That was what enabled us to purchase a lot of the equipment in the test kitchen.” She says Wild Scoops also took advantage of SBDC services provided at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “They were really helpful.”
From the beginning, Brown saw the importance of building relationships and connections with other small, locally-owned businesses. In its early days Wild Scoops sold ice cream at local farmer’s markets, and Brown would peruse other stalls to see what the Alaskan vendors had to offer, ranging from beets to thyme. “As we grow, more people approach us because they know we love to collaborate; that’s something that’s always been a part of who we are. As we look down our [ingredient] list almost everything is sourced locally or uses local baked goods or beers.”
She says Anchorage is an ecosystem and each small business has to figure out how it fits and how it works with other businesses in the community. “It’s finding connections and finding ways to fit into the bigger picture.”
McMahon said, “Small businesses are putting people to work; they are then spending that money in their communities [and] they are being taxed, so that money goes into state and federal coffers. Small businesses are key to the growth of communities and our economy as a whole.”
Tasha Anderson is the Associate Editor for Alaska Business.