By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC
WALLA WALLA, Wash. – When Brendon Mendoza was putting together a loan application to finance Wingman Birdz and Brewz on Main Street in Walla Walla, the financial projections were solid.
What he needed, said Joe Jacobs, his Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) business advisor, was a story to go with the numbers.
Fortunately, he had a good one.
WSU hospitality graduate
Mendoza’s first job in food service was as a busser at the Walla Walla Country Club in the 1990s. A self-described quiet, shy kid, he came into his own working among the other bussers, servers, kitchen staff and customers.
“It was pretty easy to make people happy,” he said, “and that’s what I wanted to do.”
After graduating from Walla Walla High School, he headed to Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University, earned a degree in hospitality business management in 2002 and went on to a 12-year career with Olive Garden restaurants. He worked as a manager, regional manager, senior financial analyst and finally director of operations, relocating to southern California, Las Vegas, Denver and then to Austin, Texas along the way.
Popular food spot available
One night in early 2014, Mendoza’s mother mentioned in a telephone conversation that the restaurant in the family-owned building at 230 E. Main St. in Walla Walla had closed and they were looking for a new tenant.
“I guess I was starting to get homesick,” Mendoza said, because after hanging up with his mother, he turned to his wife, Lacey, and asked, “What do you think about moving back to Walla Walla?”
He stayed up most of the night creating a business plan for a high-energy restaurant with chicken wings, burgers and beer, and he presented it to his parents the next day.
The deal included their 4-year-old granddaughter, Tessa, moving to Washington state, so they were in.
Staying on track with business plan
This first business plan is rough, Mendoza told his parents, and financing would be needed. His parents suggested they self-finance the venture, but Mendoza was adamant that they needed enough capital to do it right.
That’s where the SBDC’s Jacobs came in. He helped Mendoza put together a successful loan application with Baker Boyer; perhaps more important, Jacobs helped Mendoza turn his well-researched business plan into a true blueprint for what he wanted to build.
Jacobs is one of more than two dozen SBDC certified business advisors in Washington who meet with people who want to start, grow or transition a business. Advisors establish a scope of work with clients that can entail multiple meetings over many weeks, months or years. SBDC advising is both confidential and provided at no cost to the client.
The Washington SBDC (http://www.wsbdc.org) is supported by Washington State University and the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBDC center in Walla Walla receives additional funding from a dozen community stakeholders whose support is coordinated by the Walla Walla Downtown Foundation.
Build-out of the restaurant took more time and money than he expected, Mendoza said, “but the business plan was a living document and I could always use the plan to get back on track.”
Despite unexpected delays, Wingman Birdz and Brewz (http://www.wingmanbirdz.com/) opened before Thanksgiving 2014.
Employee and customer experiences important
At Olive Garden, Mendoza said, an expert – in payroll, kitchen repair, procurement or whatever – was always a phone call away. But now it’s all on him, which isn’t a bad thing. The biggest part of his job is managing 36 employees.
One of the (many) lessons from Olive Garden, he said, is that the guest experience cannot exceed the employee experience. He tries to treat his employees well and sets high expectations for customer service as well.
Mendoza said he still enjoys the feeling of making people happy, and he’s thrilled to be the owner of a 92-seat restaurant in one of the best small towns in America.
“There’s no community like Walla Walla,” he said. “We’ve looked.”