Started Building Renovation
Diner Opened to Customers
Number of Employees and Growing
Raised through Crowdfunding
Chris Bair loved to cook. He’d spent almost 20 years working in the food industry from restaurants to corporate services, and served as a sous chef. He also loved his rural roots and the idea of creating a gathering place for people to enjoy good conversation and great food in their hometown. Now as he began to combine those two loves into one, he needed to find the right ingredients to make his business a recipe for success
How the SBDC helped
From building a plan to maintaining the financials, the first ingredient his recipe needed was to understand the basics of starting and operating a business. To do this, Chris participated in several business workshops offered by the Michigan SBDC. He then added in working one-on-one with them to gather market research, develop financial projections, finalize the business plan, and develop a loan proposal.
Fine-tuning the recipe for Roz’s Diner took several years and a lot of hard work transforming an old bank building into a diner. The diner opened for business in December 2015. Chris and his wife, Megan, have since grown their staff from 7 to 14, added dinner hours, and exceeded sales of $600,000. They have also purchased the two adjacent buildings for expansion of the kitchen and diner. In 2017, the diner was recognized as the Best Small Business for the Mid-Michigan Region of the Michigan SBDC.
Have you ever driven past a vacant building and thought, “that would make a great place for a diner”? Chris Bair did exactly that. While caring for his ailing mother, Chris often drove past the old bank building in his rural hometown. He loved to cook and for as long as he could remember had envisioned himself owning a restaurant someday. Quickly, those visions were now becoming daily thoughts of turning the old, vacant community landmark into a thriving gathering place serving homemade dishes made with local ingredients.
Sadly, Chris’ mother, Marje “Roz” Bair, passed away in 2007 after a long battle with cancer. Roz had been an inspiration to him throughout her lifetime. She was not a good cook but encouraged her sons to learn how to care for themselves, which included cooking. Before returning home to care for his mother, his love of cooking had turned into a 20-year career that spanned across the country.
Now fueled with the desire to keep his mother’s memory and community spirit alive, Chris and his wife, Megan, decided to move forward on his vision and purchased the 800-square foot bank building on a land contract. Soon they were busy transforming the old bank into a small, quaint diner. To support the initial work, they launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised approximately $12,000 and held a barbeque to raise funds to build a wheelchair accessible ramp, which raised more than $6,000.
While working on the building, he and Megan maintained their full-time jobs. Chris also began attending workshops offered by the Michigan SBDC. He started with quick seminars on How to Start a Business, Fundamentals of Writing a Business Plan, QuickBooks Training, and concluded by participating in the multiweek FastTrac® NewVenture™ program that walked an individual through the evaluation of their business idea to building a business plan for that concept. He attended a Team SBA Financing Roundtable as well since he knew eventually he’d have to seek funding to finish the transformation of the restaurant.
Chris also took advantage of the no-cost counseling, experienced consultants, market research, and loan preparation services available through the Michigan SBDC. Together, with the Michigan SBDC, he and Megan fine-tuned their business plan, prepared a loan proposal, and turned their vision into reality.
“It was great to have the support of knowledgeable and experienced professionals,” Chris said. “The Michigan SBDC not only provided us with the business tools to succeed but also introduced us to a network of other resources we would not have otherwise know about.”
One of those connections was Northern Initiatives (NI) in Marquette. NI is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), which is a private financial institution that provides loans to small business owners. Through NI, Chris and Megan secured two loans to pay off the land contract, finalize transformation of the restaurant, and purchase equipment. In December 2015, the doors of Roz’s Diner opened and customers flowed in quickly.
The couple also tapped into business services from Megan’s alma mater, Central Michigan University (CMU). Through CMU’s Entrepreneurship Department they received the support of students who took on Roz’s Diner as part of their internship requirement. This lead to another “pair of eyes” looking over the business plan, feedback on marketing, and launch of the diner’s Facebook page. They also received support from the CMU Research Corporation and CMU’s Nutrition and Dietetics Program.
Within 16 months of opening the doors, Chris and Megan have grown their staff from 7 to 14, added dinner hours, and exceeded sales of $600,000. They have also secured a loan form Members First Credit Union to purchase the adjacent two buildings giving them an additional 2,200-square foot of space and an employee parking lot. The next phase of growth will comprise of extending their small kitchen into the new space, adding catering services, and expand seating to include a large banquet room.
Chris and Megan are also heavily involved with the community. They host an annual 5K race in honor of his mother that benefits the Community Cancer Services of Isabella County (CCCIC). Their wall space in the diner is used as an art gallery for local artists. The artist receives 90% of the sale with 10% being donated to CCCIC. Megan hopes to showcase more artisan works in the new space.
Learn more about Roz's Diner at: www.rozsdiner.com