Seafood chef Lee Clack grew up fishing, shrimping and catching blue crabs in Mobile, Alabama. When his parents were in the kitchen, he and his siblings worked alongside them. He took his first job as a fry cook in college and then began experimenting with various methods of frying and breading.
Clack remained in the industry, moving from server to management and perfected the delicious signature dishes his friends and family would request for their parties: fried shrimp, fried grouper and fried crab claws. When he turned 40, he decided to make his passion his business and opened Kudzu Catering in Macon, Georgia.
He ran the business with his wife Kelley Wrigley for a decade. By the fall of 2013, he decided to open a restaurant and contacted the Macon office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center.
“NewTown Macon, a downtown business development group, had presented Lee with a couple of potential locations,” said SBDC consultant Peter Williams. “They referred him to us, and we all sat down and talked about his plans.”
Williams assisted Clack in preparing his initial financial projections, business plan and loan proposals for the new restaurant. He chose an historic downtown storefront of just under 1,400 square feet with 45 seats that would employ 14 people.
“Peter helped me with focus in my thoughts on how to create a legitimate business plan. We worked diligently on revenue projections as a part it,” said Clack. “That gave me good information I could present to the banks.”
Kudzu Seafood opened weekdays for lunch in February 2015. By 2016, its revenues were well into six figures, and by 2017 it had opened for dinner three nights a week. Revenues had grown another 50 percent.
“His profitability, even in this small location, was way beyond anything we had projected,” said Williams.
Wrigley came to work in the restaurant, and they sold Kudzu Catering to their executive chef. The sale freed them to expand, so Clack called Williams to help him explore some options he was considering: owning several locations, franchising and receiving royalties, or simply expanding.
Williams introduced Clack to UGA SBDC consultant and former franchise business owner Michael Myers. “Franchising was attractive to Lee, but he learned enough about franchising operations and standards to realize it was not the way for him to go now.”
During this analysis, Clack approached his landlord about developing a larger location just 200 feet from his restaurant. He also attended SBDCs GrowSmart™.
“GrowSmart™ made me more conscious of being a businessman rather than just a guy who owns a restaurant,” he said. “The scope of training was almost overwhelming, but I got a lot of information out of it, from human resources to marketing to how to analyze profit and loss, what causes businesses to be successful, or not. It was very valuable, especially with me moving into a bigger space.”
Clack worked with Williams to develop a new business plan and create financial projections for a loan proposal, which was approved. Opening in January 2019, the restaurant will now fill 5,600 square feet with 130 seats, including a private dining room and full bar. It will also sport downtown Macon’s first rooftop bar, a point of pride with Clack. Revenues are projected to grow 2.5 times larger its first year, with employment expanding to 45 people.
“Lee came back to us a second time for help with his financial modeling, budgeting and projections for his expansion,” said Williams. “He sees the value in the SBDC and continues to look to us for help.”
“I never could have done the business plan on my own,” said Clack. “Writing it was one of the most scary and daunting things to me. I can talk about it all day, but I had to back it up on paper. The SBDC didn’t tell me exactly where to go, but they told me what I needed to do. That’s huge!”
Clack is now looking into commercializing and bottling his proprietary remoulade sauce. Williams introduced him to Kirk Kealey, director of the Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center at UGA’s Griffin campus, to learn more about labeling, bottling, distribution, etc.
“He will definitely come back to that,” said Williams.