Andre Gomez, chef and owner of Smyrna’s award-winning Porch Light Latin Kitchen, understood the rewards of providing quality service at an early age.

“My grandfather was into a lot of Puerto Rico business holdings, and one was a hotel,” he says. “So my first exposure as a worker was in the hospitality field.”

Working while earning his bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, he says he “fell into” food. “I loved seeing people enjoying their meals. The camaraderie in the kitchen and working together with the staff was pretty cool, too.”

Upon graduation, he continued working in various positions for several restaurants, including one of the top steak houses in Atlanta. He and his wife Ashley decided to pursue their dream and open a small restaurant that offered the familial friendliness and delicious flavors he grew up with in Puerto Rico.

Gomez’s search for funding led him to a bank, which then led him to the Kennesaw State University office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center.

“When we talked about getting a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan, the loan officer put me in contact with the SBDC,” Gomez says. “They told me the SBDC would be a good resource.”

He met with consultant Antonio Barrios in February 2015.

“Andre was very involved in the industry,” says Barrios, who now directs the Gwinnett SBDC office. “The bank told him they were interested and would like to proceed with the SBA loan application, but he needed some help with his narrative and financial projections. Like many clients, he had provided the basic information, but it was not in the format they like to use for their analyses.”

Barrios explained SBA loans and the application process to Gomez. He helped him prepare his three-year financial projections, including detailed revenue projections, sources and uses of funds, income statement, balance sheet and cash flow. He also provided a demographic report.

“I had put a business plan together—the concept, menu, etc.—and Antonio helped me fine-tune it using all the knowledge and information he has of restaurants and in dealing with banks,” says Gomez. “He put everything in perspective, made me feel more at ease in going through this process and answered all my questions.

“I’m first and foremost a chef. I understand the business from the food part. He helped me understand the other perspective as a business owner.”

“Andre had his numbers. I helped him put them in the right place in the plan,” says Barrios. “We made sure they were good for the bank’s expectations. Then we looked at the total loan package. I advised him on the other information the bank needs—his resume, personal tax returns and other forms the bank will look for. He went to the bank with all the information they needed, which facilitated the process.”

The six-figure start-up loan was approved, and on October 1, 2015, Andre Gomez opened his 1,400-square-foot restaurant in a former Quiznos that fronts Smyrna’s Village Green. He hired 16 employees.

 

Less than two years later, Porch Light Latin Kitchen’s revenues were outpacing projections by nearly 100 percent, reports Gomez. The restaurant was included in Atlanta Magazine’s annual “50 Best Restaurants in Atlanta” issue.

“Andre didn’t just wake up one day and decide to start a business. He had passion and planned to be successful. He worked hard and learned the operations of other restaurants,” says Barrios. “When it was time to open his restaurant, he used resources like the UGA SBDC to overcome challenges in putting it together. It was well planned.”

By June 2017, Gomez had signed the lease on more space nearby. He plans to open another restaurant with a new concept.

“The bigger picture is the most important thing I learned working with Antonio,” he says. “At the end of the day, I always want to look ahead, keeping everything in front of me so there won’t be any surprises. As a cook, you look at food costs. As a business owner, the plan I developed with the help of the UGA SBDC has helped me spend all of my money in the right way.”

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