Fourteen years ago, Chris Finnick jumped from behind the wheel of driving a delivery truck for Staples to get behind the grill of his uncle’s southern style barbecue takeout restaurant. Today, the CEO and owner of Mama’s Southern Style BBQ 2 was named the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) New Jersey 2020 Small Business Person of the Year.
The award is part of this year’s celebration of National Small Business Week (Sept. 20 – 26), where the SBA honors and recognizes the achievements of small business owners across the country.
According to SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone, Finnick was nominated for the award by David Margulies, regional director of the Kean University New Jersey Small Business Development Center and was selected for the award based on criteria that include: Staying Power (a substantial history of an established business); Growth in Number of Employees; Increase in Sales; Financial Strength of the Company; Innovativeness of Product or Service Offered; Contributions to Aid Community Oriented Projects; and being Aided by the Programs and Services of the SBA.
Despite taking over the successful Vauxhall-based takeout barbecue restaurant and having the benefit of his uncle mentoring him for a year, Finnick said that he had to learn everything on the fly and adapt to the pressures of meeting his customers’ demands.
Over time, Finnick would master the kitchen and learn the day-to-day operations of running a successful takeout restaurant. After a decade of operating out of 750 square foot space, he realized if he were ever going to grow his business, he would have to get assistance. He turned to the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Kean University for help with understanding his business finances and getting a handle on all the costs associated with his business operations.
In 2018, with his revised business plan in hand, Finnick secured both an SBA Community Advantage Loan for $75,000 and Microloan of $15,000 from the Regional Business Assistance Corporation. The financing allowed him to purchase new equipment and move into a 2,200 square foot facility.
The added space also increased the restaurant’s capacity, allowing Finnick to now offer catering and to continue to serve up his signature southern style barbecue dishes of chicken, ribs, pulled pork, fried shrimp and catfish. In just a short time, the SBA assistance has helped Mama’s Southern Style BBQ 2, LLC to increase its annual sales by 61% and the number of employees by 66%.
However, the COVID-19 virus initially presented some challenges for Finnick and Mama’s Southern Style BBQ2. “In the beginning of the pandemic, we were struggling,” said Finnick. “However, with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the SBA, we were able to retain our 10 employees. We put a lot of safety measures in place, including plexiglass across our pick-up counter and a sliding barnyard door in front of the grill to ensure that our food preparation area is safe, as well. Because we are primarily a takeout barbecue restaurant, we saw our sales increase by 40%.”
“This is a story about having passion, tenacity and vision,” said Titone. “Chris Finnick possesses these necessary characteristics that all small business owners need to achieve a certain level of success. This is what the American dream is all about. As we celebrate National Small Business Week, during these unprecedent times, SBA is proud of the role we have in fostering business growth across the country and here in New Jersey. We honor entrepreneurs like Chris Finnick whose achievements over the past year stand out and have faced the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to them and their ability to pivot, retool, recover, and triumph in light of the pandemic.”
SBA Region II Regional Administrator Steve Bulger, who oversees SBA’s programs and services for New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands said, “Small businesses like Mama’s Southern Style BBQ 2 are the fuel to the American economic engine, primarily through job creation, innovation and competition. This National Small Business Week, we honor Chris Finnick’s resiliency and urge neighbors to continue to ‘shop small’ and support the over 900,000 small businesses in New Jersey. The SBA is proudly assisting in our continued economic recovery, most notably providing over $525 billion in lifelines to over 5.2 million small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program.”
Finnick continues to serve up a menu that includes barbecue chicken, ribs, pulled pork, fried shrimp and fried catfish that come with an assortment of sides that include collard greens, string beans, cabbage, baked mac & cheese, french fries, coleslaw and potato salad, as well as its signature cornbread and desserts. According to Finnick, the rubs and sauces for the barbecue are family recipes that come from North Carolina and have a vinegar-base. Meats stay on the barbecue pit for six to seven hours at a time.
Today, Mama’s Southern Style BBQ 2 employs 10 people with an eye toward increasing that total down the road. In the meantime, Finnick has enjoyed numerous visits from members of the New York Jets and New York Giants Football Teams and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
“I have to let the news of being named SBA’s New Jersey 2020 Small Business Person of the Year to sink in,” said Finnick, “It is an honor for me to be standing here today as the recipient of this prestigious award. I thank my family, all my employees, the Kean University SBDC, Regional Business Assistance Corporation, SBA and our loyal customer-base, who believed in me and helped me achieve this level of success.”
“We have a great team here at Mama’s Southern Style BBQ 2. My vision is to continue to build on our success and to eventually expand to a nice sit-down restaurant and possibly franchising the takeout concept down the road,” he added.
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