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article imageSmall business owners make adjustments during economic downturn Special

By Kay Mathews     Jul 20, 2011 in Business
In response to what is being called the Great Recession, small business owners in Northwest Arkansas are taking steps to address new economic realities and prosper in the midst of this downturn.
Often when people think of large, big-box chain stores, Walmart comes to mind. The headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is in Bentonville, Ark. and the more than 9,230 retail stores themselves are located in 15 countries. And, of course, there are already a large number of other chain stores and franchises located in Northwest Arkansas and that number is growing in this affordable, bargain market.
Most of the larger businesses in this area have fared relatively well during the national economic downturn, but the area is not recession-proof. For example, a locally owned and operated business that was a favorite of mine, Kupcakes and More, closed not long ago.
Kupcakes and More.  Formerly in Bentonville  Ark.
Kupcakes and More. Formerly in Bentonville, Ark.
We have all heard, though, that small businesses are the economic engine of America largely due to their hiring of local workers and contributing to job growth. Of particular interest to me are the non-chain, non-franchise locally owned and operated businesses, and gaining an understanding of how well they are faring in the Great Recession. I was very sad to see Kupcakes and More go, but other privately owned businesses in Northwest Arkansas seem to be weathering the economic storm. How are they managing to carry on during this economic downturn?
After receiving an invitation to come by Basil’s Café “For A Taste Of Our New Menu,” I asked the owners, Wade and Kelly Jones, if they would agree to be interviewed, which would help to answer the question posed above. They graciously agreed.
On the evening of July 18, in the midst of a busy Basil’s Café located in Rogers, Ark., Kelly kindly took time to sit down with me and answer a few questions. Kelly said that it will be five years ago in November that she and Wade bought Basil’s, but it had been open for eight years prior to their buying it.
Dining room of Basil s Cafe.  Rogers  Ark.  July 18  2011.
Dining room of Basil's Cafe. Rogers, Ark. July 18, 2011.
I asked Kelly why she and Wade chose to buy a restaurant as opposed to another type of business. Kelly explained that her “husband has always been in the restaurant business. He started at Pappas Brothers in Houston and then the Cheesecake Factory in Las Vegas. After moving to Northwest Arkansas, he met Chef Randy McGuffin who was the original chef and owner of Basil’s Café. Wade was the manager there for eight years.”
As it turns out, this tasting event was also an occasion to welcome back Chef McGuffin, who along with Chef Gerald Hatfield, are the chefs at Basil’s.
Chef Gerald Hatfield  Chef Randy McGuffin  and Basil s co-owner Wade Jones.  Rogers  Ark.  July 18  ...
Chef Gerald Hatfield, Chef Randy McGuffin, and Basil's co-owner Wade Jones. Rogers, Ark. July 18, 2011
When asked if the economic downturn had impacted the Jones’ business, Kelly immediately said, “yes.” I then asked how they responded, and Kelly pointed to the new menu and clarified to me that that is exactly what this night is all about – introducing a new menu that would have broad appeal. “We are fine dining but casual as well,” said Kelly. “We lowered our prices to be more friendly.”
A comparison of dinner entree prices on the new menu to those on the website indicated that the average price used to be $26.50 with eight items featured but the average price is now $23.00 and eleven items are featured.
Kelly told me that a “popular item” is pizza and said that it is not uncommon for customers to come in and enjoy a pizza and also take one home with them. A specific example of lower prices comes from Basil’s pizza selections. The Mediterranean (chicken, kalamata olives, caramelized onions, tomatoes, feta, pepperoncini) was $13 and is now $11.
The most expensive item on Basil’s menu is the Bone-In Rib-Eye with wasabi mashers, ratatouille, roasted garlic soy butter, and pickled peppers for $45. “The Bone-In Rib-Eye is our best seller,” said Kelly. “It is a showstopper on the plate.”
Kelly hopes that the new menu with lower prices will have broad appeal. She also made a point of attributing Basil’s success not only to unique cuisine and an extensive wine list, but also to the staff. “Wade and I really feel like we have a great wait staff and kitchen staff,” said Kelly. She was pleased that Chef McGuffin was back at Basil’s and said that a number of wait staff have been with the restaurant for many years.
Another small business owner that I interviewed was Brenda Wyatt who opened Bentonville, Ark.-based Brenda Wyatt Photography in January of this year. I asked Brenda if she was concerned about opening a business in the midst of the Great Recession. Brenda replied:
We [Northwest Arkansas] had already been hit pretty hard by the housing meltdown, and my real estate business was struggling. So, I just decided it was a good time to try something new; it wasn't like I was walking away from a lucrative business. I had very little start up expense, under $5,000.00. And I am doing what I love. I am very passionate about photography!
Photograph by Brenda Wyatt Photography.  Bentonville  Ark.
Photograph by Brenda Wyatt Photography. Bentonville, Ark.
Brenda Wyatt
When asked about her client base, Brenda stated, “My biggest client base is high school seniors, mostly Bentonville, but I have photographed kids from all over NWA. And I will travel anywhere if we can make it work. I LOVE making the kids look and feel good about themselves. I also do sporting events, weddings, family photos, boudoir photos, pretty much everything!”
It is also important to point out that Brenda Wyatt Photography’s website invites people to “Capture the special moments in your life, with fun, beautiful, and affordable photos from Brenda Wyatt Photography.”
Photograph by Brenda Wyatt Photography.  Bentonville  Ark.
Photograph by Brenda Wyatt Photography. Bentonville, Ark.
Brenda Wyatt
The reason that statement is important to include in this article is due to the use of the word “affordable.” To help understand how local business owners are managing to carry on during this economic downturn, insights from Basil’s Café and Brenda Wyatt Photography point to a number of factors. The first being affordability. Basil’s lowered their prices in response to the economic downturn and Brenda Wyatt Photography started off with low prices on quality photos.
Passion is another factor. In Brenda’s interview response, she said, "I am very passionate about photography!” And, it was clear when talking with Kelly and watching Wade as he worked in the kitchen, served food, and visited with customers, they are both very passionate about serving fine food and fine wine.
The third factor is having a quality product. As you can see in the photos by Brenda Wyatt Photography included in this article, Brenda delivers quality products that are exactly what she promises - fun, beautiful, and affordable photos. I can personally attest to the quality of products served at Basil’s Café. At the tasting on Monday evening, there was not a single item that was anything less than luscious. For example, the Buttermilk Fried Quail, a new menu item, was spectacular as were the Chili-Rubbed Rib-Eye Tacos appetizers and Watermelon Salad.
As the examples above suggest, the combination of business owners with a passion for what they do offering affordable, quality products appears to be the key to prospering in this economic downturn.
More about Small businesses, Economic downturn, Restaurant, Photography, Arkansas
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