The Iowa Small Business Development Center at Southwestern Community College helped Mark and Anna Sprouse through every stage of purchasing an existing restaurant, and then helped them further when they needed to expand.
From the beginning, Mark and Anna Sprouse were open to any and all ideas and assistance from Dave McLaren at the South Central Iowa Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Creston. The couple began talking to McLaren with the dream of business ownership, before they even knew what type of business they would own.
During initial discussions with McLaren, the Sprouses were both working other jobs, Mark as the sales and finance manager at Stalker Chevrolet in Creston, and Anna as a computer technician in Pella. The couple married two years earlier and settled in Creston. Conversations with McLaren continued.
What started out as a plan for a used car dealership eventually morphed into the purchase and renovation of a bar and grill, The Office, in rural Lenox. It was July 23, 2013, when Mark and Anna took ownership of The Office and relocated their home to Lenox. The Office was closed only three days for clean-up and renovation, and they have been open for business every day, Monday through Saturday, since.
According to Anna, it [business ownership] has been a bucking bronco. “The original plan was for Mark to keep working at Stalker’s,” Anna remembers. “But the business expanded so fast that within about a month we gave that up.”
Mark and Anna are extremely proud that The Office has become a community gathering place. They feel the town of Lenox has welcomed them with open arms. The crowds get larger and larger with each month of operation, even during times of year normally slow for the restaurant industry. “If you come in here on a Friday night, you can hardly even hear yourself think,” Mark proudly exclaimed. “It has become the town gathering place.”
The couple faces challenges as business owners as well. Anna labels personnel as her most difficult job duty. “We have people right now who are more than just employees,” Anna explained. “They are very important to us.” In her opinion, the most crushing weight as a business owner is letting employees go, knowing their jobs are their livelihood and they have families to support.
Mark handles the food preparation, spending a great deal of time perfecting menu items and working with food vendors to get the perfect taste. He says a challenge for him is stepping back and letting the employees handle preparation of items once his masterpiece has been created. “I’m always critiquing and that probably drives them [employees] nuts,” Mark laughed.
Mark and Anna do not stop with praises for McLaren and the SBDC throughout their endeavor. “Dave spent a lot of time with us trying to figure out whether it [each business they looked at] was a good investment or a bad investment,” Mark started. Anna finished his thought by adding it always helped “knowing [with McLaren’s assistance] we weren’t putting ourselves in a bad position business-wise.”
After six months in business, the Sprouses starting noticing customers having to wait too long for seating or for their food and they soon decided they needed to expand their business. The couple purchased the building adjacent to theirs on the south and demolition started in mid-March 2014, with reconstruction commencing shortly thereafter. The plan included a larger kitchen, expanded seating, new flooring, and better restroom facilities. Renovation was completed in mid-April and now the Sprouses plan to revise their restaurant menu. Their final goal is to have the atmosphere of a nice steakhouse. Catering is also a possibility for their future.
Mark and Anna continue to work with McLaren today and he stops in periodically to check on them. “The wealth of information that Dave at the Small Business Development Center has at his fingertips is amazing,” Mark said. Anna continued, “He is able to explain everything in a way that makes sense.”
Now that the Sprouses are settled into a successful business, they have a friend who is talking to McLaren about opening a business as well. The friend was with the couple throughout the process and in the beginning was doubtful about their endeavors. She has seen how far Mark and Anna have come and now wants to fulfill her dreams of owning a business. “She would never have done that if she hadn’t watched us go through this process as well,” Anna explained. “It’s a really scary thing to jump in and own your own business!”
To find out more about The Office, their food, and special events, be sure to check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Office-in-Lenox/199864543507092.