The Iowa Small Business Development Center at Kirkwood Community College helped Joe Sipich develop his business plan, plus provided free market research, so he could open his franchise restaurants.
Milio’s Sandwiches, located in the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids, is a locally-owned franchise serving healthy, appetizing submarine sandwiches, soups, cookies, and beverages. Its sandwiches are made from premium meats, cheeses, and vegetables along with a variety of fresh-baked breads and wraps. The restaurant offers carry-out, delivery, and catering services. With its quality menu and pleasing environment, Milio’s is positioned between traditional fast-food eateries and more formal sit-down restaurants, offering its customers the best of both worlds. The business, formally JJ Sipich, Inc., opened in October 2012 as Milio’s Sandwiches.
Joseph Sipich—Joe—had always wanted to own his own business. Near the close of 2011, he felt the time was right to turn his life-long dream of owning a business into a reality. Joe wanted a business that would match his skills and personal experience, which included sales and marketing experience, inventory management, and experience in the quick service restaurant business.
Next door to Joe’s previous employer was a Milio’s Sandwich Shop. Joe liked the tasty sandwiches and was impressed by its clean, sparkling facility. Milio’s Sandwiches, a restaurant chain specializing in submarine sandwiches, was founded in 1989 in Madison, Wisconsin. Today it has nearly 50 company-owned and franchise locations throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Joe contacted the company and met with owner Mike Liautaud. As they got acquainted, the two men agreed that Milio’s and Joe would be a good fit. Joe signed a contract committing to opening three franchise locations.
Joe believes that high standards for tasty food served by employees who are friendly and well-trained, and who take pride in their work, would establish his reputation. The company also has a delivery service (for a small fee), which is virtually unknown among fast food restaurants. Community involvement is always important, and Joe plans to build roots into the community by sponsoring sporting and other events, plus being active with local charities.
Milio’s Sandwiches corporate owner, Mike Liautaud, was hands-on in helping Joe get started, visiting possible locations and offering advice. The Roosevelt Hotel location had once been a sandwich shop but the facility had not been restored following the flood that devastated downtown Cedar Rapids in 2008. Every aspect of the 2500 square foot area, from drywall to flooring, required total restoration. In August 2012 Joe signed a five year lease with options to extend his stay, and then he got to work.
Milio’s provides guidelines for store designs including colors, layout, and unique elements such as its cleverly shaped tables, but the company also allows franchise owners the flexibility to make a location their own. Joe owns the company’s equipment, furniture, inventory—everything—within the restaurant.
Once Joe decided to move forward, he approached F&M Bank. There he quickly discovered that standards for securing loans were more rigid than he would have encountered even a few years earlier. The bank’s loan officer told Joe that he needed a better business plan and recommended that Joe talk to SBDC Regional Director Al Beach at the Kirkwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Joe contacted Al, who provided Joe with market research and helped him develop a business plan that was acceptable to the bank. Joe then returned to F&M Bank and was approved for the loan he needed.
Joe had now established a vital relationship with F&M Bank and it wasn’t long before he went back to them for a second loan. This additional money enabled him to open his second Milio’s location in July 2013 in a new strip mall off Kirkwood Boulevard near the community college.
Joe has nothing but praise for the SBDC assistance he received, saying, “Al has been truly amazing to work with. I had a vision, and he helped me translate it to paper. I had a lot of ideas, but Al showed me how to focus on what was important and turn it into a solid business plan. He helped get everything together for the first SBA loan, so we could get off and running. He understands what banks want and what it takes to qualify for a loan.”
In just nine months, Joe opened two new restaurants in Cedar Rapids. The Roosevelt Hotel location transformed a prominent eyesore on the city’s main street into an attractive venue that serves people working or doing business downtown and coming into the area for evening events. Its 2,500 square feet makes this Milio’s significantly larger than is typical.
Both of the restaurants have full-time general managers and two full-time shift supervisors. Each location also has approximately 12 part-time employees. That’s nearly 30 jobs created.
Joe’s third Milio’s Sandwiches restaurant is slated to open in Marion in 2014. For more information on this thriving business and to view the menu, go to www.milios.com. You can also check out their Facebook posts at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Milios/109900265793308.