Ramona's Restaurant on Lark St. Provides Insight for Entrepreneurs

Ramonas-ext Ramona's restaurant quietly sits on Lark Street in Albany, New York. There isn't much signage and you have to walk down a step to enter the restaurant. If you're a regular, Ramona is sure to greet you with a big smile and a genuine hello. She remembers your name, your boyfriend's name, your dog's name, what you like to eat and anything else you've told her.

What makes Ramona’s special is, well, Ramona. She's entering her 8th year of business, which means she's come far. While undercapitalized and on a shoe-string budget, she's succeeding for no reason other than her entrepreneurial spirit. Her goal is to not only have good, simple food, but to help feed the hungry and those in need. When I'm home, I have breakfast and lunch at Ramona's — not only to get fed but also to find out what's going on in the neighborhood. Ramona pretty much knows everything that goes on in the neighborhood.

Ramona Like other single entrepreneurs, Ramona is tired, but she loves her customers, loves knowing that her customers like her and her food. She also loves being part of the neighborhood. I know that if I needed anything, I could call Ramona. She goes above and beyond running a restaurant.

How has Ramona made it? Here's what I gather from talking to her:

  1. Keep it simple; know what you can do and what you can't do. At one point Ramona tried to extend her hours and take in a partner; it didn't work. Her regular customers didn't like it without Ramona.

  2. Do what you know. Ramona tried to make the menu more sophisticated; instead of hamburgers and omelets, she added soups and shrimp dishes; customers clamored for the hamburgers and omelets and the shrimp went bad.

  3. Love your customers, all of them. They're what keep you in business.

  4. Know what's special about each of your customers; remember their names and what they like to eat. (Remember to save something for their pets.)

  5. Reinvest your money back in your business. Ramona has painted and bought new equipment.

  6. Talk with your customers; ask how they feel about your food and your service. Ask if there's anything they would like you to do to make it a better experience.

  7. Keep in touch with your customers by phone or by email. One of Ramona's long time customers, who lived alone, had not been in for breakfast for several weeks. Ramona called and eventually found out that he had died. Ramona was very close to her customer, he also helped with her computer, and she wished she had kept in better touch. "My customers are my friends," says Ramona, "and I need to keep track of them."

A good motto for anyone in business.

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